+ MOUNTAIN LAKE WORKSHOP
JOHN CAGE'S ZEN OX-HERDING PICTURES, 2008
by RAY KASS
A new realization of the traditional Buddhist sacred text, The Ten Ox-Herding Pictures. The “picures” are comprised of paper towels that were used as “try-out” sheets during Cage’s painting of New River Watercolors, Series IV #1, 1988. Methods of “Chance & Choice” were employed to variously select the five sets of ten paper towels comprising the project. Stephen Addiss combed through John Cage’s writings to select the epigrammatic short poems that customarily accompany the traditional Ox-Herding Pictures. The workshop resulted in a traveling exhibition with an accompanying ctalogue of the same name by Stephen Addiss and Ray Kass and published by the University of Richmond and Gorge Braziller, Inc. (NY, 2010)
Stephen Addiss has been an influential figure in significant creative projects that the Mountain Lake Workshop has undertaken during the past decade; in a few cases he has provided the actual inspiration for them.
We first met personally in the 1980s at an exhibition at the University of Richmond, but it was John Cage who truly introduced me to his work when he showed me Steve’s book The Art of Zen in the late 1980s. I purchased a copy and kept it at the Mountain Lake Workshop studio whenever Cage was working on his watercolors. After that I became an avid fan of Steve’s writing and sought him out.
When we occasionally met in the ensuing years we usually talked about Cage and Steve’s experiences in John’s composition classes at the New School in NYC in the 1950s, but sometimes another personal hero of mine with whom Steve had worked, Pete Seeger, would come up. To me, Steve is something of a Zen Troubadour, a phenomenal combination of folksinger and Buddhist, which continues to shine through his sagacious scholarly presence.
About fifteen years ago I asked Steve if he would be interested in working on a book about John Cage’s watercolor painting at the Mountain Lake Workshop. His response was to encourage me to write it and organize a major exhibition! I felt that it was a daunting task but ten years later The Sight of Silence appeared. I am not sure that I would have carried through with it without his encouragement. Subsequently, I have worked with him in several collaborative Mountain Lake Workshops. In 2006 the John Cage Trust at Bard College invited me to write the notation for Cage’s 1989 performance of STEPS: A Composition For A Painting in my studio. Laura Kuhn, Director of the John Cage Trust, also recommended that I write a “second notation” for the performance piece that could be performed by others. “John Cage’s STEPS: A Composition For A Painting To Be Performed By Individuals And Groups” (2006) was first performed in Richmond in Fall of 2006 by Stephen Addiss, and later was choreographed and performed by Merce Cunningham in 2008 with Steve assisting – among others.
I think that the most important Mountain Lake Workshop collaboration we have done together is John Cage’s Zen Ox-Herding Pictures, and the subsequent exhibition and publication of the same name. It was inspired by a moment of pure spontaneous intuition in my studio following a day-long paper-smoking workshop that we had just completed. Everyone was exhausted, but I went to the flat-file and pulled-out a small stack of beautiful paper towels that Cage had used for watercolor “try-out” sheets in 1988 when he was painting New River Watercolors, Series IV, #1, in 1988. He had advised me to “make a piece” using them– and twenty years later we did!