Rupture and Reconstruction | A Koan About Zen Itself

August 27, 2023

2pm Shanghai – China

Time and Venue:
2:00 to 4:30 pm China Standard Time | 11pm – 1:30 am PT
UCCA Edge Auditorium, Shanghai, China


Watch it live here:

About the Event:
At the beginning of the twentieth century, there was an epochal shift in the history of Zen studies – Mahayana Buddhism, and in particular the Zen school Buddhism, began to attract the interest of Western scholars. The rise of Zen studies in the late twentieth century to a certain extent reflected Western culture’s trend toward introspection, notably in the postwar period, when intellectuals came to realize the limitations of modernity and rationality as conceived of during the Enlightenment. In contrast to earlier research into Buddhism, studies of Zen Buddhism were not initially approached in the manner of western Classics studies; they incorporated a broader cultural vision from the very outset. Often described as anti-institutionalist, privileging practitioners’ inner spiritual experiences over sutras and doctrine, Zen has been integrated into Western academia and culture in a supra-rational, non-logical and non-historical way.

The nature of this integration is inextricably connected to the strongly personalized voice that D.T. Suzuki used in his writing on Zen Buddhism. It’s fair to say that Suzuki’s “innovative approach” was directly responsible for the surge of interest in Zen Buddhism that pervaded the West in the twentieth century. Because of the way that Suzuki’s subjective interpretation of Zen Buddhism spread throughout the West, and the consequent reverse importation of those ideas into Chinese academia in the 1980s, the already complex relationship between Buddhism writ large and the Zen school of Buddhism requires further scrutinization to appropriately contextualize within the dialectics of East and West, Pre-modern and Post-modern.

From June 2023 to February 2024, the exhibition “Modern Time: Masterpieces from the Collection of Museum Berggruen” will be open to the public at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA) in Shanghai and Beijing. As a complement to the art on display, the Berggruen Institute China Center, in partnership with UCCA, will present a series of lectures drawing inspiration from the exhibition’s exploration of modernism, titled, “Rupture and Reconstruction: Multiple Perspectives on Modernity”. The second lecture in the series will be held on August 27 at the UCCA Edge Auditorium in Shanghai, featuring Dr. Gong Jun of Sun-Yat Sen University in conversation with UCCA curator Zhang Nanzhao. The lecture will reexamine the 20th century‘s academic production related to Zen Buddhism, the impact of D.T. Suzuki’s personal contributions on the spread of Mahayana Buddhism in the West, and how the resulting academic works in turn were integrated into the academic and artistic communities of mainland China, their influence lingering to the present day.

About the Speaker and Host:

2022-2023 Berggruen China Center Fellow
Professor at the Department of Philosophy and the Center for Buddhist Studies at Sun Yat-sen University
Professor Gong is mainly engaged in research on the history of Buddhist thought, East Asian Zen Buddhism, interpretation of Buddhist classics, Buddhism and society, and ecological ethics. His publications and translations include The History of Modern Buddhism as ‘Knowledge’ – An Intellectual History Discourse in the East Asian Perspective (2022), A History of Zen (2006), etc. From 2002 to 2003, he was a visiting scholar at the Department of East Asian Studies at Harvard University. He has also lectured or held part-time academic positions at many prestigious academic institutions in North America, Japan, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Neil Zhang
Curator at UCCA
Neil Zhang is a curator at UCCA, having joined the museum in s2020. He has curated exhibitions including “Meditation in an Emergency” (2020); “Silent Thunder” (2021); “Huang Rui: Ways of Abstraction” (2021); “Zhang Ruyi: Speaking Softly” (2022) and also co-curated the inaugural “Diriyah Biennale” (2021) in Saudi Arabia. Zhang has previously studied at RISD, Brown University, and Columbia University. His research interests include the analysis of Buddhism (esp. Zen and Vajrayana) under a postmodern framework, visual culture in pre-modern East Asia, and contemporary art. He has translated academic works including Columbia University professor Bernard Faure’s The Rhetoric of Immediacy: A Cultural Critique of Chan/Zen Buddhism.

About the Series:
From June 2023 to February 2024, “Modern Time: Masterpieces from the Collection of Museum Berggruen / Nationalgalerie Berlin” will be held at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA) in Shanghai and Beijing. It features nearly 100 works from 20th century modern art masters. During this period, an irreconcilable split occurred between a phase of modernity in Western civilization and modernity as an aesthetic concept: the former continued the worship of reason and an aspiration for a progressive view of history, while the latter, as avant-garde art, represented an attitude rooted in anti-bourgeois sentiment and a distrust of the idea of “modern civilization.” The Berggruen Research Center at Peking University, together with UCCA will present a series of academic lectures from July 2023 to early 2024 which will explore topics in intellectual history, philosophy, religion, and other fields. Prominent scholars will share their academic practices, allowing us to collectively clarify the true essence of this complex theme of modernity.

composed by Arswain
machine learning consultation by Anna Tskhovrebov
commissioned by the Berggruen Institute
premiered at the Bradbury Building
downtown Los Angeles
april 22, 2022

Human perception of what sounds “beautiful” is necessarily biased and exclusive. If we are to truly expand our hearing apparatus, and thus our notion of beauty, we must not only shed preconceived sonic associations but also invite creative participation from beings non-human and non-living. We must also begin to cede creative control away from ourselves and toward such beings by encouraging them to exercise their own standards of beauty and collaborate with each other.

Movement I: Alarm Call
‘Alarm Call’ is a long-form composition and sound collage that juxtaposes, combines, and manipulates alarm calls from various human, non-human, and non-living beings. Evolutionary biologists understand the alarm call to be an altruistic behavior between species, who, by warning others of danger, place themselves by instinct in a broader system of belonging. The piece poses the question: how might we hear better to broaden and enhance our sense of belonging in the universe? Might we behave more altruistically if we better heed the calls of – and call out to – non-human beings?

Using granular synthesis, biofeedback, and algorithmic modulation, I fold the human alarm call – the siren – into non-human alarm calls, generating novel “inter-being” sonic collaborations with increasing sophistication and complexity. 

Movement II: A.I.-Truism
A synthesizer piece co-written with an AI in the style of Vangelis’s Blade Runner score, to pay homage to the space of the Bradbury Building.

Movement III: Alarmism
A machine learning model “learns” A.I.Truism and recreates Alarm Call, generating an original fusion of the two.

Movement IV: A.I. Call
A machine learning model “learns” Alarm Call and recreates A.I.Truism, generating an original fusion of the two.