burning rites
many thanks to wardenclyffe (austin) for letting me hang around for a while and let me do what i love for the Modern Ritual Show, May 2012. Also thanks again to ralph barton and bradford kinney for playing w/ me during the closing ritual.

after thoughts: burning books in the heat of late spring in Austin can be an exercise in endurance. the flame is a healing agent, it cleanses, replaces old for new. By a synchronous stroke of luck, a healing tent was constructed on the gallery property, fit with a lovely fire pit with a flame already lit. The chances of a prepared existing flame for these books to go up in.. quite small. Added dried hill country wildflowers, and shredded pages from a re-titled book and the healing space grew to new proportions of shared.

after words: the brahamins are the supposed highest cast in india, they are the ones that clean the temples. they scrub the floors, they know how to surf the cosmic sea, they burn their dead with bricks of butter and sugar, they paint their foreheads with sandalwood paste, never wear shoes, and play loud noise music while circling the temple for the dead. They care for the spirit of the community and the diety, they respect the temple. This is why my ritual at Wardenclyffe started with cleaning the shit out of the gallery bathroom.

The last night of the show i took the book remains out of the gallery space and set up a studio lab outside, where we all took turns looking at the ashes and debris under a digital microscope while projecting images live, in a ritual exercise I do of looking at things very closely.

Hindu temples are structurally built after a simple model that has been perpetuated for thousands of years. The temple entrance faces east so as to catch the first light of the sun. The entrance is similar to a fort or castle where the outer walls are just that, walls to define the temple area. There are smaller buildings, or temple structures, inside, and smaller ones inside those, like a russian doll in a doll in a doll. The closer you get to the god, the farther you get from society, and closer you get to yourself. The bathroom space at the gallery served as an inner sanctum, where where I kept and cared for the dead books. I prepped them for the fire by giving them another life with paint, with new titles, with attention. I burned them one at a time with butter and sugar and thoughtfully watched them change.

proposal for wardenclyffe gallery: I'd like to make a few books out of some old books, with new titles, new covers, and keep them on a shelf in the gallery, then burn them as part of a performance ritual. The ashes can be used for making paint and the ritual can inspire writing, or photographs, or feelings of catharsis or relaxation... The books will got up as part of a a beautiful celebration in the caring hands of a bibliophile.

Every book has its own flame and pace. The fire is comforting and warm. When I burn a book, it is part of a ritual born from years of practice that is based loosely on the Hindu poojah performed at temples that involve the burning of coconut shells. The book is a strong source of fuel, and was once alive as a tree. The flame is a change agent. The book starts out as a tactile object, the flame is introduced, it reverts back into paper and to ink in an exchange for energy and ash. This book could save your life one day. You could eat it, if you were hungry enough.

The books salvaged to burn are selected with rigorous criteria; Sick books, moldy books, contagious books, books with cracked spines, overprints, outdated reference books.

I’ve made thousands more books
than I’ll ever burn in the of practice running Fifth Planet Press, an independent book arts collective. www.fifthplanetpress.com

Ritual book burning is evocative and often considered controversial because of the archetypical baggage of censorship and Nazi fascism. This is exactly the baggage I’m trying to shed. The ideas and images instilled in the collective conscious by the
mass media have too much influence. It hinders our ability to think independently about what it is we see, how we live, in our imMEDIAte surroundings.

Nisa Asokan, MLS
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