Last fall, as the darker hours of the day stretched longer and longer, Miya Ando started making weeklong trips from her Brooklyn home to The Healing Place, an alcoholism and addiction recovery facility here in Louisville. After being commissioned by Healing Place president Jay Davidson to design an installation for the meditative space in the new women’s facility, Ando spent weeks getting to know the female residents in the recovery program. “It was wonderful to come back and forth to Louisville and witness the progress of the participants,” she says. “It was so inspiring for me to see them transform their lives. I feel so happy to be a part of that and create a space that honors their hard work.”
Ando herself had a significant amount of hard work ahead of her in the development of the space. She had to decide how best to execute the transformation of the completely round room into a peaceful, meditative, non-denominational space. Descended from a family of steel sword makers, Ando innovated on her material birthright and used 40 feet of locally sourced steel to clad the room. Her abstract style, inspired by the Zen and minimalist tradition, condenses all suggestion of form in the work to a single horizon. The panels, which will be coated in phosphorescent pigments, will store light during the day and radiate a blue at night. “I see it as a symbol of strength, of ethereal light,” she says.
Davidson, president of The Healing Place, speaks openly about how spirituality is central to the recovery process. “I get to explain that ‘spiritual’ doesn’t mean ‘religious,’ and that ‘God as I understand him’ won’t mean exactly the same thing to any two people,” he explains. “One truth is that there is only one God, but we each understand him personally, individually and never completely the same as anyone else. Another truth is that men and women do find God at The Healing Place. If they don’t, they don’t find sobriety, they don’t find serenity, they don’t find restoration. One cannot understand The Healing Place without understanding this: Our model is about more than learning not to drink or drug. It is learning to look inside ourselves, to see the disease, the failures and the poor choices, wrong attitudes and behaviors. This cannot happen without finding God in the process. In fact, we tell our clients repeatedly throughout the process, ‘If you miss the spiritual portion of the program, you’ve missed the program.’”
Ando, who grew up in the Buddhist Temple, believes meditation is a healthy spiritual discipline for all, regardless of background or circumstance. “The most important teaching in Buddhism is compassion,” she says. “It has taught me to be open, respectful of other denominations. I am dedicated to the creation of non-denominational sacred spaces and a belief in transcendence and transformation. I see my work as an invitation to introspection.”
Having already installed similar but smaller works at St. John’s Bread and Life, a food pantry in New York City, and at the Against the Stream Mediation Center in Los Angeles, Ando feels prepared for the larger the scope of this project. “Everyone in Louisville has been so welcoming and supportive throughout this process,” she says. Having found a suitable studio at Distillery Commons, Ando expects to finish fabricating and install the piece by May.
In connection with her work at The Healing Place, Ando has teamed up with Art Ecology Gallery for an upcoming exhibit, opening Friday, which pays tribute to the strength of women overcoming obstacles. Inspired by her acquaintance Karla Diehl, owner of Art Ecology, who just underwent chemotherapy for ovarian cancer, Ando has produced a limited edition of aluminum prints. Proceeds from the show and sale will go to benefit ovarian cancer research. “I felt incredibly inspired by my friend Karla,” Ando says. “We both believe that social action is an important extension of the work we do and were aligned in our intention to contribute to these women’s causes.”
Her series of aluminum prints are inspired by the work of Japanese women writers in the Heian Period (794-1192), a time when women were thought incapable of mastering the complex Chinese characters and were instead taught to write Hiragana, a phonetic form of the language that conveyed sound, not meaning. This kind of writing became known as Onnade, or women’s hand. Inspired by the contribution Japanese women made to the world of literature in this period, despite their semi-literacy, Ando imbues her panels with phosphorescent calligraphy for “I’m Beautiful Night,” a play on the phonetic meaning of her name Mi (beautiful) and Ya (night). Drawing inspiration from women who triumph over addiction, ignorance and illness, Ando’s work honors the strength inside all and the luminous possibility of hope that resides within.
Miya Ando’s ‘Meditations’
March 5-April 3
Art Ecology Gallery
224 S. Clay St., Suite 110 • 690-2311
Opening reception: Friday, March 5, 5-9 p.m.