SCULPTURE 7-99
 
SAMTEN KYIL New Sculpture Garden Opens in London
 
Sculptor Hamish Horsley and architect Guy Stansfeld could not have selected a more unlikely, or more meaningful, site for their Tibetan Peace Park, or Samten Kyil (Place of Contemplation). The self-contained sculptural space, which opened in May, is located on the grounds of the Imperial War Museum (in the Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park) in London.
 
In 1995 Horsley, who specializes in public art projects, was commissioned by the Tibet Foundation to create a work dedicated to the Dalai Lama and to the Tibetan people that would represent a meeting of East and West, and that would embody the Dalai Lama's message of non-violence.
 
Since the Foundation had not selected a site, Horsley approached the London Borough of Southwark which offered the site outside the War Museum. The garden has been presented as a gift to the Borough of Southwark and to the people of Britain from the Tibet Foundation, which has also established a trust fund to assist with maintenance of the work.
 
Because of the high profile of the location, Horsley realized "that if we were to get our design approved we would have to work on something much larger than we had originally intended and the overall quality would have to be very special." The artist had initially conceived a single, stone monument, placed as a centerpiece in a simple arena. This concept grew much grander in scale, metamorphosing into a conceptual incorporation of traditional Tibetan imagery and contemporary Western elements in a unified space.
 
The centrally planned, circular space is approached from a footpath; a stone pillar, derived from a 9th-century pillar commemorating a peace treaty between Tibet and China, marks the entryway to Samten Kyil. Each face of this Language Pillar, visible from the main entrance of the War Museum, bears a message from the Dalai Lama in Tibetan, English, Chinese and Hindi.
 
Horsley based the design of the garden on the Wheel of Dharma and oriented it along the north/south, east/west axes. Four large Portland stone sculptures linked by steel and oak planting screens comprise the Wheel's framework. The stylized abstractions (three reliefs and one gateway), placed on the compass points and carved on site, represent the four elements: Earth (east), Air (the western entryway), Fire (north), and Water (south). The actual area of the enclosure represents the fifth element, Space. Horsley generally draws his inspiration from natural forms, and in these particular images he "focused intensely on visual memories...of traveling in Tibet and through that extraordinary, powerful landscape. I wanted to capture something of that energy." The embodiment of natural energy is crucial for this conception, which attempts nothing less than a symbolic and spatial cosmology. In Buddhism the five elements constitute the basis of human existence: environment, life, and consciousness. In Horsley's project, they enclose, provide access to, and focus attention on a disk of black Kilkenny limestone placed at the center of the arena. The stone contains a bronze cast of a specially carved Kalachakra mandala, a Buddhist symbol of peace that is believed to bestow well-being on all who view it.
 
Set into the paving around the mandala are the "Eight Auspicious Symbols," cast in bronze; the banner of victory, golden fishes, vase of treasure, lotus, conch shell, external knot, parasol, and wheel. Eight Yorkstone meditation seats represent the "Noble Eightfold Path" of right view, thought, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness, and concentration, surround the central mandala. Behind, Tibetan and Himalayan plants bloom in four gardens.
 
Horsley sees the whole garden as one complete sculpture. "There are many elements to the design...but collectively they make up an organic form. It should be seen as an integrated space that one walks into and experiences...I see the whole work as an extension of the Kalachakra mandala."
 
In addition to his collaboration with Stansfeld on the architectural and spatial design, Horsley received programmatic assistance from Tibetan monks and technical assistance from a large team of artists, including stone carvers Tim Metcalfe and Awang Dorje, as well as landscapers and contractors. "On some days the number of people working on site was really something to see. So much intense activity and team work. I would think this is the most significant aspect of the project, a lot of dedicated people working together."
 
Born in New Zealand, were he spent his childhood close to the landscape, Horsley set off for Southeast Asia and India in his early 20s, and eventually settled for two years in a Himalayan monastery. For the last 20 years he has resided in London, establishing a reputation for his public art commissions. The Way (1994), commissioned by British Rail and Durham City Council to commemorate the 1000th anniversary of Durham Cathedral demonstrates how his monumental works respond to their specific sites and create a visionary sense of place.
 
Horsley hopes that the underlying message of the Samten Kyil will be understood; "that people will be aware of what Tibet represents both as a unique and extraordinary culture and as a nation ruthlessly destroyed. But the overlaying message is that it is a garden of contemplation... It's the antidote to the message of the War Museum, and I hope it will cause people to stop and think."
 
Twylene Moyer
 
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