A visit to Kosmorganica is vital more than ever to help rejuvenate mind, body, and spirit from a toxic digital lifestyle. It is not during the experience that you feel restorative effects. It is when you leave that you may notice a heightened sensibility and a renewed love of life. Kosmorganian, Robert Irwin said art’s purpose is not to notice the art itself but to attune one’s sensitivity to the beauty of the world.[1] Any true explorer knows the magic of experiencing awe is like a reboot on life, living, and being.

First trip to Kosmorganica

My first visit to Kosmorganica was in 1993 inside a building with white-washed brick walls of a former institutional schoolhouse that resembled an orphanage from a British period film. I climbed a metal-caged staircase to the top and thought the museum guard had led me in the wrong direction. A long, austere corridor painted flat white was lined with doors void of signage like an eerie Kubrickian hallway from the movie ‘Brazil.’ ‘This is where the museum houses the amazing skyspace installation?’ I said to myself, feeling irritated and lost. Museums are such awkward settings for Kosmorganica. I tried to open a few doors, and they were locked. I was about to turn around when I saw another visitor coming out from one of the doors. When I entered, nobody was in the room. It was still early, and I had about an hour to wait until the opportune time to experience it. ‘Go at sunset,’ people advised. It wasn’t like waiting for sundown from my adventures climbing temples, mountains, and journeying to exotic places I’d later visit in life, Angkor Wat, Tikal, Mount Kinabalu, Matterhorn, Zanzibar, Taj Mahal, Bagan, etc. Here, it was a space of blank white walls and a giant skylight. [ See figure 1 ]Like the hallway, it was cold and austere with a wooden bench and pine paneling wrapped around the square room. ‘No doubt this guy was from a Quaker family,’ I said under my breath. The high ceiling had a skylight much like the one in my Chinatown loft, but three times the size. I sat down on the bench and glanced up at the cloudless blue skies through the skylight. I looked up and around, wondering if this side of the room was best—no cell phones in those days. I had forgotten my New Yorker magazine. I sat there acclimating to the idea of waiting for 1 hour in one of the largest and fastest cities with a hyper-speed tempo that could alter the feeling of a ten-minute wait to hours.

If you live in a big city of 20 million people coming through it each day, sitting on a bench in a space when you are not tired is incredibly uncomfortable. A city slicker, like myself, would get immediately anxious over losing time. They may wonder if they should be looking more attentively. They would be afraid to be bored. I wondered if I should be walking around or just staring upwards for one hour. The travel warnings (which I didn’t bother to read) said if you are coming from a big city, they recommend taking time to allow yourself to get out of your head and more into your body before venturing out to Kosmorganica’s sights. A subway ride doesn’t count. The tourist bureau recently announced that you would not get a migraine nor nausea-like altitude sickness when climbing the Himalayas, but you may contract CDD (Cognitive Dissonance Disorder.) Urbanites are the most susceptible. Symptoms include frustration, anxiety, skepticism, disappointment, and confusion. The tourist bureau recommends slowing down, being present, and taking in the environment rather than crossing it.

After every immediate thought raced through my analytical mind in the first three minutes, I started to daydream and compare similar situations. I was six years old, lying down on the grass with my sister looking up, watching the clouds slowly transform into shapes—the summer ritual of every kid. Then there was the giant concrete pipe they had at the daycare center that we’d crawl through. When you were in it looking out through the round hole, everything looked so far away in another realm. Sound altered as I watched the kids outside move in slow motion.

After 10 minutes of daydreaming, forgetting where I was and that I was supposed to be observing and feeling the space, I wondered if I would get CDD. Given the symptoms, I already had it. The hardness of the wooden bench under my bony butt snapped me back in place. My mind immediately thought of church because waiting on a hard bench reminds most people who grew up Christian of church pews. Even the Greyhound bus station has form-fitting chairs, albeit of plastic or metal. Two places purposely make sitting uncomfortable, the museum and church. Describing Kosmorganica as religious is not so uncommon. Yet, it is not a holy destination in the conventional sense. Most of the locals reject organized religion. But that doesn’t stop Kosmorganians, who may even be atheists. Some even house their art in cathedrals, chapels or emulate religious rituals and forms. I had this theory that the more the world becomes secular, the more art imitates spiritual practice. I am confident that the Kosmorganica travel brochure was not referring to the feeling of spiritual awakening from the discomfort of sitting or the feeling of boredom creeping up on me. However, some Kosmorganians see boredom as a positive experience similar to contemplation. I read an article that psychological and neurological studies reveal how boredom is necessary and essential for creativity. [3] I don’t want to scare potential visitors by saying my visit to Kosmorganica was boring, like church. I have not finished my story.

When you enter Kosmorganica, there is a big sign ‘Seeing is forgetting the name of the thing one sees’ and it wasn’t a Buddhist sage nor New Ager that said it. It was quoting the title of a book from a writer, Lawrence Weschler, who had over 30 years interviewed Kosmorganica’s crème de la crème, Robert Irwin. The title meant to forget that this must-see Kosmorganian sight reminded me of my skylight in my living room. Forget it reminded you of being in church. Forget it seemed like a waiting room emptied of furniture and without the appointment to which you are not waiting. And it was no use to forget the artist’s name and the title because I didn’t remember it anyway at that time.

Most importantly, I had to forget the hoopla of having to see something that I didn’t know I was supposed to have noticed apart from the sky. Lastly, I was supposed to forget the word ‘sky’ or what a sky is. I remembered that the guide said Kosmorganica was sensory and not literary. At that point, I realized I should be sensing and not conceptualizing and analyzing. Like meditation, easier said than done.

I sat there for another 30 minutes, looking up. My mind stopped comparing and judging. I noticed the diagonal shadow had moved and become longer. I felt the coolness set in as the sliver of sunshine reduced. I saw the blue rectangle had changed its hue. There was nothing but blue and no other color above besides the white ceiling with a yellowish tint. I was looking up, and size no longer existed. I couldn’t say if it were a big blue rectangle or a small one. I forgot myself in the room, of being alone, of waiting, of the museum, the austere hallway, or the half-living guard. I was just there being and looking and sensing. The baby blue that I saw became a purplish-blue. The white walls and ceiling became orange against the rectangle.No music, but a dull humming emanated from the colors and geometrical shapes. As a painter, I learned to hear color and shape and see rhythm. It isn’t neurological synesthesia. I explained to a friend that I would be on stage, and the movement of the performers, the stage, the music, the projected images all dissolve into patterns and blobs of color. I didn’t see myself as a video artist but a composer. It’s probably one reason I was drawn to Kosmorganica, which favors musical analogies. Like a meditation gong, abruptly, a voice out of a loudspeaker announced, ‘the museum will be closed in 10 minutes.’

I walked out of Kosmorganica, exited the museum [ see figure 2 ], and reentered the city. The sky, street, buildings, cars, people, the hum of the town felt smoother. My perception had changed just slightly, but enough to appreciate the city again with round edges rather than the sharp screeching angles of big cities that can aggravate a person. The sounds, the smells, the shapes, the colors were more vivid and alive in harmony without their usual discordant resistance. The sense of a soft calm was the Kosmorganica after effect.

I walked up five flights to my fifth-floor Chinatown loft. I sat on my bright yellow armchair and looked up at our skylight. I saw a squared twilight hue of the blue hour—wisps of white swirls from the restaurant chimney next door floated above the skylight. I would never gaze up in my private skyspace in the same way before this trip to Kosmorganica. My partner opened the door to his studio. As usual, he was working on a new Ambient album. Ambient, another significant territory of Kosmorganica, was a term I had learned through his music, but I recently heard it extended to visual experiences in Kosmorganica. I remember that year was one of my fondest memories of the city. I wonder now if it had anything to do with the fact that Kosmorganica sights and sounds surrounded me without knowing its name until decades later.

Angie Eng, January 2021

[1] Weschler, L. (2009). Seeing is forgetting the name of the thing one sees: Over thirty years of conversations with Robert Irwin. Berkeley: University of California Press. Wilson, D. F. (1990). Music of the Middle Ages: Style and structure. New York. Schirmer Books.

[2] Mann, S., & Cadman, R. (April 01, 2014). Does Being Bored Make Us More Creative?. Creativity Research Journal, 26, 2, 165-173.