By Susan Griffith-Jones, Exclusive
On glancing around Alfia’s home, I learn that she and indeed most of the members of the ‘Bulgari’ group are Muslim. It doesn’t come to me as a surprise as such, just I am awed at how people from varying religious and cultural expressions harmoniously share the most beautiful concepts of universal existence with such intensity. We learn to survive the trials and tribulations of life with the knowledge supplied to us through our upbringing and personal experiences, but fundamentally we are all just finding a way through, seeking to survive beyond the sufferings created by the polarities of our human minds.
We naturally want to go beyond the pettiness, but somehow get dragged into it instead of taking off the masks of the person standing in front of us, and going in through their eyes and beyond to their energetic makeup, to that which we don’t see, but can only feel and intuit. Further on in, DNA spins, our core dualistic elements, Adam and Eve, just analogies of our essential dualistic makeup in union; that which simply resonates, no tags, no labels, just a basic sense of being.
That afternoon we catch the overnight train to Chelyabinsk. We are going forward two hours in time after this journey and I am reminded that Russia crosses 9 time zones. Back in 2010 the number was reduced from 11 in order to better coordinate business and political activities throughout the country. Marina and I have been talking a lot about time. She wants me to focus on a new photo collage art piece, ‘Crystal of Time’ I’m working on in India these days in my next presentation, but I want to wait until it is completed.
I’ll be showcasing this later in the year at my exhibition in London, which I’ve named, “Universal Osmosis”, but first need to get back to India to finish it. I have already laid out the base, and to cover the structure will now be choosing from masses of photos of sacred temples and places of religious worship, images I myself have taken on my travels all over the globe. Some are of natural shrines, like Ayers Rock (Uluru), Australia, while others are of Mayan, Egyptian and Sudanese pyramids, and many of mosques, churches, synagogues, temples etc…
Places of worship are exactly that… places where people can reach through the surface of their lives into the deeper meaning of existence and bring it out. Same fundamental core… interpreted through one’s own filtered perspective.
Chelyabinsk hit the international news in February 2013 when a meteorite fell into one of the large lakes nearby the city. Splitting into 2 pieces and multitudes of fragments as it entered earth’s lower atmosphere, it was potentially more dangerous by far than any earthly natural disaster when only the sonic wave this created, shattered panes of glass and caved in roofs on houses in the city and nearby villages. Luckily, it was not a massive structure as that would have heralded mass destruction.
To me, the name ‘Chelyabinsk’ brings to mind a Soviet industrial city with high rise apartments and a kind of smoggy atmosphere, but it turns out that this strong fortress town was already standing 250 plus years ago and still architecturally shows off historical beauty, with large tracts of forest and parks throughout the city.
Off limits to foreigners until 1991 and hub on the Trans-Siberian railway to transfer people and cargo deep into the steppes of Russia, it already sounds sinister, but maybe my impressions are triggered by rumours of underground cities in this region where Soviet prisoners were technically sentenced to death as they worked on nuclear reactive materials. For some illogical reason, even though the place undoubtedly feels friendly and pretty, the name still conjours up a spine chilling reaction. Perhaps my memory knows more than I can actually perceive today?
Marina decides to focus on the practice of ‘Dynamic Mandalas’ with her group based here in Chelyabinsk. We want to do this in the park, but the weather is not with us, so we return to the hall. Traditionally a mandala is a pattern that radiates out from a central point and in from its furthest reaches back to that centre. But here there’s a difference, because these are not coloured geometric shapes on paper, but constructed with people in highly imaginative ways.
In between me telling the group about their meaning, we then construct each of my photo collage art pieces in actuality and I’m delighted to watch as Marina builds their people layers, one by one. There is always a central figure or figures, surrounded by a next group who encircle that centre and then radial points, sometimes standing, sometimes sitting or lying on the ground. They then move and twist their bodies in accordance with sounds that Marina asks them to mouth, hum, sing or shout.
Once you put this whole mandala into action, you get a grunting, hissing, whirring of cogs in a moving machine superimposed by a tune that she melodiously sings above the whole piece, accompanied by an odd one out, who wafts around the entire shape with his or her own piece to shout or sound. Angel or joker! It seems that this extra is the one who energetically wraps up the entire expression, while the cogs in the machine mechanically keep up the overall rhythm.
Here are a bunch of adults taking off the façade of their weekly humdrum activities within the wheel of life, relaxing into a community and sharing something that is enchanting and fun beyond words. Kids’ games with an adult purpose, creating togetherness and integration. Spiritual expression through fun, forcing each and every person to lose their self-conscious grasping to just become one with the movement and moment. No one is higher or lower than any other in the mandala, each must work together to produce the whole, yet each have their part to play.
Irina’s mother prepares us a hearty Russian dinner. Spread out on the table is salad – tomatoes, cabbage, gherkins, cucumbers with soured cream, mashed berries, sweet cakes and candies, along with bread and pies in different shapes and sizes… and buckwheat, rice and potatoes with fried onions, topped with fresh fennel.
I have to say that I have really got it wrong all these years when I have time and time again accused the first convenience food stores of Moscow that started sprouting like mushrooms in the mid 1990’s, not to have a wide enough selection of foods on sale, worthy of putting together a proper meal. In those days, the stores were not deficient in supplies, I was… in mental flexibility ! After all, I was only 21, brought up in a traditional meat and two veg household in the UK, and fixed in my opinion of what I thought was ‘proper’ to eat !
I search around the dishes for raspberries, but they are not appearing here.