Interview with Fung Mingchip

Maxwell K. Hearn Interviews Fung Mingchip

During a recent visit to New York, contemporary artist Fung Mingchip met with Maxwell Hearn—the Met's Douglas Dillon Curator in Charge of the Department of Asian Art—to talk about his 2001 work, Heart Sutra. A self-taught calligrapher and seal-carver, Fung made this pair of hanging scrolls as a meditation on the content of this widely known Buddhist scripture. In both scrolls, Fung has transcribed the same text, but in each case he has taken advantage of the special qualities of paper and ink to intensify the scripture's message—that form and emptiness are one and the same.

Recorded January 2013

Because I'm really amazed by the philosophy behind Buddhist thinking, I chose the Heart Sutra to try to create something more jing— meditative.

And I think the square format is very suitable for meditating on the piece.

Because the Heart Sutra is about, like two hundred-something characters. Actually, I edited it. So I calculated how many characters, and then how to make the composition to it.

Sixty-seven characters, right here.

You can see two different kind of approaches: That side is— I name it "light, transparency script." Just like you're looking through the ground glass, so just look inside. And the opposite side is this. I name it "light script." Just like the light from within.

Because this one is like circles and then, so that's why I'm using this one like triangles, so this is like yin-yang.

This one: I'm using the water, making a circle, and let the center dry. And then using very diluted ink, write on it. And because the center is dry, so they catch more ink. So the outside is a little bit lighter than the center, to create that kind of transparency feeling.

So I create a depth in the character. And that kind of depth is creating the—the illusion in our mind, so you can see into it.

In a traditional sense, we're only using the ink to write the character. But in here, I'm using the water. But the water, once it dries, you cannot see anything.

So the line is not visual. The space is inside your mind.

Using the water, I write all the characters, finish the—the characters first. And then I'm using the dark ink, covering the whole paper up, but leaving this space open.

Actually, I started as a seal carver, in 1975. So the seal is carved by myself, and the character inside is the same. I want to making a pair, so that's why I put one positive and one negative, the same character together.

The meaning is the same: phenomenon. Xianxiang.

From what I understand of the Heart Sutra, the content is talking about existence and non-existence. So it's all outside. You know, how to look in it. It's all the phenomena.

Our senses are more sensitive than we think. So once you just focus in the middle, you can feel differently.

In my intention, I want people to stand right in front of it, so you just focus on this area, maybe stand here, five to ten minutes at least.

You want to get the feeling about the depth. That is the focus point. The characters only stay here.

These characters, and then the space all the way in. And then you will feel the light from within.

Director: Howard Silver
Camera and Editing: Jessica Glass
Produced by the Department of Digital Media, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Related Videos