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Senior's Silent Meditation Space Makes Some Noise

By Brian D. Goldstein, Crimson Staff Writer

It’s not often that the police pay a visit to seniors working on their theses.

The cause of numerous late-night noise complaints throughout the fall semester, Chris Parlato ’02-’03 has completed the source of all the disturbance: his joint Visual and Environmental Studies and East Asian Studies thesis exhibition.

The two-part installation—“Temple” at the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts and “Three Pilgrimages” at the Mather House Three Columns Gallery—is amazingly serene and seemingly incapable of ever needing to be quieted down.

After a semester and a summer of blaring stereos, screaming power tools and stares from confused Quincy Street passers-by, Parlato’s accumulated experiences over five summers in China blossomed in the sanctum he built at the Carpenter Center.

With “Temple,” Parlato examines “kora,” the Tibetan spiritual practice of walking around sacred spaces, be they a single building or an entire landscape.

From a traditional training in Chinese landscape painting, Parlato says he gained a new understanding of basic elements of nature.

From studies of the rock and tree he began to look into the relationship between painting and landscaped space in Chinese and Japanese gardens. For his thesis, Parlato tried to transfer the spiritual qualities of landscape to architectural space.

“Temple” begins with a forest of planks. Wooden slats lead to a central canvas and wood box, whose low height forces the viewer to bend over to enter.

“I liked the idea of going through layers of space to get to the central core space,” Parlato says. “Once you reach it you feel like you are in the center of the world.”

The layers of enclosure are called “mandala” and represent the thresholds one passes while on pilgrimage.

Parlato says he hopes to achieve a place where anybody can come, relax and be spiritually enriched.

Built on the street-level patio of the Carpenter Center, a building whose architectural significance and powerful processional aspect suggest spirituality to the artist, Parlato’s installation incorporates the patio’s L-shaped bench and posts.

Examining the space helped him to see paths that were already designed into it, and the strict geometry of the patio evolved into the journey the viewer takes.

Parlato says he was pleased to discover that the west wall of the inner-sanctum is illuminated by the sun. Parlato hopes the utter calm of the space will be brought out by the silhouettes and the sound of feet on gravel.

In “Three Pilgrimages,” which started with the sight of a far-off water tower, Parlato traces the same idea of sacredness running through urban life in the West.

Parlato’s first pilgrimage to the tower suggested a connection between the water towers that dot the urban landscape and “stupas,” markers along the paths of pilgrimages he had taken in Asia. Both are located on high points and provide sustenance for those nearby—as water in Boston and as spirituality in Asia.

The photographs and drawings in “Three Pilgrimages” document Parlato’s search for these ritualistic objects, whose significance is often overlooked.

Parlato’s search for spiritual meaning in the “built environment” reflects his interest in making sense of urban life, which often seems far removed from the tranquility of the Asian countryside he has traversed.

That tranquility emerged, remarkably, out of months of screaming chop-saws. Soon, though, Parlato says he will probably have to dismantle the tons of material used in his installation.

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