The Rubin Museum is offering a unique exhibit that delves into the power of difficult emotions and how to turn them into positive ones—something many of us would benefit from these days.
On the third floor of the museum, the Mandala Lab uses fun and interactive tools to explore jealousy/envy, attachment, pride, anger and ignorance and shows visitors how to turn them into wisdom of accomplishment, discernment, equanimity, mirror-like wisdom and all-accommodating wisdom, respectively.
How this is done is through four quadrants across the floor, based on the Sarvavid Vairochana Mandala, a Tibetan Buddhist mandala that is used as a visualization tool to help achieve enlightenment. Each quadrant represents an emotion and has a playful activity to navigate it, including a "gong orchestra," a "breathing alcove" and a "scent library."
The breathing alcove (pictured above) features a sculpture by Palden Weinreb that pulses with light on pace with regulated breathing to foster a sense of community and engagement rather than feelings of envy or competition. It is meant to encourage the wisdom of accomplishment.
The gong orchestra is a fun and beautiful way to get your frustrations out—by taking a mallet and hitting one of eight gongs, you can express anger and then watch it dissipate by submerging the gong into a pool of water. The gongs themselves were designed by musicians like Billy Cobham, Sheila E., Peter Gabriel, Dame Evelyn Glennie, Sarah Hennies, Huang Ruo, Shivamani and Bora Yoon.
Finally, the scent library features a counter of stations that have scent dispensers with smells created by master perfumer Christophe Laudamiel. Each station has a two-minute video by arists Laurie Anderson, Sanford Biggers, Tenzin Tsetan Choklay, Amit Dutta, Wang YaHui and Apichatpong Weerasethakul, and a scent to go with it. You're asked what emotions and feelings come up for you personally when you smell the respective scents, too, bringing up feelings of association and attachment. The goal is to shift to empathetic awareness of others' experiences and gaining wisdom of discernment.
Other quadrants include a journey portal, asking you to acknowledge how you see yourself and then see how others see themselves by inserting a chip into a labeled container. The Mandala Lab's exit has screens that ask you to reflect on what you learned and identify which emotion and quadrant had the most impact.
"What we hope you will learn from the lab is that emotions and wisdom are basically two sides of the same coin," said Depute Executive Director Tim McHenry. "Our job here is to flip the coin and learn how to make it land on a side that can help you rather than hold you back."
The Mandala Lab, which will also be used for family and school programs, was designed by Peterson Rich Office, a Brooklyn-based architecture and design firm, who worked with experts to create a space that is in contrast with the rest of the museum. The museum features Tibetan art and artifacts under darkness and spotlight. The Mandala Lab is light, open and airy.
"This space emphasizes experience and collective experience," said designer Miriam Peterson. "This space was conceived as an open, breath of fresh air...one that would create curtains of light...in service of bringing you through this journey."
The Mandala Lab opens at the Rubin Museum on October 1 and can be seen for free during opening weekend.