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Past Present Future

Thimphu, Bhutan



We start the day at the National Library, which turned out to be way more interesting than expected. As a repository of its past I expected the usual and very stuffy vault of books, but we found instead a building with no books at all except in the shop: only scrolls.

The one exception was the largest book in the world (created at MIT and certified by Guinness). Just the other day,100 guys planted 49000 trees in an hour, breaking another Guinness World Record. It's something this country seems recently rather interested in.

The library had large and very interesting photographs of historic events, displays of a variety of scrolls, a wonderful alter on every floor, and down in the shop some material on the construction of the Dzongs, and how to plan for a fortuitous construction project that I snatched up as a present to myself.

Up the hill, at the School for the 13 Sacred Traditional Arts, I had hoped to see metalwork and claywork and glasswork, crafts and craftspeople I could imagine working with on the resort project, but none of that was in evidence. Carving, weaving, embroidering and painting were the dominant arts, each primarily concerned with preserving ancient motifs and techniques.

The mindset is so intriguing to me though: devoting your life to repeating a series of works from hundreds of years ago. I think of every project I start as an adventure for which I have trained my whole life, but the outcome of which I have absolutely no preconceived notions. In the beginning, projects feel a bit like wandering: looking, seeing, exploring, questioning. I start projects with the same tremendous feeling of hope and possibility I feel at buying a new sketchbook. This is the exact opposite of what these students are learning and devoting themselves to. They approach each commission with certainty, destination, pre-conceived outcome, and answers without questions. I couldn't do it. The very act of making architecture is predicated on change: changing at the very least a site, and hopefully for the better. These students signed on instead for stasis.

If art prepares a culture for change, and this culture focuses its art on the past, I wonder how it will cope with the tidal wave of western influence the country has invited upon itself. Perhaps a focus on the past, on the other hand, is exactly the antidote required to survive. Perhaps politics is the way to address change, and art is a connection to the roots required to sustain you here. I certainly hope so.

At the School of Traditional Medicine in the late afternoon, preserving knowledge is everything, and rightfully so. As we demolish ecosystems and hie species to extinction, recognizing the value of herbal and mineral remedies and preserving the knowledge of their uses seems almost painfully germane. I could not get a sense of whether the school continues to develop new knowledge, but I left with one little axiom stuck in my head:

Traditional Medicine: slow result, no side effects.
Modern Medicine: fast result, severe side effects.

permalink written by  roel krabbendam on June 7, 2015 from Thimphu, Bhutan
from the travel blog: Bhutan
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permalink written by  websoles.com on August 24, 2015


The topic is very relevant. As we see in it, everything is cordinated and if well placed, could make a stand out result. I have been traveling with my anti jet lag buddy, jetLAGFX http://www.jetlagfx.com/ and have seen works of arts that were worth sharing to the world.

permalink written by  Eve Jing on October 30, 2015


Nice Article....keep it up

permalink written by  Ajay on March 7, 2016

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7 Trips
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Here's a synopsis of my trips to date (click on the trip names to the right to get all the postings in order):

Harmattan: Planned as a bicycle trip through the Sahara Desert, from Tunis, Tunisia to Cotonou, Benin, things didn't work out quite as expected.

Himalayas: No trip at all, just...

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