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Manchester Hermit

Artist Ansuman Biswas meditates on the role of the museum in a unique piece of performance art

Artist Ansuman Biswas is has installed himself in the Gothic Tower of the Manchester Museum for 40 days and 40 nights as a piece of living art. Employing the Theravada Buddhist technique of vipassana, Biswas is meditating in almost complete isolation on the idea of the museum and why we store so many objects, and to what purpose.
Keeping a blog as a means of contact to the outside world, Biswas gives daily updates on what he has found within the tower and his thoughts and contemplations.
The museum archive contains over four million specimens and objects of which the artists will pick one of each day and present it on his blog as being redundant, it is the bloggers job to persuade the artist of its value, and therefore save the item. The project explores notions of human extinction and the value of the museum. The most controversial item picked for destruction so far has been a sample of moss collected by Darwin on the voyage of The Beagle. Intrigued? So was Dazed, so we blogged a couple of questions over to the meditative Manchester Hermit.

Dazed Digital: What is the aim of this Project?
Ansuman Biswas:
I am presenting my self as a living exhibition in this museum and I hope that this blog will give some impression of what is happening inside me, in conjunction with what might be visible on the outside.

DD: How did your project with Manchester Museum come into fruition?
 I was invited in to come and do a workshop last November when the Museum was first developing the idea of a project in the Tower. I was recommended by the Live Art Development Agency with whom I have worked over many years. They knew that I had a track record of working in isolation and in an interdisciplinary way.

DD: How do you feel this relates to your previous work?
 The keystone of my work is the practice of vipassana, a very pure form of meditation taught by Gautama the Buddha. I have been exploring this from a number of different angles for many years. I have been employed as an ornamental hermit on Shugborough Estate in Staffordshire and also lived for ten days in a sound-proof and light-proof box with only drinking water. This was in examination of the links between vipassana, meditation and quantum physics. I have worked with bio-feedback devices, specifically heart-rate variability and video to make large scale video paintings over the course of seven days when I lived inside an art gallery in Nottingham and have been an artist in residence in Burma, working with Buddhist monks.I also spent three days blindfolded in an unknown place in Somerset, where I was dropped off alone and picked up a few days later, and had to rely on kind strangers for the interim period. I had nothing with me except a video camera. I made a book of poetry while living as artist in residence at Portsmouth Cathedral where I wrote a book of poetry. Writing is also a central part of my practice – poetry and prose, so the blogging aspect was interesting.

DD: What inspired your interest in the role of the museum and, for example, the huge amount of things which remain unseen?
 I was particularly interested in the idea of a museum as a memory. Also in how negligent we are as a society, and hypocritical, allowing the beauty of the world to be destroyed around us

DD: Which object or specimen has been your favourite find so far?
They're all amazing in my opinion. But the unexpected gift was the rain water!
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