The 8 Train
William James said, “My experience is what I agree to attend to. Only those items which I notice shape my mind.” I spent some time this afternoon at a gallery in lower Manhattan, Art in General, to see an exhibit called The 8 train created by Josh Melnick.
Josh took a Vision Research camera, ordinarily used in scientific studies requiring high speed motion analysis, into the New York City subway and shot individual portraits. In the gallery space, two seconds of real time footage is extended to several minutes on the screen. It was a fantastic exercise in attention and compassion.
First I was struck by the fact that all these people were in transit – they were leaving one experience and literally en route to another. In that in between time, or bardo as it is known in Buddhism, there was no need for affectation or pretense. I watched their eyes, their faces, and wondered – were they leaving a situation regretfully or as fast as they could get out? Was their destination one of delight, or dread? Emotions flashed across their faces, and many seemed very weary.
I watched those faces in repose, not trying to convince anyone of anything, just traveling. They seemed so human, so vulnerable, and quite, quite tired. Maybe I was just tired myself from so recently returning from Europe, but I didn’t think so. In my watching them, there was no transaction involved, no commerce, no expectation. Just their lives, a little bit revealed. I saw categories of division, of race and gender in my own mind fall away as I watched them. And without any purposeful direction, I found myself filled with compassion.
The Buddha said that all beings want to be happy. And he said that we are all vulnerable to loss, to change. I sensed the truth of that, watching those unpretentious faces, and felt how close we all actually are, and how close we should rightly feel.
I think Josh’s art is deep and true, and transformative. Seeing the exhibit left me contemplating the potential of art to change the way we see ourselves and others. And eager to look around the subway car.