Living Labyrinths for Peace – By Ron Kipling Williams
The symbolism of walking a path and then re-tracing one’s steps can be powerful when reflecting on how the past informs the present and future.
Subbasement Studios, one the most progressive art galleries in Baltimore, just finished hosting a unique installation called Living Labyrinths for Peace.
Adorning the studio walls are fabric and photo pieces and images of peacocks with superimposed images of nude figures, the symbol of peacock referring to transformation amongst Native American and other indigenous cultures. But the real star of the show is not on the walls, but rather the floor; a huge computer-controlled electronic labyrinth has been constructed there by artist Sandra Wasko-Flood.
Wasko-Flood, who has been a visual artist for the past 35 years, began this work in 1986. Her journey into the labyrinths began during her time spent at an Anasazi (ancient Native American tribe) cultural center in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico. The Anasazis were an advanced Indian culture that flourished before the European colonial invasion in the southwest region of the country (900 through 1130 A.D.).
“I was sitting in a great kiva , and saw figures coming out of walls,” said Wasko-Flood, who shared that over the last 4,000 years, labyrinths have been found in churches, manuscripts, on coins in baskets, and on stones. In the modern era, they have also been found in hospitals, parks, schools, prisons, and other places.
She went to a bookstore and purchased Labyrinths: Ancient Myths and Modern Uses by Sig Lonegren, who is known as one of the founders of the modern labyrinth movement. Wasko-Flood became an integral part of the movement in 1991, finding spiral designs wherever she toured. “Spiral designs are found everywhere in the universe, from DNA to the galaxies,” she said, “it is a major life form.”
Since that time, her work has shown in schools, churches, hospitals, parks, and over 50 galleries, museums, and exhibitions, including ones in Washington, DC, Moscow, and Buenos Aires.
Her newest work is “Dance of the Labyrinth,” an interactive installation of computer programmed light box images designed to be walked. It is a three-fold path of life, death, and rebirth, all encompassing transformational change.
A labyrinth is different from a maze, which is designed to confuse the traveler. Labyrinths, on the other hand, are simple, with three common designs: Classic 7-Circuit Labyrinth, Concentric Labyrinth, and Chartres Labyrinth, all with only one path that leads to the center and back. Labyrinths are intended to create the effects of slowing the breathing, focusing the mind, and creating a peaceful state within each participant. The symbolism of walking a path and then re-tracing one’s steps can be powerful when reflecting on how the past informs the present and future.
Before one enters the labyrinth, she must remove her shoes and focus on her meditation, a wish to resolve a conflict, or any other internal work. “Listen with your heart and your mind,” said Wasko-Flood.
The responses to the experience walking the labyrinth vary from person to person. However, peace, power, and mystery are recurring themes. “People are walking away feeling more empowered and at peace, feeling awe and mystery – a powerful tool,” said Wasko-Flood.
Upon returning to Washington, DC from New Mexico, Wasko-Flood began working with students in local schools in the visual arts, teaching them how to create labyrinths. In 1998 she helped found the International Labyrinth Society in St. Louis. Through the International Labyrinth Society, Wasko-Flood orchestrated a walking demonstration of a labyrinth for peace on the east lawn of the US Capitol building.
In 2005 she created Living Labyrinths for Peace, Inc. The group creates interactive labyrinths using art, science, technology, and nature in the interest of developing programs for learning to foster peace. They promote labyrinth-walking to enhance inner as well as global peace.
Working in schools in the Baltimore-Washington Metropolitan area, Wasko-Flood wants to create permanent labyrinth programs into their system. “I want to get the youth to think of specific peace ideas and try to relate them to school values,” said Wasko-Flood.
Deeply embedded in the labyrinth movement for almost twenty years now, Wasko-Flood believes labyrinths possess something for everyone. “It is a spiritual tool that relates to all races, cultures, disciplines, and institutions,” said Wasko-Flood. “There is a spirit in there that unites everything.”