Text, Art and Performance in Bön Ritual

Austrian Science Fund project P 24702-G21 (duration: 01.12.2012-30.06.2016)
Project leader: Deborah Klimburg-Salter
Project members: Uwe Niebuhr, Jürgen Schörflinger, Linda Lojda, Petra Latschenberger, Kami Gurung, Pema Pengyu, Charles Ramble (2012-2014).

This project, funded by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF), has the aim to carry out fundamental research on art and rituals of the Bön religion and the underlying textual materials. The three axes of research indicated by the title are intended to underscore the principle that none of these components can be adequately studied in isolation, and that an integrated approach must be adopted in order to fully understand the meaning of the component parts. Our research focuses on the Bon Ritual Art, from the production of the artistic components to their total performative ritual context, including reference to the textual resources.
One major step in combining and documenting the three main research topics of the project together, was the one month exhibition "Bön. Spirits of Butter – Art and Ritual of old Tibet", which took place in February 2013 in the Museum of Ethnology in Vienna (now Weltmuseum Wien). During the whole month rituals took place daily. The Bön rituals were watched around the globe via live feed on the museum's website.
The rituals where conducted by Lama Yangön Sherab Tenzin, an important tantric master and lineage holder of the Bön tradition, who was assisted by seven lamas from Nepal. Together with the all important New Year ritual, other rituals where performed, in particular a special blessing ritual to inaugurate the new name Weltmuseum Wien. At that it was also possible to interview and document the lamas during the production of a large number of dough-and-butter sculptures known as tormas (Tib. gtor ma), which were then placed on the altar specifically constructed for this occasion as the focal point of the exhibition.
So far the project's focus has been on cataloguing and archiving the visual culture documented during three different torma workshops (approx. 13.500 images). The visual database accumulated during the exhibition and two field research trips to Nepal and India is housed at the WHAV in the Institute.
The comparative art historical analysis highlights the Bön visual culture in Nepal, India and the Diaspora. The scientific results of the project will be made accessible at the end of the project with the public launch of its website at the beginning of July.