“Tao”, the digital poem and multimedia project by Alan Sondheim and Reiner Strasser recreate some sense of the spiritual tao. The word means way or path in both a physical sense, as a street a road, and a metaphysical sense, as the path to truth and enlightenment. This second definition has a spiritual reference to Daoism – dao is another spelling of tao – and to other religions like Buddhism which teach a path to enlightenment.
As a matter of history, the music that accompanies the visual and the text is a traditional Japanese folk instrument with roots in China called shakuhachi. Buddhist monks played this flute as a type of meditation, making the instrument part of their spiritual path.
The video is a path as well, in a concrete sense and an abstract one. The parent material of the videos is the same, the camera moves along a road, overlooking a lake and a land mass. With editing, two different videos emerge. The floating form takes a different path with different video filters. This asymmetry equates to the paths of life. These forms are souls or lives. Each starts out similarly in conception and birth, as the forms start in the same position, but change paths as life progresses. This connects with the philosophy of “continuous self invention” present in Daoism. There is no completely correct path.
This idea of self invention also resonates with the interactive portion of “Tao”. The flash player allows the viewer to flip either video image. This re-invention or change of life reiterates the idea that there is no perfect path, but rather many to choose from. Another reading might suggest that the interaction suggests control over life and control over the viewer’s own path.
The poem, more so than the video, suggests the passage of time. The words appear very slowly, especially in comparison to the video. The three lines equate to three parts of life: first birth, then living, and death.
Largely relating to the principles of Daoism and Buddhism, “Tao” as image, text, sound and interaction relates to the tao, both spiritual and concrete, that a soul makes in its life.