Sacred Sojourn

Jawshing Arthur Liou

Associate Professor and Area Head, Digital Art Area
Henry Radford Hope School of Fine Arts, Indiana University

Sacred Sojourn is a 3-part video installation that immerses the viewer in the profound pilgrimage in Tibet. The footage features two sacred mountains in the region, Mount Kailash and Mount Zhumulangma (Everest). The main footage is filmed at ultra high-resolution and utilizes the multi-screen blending technology to create an IMAX like environment in a gallery space.

The project revolves around the Tibetan religious concept of “Kora,” which is both a type of pilgrimage and a type of meditation. “Kora” is performed by making a walking circumambulation around a temple, stupa, or other sacred site. My filming expedition covered a 2300-kilometer circular path across the Tibetan plateau, starting with Mount Everest and making an important stop at Mount Kailash. For thousands of years Hindu pilgrims and Tibetans have revered the Himalayas as an embodiment of the divine; the presence of the lone towering Kailash peak is the ultimate seal of this sanctity. Pilgrims believe that by circling Mount Kailash by way of an arduous 34 mile-long path, one can cleanse the sins of a lifetime.

The exhibition starts with a customized receding “window” of the view of Mount Everest. The footage was made by time-lapse sequence of vivid images of deep blue sky and distant snowcaps. The sweeping wind sound provides a spatial reference throughout the exhibition. The second part of the exhibition, a 4-screen installation titled Saga Dawa, is named after the most important Tibetan Buddhist festival. The footage was filmed around an incense-burning stupa, where the presence of the pilgrims, police, and tourists creates an uncanny and dreamlike reflection of the region. The exhibition ends with the third installation, Kora. The large-scale projection utilizes 6 projectors blended seamlessly to present the hypnotic walking footage of the Kailash pilgrimage. The 14-minute loop was filmed entirely from the first person perspective.

My desire to film this mystical landscape in Tibet preceded my knowledge of the existence of the Kailash itself. In the summer of 2007, I was mourning the loss of my daughter. My bearings shattered and drowning in sorrow, I sought spiritual sanctuary in Buddhism. The practice led to many encounters with the Tibetan culture, which became very close to my heart. At one point I was shown an image of Mount Kailash by a Tibetan monk. I knew immediately the journey to Tibet’s sacred mountain would be the most important task for me in the coming years.

In summer 2011, I embarked on a four-week expedition to western Tibet, including a four-day kora around Kailash. The mountain seems perfect and its shape, deliberate beyond any natural thing. Such form inherently points to a higher reality – a realm that predates the existence of language and religions. The harsh elements and expansive landscape turned my thoughts inward. There was no immediate enlightenment, but rather a gradual realization that the pilgrimage was an external mirror to my solemn confrontation with past and future. As with a circle, the kora, has no beginning or end.


Jawshing Arthur Liou creates video installations that depict spaces often not probable in reality. Working with both lens-based representation and digital post-production, he aims to transform recognizable imagery into realms of otherworldly experience. Liou’s Blood Work series (2003-6), which deals with his daughter’s Leukemia treatment, received critical acclaim from Lisa Freiman, the commissioner of the U.S. pavilion at the 2011 Venice Biennale. In her essay titled “Resisting Invisibility,” Freiman stated, “Arthur Liou’s high definition video series, Blood Work, repudiates (the) destructive responses to long-term illness by forcing himself and, by extension, the public to witness in microscopic detail an aesthetic expression of the disease. Simultaneously horrifying and uncannily beautiful, Liou’s work constitutes an ongoing constructive response to his young daughter Vivian’s struggle with leukemia.”

Liou’s videos and prints are in numerous public and private collections. Recent acquisitions include the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts (2011), Museum of Fine Arts Houston (2009), and the Indianapolis Museum of Art (2005). His works have traveled internationally, including exhibitions in New York, Chicago, London, Montréal, Houston, Tokyo, and Hong Kong. Sacred Sojourn will be featured in a solo show at the Taipei Museum of Fine Arts in May 2013.