“Phylactere finished her masters studies in 2014 in Montreal in anthropology. Since then, she is working as an independent researcher and consultant, traveling the world and based in Montreal, Canada. Her field focuses on the relationship between tradition and modernity.
She wrote her thesis on yoga, investigating the relationship between the yoga experienced in a modern world and how it seems to appear from the scriptures or Indian archeological survey. She questions the notion of tradition and defines it as a dynamic that should be “transposed”, more than a fixed set of practices and beliefs. She is interested in all the mystics underlying religions in general.
In parallel, raised in a family of artists, Phylactere has always worked in the artistic field. Her interest for the anthropological approach slid to the art field she was experiencing entailed in her everyday practice (martial arts, dance, yoga, photography).
She shared her views with News Hour. Here is the glimpse of discussion.
Phylactere: When I was doing my master, my research was mainly on modern yoga. I took the case of Kashmirian Yoga known in Europe and in Montreal because it has a different history than other styles of yoga, and a different approach. My interest was to understand whether or not it is possible to keep a traditional practice such as yoga. It led me to question the definition of tradition which is not a fixed practice that remains through time, but whether it is essentially underlying the technique. If it is understood in such a way, one realizes that the technique should adapt the culture it fits in order to access to the same traditional experience. That was my research. Since I had my diploma, I kept studying for myself. I keep in touch with scholars, attend conferences, take classes here and there. I try to deepen my understanding and knowledge into anything that is linked to yoga, yoginis, Tantric tradition, kashmirian saivism.
Phylactere: There is so much more to learn. The more you learn, the more you realize the vastness of what you do not know and still have to learn, don’t you? Because I am not working for the university, I have the flexibility to learn from different perspectives : the academic knowledge, the practice, the travel and encounters. I meet Indians who have different insights because it is part of their culture, high cast and low cast, scholars from around the world, east and west, men and women. And I have been practicing yoga with my teacher for more than 10 years. I like to hear from different perspectives.
My research is an ongoing process of understanding the link between the scriptures that talk about an essential nature beyond culture and the way it is understood. I like to study the culture because I have a deep resonance with the Indian world and I like understanding how the tradition is shaped in this culture. At the same time, when Lalleshawari, Abdel Kader or Master Eckhart say that He exists beyond a name, beyond a form, beyond a culture, beyond us, they talk about the same thing, even though one is Hindu, the other a Sufi, and the last one a Christian. The culture shapes the experience, the vision, the words we use, but all those mystics are talking about the same thing. This is the Tradition in its highest sense.
Phylactere currently works for an online magazine from Montreal : each month she writes an article that she writes from her trips in India, photos she takes and scholars sources from her research.
Lots of traditions are fascinating, but only a few of them have left scriptures and art. The west does not have a lot, but Asia has been very prolific, this is why there is an important interested in Indian traditions. What is a pity is how much India has become under the exotic filter when it is seen from the west. What we know in the West about India is either from very poor books about modern yoga/gymnastic, neo-tantrism, so-called spirituality and lots of other clichés. On the other hand, there is a very high quality of research in university, but, then, it becomes inaccessible for most people who have no academic training. Therefore, when putting my research together into words, I intend to popularize information that comes from the high research and scholars in the field, make it understandable and link it with concrete situations like stories of my travels and photos, or things that anyone can experience in their everyday life.
Phylactere: In parallel, I am working as an artist. My artistic research follows the same questions that I explore in my anthropological fields: the image of the body, the person, how it is experienced through time and culture, the notion of archetype. I work with photography. Either I pose for artists, I do self-portraits or I photograph other people. When I take photos it is either for my anthropological research, or it becomes artistic. Then, the body is not about someone anymore, it becomes a symbol, a language. I use this language when I move, or when I photograph other models or people I meet.
The body is our only link with the world we experience. By being curious about your body, sensations, reactions, tensions, etc. you discover things about you, about the world, about others. Beyond that, the body has always been in art, a vehicle to celebrate what is higher than us. Because when you dance, sing, when you paint, when you perform, you are beyond yourself, beyond your small identity, you become part of a movement, it is not personal anymore.
Phylactere: Yoga is an art. Art is free, there should be no expectation, no goal. An art that intends to give you a better health, more power, so-called rising energy of kundalini is not an art, it is a tool to hide a fear of not existing. Yoga is the art of dying to yourself. When you perform, you have to die the same way. All the great masters are great not because of them, but because of what goes through them. After 10 years of posing for artists, I have understood that it is not about being a good model, it is about surrendering, this space of vulnerability where you do not pretend. When you do not know where you are going, you listen and follow, you are receptive. At this moment, the egotic doesn’t exist anymore, it is beyond yourself. Art is a meditation. Yoga, in its traditional form, is an art.
Phylactere: “Model” is a very bad word, it has too much connotation, such as yoga, chakras, energies, spirituality… it is better not to use a word with concepts in it. For me, art is an accident. I grew up surrounded by sculpting, painting, dance, music, drama. The naked bodies lying, sleeping, dancing portrayed in my grandparents sculpting and paintings, were for me a very natural form of art. When I started posing for artists, drawers, sculptors, it was a way to pay my studies by doing something quiet, with inspired and inspiring people.
When you pose it is like a meditation. You can have this same feeling when you take the train or the bus: you are here, there is nothing to do, and you are not expecting anything. Your mind has no more direction, no more thoughts, you are just following the movement. Those moments during the days are very important. After a session of modelling, the body feels sore and tired, but you are energized, because for three hours, you are not doing anything tangible. You are connected with your body and your mind is quiet. I do not care to be a model or something else. It came in my life. Today I still love doing it. But I guess I could have become a cook or maybe a mechanic if I had been exposed to it at a younger age.
Of course, I see lots of photos of myself, but shortly after I started doing this activity, my work of my body became like a dancer who learns how to refine his movement, the meaning of what he does. Or like a traditional martial artist, who tries to get to the perfect movement that has no compensation. Even like an actor, who learns how to live each character with intensity and lightness at the same time, being each of them and none of them simultaneously. Today I look at my photos and post them because this is still my job, but when it will not be necessary anymore, I will stop posing and seeing photos of me, and I’ll be happy.
Phylactere: Nothing and everything… I am interested in life. When I met someone passionate about computing, finance or marketing I learn from this person and I find it fascinating. Even though it seems very different from what I do, this is the same. When you have the tools to get to what is really essential in your activity, you realize you can transpose anything that is not your area of what is.
Phylactere: I have learned that life is much more creative than me. Each time I tried to imagine my future, or an idea, or an inspiration, it was always the mere reflection of a past experience, because you can only imagine and understand according to your past experiences. But life gives you things you would have never thought of. So, it is better to follow and not get into the way…
Phylactere: I am about to leave Montreal in a few days for the next few months. I will go to South Korea, then I will reach India for a month. I hope to travel to some places of my interest to and meet some scholars. Subsequently, I will go to Brazil and Europe to give yoga workshops. Next February, I will come back to India to lead a yoga retreat in Varanasi and later during the month, I will take some photographers around the country for an artistic photography workshop. Each month I will keep writing my articles about my trips and research that are published online along with some photos in Never Apart’s online magazine. I will also keep on producing artistic photos along the way, for my ongoing project I call “Fragments Identitaires” available on patreon …
Those are stones along my yearly activities. For the rest, life is taking care of us, and anything can change anytime…
Some of Phylactere’s artworks.