October 27, 2021 6:10 PM
by Clove Galilee
Photo courtesy of Mike Peebler
The Annenberg Community Beach House has commissioned artist Lars Howlett to create two temporary site-specific walkable labyrinths in the sand and one on hardscape for Out-of-the-Blue, a program of Santa Monica Cultural Affairs. Labyrinths cultivate peace and bring the community together by providing a container for a reflective experience in a focused and sacred space. Join us at the Beach House on November 13 and 14 to experience the potential of labyrinths to create and hold space for stress reduction, healing, reflection, and community building through art.
Cultural Affairs Supervisor Clove Galilee caught up with Lars Howlett to talk about this exciting upcoming project:
First, can you tell me a little about labyrinths and what drew you to them?
What amazes me about labyrinths is that this singular subject has so many facets to it. There’s the design, geometry, and craft of creating the labyrinth experience. My approach is that of an interactive art installation with the idea that each labyrinth should be unique to best suit the environment, population, and intention. The history and mythology of labyrinths helps inform the replication of archetypal designs and development of contemporary patterns. It’s a mindfulness practice and spiritual experience that cultivates community in offering a drawn-out journey through sacred time and space.
I first discovered labyrinths online researching sacred geometry in 2002 and witnessed the building of an exact replica of the 11-Circuit medieval Chartres labyrinth in the courtyard of a school where I taught photography. I would walk the labyrinth to decompress between classes and then used it as a ritual with students to set our intentions on the first day of the semester and reflect on our last day together. Then after an abrupt ending to a seven-year relationship, I needed a space to heal and created one with stones by the ocean near my new home in Half Moon Bay, California. Often when I went to walk the labyrinth someone else would already be there, having an experience of their own! I used the labyrinth to find myself and it became well-loved by the community. In time word spread and people began inviting me to design and create labyrinths for an apple orchard, vineyard, and university as well as a poetry festival and education conference.
Can you define a labyrinth and explain how it relates to or differs from a maze?
This is a tricky question! In the labyrinth community, we often define labyrinths as formed by a unicursal (singular) pathway that meanders around and into a center. A maze, on the other hand, often presents multiple paths with choices, dead-ends, and high walls to puzzle and disorient visitors. Labyrinths are generally flat and rounded, created with the intention of finding your way by trusting the path. The journey is not straightforward, however, [as] a simple spiral, from the outside in. Instead, the meander toward (and then seemingly away from) the center, takes the traveler out of their rational mind, so as to focus less on the relative distance to the ‘goal’ and more on the experience of the journey. To further complicate things, in some countries there is only one word that defines both mazes and labyrinths and the Webster’s dictionary definition is more focused on the labyrinthine metaphor of a complex, difficult and tortuous passageway born out of the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur.
The Classical Labyrinth is the oldest form of the archetypal pattern, dating back 4-6,000 years or more. Historic examples have been found in the Mediterranean, India, northern Africa, and Scandinavia either as rock carvings, mosaics, emblems on coins, or stone walking paths. Interestingly, these early depictions of labyrinths are almost entirely simple, unicursal patterns and not perplexing mazes. In medieval times labyrinths were installed in the floors of Gothic cathedrals, such as the one at Chartres which is perhaps the most well-known site and recreated design today. Since the Labyrinth Revival began in the early 1990s in the United States, thousands of labyrinths have been created in Classical, Medieval, and Contemporary forms in schools, public parks, hospitals, churches, and retreat centers around the world.
Tell me about your process and plans for the labyrinths at the Annenberg Community Beach House as part of the Out-of-the-Blue, a program of Santa Monica Cultural Affairs.
I’m stoked to offer three new, unique designs, unlike anything I’ve ever attempted! The sandy area near the Annenberg Community Beach House is so expansive, I decided to create a monumental labyrinth 120’ x 170’ in the form of a double spiral meant to echo the form of a wave. Planned in the pandemic, I figured that 8’ wide pathways could allow people to socially distance while circumnavigating a design that presents the viewer with 360-degree views of the coastline. The double spiral creates a meander so although it’s a contemporary labyrinth, walking it is an archetypal experience similar to what is found in the Nazca Lines of Peru.
Rising from the double spiral wave is a Sun Labyrinth that first caught my eye as part of an art installation by Mark Wallinger in the London Tube. I’m creating a variation of labyrinth #230 at the Covent Garden station that was installed to be traced with a finger. I’ve seen similar meander patterns in Native American basketry—the Man in the Maze by the Tohono O’odham is the most well-known Classical variation. The sun labyrinth will be more traditional in size and scope, but I have only created it once during our trial run in front of the Annenberg Community Beach House this Spring. The labyrinths will be drawn in the sand after it has been groomed and smoothed overnight by the sweepers. They are intended to reflect the rhythm and energy of the sun and sea, creating a shared space for people to safely journey together as we come out of the pandemic and establish new intentions, identities, and ideas for our shared future.
Two beach wheelchairs will be available for the Wave Labyrinth, but we also wanted to offer a more accessible and enduring temporary labyrinth on the hardscape of the Annenberg Community Beach House. In the courtyard, I will create a duct and masking tape labyrinth reflecting a pattern found on the cover of a sacred geometry book by Miranda Lundy. I was fascinated by this symbol also known as the ‘world triad’ that resembles a Buddhist Gankyil or a three-fold yin-yang. To me, it resembles three drops of water flowing in a harmonious cycle. I like how the water drops reflect the pool, ocean, and rain which we so desperately need in California. I adapted the symbol to incorporate a labyrinth pathway meant to allow time and space for people to reflect on their relationship with water and a sense of the sacred.
I’m curious to hear about some other favorite labyrinth projects you’ve been involved with both locally and other places…
Various designs seem to resonate differently depending on their setting, materials, and intention. I enjoy creating both exact replicas of the Chartres Labyrinth and dreaming up new patterns for specific communities. My first commission in the pandemic was to design a square Roman Labyrinth for a private residence in Buellton. Also, in the early days of COVID, I camped out in a Bel Air estate (which seemed safest at the time) where I laid out an elliptical variation of a medieval design as a centerpiece for an imaginative English garden. In Beverly Hills, two couples have resurfaced their forlorn tennis courts to create Chartres Labyrinths for mindfulness practice and gatherings with friends and family.
The most heartwarming labyrinth that I have created is in the San Francisco Bay Area where I am based. Patricia Jefferson, a sight rehabilitation instructor at the Earle Baum Center, invited me to collaborate on a labyrinth for the vision impaired. We designed and created a labyrinth that is accessible for use by people with canes, guide dogs, and wheelchairs. The blessing ceremony and inaugural walk were really moving, and the labyrinth has become a central feature for their community.
Some creative projects include making a labyrinth out of shoes to represent the migrant journey that we then donated to a refuge in Tijuana. At the Heirloom Seed Expo in Santa Rosa, I created a labyrinth out of 1,200 watermelons that were auctioned off after the harvest fair to support local schools. I worked with artist Glenn Kaino to design a hydrophobic labyrinth that was defined by synthetic tears. I once made a labyrinth out of old bottles from an eroding dump on the Isle of Iona and I once scuffed a labyrinth on the floor of the ruins of St. Lars Cathedral in Gotland, Sweden. Ten years ago, I helped create a labyrinth made from recycled cobblestones in Chartres, France, and trained to become a Labyrinth Facilitator with Lauren Artress and Veriditas.
So working with labyrinths has become your career?
Incredibly, I’m now entirely occupied with studying, teaching, drawing, designing, building, and facilitating labyrinths. Upon returning from Chartres, I was so moved by the Veriditas pilgrimage I googled ‘labyrinth builder’ and happened to find a newsletter from master builder Robert Ferré announcing the close of his studio in St. Louis and his yearning to find someone to ‘carry the torch’. He took me on as an apprentice for the final three years of his professional work and handed down all his tools, techniques, and library. As Discover Labyrinths LLC I have designed and installed 50 permanent labyrinths and over 200 temporary labyrinths over six years while teaching workshops online and in-person on faculty with Veriditas. I’ve been blessed to work with many labyrinth luminaries and enjoy introducing the labyrinth experience to others.
For more about Lars Howlett visit DiscoverLabyrinths.com.
For info about the labyrinths at the Annenberg Community Beach House see: santamonica.gov/beachculture.
A map of labyrinth locations in the Los Angeles area can be found at wellfedspirit.org.
And for labyrinths around the world visit: labyrinthlocator.com
Into the Labyrinth at the Annenberg Community Beach House November 13 and 14, 2021
About This Event
Reservations are not required to walk the three labyrinths. However, facilitators will be available to answer questions about labyrinths, walking meditation, and mindfulness on:
- Saturday, November 13: 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
- Sunday, November 14: 7:30 a.m.-6 p.m.
Two manual beach wheelchairs will be available for the sand labyrinths.
RSVP is required for the in-person artist talk, sunset walk, and reception on Saturday, November 13, 2021. Space is limited.
- 3-4 p.m. Artist Talk, Sacred Space/Sacred Time
- 4-5 p.m. Group Labyrinth Walk
- 5-6 p.m. Reception and Refreshments
Getting There: The Annenberg Community Beach House is located at 415 Pacific Coast Highway, Santa Monica, CA 90402 on the west side of Pacific Coast Highway. Turn into the parking lot at the Beach House Way traffic light. Accessibility: The Beach House is wheelchair accessible and ADA compliant. If you require any special disability-related accommodations, please contact us at email@example.com, call us at (310) 458-8350 or TDD: (310) 458-8696 at least 5 days prior to the event.
Parking: Pay upon arrival. Apr-Oct: $12/day or $3/hour; Nov - Mar: $8/day or $3/hour, payable at the park and pay machines in three areas of the Beach House parking lot. Credit cards or exact change only. Disabled person placards/license plates and City of Santa Monica Senior Beach Permits are accepted. For other parking info and lot hours, please check the website for details.
Cultural Affairs Supervisor