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Arts & Culture

Artist Michael Trigilio Brings Buddhism, Electric Guitars to Museums

Logo from Nieghborhood Public Radio project. Look familiar?
Logo from Nieghborhood Public Radio project. Look familiar?

Multimedia artist and UCSD professor Michael Trigilio has a busy summer ahead. In addition to screening his film "Bodhisattva, Superstar" – an “allegorical documentary” on American Buddhism - as part of MCASD's "Here Not There" exhibit, he’ll be visiting the San Diego Museum of Art’s Summer Salon Series on Thursday, “occupying the upstairs galleries with electric guitars and fuzz drones.”

Trigilio says if his work has a unifying theme, it is “demystification.” From his film to his ongoing collaborative project NPR (that’s Neighborhood Public Radio to you), Trigilio strives to open up “the box” of seemingly mysterious processes, be they radio or religion, and invite people to participate.

The NPR project – which Trigilio admits has elements of critique and satire– is ongoing. In 2008, it was selected for the Whitney Biennial Exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art. The project was born in Oakland where artist Lee Montgomery, had the idea to broadcast a low powered FM signal from a gallery space, with the goal of providing “an alternative media platform for artists, activists, musicians, and community members."


The original group of artists, including Trigilio, were tasked with figuring out “what kind of things can we put on the radio that we aren’t getting from other radio” – public or private.

The answers have been as diverse as people sharing their state of mind – whether happy or hungover- to holding their phones up wherever they may be to build local sound maps.

Over time, the project has evolved into what Trigilio calls “Web 2.0 in the analogue domain” – that is, media that invites participation and production by its consumers.

Trigilio admits he may not always like what people choose to put on his NPR – but such are the pitfalls of participatory media.

His new film, “Bodhissatva, Superstar,” takes Trigilio’s ongoing demystification project into the realm of religion.


Trigilio was himself a lay Buddhist priest for a few years, and the film explores – again with tongue in cheek – Buddhism in the West.

Trigilio calls it an “allegorical documentary,” because among the “real” interviews with academics and experts, he’s included a fictional character to act as a kind of interpreter as well as to challenge the idea of documentary as objective truth.

This Thursday at SDMA’s Summer Salon, expect an entirely different kind of piece from Trigilio.

He’s planning to fill the top galleries with multiple electric guitars playing asynchronously. Once again, the theme is demystification. Trigilio says he spent some time thinking about the art that fills those galleries – mainly works that have to do with “ceremony, ritual, and divinity” – and wondered what would happen if a less than “contemplative” sound landscape was created around them.

We’ll find out on Thursday.

"Bodhissatva, Superstar" screens daily at MCASD as part of the "Here Not There" exhibit, every 90 minutes at 11:00am, 12:30pm, 2:00pm, 3:30pm with additional screening on Third Thursdays at 5:00pm. The Summer Salon Series featuring Trigilio's work takes place this Thursday at SDMA in Balboa Park.