"We live on the brink of mysteries and harmonies into which we never enter, and with our hands on the door-latch we die outside" - Ralph Waldo Emerson
4 Epiphanies was a cycle of four performances, each based around an original piece of writing called the epiphany text. Broadly speaking, this text is an account of an evening (which may or may not have happened) between two people, and their experience of an epiphany wherein a huge universal truth becomes known and then forgotten. The most recent transcript of this text, around which the final performance was based, is included below.
One way to look at this series is through the vantage points of the performances, each position tracing a path back to moments of perceived enlightenment.
We begin with Earth-bound lunar observations in And Yet it Moves (2015), then from the Earth's core moving upwards and outwards to sky in A riveder le stelle (2017), ascending and dispersing in Not a journey but a change of elements (2017), and finally, poised at a distant point of indecision, considering the inevitable transformation of matter in Still Life with Still Life with Candle, Violin, and Einstein-Rosen Bridge (2018).
There is a description of each of these presentations below.
And Yet it Moves (2015)
And Yet it Moves was a study of the moon, the properties of timber and light, and the interconnectedness of all things, told through biographical sketches of astronomers, William and Caroline Herschel.
Beginning with a reading of the original epiphany text, an orchestrated set of narratives follow, which in their orchestration attempt to reconstruct a similar moment of clarity. Scored and performed as a musical arrangement, the narratives draw on diverse literary sources and disciplines.
The performance takes place within an installation of projected white light, with an original musical score commissioned to use the harmonic series, and the five platonic solids, themselves preliminary structures for future artworks. All are broadcast over theoretical or actual radiowaves, as a means of accessing a fourth dimension.
The relation between the sculptural objects, the narratives, the light, the volume of the gallery space, and the theoretical space of the broadcast, have been considered less in a curatorial manner, and more as a set of elements in a system following their own orbits.
The work explores the sense of universal connections and invisible forces imposed on bodies. The push and pull of tides, and co-dependent collaborators, intuition in art-making, symmetry of ideas across time and space, and inspiration as a moment of clarity or lunacy, within which we briefly connect with the universe. There were no fully resolved artworks in this exhibition, rather everything was a preliminary sketch or maquette. This seemed necessary as we wanted to retain the potential energy that comes with the beginnings of an idea, often more promising and exciting than the finished article.
And Yet it Moves, 2015: Light on paper, platonic series maquettes by Gerry Murphy, harmonic series score by Nicholas Boyle (performed by Nicholas Boyle, Colin Reid and Brighdin Farren)
A riveder le stelle (2017)
A riveder le stelle combined installation and performance across three gallery rooms, centred on a re-staging of Swedish composer Ingvar Lidholm's 20th century choral work of the same name. E quindi uscimmo a riveder le stelle (And thence we came forth to see again the stars) is from the final passage in Dante's epic 14th century poem Inferno, describing the emergence into the night sky after journeying through the Underworld. We were interested in the synaesthetic potential of this music and set out to enhance its ice-cold, stony sound and the sense of an upward trajectory.
Alongside this immersive installation we also presented The Fourth Wall, a piece of new writing, and a collection of research materials developed and presented unfinished. These objects, arranged in a timeline, are attempts at illustrating intangibles through matter, and the beginnings (or the residue) of metaphysical experiments and alchemical tussles.
The new writing was performed as a short talk and guide to the exhibition. It was structured in three chapters; the first a personal account of an epiphany; the second, a conspiracy theory by the writer Jorge Luis Borges exploring a mysterious symmetry of thought across time and space. The third chapter is a timeline beginning in 1300 with Dante Alighieri, echoing 300 years later, with Galileo and the connection between the mechanics of the universe and opera. In another 300 years, Einstein refers us back to Dante and his vision of the cosmos. Half a century later in the 1970s Ingvar Lidholm composes his choral piece, which we stage here in the early 21st century.
A riveder le stelle, 2017: Light, mirror, carbon sand, recording of ''a riveder le stelle'' (acapella choral work for mixed voices by Ingvar Lidholm, performed by Eric Ericson Chamber Choir, 1973)
The Fourth Wall, 2017: Photographic print, modified trestle, paper, carbon sand, cadmium green pigment, petrified wood, found text.
Not a journey but a change of elements (2017)
Mixed media installation and performance, as part of HMN10, curated by Anne Tallentire and Chris Fite-Waassilak.
In this seven minute performance the 'epiphany' was bookended by a description of the second law of thermodynamics, and backed up by a display of materials, including a painting of Copernicus by Jan Matejko, cadmium green pigment, carbon sand, magnesium-rich petrified wood.
The performance centred on a gesture mirroring that of the astronomer in the painting, illustrating a sense of dispersal of atoms, balance and held time.
Still Life with Candle, Violin, and Einstein-Rosen Bridge (2018)
Mixed media installation and performance, commissioned for the AHA Festival of Art & Science 2018, Gothenburg, Sweden.
This was the last in the cycle of presentations, poised at a distant point of indecision. It included an original photographic print and a performative lecture, both positioned in front of a large window with a view of an external installation.
The features in the landscape framed by the window, directly influenced the composition of the still life. Lamp post corresponding to candle, bench corresponding to violin bridge, et cetera. Lights and found objects were installed to enhance these connections in composition, relating features through shape, colour, or material. An equation describing Eisenstein-Rosen bridge metrics was drawn on the window pane between the two compositions, still life and landscape.
The performance of the Epiphany text, set within this installation, was bookended by a summary connecting still life painting and wormholes. It reflected on the long history and transmutation of matter, embodied equilibrium, and drew out a gesture repeated across time and space.
During the lecture/performance, one of us danced a gesture replicating that seen in the print of 'Conversations with God, by Jan Matejko (1873)'. There were two versions of the still life photograph, one with and one without the print of Copernicus. When the still life is displayed on its own, the print appears in the image, and when displayed as part of the live lecture, the performed gesture takes its place.
The Still Life featured:
100% Carbon Sand, Flint's Theatrical Chandlers
A common element of all known life, carbon was not created in the Big Bang, but was formed by nuclear fusion in stars. Carbon makes up 18.5% of the mass of the human body.
Araucarioxylon arizonicum (Petrified wood), Triassic
200-250 million years ago this piece of timber was buried under silt or ash. Deposits of carbon in the water and mud surrounding it have resulted in a transition from wood to solid black stone.
Asteroceras confusum (Ammonite), Jurassic
The Solnhofen fossil beds were discovered while quarrying for lithographic limestone, as the fine-grained texture of the silt forming the rock is ideal for capturing detailed print - as well as the finest detail of leaves and shells, 145-200 million years after they were buried in Jurassic lagoons.
Spruce Violin, Mont-Noir, Jura
The term Jurassic is named after the Jura Mountains, where limestone strata of the period were first identified, and where Stradivari sourced wood for his instruments. Traditionally felled at a new moon for the finest tonewood, when the moon is furthest from the earth, the sap is lowest, and the tree's heart as dry as can be.
Cadmium Green pigment
Without protection, Cadmium Green is a fugitive pigment. It can withstand up to 3,000 °C but fades as a fresco. In its pure form, cadmium is a silvery white, relatively rare and highly toxic metal found in the earth’s crust.
Glass with Pinot Noir, Burgundy Côte d'Or
Glass is chaos at a molecular level, its rapidly cooled atoms fixed in a disordered state. In creating a new precious material from base elements, it is a kind of pre-alchemical phenomenon. By altering its recipe, we can manipulate the electrons and alter the speed at which light travels through the pane.
Print of ‘Conversations with God, by Jan Matejko (1873)’
The original painting was painted to mark the 400th anniversary of Copernicus’ birth, and is held in the collection of the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, where Copernicus studied.
The Einstein-Rosen bridge equation was from Einstein and Rosen’s 1935 paper ‘The Particle Problem in the General Theory of Relativity’. In it, the four-dimensional space is described mathematically by two congruent ‘sheets’, joined by a ‘bridge’. Such metrics describe the spacetime geometry of a wormhole and serve as theoretical models for time travel.
With thanks to Åsa Holmberg (Goteborgs Naturhistoriska Museum) and to Dr Michael Simms (National Museums Northern Ireland).
The transcript of the performative lecture as was performed in Still Life with Still Life with Candle, Violin, and Einstein-Rosen Bridge (2018) (for two colour coded voices):
With origins in the Middle Ages and Ancient Greco-Roman art, Still Life emerged as a distinct genre in the Low Countries in the last quarter of the 16th century. Especially popular in this period were vanitas paintings, in which arrangements of fruit and flowers, books, coins, paintings, musical and scientific instruments, silver and crystal, were accompanied by reminders of life's impermanence; a skull, an hourglass, a candle burning down, or a book with turning pages.
Still life paintings are a paradox, they capture and resist time. Candles burn constantly and shucked oysters are fixed in their luminous dying glow. Brief pleasures are paused, and set anew on another timeline, taste and texture re-emerge elsewhere changed, to cadmium green and lead-tin yellow.
A wormhole (or Einstein–Rosen bridge) is a theoretical structure predicted by general relativity. It is a tunnel with two ends linking separate points in space-time, no matter how distant in either space or time. Wormholes bring with them the dangers of sudden collapse, high radiation and dangerous contact with exotic matter.
Another theory pictures the structure working in conjunction with a black hole, with one end expelling that which has been devoured by another part of the universe at the other end.
‘It is even possible that a quasar 10 billion light years away may have assumed the form we see today by taking in material that reaches it from some point in the future, travelling through a black hole which, as far as we’re concerned, formed only today.’’
Paolo Maffei, Monsters in the Sky
One evening in November some years ago, we became lengthily engaged in a bottle of aguardente and a vast discussion, "beginning with 18th century observations of the sky, and the connection between wormholes and still life.
Back then we talked about lightness. As the counter to dark, or to weight, or to mass. The physical sense of lightness calling to mind how we so narrowly missed not becoming ourselves, the atomic brotherhood between cabbages and kings.
We contemplated the effects of the Moon on the tides, on the love-making of coral, and on the sap rising through trees used by Stradivari for his violins. We choreographed the second law of thermodynamics, an epic work that would begin and end with the life of the performer, and staged highly accurate tableaux vivant (our ribs and fingers and desires, were spiral shells, mountains and broken columns.) Several times we found ourselves back at the beginning of the conversation without knowing how, our bodies returning to gestures steered by remembered lessons, or an inherent muscle memory.
As night progressed, objects we had at first handled with certainty became unstable and not quite to be trusted. Untethered from their existence on a trajectory towards something else. Timber and strings, the glasses we drank from; became a headful of wine, a coin flip and a card trick. Xeno’s tortoise, or Schrodinger’s cat.
Our instincts were crystalline. Eternal images were emerging, and pointing to a truth of huge, though inexplicable importance. We saw clearly the thread pulling things together, holding all apart like twisting magnets. Intuitive leaps leapt, with ideas coalescing magnificently before springing apart to opposite ends of observable space.
We fell asleep ecstatic. (And dreamed of a crushed carbon sky where clams and shrimps laid themselves down in neat rows, of outward trajectories and sudden sinkholes. A series of eternal movements emerging in limestone, paint and song.
It was clear that only by chance were we ourselves, not quite dispersed, but poised at a threshold with our hands on the handle, deciding… to expand our energies without restraint, or to contract in an instant, crushing to a dense-inside every gleam, every word.
We felt the tug of our dispersing atoms, and a sense of purposeful weightlessness).
The next morning we decided that we had been drunk. Our throats burned, our limbs ached, and the visceral understanding so clear a few hours earlier was a series of brief sheer fragments.
These nights come around less frequently now but no less intense. Each morning waking with an icy ringing in our ears, an aftertaste of ashes and oysters, and a horror of ancient wood.
Still life paintings are a paradox, they capture and resist time. A tunnel with two ends linking separate points in space-time, no matter how distant in either space or time.
We are paused, and set anew on another timeline, there is a danger of sudden collapse, and dangerous contact with exotic matter. Colour, shape, and texture re-emerge elsewhere changed, to a movement, a sculpture or a song in cadmium green and lead-tin yellow.
From our distant future point, we see matter altered; still life - expelling that which has been devoured by another part of the universe, still life - ancient rocks collapse to salt and shell, and moon-felled timber resonates with elliptical orbits.