"Hubble Ultra-Deep Field"
Glow-in-the-dark star stickers dotted the ceiling of my childhood bedroom. Every night, before sleep, I marveled at the phosphorescent firmament. Over time, however, the stickers' charge diminished and the ceiling's constellations grew dim. Likewise, the burgeoning egocentrism of adolescence dulled my capacity for wonder; for years, I gave little consideration to the night sky. By the time I'd matured enough to be awed anew, adult life had carried me from rural locales to the electric glow of New York City, where all but the brightest celestial bodies were swallowed by our species' illumination.
Today, whenever I find myself in sparsely populated areas at night, I'm startled and humbled by the brilliance of the stars and my relative insignificance. The famous Hubble Ultra-Deep Field (HUDF) image evokes a similar awe. The HUDF was produced by compositing visual data from the Hubble Space Telescope, and the colorful result provided astronomers with a 13.2 billion-year-old picture of our universe. The orange, yellow, blue, and purple marks that spot the HUDF are primordial galaxies that formed shortly after the Big Bang. The photograph is attractive, but it appeals more to our imagination; it's capable of elating a viewer as much as the heavens can an enthusiastic amateur astronomer or glow-in-the-dark star stickers can a child. The incomprehensible grandeur of the cosmos is intoxicating.
"Origin Story No. 4"
Silver gelatin prints, tape
30 x 40 inches
The HUDF came to mind as I admired Kija Lucas' "Origin Story No. 4," a photogram collage included in Root Division's "Introductions 2011" exhibition, the non-profit's annual survey of a dozen Bay Area emerging artists. Although the abstract imagery of "Origin Story" appears cosmic, the galaxies and gases of Lucas' picture are more earthly. The artist gathered dust from her studio floor, placed it on light-sensitive photo paper, and then exposed the paper. Afterward, she cut the resulting photograms into 2x2 inch squares and rearranged them; the seams of the collage create an unsteady grid, adding to the impression of an extraterrestrial survey. But the white-specks and smears might also be construed as microscopic lifeforms near the deep-sea floor, the products of a particle accelerator's "God-particle" collision, or documentation of activity in another sphere invisible to the human eye. The photogram's easy transition between the unfathomably vast (i.e., the universe) and the subatomic speaks to the mystical notion that scale is Ouroboros-like, that infinite travel "inward" (i.e., moving ever smaller) eventually leads to the infinitely large.
"Pillow No. 4"
Archival pigment print
23 x 30 inches
Does Lucas intend "Origin Story No. 4" as a rumination on such matters? I don't know. But the artist also includes another body of work in "Introductions 2011" that invites a complimentary interpretation: a series of photographs of old pillows, presented specimen-like on black backgrounds. The pillows' patterned fabric, stained with mold and sweat, is testimony to their years of service. In the context of "Origin Story," it's hard not to think of these well-used pillows cradling the craniums of people transitioning between waking life and dream, a liminal state conducive to contemplative insight into the incomprehensible. Yet the beautiful photographs are also anthropological documents; Lucas treats mundane pillows as artifacts worthy of sustained consideration. What do they tell us about ourselves? What do the patterns mean: the fleur-de-lis, the crop of diamonds? Specific answers will be provided by viewers, but Lucas' overarching project attests to the human inclination to collect and interpret, to grope for understanding.
"Pillow No. 6"
Archival pigment print
23 x 30 inches
Image credits: HUDF, courtesy of NASA; Kija Lucas images, courtesy the artist