“The story is shattered,” she calls out. “Don’t you see? Do you not see us? The story is shattered and we are screaming to be heard! It is now about us and you and the cosmos! Do you hear? A new story has to be told!”
Her voice came to me, as the words flowed from my pen onto the page in my library in a house that is no longer. She had a sense of urgency reminding me of Michelangelo’s angel blowing wind on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. The angel blowing wind, wind becoming words into my ear, into our ear as we lie there sleeping.
CHAOS INTO COSMOS
Beauty, Transcendence, and The Sublime
Prior to the pandemic I had been sensing that we were poised at the threshold of an extraordinary cosmic opening. I experienced it all around me from scientific discoveries to artistic expressions and I felt that we were at the crest of a huge wave that was going to carry us to a new shore. We rushed toward 2020 with great expectations and great apprehension with a sense that 2020 would be a threshold year, that we would never be the same and that it could be the fulcrum into a new future. From that I created a sculptural representation of my fictive 25th century female astronaut, Najma, birthing astronomy. She is a revolutionary figure that moves us forward and saves us in momentous times of transition.
Last year, I wrote to a curator about Cosmos Regained, a work I wanted to develop for the collateral exhibition of the Architectural Biennale in Venice. I spoke to him about the unknown, and the malaise of chaos and the fear of the restlessness that was facing us. I also spoke to him about the unknown expansiveness that is occurring in the cosmos, that if indeed we could go into it, would allow for the connection to the sublime. But that step requires courage and that courage comes in unison and in togetherness and needs to be achieved through the collective. What is required I said then, is for all of us to hold hands and JUMP! Little did I know that a few months later we would indeed be in the collective “field”. We would be in a space where we are all connected with our eyes and our minds. We are all together now, billions of us and we must jump!
Chaos Into Cosmos aligns with the voice that came to me in the house that is no longer, and also through one of my favorite cosmologies of the end of the Twentieth Century, Thomas Berry’s The Great Work: Our Way Into the Future. The chaos we feel is caused by the fact that we are in between two stories. The story that has sustained us in the Western world for the last 2000 years is no longer viable, and we have not yet learned The New Story. The new story is that of the universe as a sacred reality. It is a story of us in the cosmos. Berry says, “ We must learn that we are a communion of subjects not a collection of objects. “ It is behind the quarantine walls that separate us and yet that connects us that we begin to see the difference, that we begin to see the communion of subjects emerging and the failure of a perspective built on a collection of objects. He also writes about three universal principles: the first one about differentiation and diversity and how everything in the universe is unique; the second is of an inner life and subjectivity, and how everything in the universe has an inner life and a subjectivity that is constantly expressing itself and the third principle about interrelationship and communion, and how through that diversity and subjectivity we are all interconnected. What strikes me about this vision, is the idea that EVERYTHING not just you and me and animals and rocks, but everything, the air, light, water, the earth, fire, dust, stars, galaxies have an inner life that is being expressed and it is time to listen.
In this moment, in this time of quarantine, where we as a species have stopped our usual mode of interaction and of our movement across the earth, we have actually liberated the air, and the light, and permitted the water to flow, the animals to romp around.
My husband and I moved a few days before the quarantine took effect, close to where our house had been. We moved from the city to a canyon, where there is a creek and water flowing and squirrels and rabbits, and coyotes running around and birds of all sorts greeting us in the morning. It is here that I see the change. When I do what makes me happy, which is to go down the canyon to the shore, and be in the sea, where I am greeted by the ocean, and by the wind, and by light, it is as if the elements themselves speak to me. Their speaking is of their essence. They are strong and powerful, and they are saying:
We are here, we are here, you have forgotten us, but now that you are quieter, that your foot print is lighter, we can come out and be and rejoice with all of our friends, and we say to you, you are not alone here, you need to remember we are here too, we need to have space to express ourselves as well.
This expression is passed through light. The same light I experienced in Antarctica of being surrounded by white, and by light. The particles of light had a different quality there; it was as if the light particles themselves were purer. The pure light particles infiltrated our bodies, exchanging particles in our bodies with particles of pure light, a sensation we had never experienced before. When I called my daughter Jasmine from the bottom of the world and asked me if I missed people and said no, she said, “Mommy, I think you are in Heaven,” and I was. Heaven, the quality of light, it is here, right here on our planet. When I came back to Los Angeles from Antarctica in 2007 and to the population density, I experienced the air to be like soup, like a thick soup. So what I have discovered in this time of the quarantine is that LIGHT is speaking to us, it is also speaking IN us. I can gather from what I see electronically, the pictures of people talking to one another, and the sense of going inward. We are experiencing a time of reflection. We can see how that light is making itself known to us. On the walks, we are allowed, the comments, here in Los Angeles, are how beautiful the air is, and how unpolluted it is.
A few years back, I read a book by Alan Wiseman called The World Without Us. It was about what would happen to the Earth if some catastrophe would make humans suddenly disappear. Wiseman, a scientist, describes the quick come back of the insects and the animals, resplendent, and the Earth could finally heave a breath of relief. And Eden would be regained. So, I was going to write about beauty and transcendence and the sublime. I have experienced more of the sublime in the time of quarantine, and I have experienced the beauty and the soul of all things on a windy canyon where the road itself gasps at the sight of the sea.
Beauty, transcendence, and the sublime is the experience of us in a natural order. We have lost our way. We need to give reverence to the sublime once again. We need to perceive these moments, let them come in as this quarantine is forcing us to do, and to let nature and our souls heal from our unconsciousness, let us breathe while we are tucked away, and the gifts will be many, not just healing a virus, but healing from us as a virus on the Earth. Now that we have had a moment to pause, we need to reflect on how we have been unconscious to the Earth and the cosmos. We need to forge a new relationship. We are creating a new story.
Lita Albuquerque is an internationally renowned installation and environmental artist, painter and sculptor. Associated with the Light and Space and Land Art movements, Lita has developed a unique visual and conceptual vocabulary using the earth, color, the body, motion, and time, to illuminate identity and its relation to the universal.