At first glance the picture depicts a seascape with an empty horizon. The image is composed within the subtle colour palette of a summer storm: blues, greens and yellows. There's a deep sense of perspective as the eye is drawn in under storm clouds and over the water. On closer inspection, an overlay of detail appears: shapes and abstractions that look like technical drawings and maps. A fragmentary view of a building facade appears in the clouds. Are these memories? Mirages? Plans for the future?
Cities and buildings are among of the most salient impressions that humans have put upon the world. They are a manifestation of ideas. What starts out as lines on a map: measurements and calculations take on solid form.
Underneath and through our delicate systems of grids and structure the wild forces still move. Like the erosion from underground streams or the sudden shock of tectonic movements, cosmic chaos ensure that the only true constant is change.
At the horizon, over a distant field heavy rain is falling. The white clouds of half an hour ago have risen into a dark tower churning up into the sky. A sudden flash and the delayed low rumble - the power of the thunderstorm is awe inspiring!
Some facts about thunderstorms:
Thunderstorms form when warm moist air rises into cooler layers above.
The clouds are over twelve kilometers tall.
On average, they are over 20km in diameter.
They lift 500 million kilograms of water vapor into the high atmosphere.
Lightning bolts can contain up to a billion volts of electricity.
And yet, for all their power they are made only of mist. Each storm exists only for a few hours. Each one disappears leaving only a trace of damp in the ground and the fleeting glitter of raindrops on leaves. Being large and powerful provides no protection. Nothing lasts for long.
Mirror / Window
We're looking out a window. The sun has recently set and illuminates the sky from beyond the horizon. Glass that has been invisibly transparent starts to reflect the interior. At first, shadows and outlines are visible, then as the sky darkens, the outside disappears, and the window shows only a dark mirror world of the interior.
'Mirror / Window' is a piece that plays with the idea of perception and reflection. The ghostly images of buildings that appear in the sky partly reflect that same sky and within the shadows, reveal their interior.
An old text describes our perception of the world as a limited view through a dark mirror. In the brightness of day, we might think our knowledge is firm; our apprehension is complete. In the twilight you start to doubt what is truly outside and what is a reflection of the inside.
When you close your eyes, you continue to see. It could be the afterimage of a bright scene. It could be the red light that makes it through your eyelids. You never see 'nothing'. In total darkness, more mysterious things appear: strange lights, patterns and images. These are Phosphenes - images that are created within your eyes - or tricks played from within your brain. Vision and perception do not cease in the absence of light.
When the light is bright, we trust our eyes. We believe what we see. Or do we see what we believe? How much of what we observe really is from the outside world? Do we see only what we expect to see?
Our vision is not passive. To see is to interpret; to project our ideas and memories; our fears and hopes onto whatever may be out there.
Ocean of Air
We live at the bottom of an ocean of air. It's 100 km deep. Although we can't feel it, this ocean is pressing down with 1 kg of weight on every square cm of the earth. This invisible ocean surrounds us. It protects and sustains us. The clouds in this image may be between 5 and 10 km above the surface of the earth - far above us, but still deep down in the ocean.
The cloud outlines look like coast-lines and archipelagos. The act of mapping and diagramming is analogous to how we navigate and make sense of the world. In this image, there is a small 'lens' through which we see the clouds in full detail. The remaining peripheral area is filled with partial abstractions. These areas represent how we fill in our limited perception with ideas and constructs. To 'make sense' of the world, one inevitably must resort to over-simplifying it.
A ground swell is a broad, deep undulation of the ocean caused by a distant storm. Powerful waves travel for great distances long after the originating tempest has been exhausted. Ships and shores are pulled and pushed by the effects of unseen storms.
The ground swell is a metaphor for the impermanence of the world. Forces both seen and unseen ensure that nothing in this world lasts forever. What feels solid and permanent is inevitably exposed to be ephemeral and temporary.
"Then I looked on all the works that my hands had done
And on the labor in which I had toiled;
And indeed all was vanity and grasping for the wind."
Standing on solid ground is an illusion. We've always been floating on an ocean.
En Route to Howland Island
Sky and water overlap. Waves and clouds look like islands as they mirage into each other at the horizon. A small plane flies over a vast ocean in search of a tiny speck of land. Amelia Earhart and her navigator search for Howland Island - an essential refueling stop in the Pacific Ocean. Earhart's own words appear in the sky. The text is from her book 'For the Fun of It' wherein she describes and shares her love of flying.
Earhart's attempt to fly around the world lay at the very edge of her era's technology. The Pacific leg was the longest and most dangerous and one that she ultimately did not survive.
This image is both tragic, in that it depicts a doomed flight, and optimistic, in that it depicts the heroic striving of someone pushing the envelope of the possible in the pursuit of something they love.
Joshua Slocum was an experienced sea captain when he took on the challenge of attempting to sail around the world on his own. He restored and repurposed an old fishing boat into a sturdy ship that was small enough to be managed by one man but tough enough to withstand everything the oceans could throw at it.
His boat, 'Spray' was so well balanced and Slocum was so good at setting her sails that the little vessel could stay on course for hours on end with the wheel lashed. He described his adventures in his famous book "Sailing Alone Around the World"
The ghostly text that appears in this picture describes an episode during which, suffering from food poisoning, Slocum hallucinates a member of Christopher Columbus crew steering the Spray safely through a storm.
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was a pioneer aviator and is best known as the author if 'The Little Prince'. The life of a pilot was dangerous and Saint-Exupéry had several close calls. Engines were temperamental; navigation instruments and radios were primitive and unreliable.
It was Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's experience of surviving a crash in the Sahara desert that was the inspiration for the encounter with the Little Prince. The text in this image is an excerpt from the story wherein the prince recounts a visit with the sole inhabitant of a small planet: a geographer who makes maps but considers himself too important to actually visit the places he records.
In this image the clouds are sharp and clear within a small horizon around the plane. Further afield, the image breaks down into map like patterns and abstractions. Saint-Exupéry disappeared over the Mediterranean while on a reconnaissance flight to occupied France. Shown here is a Lockheed P-38, the plane he flew on this final mission. In the sea below, I've put a small life raft to help him out after the crash.
Over this ocean the familiar lodestar of Polaris never rises. The year is 1769. James Cook's Endeavour is exploring and charting the southern ocean. The alien constellations of the south glimmer above the clouds. Below, in the darker parts of the water, the wheels and pinions of clockwork appear. Due to the careful observation of the sun and stars, in combination with the invention of a reliable marine chronometer, the crew of this ship knows where they are.
Celestial navigation. Their immediate surroundings provide no hint to the crew as to their location. Paradoxically, only by observing distant heavenly bodies, and by knowing the precise time on the other side of the globe, can they determine their exact position.
Sometimes, it is only by observing that which is very far away, that we can determine where we are now.