Presence of Mankind in the Universe
By T. M. P. Duggan, Art Historian
We don’t have eyes in the top of our heads to maintain our sense of relative proportion. One can then, as is recorded in this series of paintings see the vastness of space, of the extent, the distance potential in that journey of return. Of escape from this world and from ones sense of one’s own self importance and value, measured in a variety of ways; but this is a vast space without signposts or footmarks and without the expected footholds between orders of both reality and significance, there are just the indications, the stirrings in the nebulae on that far horizon that the individual pilgrim from this to that sights through a telescope or aims for, in a vessel open to the elements, floating out with no visible means of support through the immensity of space. The journey of the alone to the alone undertaken by the seeker.
These paintings display the space between, that space between one persons self and another, between one world and a multitude of others, between dream, illusion and possible and inherent realities, the remoteness of us from these actualities, between our individual world, the worlds of others and the near limitless immensity of the visible/invisible universe.
The presence of Mankind in the Universe is depicted together with the Nebulae although there is nothing nebulous about the paintwork and the clarity, color and size of these depictions. The cloudiness is in the eye and mind in mistaking the inconsequential for significance and what is significant for the inconsequential, a matter of orientation, of the possibility of change realized through the change in the individuals perspective from the horizontal to the vertical dimension, up and out into that region unobstructed by the endless reflections of ourselves and similitude limited by this place and our world’s restricted horizons. With the word nebula coming from the Latin word for cloud, employed to describe an indistinct-indeterminate, to us at least, a cloud-like cluster of distant stars or a luminous patch of supposed gaseous or stellar material lying far out beyond the limits of the solar system, as in the nebula theory of the origin of the solar system which was first proposed in 1734 by Emanuel Swedenborg, propounded upon by Immanuel Kant in 1755 and with a similar model of the solar system proposed in 1796 by Pierre-Simon Laplace which was then refashioned in the 20th c. into the modern Solar Nebular Disk Model or SNDM for the origin of the universe; but, from 1661 the word nebula was also used in English to describe a film or a covering over the eye, being a spot or speck or a cloud on the cornea of the eye causing defective vision, a matter of the blind and the seeing, as also of the blind seeing in ways and at times more clearly and fully into that night sky of the universe than the fully sighted.
So one can see in these paintings:
Sitting in the comfort of an armchair or a tombstone in the western cultures, and looking out at the nebulous nature of a far distant prospect of attractive wonder, of a rich burst of diffuse nebulae on the outer edge of the solar system, the figure seems a stars struck voyager, living vicariously on a relatively irrelevant planet within a context so vast in its extent, its limit indeterminately far, that only minor almost entirely meaninglessly insignificant motion and activity is possible within a stage set possessing such vast dimensions, focus and scale, that a figure’s movement and potential seems, if not entirely absurd, to be insignificant, almost entirely irrelevant, marginal in its potential to impact upon the universe within this vast indeterminate, the undefined extent of the expanding universe as a stage and with all the space lying between the immense worlds of far distant possibilities, a fact that seems almost debilitating in its potential, once realized, the force and the attractive power of absence.
Is it better to watch that far distant immensity of potentialities develop, with human figures reduced to utter insignificance in the face of this immensity than to set out on that voyage? Some others are also looking out in that direction, focusing and captivated by what they see. However, it is almost as if the capacity to change anything fundamental, beneath this glowing light of observation is quite beyond the capacity of some of these disenfranchised inconsequential figures; what matters, that which will be of significant consequence, that will of course be taking place elsewhere, out there beyond and within, where the ever increasing number of nebulae are, collapsing stars, swirls of big bang detritus many light years away, choirs of angels, far out beyond the limits of our miniscule solar system, in which we figure for our brief time as smaller and more inconsequential than the billions of flecks of windblown foam cast off from the peaks of wave tops that swirl in unnoticed upon a deserted seashore.
But then the realization of this space, of this immensity and of our insignificance within it is surely where the importance of these paintings resides.
In these paintings there is no middle distance, no field for wider potential influence and impact is indicated, no confining and consoling temporal horizon for these figures, the walls have fallen and those that are looking out know they are inhabiting a small and limited world surrounded by the sheer immensity of empty space extending out to the nebulae; while all the time, out there at the very edge of visibility, far out in the immensity of the sky there are the super bright lights and the nebulous indistinct forms of swirling in substantiality of gasses and particles with their potential impact and influence as supernova explosions to light up and change this, as other worlds, as was recorded by observers and astronomers about a millennia ago, in 1054 A.D. a sudden light out of the darkness, like the light brought to this little introverted world by the revelers of world religions.
Another painting depicts a nebula gazer within the cage of the world suspended by a slack string, telescope between the bars looking out towards the surrounding distant nebulae. Another shows a female nebula gazer with her man, ready to defend her, as far as may be possible, with bow and arrow, from the threat and danger potential and inherent in that great unknown, who stands on the end of the telescope looking out towards the unknown nebula armed with an inconsequential weapon unless it be tipped with the wonder of love. Our worldly time stops, the hands of the clocks of temporal time cease to move as the nebula gazers in interrogating the unknown step out of temporal time.