INDIAN ART FAIR - New Delhi - India - stall Chemould Prescott Gallery Mumbay.
30th January 2020 – 2nd February 2020 -
This new work entitled, ‘Principia I, II & III’, is a meditation on the ‘Universe’ in continuing with the theme of recent works such as ‘The Sea of Untold Stories’, ‘The Dunhuang Star Atlas’ & ‘Mapping the Heavens’, each of these artworks considers our place within the wider cosmos trying to fathom the bewitching beauty of it all, following the passing of my mother, in 2018. My inspiration has been star maps, both, ancient and new, which have charted the heavens from early cultures to the present. They are a wealth of imagery that speaks of how we see ourselves wrestling with Plato’s edict:
Who am I
Why I am Here
Where am I Going
The research for Principia draws far and wide particularly the residency at Kettle’s Yard Gallery, University of Cambridge, UK, (Oct 2019). I was fortunate to be given access to several campuses, including the Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics, Wren and University Libraries. At one stage, I was able to study the handwritten notes of Isaac Newton’s ‘Philosophia, Naturalis, Principia, Mathematica’, which he made ahead of the publication itself in 1687. The hand-made paper is identical to Rajasthani hemp fibre paper that I use daily, a tradition that continues in India, but long since passed in Europe. The ink (possibly gall or oak) is similar to the dhumsa brown ink I also use, a strange conversation in materials between an artist and scientist across many centuries. The text is Latin and English and like all notebooks written hurriedly as if the thoughts need to be pinned down before they escape, jostling with scratched and scared numbers that I do not understand. I have worked with historical documents over the years but all have been personal rather than collective, so this is a new territory, the unsettling reality of today was forged by such notes, Principia (as it is more widely known) remains a seminal mathematical work whose numbers would take us to the moon a few centuries later.
The book itself illustrates Newton’s three laws of motion laying the foundation for our understanding of gravity. From which Albert Einstein would later give us E=mc² in his most important works published between 1907 and 1915: The General and Special Theory of Relativity. If Newtons explained how the motions of the heavenly bodies moved then Einstein told us ‘why’. E=mc² states that energy (e) and matter (m) are interchangeable. Much like currencies (dollars for pounds and vice versa), in which the ‘exchange rate’ is the speed of light (c²). In other words, space and time (space-time) is relative or as Einstein would have it ‘malleable’. Light, as it travels through space, is subject to gravity as the density (mass) of an object (such as a planet) causing it to distort or curve. Einstein described space, time & gravity as the warp and weft of a fabric, an analogy (and image) that I and many others outside the scientific field, can actually grasp.
I had been looking at textiles for some time particularly the lace ‘Pichvaias’ found in Nathdwara, Southern, Rajasthan. Lace and its intricate threads seemed to neatly illustrate how such gravitational principle’s work. Lace patterns are generated by the repetition of one shape, such as a hexagon. The shape continues throughout the design connecting one part to another. However, because the shape is made from a single thread, it has to join a cluster of threads every few millimetres; otherwise, the design would not hold. These cluster joints act as islands were many threads congregate to form a solid body allowing the design to cover large areas. As the design grows, the shapes retain their integrity but become stretched and distorted, pulled between opposing clusters. Gravity works in the same way space-time literally stretches by the mass of an object greater than itself.
The hexagon shape distorts between two clusters (or Islands of the congealed thread) warping the pattern, in much the same manner as gravity distorts space itself.
Details ‘Principia Drawings’
Graphite pencil on hand-made paper
In this new body of works, I want to explore the heavens, to try and fathom my palace within it and science seems to offer an interesting path. A path well-tread by artists up until fairly recent times but one that has sadly split into opposing camps, where the imaginal and scientific have become uneasy bedfellows, neither quite trusting the other; although we are both engaged in the folly of mapping the infinite through finite means. And as I write this fires grip Australia, we are forced to see the reality of climate change, our world is burning in every sense (the ensuing politics of the day), perhaps we should reconsider our relationships, otherwise, our fragile place within the heavens, known as the ‘goldilocks zone’, the only place in our galaxy where life could have evolved may well come to an abrupt end.
The image is transcribed from a map made by the Greek merchant Cosmas Idicopleustes (literally ‘Cosmas who sailed to India’) who died in AD 550. ‘Cosmas drew many maps based on his travels and Christian beliefs, including this theoretical idea of the Universe taking the form of a giant box with a curved lid based on the tabernacle, the earthly dwelling of God’. In my work, the mountain is Mount Meru - the Universal Axis Mundi that connects heaven and earth, a tendency of Hindu and Buddhist philosophy. The gold pattern that adorns the mount follows geometries that are often found on walls behind the Buddha image. I had documented many of these some years ago in Yangon at the Shwedagon Paya, Burma. In this transcription, the deity has gone and the mythological mountain is encased, stranded with an empty box.
A single strand of lace, a disjointed biomorphic - Milky Way hovers above the modern southern sky.
A generic school desk interrupts Newton’s notes, the neurosis of education and how we struggle to understand science.
Desmond Lazaro, January 2020.
This devotional textile were made for the ‘Pushti Marg’ Sect of Vaishnavi worship of Shri Nathji during the late 19th and early 20th Century. The imagery was wholly devotional although they were machine-made (in England, Belgium & Germany) specifically for the Indian market.
 ‘The Sky Atlas’ by Edward Brooke-Hitchings, pg 63. The map itself comes from the library of Congress, Geography and Map Division’