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Lucas Samaras

Room No.2 (The Mirrored Room), 1966, Mirror on wood, 243.84 x 243.84 x 304.8 cm, Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York; Gift of Seymour H. Knox, Jr., 1966, K1966:15, © Lucas Samaras, courtesy of Pace Gallery; © Lucas Samaras, courtesy of Pace Gallery; Photo: Albright-Knox Art Gallery / Art Resource, NY

Gulumbu Yunupingu

Garak IV (The Universe) , 2004, Natural earth pigments on eucalyptus bark, The National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2005.108, © 2019 ADAGP, Paris / ARS, New York; Photo: National Gallery of Australia, Canberra / Bridgeman Images

Marc Newson

Voronoi shelf , 2006, Carrara marble, The National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2015.1717, © Marc Newson, Ltd.; Photo: National Gallery of Australia, Canberra / Bridgeman Images

Pursuing the Incarnation

Comparative Commentary by

Gulumbu Yunupingu’s Garak IV, Lucas Samaras’s Room No.2and Marc Newson’s Voronoi shelf, use motifs of connectivity. For Yunupingu, it is stars; for Samaras, mirrors; for Newson, repeating cells. For the Prophet Habakkuk, it is the communal memory of his people.

The materials of Garak IV—natural pigments and tree bark—literally ‘earth’ the stars we see when looking up. This visual ‘upward’ trajectory follows the upward direction of animal and vegetal growth. Yunupingu’s stars signal our shared universe as something alive and watchful. Her painting is her contemplative, appreciative response. Looking up facilitated her people’s spiritual growth and creativity, and her own. In remote regions, stars appear against a black sky, yet Yunupingu paints a red ground. Our perception of a black night sky is a relativity, not an absolute. Looking up, we encounter the limit of our sight. No eye can see all the celestial bodies. If we could see the luminescence of every star in the universe, all darkness would be dispelled in a field of light.

Yunupingu’s stars are motifs that also speak of time and transcendence. Stargazers process photons emitted years earlier. This refigures our norm of understanding. We do not look upon the universe as it is, but as it was. It is not the past that eludes us, but an ungraspable present.

This schematic pattern is reversed in Samaras’s installation. Inside Room No. 2, viewers are seemingly suspended in space. Caught in a series of reflections, the multiple images regress in scale until they are lost to view, projected into infinity. Reflected viewers become a future memory of themselves, becoming like stars. The future into which they are projected, though, offers neither change nor development. In contrast to the upward growth implied in Yunupingu’s work, Samaras’s implies a developmental unravelling. Here, ‘future’ presents as an endless and sterile iteration of ‘present’. For all its shimmering surfaces, Room No.2 suggests an unsettling and ambivalent vision of connectivity.

The form of Newson’s Voronoi shelf signals a more dynamic alternative. The marble rhythmically connects the cavities. These tessellated cells could indefinitely proliferate, their number limited only by the size of the marble slab (admittedly a significant practical limitation). Newson’s shelf explicitly gestures to this theoretical inexhaustibility. His stone connections energetically reach upward and outward at the perimeters of his work. These open forms imply the boundlessness of mathematical possibility. His shelf speaks the paradox of infinity set in stone.

Yet Newson’s Voronoi shelf does not ‘set’ so much as ‘liberate’. His cells are, in one sense, not there. Obliterated stone—a nothing—becomes in Newson’s shelf the something around which his remnant stone is organized. Open space, not only the substance of the stone, becomes a focus of Newson’s sculpture. This is material put to singular, unusual use. Newson’s shelf exposes the unseen in two ways. The excisions reveal the marble’s inner striations. They also frame the invisible. The emptiness of spaces becomes organized as a perceptible pattern of interconnecting forms.

Just as Newson makes unusual use of his material, so the prophecies of Habakkuk fall outside the expected type. Scholarly opinions regarding Habakkuk 3 vary. Some hold that Habakkuk himself may be the one who had the theophany described. Others hold that Habakkuk 3 may be reproducing an earlier vision, given to someone else (Tuell 2017: 264). Either way, Habakkuk has had an extraordinary spiritual encounter with God. He has heard of tremendous events which he interprets as the work of God in human affairs (Habakkuk 3:2). He has seen their effects (v.7a). Strengthened by a belief that God is at work, Habakkuk directly petitions Him.

Habakkuk regains his confidence that God’s ‘eyes’ see the eviscerating effects of unrelieved misery. He has been reminded of how God can explosively redirect human affairs. Chapter and book culminate in a first-person proclamation of trust in God’s continuing—and sometimes, astonishing—providence. Habakkuk, whose burden was to see clearly his society’s dark ills, can finally see them differently in the light of God’s revelation. He is able, that is, to look ‘up’ and envisage a different future.

Yunupingu, Samaras, and Newson, take the uncircumscribed (the universe, infinite reflections, space) and circumscribe them as painting, installation, sculpture. Habakkuk sees in the circumscribed affairs of the world the uncircumscribed possibilities of God. In this way, these three artists and this prophet can be read as pursuing the way of the Incarnation: circumscribing infinity so that human finitude may see it, and even participate in it.

 

References

52 Insights. ‘Marc Newson: The Consummate Designer, 22 December 2016, www.52-insights.com, [accessed 24 September 2020]

Floyd, Michael H. 2000. Minor Prophets, Part 2, Forms of the Old Testament Literature, 22 (Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans)

Newson, Marc and Christopher Frayling. 2015. V&A Annual Design Lecture: Marc Newson in Conversation with Professor Sir Christopher Frayling, 8 June 2015’, www.youtube.com, [accessed 7 April 2019]

Perkins, Hetti (curator). 2015. Earth and Sky: John Mawurndjul and Gulumbu Yunupingu (Healesville, Victoria: Tarrawarra Museum of Art)

Scouteris, Constantine. 1984. ‘“Never as gods”: Icons and their Veneration’, Sobornost Incorporating Eastern Churches Review), 6.1: 6–18

Stubbs, Will. 2013. ‘Gulumbu Yunupingu: We Can All Look at the Stars’, Artlink, 33.2: 104–07