Gulumbu Yunupingu’s Garak IV, Lucas Samaras’s Room No.2, and 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.
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
3 A prayer of Habakʹkuk the prophet, according to Shigionʹoth.
2O Lord, I have heard the report of thee,
and thy work, O Lord, do I fear.
In the midst of the years renew it;
in the midst of the years make it known;
in wrath remember mercy.
3God came from Teman,
and the Holy One from Mount Paran.
His glory covered the heavens,
and the earth was full of his praise. Selah
4His brightness was like the light,
rays flashed from his hand;
and there he veiled his power.
5Before him went pestilence,
and plague followed close behind.
6He stood and measured the earth;
he looked and shook the nations;
then the eternal mountains were scattered,
the everlasting hills sank low.
His ways were as of old.
7I saw the tents of Cushan in affliction;
the curtains of the land of Midʹian did tremble.
8Was thy wrath against the rivers, O Lord?
Was thy anger against the rivers,
or thy indignation against the sea,
when thou didst ride upon thy horses,
upon thy chariot of victory?
9Thou didst strip the sheath from thy bow,
and put the arrows to the string. Selah
Thou didst cleave the earth with rivers.
10The mountains saw thee, and writhed;
the raging waters swept on;
the deep gave forth its voice,
it lifted its hands on high.
11The sun and moon stood still in their habitation
at the light of thine arrows as they sped,
at the flash of thy glittering spear.
12Thou didst bestride the earth in fury,
thou didst trample the nations in anger.
13Thou wentest forth for the salvation of thy people,
for the salvation of thy anointed.
Thou didst crush the head of the wicked,
laying him bare from thigh to neck. Selah
14Thou didst pierce with thy shafts the head of his warriors,
who came like a whirlwind to scatter me,
rejoicing as if to devour the poor in secret.
15Thou didst trample the sea with thy horses,
the surging of mighty waters.
16I hear, and my body trembles,
my lips quiver at the sound;
rottenness enters into my bones,
my steps totter beneath me.
I will quietly wait for the day of trouble
to come upon people who invade us.
17Though the fig tree do not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
18yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will joy in the God of my salvation.
19God, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like hinds’ feet,
he makes me tread upon my high places.
To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments.