Mica Chamber, 2006
Rebecca DiDomenico’s mica chamber is the culmination of a two year long undertaking. The site-specific installation is comprised of more than 14,000 rectangular black and white images overlaid with a piece of mica, held together by over 47,000 tiny nails. The enclosed room, the created tunnel, and the suspended skin all shimmer and surround us with dazzling displays in which the sheer magnitude of images is matched by the breath of their cosmology. From afar, the effect is luminescent and kaleidoscopic. Upon closer viewing, intricate images come into focus. Personal and universal, mundane and extraordinary, they span subjects as diverse as anatomy, botany, the animal world, mythology, religion, anthropology and art history. In their random placement, they defy linear narrative or hierarchical analysis, with each viewing offering a new experience. Mica Chamber is born of a boundless creativity and an eye for all things interesting and beautiful. This jeweled cocoon surrounds with alchemical and archetypal associations. Veil-like in effect, the mica serves to obfuscate clarity, inviting a plethora of reactions while lending a sensual overlay. Both what is seen and what is obscure become visually seductive. DiDomenico has presented us a dazzling expansive world in which to ponder the metaphysical underpinnings of the universe or to simply luxuriate in this unique visual phantasmagoria.
Joan Markowitz, Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art
You enter a room that seems designed for dreaming. Not solely the dark dream of descent, and not solely daytime dreaming. Something of both: in this room wrapped in the golden tones of earth and sun, light penetrates the honey-colored walls, and you might find all the images and faces that have ever been important to you in the stone.
There are over 14,000 images embedded in Rebecca DiDomenico’s “Mica Chamber,” each covered with a thin protective skin of lucent stone that has been carefully nailed on. The tiny pictures are culled from religion, art, quantum physics, botany, history, the legacy of civil rights; they form a veritable compendium of planetary life as seen through the human lens. Indeed, the squares of mica covering each image are themselves like a myriad of lenses, both obfuscating and illuminating the view. There is a feeling of both protection and exposure, and the constant possibility of peeling back surfaces to reveal yet another element or image of our collective consciousness or one’s own life-work.
We generally use chambers to concentrate or isolate sound or atoms or energy, and in “Mica Chamber” DiDomenico has created a place in which each viewer finds, in the proliferation of images embedded in stone and the way light itself propagates across surfaces, her own condensation of feeling and memory. This Chamber takes on the tone and color of a hearth, and our ancient tropes serve us well here: the hearth, center of the house, close to “heart,” which is also the furnace, molten nucleus where objects and emotions are melted down to be born anew, in new shapes.
The word mica comes from the Latin “micare,” to shine, and we might say this piece reproduces the way our talismanic objects or memories shine in rooms of the mind. Our earliest artists, the Magdalenian painters who were at work some 10,000-40,000 years ago, used mica in their elaborate paintings on cave walls.
The great Temple of the Sun at Teotihuacán, a pyramid built atop a system of caves near the beginning of the last millennium, reportedly had a sheet of mica over the top aperture, presumably to treat the light from that great power in the sky. The Mesopotamians built elaborate graves for their dead, and included upright lyres with bulls to play them, feast foods, and attendants. We know that the Egyptians equipped the death chamber with necessary objects, as did early Greeks and Romans. There are no actual objects in DiDomenico’s “Mica Chamber” besides the image-laden walls and floor themselves, and a shroud hanging from the ceiling, but one is reminded of the elaborate effects the living have arranged for the dead. Preparing such death chambers is not an act of morbidity, but an act of extreme devotion, one that allows the deceased to continue his or her journey through the hours in the afterlife. Yet “Mica Chamber” does not bring to mind so much actual death as those experiences deep in consciousness, the mass of sensory imprints gathered in life that sometimes come flooding to the surface. The Chamber might parallel the act of dreaming, as mentioned above, but it might more closely resemble the moment of collection and pause before one swoops in on a major life shift or creative act.
The 23-foot x 6-foot shroud that hangs from the ceiling nearby, called “Chatoyancy,” is a shawl of mica and light, woven of thousands of translucent squares; it bears not only the possibilities of a death shroud, in which one is wrapped against the elements, a thin barrier between the body and earth, but also the possibilities of another kind of shroud, the self-woven chrysalis in which a soul might do its worm-work and emerge transformed. The great Modernist poet H.D. knew well what such work entailed when she wrote: living within, / you beget, self-out-of-self,//selfless,/that pearl of great price.” The shroud, in contrast to the chamber nearby, is devoid of images besides itself and the room’s light which refracts through the thin stone. It is as blank and naked as the fabled shroud of Turin before it was imprinted with its fabricated or otherworldly images.
“Chatoyancy” is a term in gemology, borrowed from the French “to shine,” for the so-called cat’s eye effect in some stones in which a moving line of light is reflected, resembling a cat’s pupil in low light; thus we have, with mica and chatoyancy, a doubling of shine. DiDomenico might be referring to the silky shine and reflection of the mica and its curves in this piece, but one of the things one feels in the room with the Chamber and “Chatoyancy” is a sense of watching and being watched. It’s as if one’s subconscious images, or vision itself, pulled from the depths of human history and individual dream, could see us. Rilke’s famous poem “Archaic Torso of Apollo” touches on that sense:
We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso
is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,
gleams in all its power. Otherwise
the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could
a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
to that dark center where procreation flared.
Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
and would not glisten like a wild beast’s fur:
would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.
—Rainer Maria Rilke (Translated by Stephen Mitchell)
The poet Charles Olson has another version of this “seeing” in “Letter 6” of The Maximus Poems:
There are no hierarchies, no infinite, no such many as mass,
there are only
eyes in all heads
to be looked out of
In “Mica Chamber” it is indeed vision that is at stake. We see and are seen by the images half-hidden in the walls, veiled by a mineral sheath that mimics human skin in its fragility and transparency. We are likewise invited into a kind of incubation chamber, for this room is, besides a death-chamber, like a womb from which we might emerge with a greater sense, or perhaps even a new sense, of our own deep vision.
A human life time passes in a geological blink of the eye. The rock is split to reveal a treasure. The phenomena of the universe lies buried in a rock, in layers of mica embedded deep inside the earth. The strata on top preserves the layers that were deposited originally, detailed images integrate the whole picture as if directly printed on rock, a cross-section of an instant in time, a moment when many parts of consciousness collide and re-form. Like a near death experience, where meaningful inventories flood the consciousness in one dazzling moment, there are no set definitions or static ways to view the mica chamber. What one person sees is just that, their own unique experience of the images that pop out at them. The opaque mica has been sliced away, leaving a transparent stone through which to filter reality. It is as if the veils have been lifted to reveal the nature of things. The chamber is symbolic of a place, a room to catalogue, digest, and unify one’s states of being. All the images are equal to one another; there is no hierarchy. A thought can surround you, overpower you one moment and the next, fade into the bigger picture.
I’m interested in how things that seem so different are actually very similar. The way a Tibetan healing manual links with the intricate patterns in a rock or a spider web mimics a wheel. Is there a commonality between Dr. Suess and the Dalai Lama? Do the patterns in the constellations of stars reflect on the minute particulars inside the human body? I hope the mica chamber allows the magnitude of life itself to unfold, a kind of re-invention, a familiar wormhole where all parts of life are interconnected, a complex tapestry for life’s amazing yet ordered variety, and ultimately to express a gratitude for all living things.
Chamber of Transparencies
An intimate leap of faith,
An ordinary pinpoint,
The blessing of black humor,
Tantric shapeshifters of the fierce integrity behind metaphors,
Spirals of pomegranate prayers,
Secret tendrils escape from the wormhole that connects to us all,
A familiar specimen cooking in a cauldron,
Every conceivable composite,
A private experiment in quantum physics,
Awakening to the wild whirl of erotic entanglement,
Gratitude for fireflies and the dazzle of darkness.
A dangerous petal dangling in an altered state,
A fool’s footprint side by side with the philosopher’s stone.
Destiny in the details, on the nape of the invisible light-body.
The magnifying prism of androgynous wisdom.
What it takes to be in service to the crack between worlds.