On a recent trip into the depths of the earth, I had the opportunity to discover the world beneath our feet. Since that experience, I have been driven to recreate the natural subterranean phenomena into a phantasmagorical environment. The other worldly stalactites and stalagmites, the glowing pools, and the expansive glittering walls have lent themselves to the pellucid (def. pellucid: “beyond light, beyond consciousness”) of my imagination. I began the investigatory process by peeling the skin off a mica rock and sewing it, alternately, to a butterfly wing or a scrap of trash, treating each with equal reverence. Together, the parts transform the space; an undulating sea of multicolored scales moving around the viewer. The fields of color merge both the discarded refuse and the coveted butterfly wings. I have taken mica out of the ground, transformed, and then reinserted it into my own representation of a cave. The culminating effect is a prismatic noctilucent environment.
The cave is a powerful symbol of refuge; a place of both power and danger. As one moves deeper into the darkness of the earth’s interior, one can more easily encounter things shadowy and risky, even death itself. The cave is a place of magical incubation and alchemical transformation. In fairy tales, legends, and history, the cave is often inhabited by threatening creatures, but it is also a place where heroines and heroes meet their own allies, or their own self. While the forces within may be dark, they hold great power and represent the unconscious forces we may have repressed or hidden. Although we are entering potentially dangerous and unfamiliar territory, we still choose to enter caves to get to the core of our nature and our power.
Cultures, past and present, have recognized the aesthetic, practical, and technological uses inherent in mica. I am intrigued by it’s versatility and the dichotomy between the transparent and protective nature of the mica, the way it acts like a lens and a shield. In our dangerous era and the time of reckoning for many species, the idea that a mineral can act as a protective agent for a delicate creature is invaluable.
The butterflies in Pellucid come from butterfly farms. These farms have not only increased butterfly populations, but have also provided an alternate industry to the devastation of the primary rainforests. Besides having a short lifespan, butterflies require the same type of tropical climate, don’t take up much real estate, and can provide a steady livelihood.
Psyche, the Greek word for butterfly, is the same word for soul. A butterfly wing is made of tiny solar panels; colorful scales of iridescent dust tipping automatically in the sunlight. The wings in Pellucid are held still in a protective layer of mica, a transparent veil of rock, strong and fragile, revealing and concealing simultaneously. To create a tension between the exterior and the interior surfaces, I formed the cave, from rock salt, into a large monolithic chunk of white rock. The rock salt is also suggestive of the essential relationship between the earth and the fluid coursing through our veins. By depositing this into the pristine environment of a museum, the exterior becomes juxtaposed with the intricate detail embedded on the colorful interior.
By enclosing butterfly wings inside mica, I have created a magnified version of the minute scales. My work reveals what the human eye sees in fleeting transitory moments…A sustained complete vision; a powerful vibration of color.
I woke up and found myself sewing a stone to a wing,
preserving the dust of a butterfly from a dangerous era,
binding the garbage to the unconscious mind.
Clandestine rites conducted inside the earth,
beyond light, beyond perception,
where any magical incubation is possible.
A geological descent
through a never-ending rain of points
Minerals, the bones of the earth,
hidden flowers that crawl through underground gardens,
a faceted forest of gemstones,
growing drop by drop,
an abyss of maniacal decorations
that gropes through millennium after millennium
with the devotion of rainwater, the mastery of ocean waves,
the hot blunt force of lava
and the love of deadly dissolving bacteria.
The phantasmagorical insides of the earth,
a dream turned inside out, revealed in perverse form,
the drip drip of time leaking through a spire of stone,
Entertaining a premonition of a speleological party,
an underground extravaganza,
where paradise is defined as a mother’s womb
and birth is inevitable.
A fortuitous encounter with a rock
Other worldly subterranean chamber,
My skin, suddenly a sparkling dress of mica.
Rebecca DiDomenico is interested in the fantastical spaces that exist in nature. With her installation Pellucid, she has transformed the Project Gallery into an ethereal cave formed of resin, rock salt and mica dust on the outside and filled inside with shimmering scales and dangling stalactites. With 60,000 hand-sewn mica scales pressed with preserved butterfly wings and colorful pieces of trash, the interior space is a collision of the organic and the synthetic. The luminous scales, rendered in an array of jewel-like colors, create a glittering skin for this immersive environment. Once inside, the delicate details and the laborious creative process that produced them transport the viewer to an other-worldly realm evoking myth and mystery. We might not know where we are, but we have little incentive to leave it. Close inspection reveals the improbable fact that the artist has sewn the scales together—that we are witness to a remarkable union of the handmade, the organic, and the industrial—with the art becoming a bridge between the man-made and the natural worlds.
In 1947, Barnett Newman posed the question, “What is the explanation of the seemingly insane drive of man to be painter and poet if it is not an act of defiance against man’s fall and an assertion that he return to the Adam of the Garden of Eden?” With Pellucid, DiDomenico creates an escape from the modern world. The cave, with its brilliant realm of color—pinks, blues, reds and yellows—suggest a kind of underwater paradise. Her world is an alternative dreamscape to the grey world of the city and even the white world of the museum.
Though Rebecca DiDomenico’s world has Edenic elements, she is also interested in the very real world that we inhabit. While half of the mica scales in Pellucid are made from butterfly wings-fragile and elusive objects that suggest the cycle of nature—the other half are made from plastic shopping bags. Modern America consumes 100 billion of these bags every year, which contribute to the vast mountains of waste that find their way into landfills and oceans. According to one study, every mile of ocean has 46,000 pieces of floating plastic in it. The natural and unnatural have become hopelessly intermeshed. DiDomenico is not so much longing for a return to Eden as she is hoping to manifest a fusion of the ideal with the real world. Philosopher W.G.F. Hegel said that modern humans are “amphibious” because we inhabit the realm of both mundane reality and glorious ideas. Pellucid is a habitat for amphibious creatures.
DiDomenico’s work belongs to the history of contemporary art committed to inventing mythic spaces. Her art recalls the work of another female sculptor, Kiki Smith. Like Smith, DiDomenico grew up fascinated and inspired by the species and formations on display in natural history museums and in the physical landscape. DiDomenico’s installation envelopes and protects the viewer like a womb, shielding us from the outside. It becomes a metaphor for the organic roots from which we all grow. For DiDomenico, the minerals are the bones of the earth and the butterflies are the gems of the sky.
DiDomenico’s cave proposes a realm beyond the realities of our real, physical environment. She offers a site that stretches beyond our imagination, beyond what we consciously know or experience. The term “pellucid” not only signifies a state beyond light, but it also means transparency; it is a state of clarity or lucidity. With Pellucid, we recognize clearly that we are in a space suspended between fantasy and fact.
-Nora Burnett Abrams and Adam Lerner
Rebecca DiDomenico is an artist of allegory. She has created a Cave of Wings. This Cave of Wings was created with time. Rebecca DiDomenico is an artist who makes time. Her work is hands-on, labor intensive, recreating creation itself. To walk into her cave is to be held in awe of what an individual solitude can dream into being.
This Cave of Wings is also an alchemical space where trash, what we discard, dispose of and throw away is transformed into scales of color like wings, butterfly wings. And when you sit inside DiDomenico’s Cave of Wings, you cannot tell the difference between what is garbage and what once graced the forests of Costa Rica. It is here, DiDomenico’s genius takes flight. There is no difference. It is all Creation.
It is easy to disappear into our own caves, close our eyes and turn inward. Caves of anger. Caves of denial. Caves of abuse. All caves of our own makings. But what DiDomenico has done is create a cave of contemplation where light and shadow flicker and flare between the illuminated scales of beauty pressed between shimmering sheets of mica.
Cave. Womb. Mind. We can give birth to another way of being. We can choose to live differently. We can sit in the center of creation, even our own, as DiDomenico reminds us through her stitch by stitch reverie of her own handwork.
I live in the redrock desert of southern Utah where caves and alcoves of shadow and light are not uncommon. I have seen a hundred Anasazi hand prints pressed against stone, red splayed hands speaking from the past, announcing to the future, there is a continuum to which we belong. And I have sat in darkness inside these caves or kivas just as I sat in Rebecca’s Cave of Wings. Emergence is the word that comes to mind. We enter in one state of mind and we leave in another. This is what the world is asking of us now – to be transformed – to believe that we can take what is discarded and retrieve it in beauty. Beauty is the great teacher. I want to sit at her feet, close my eyes, and hear the soul-shattering sound of wings, not in flight, but in place, flapping wings, moving the air in place. Perhaps, this is one of the secrets hidden inside DiDomenico’s Cave. Perhaps, this is the yearning we feel as human beings in the beginning of the twenty-first century. Stillness. Where do we go to contemplate the world we are now creating, both the beauty and the terror?
And once we touch this compassionate truth within ourselves, that we house the seeds of both destruction and restoration in our own hearts, how do we survive the weight of our own grief in this moment of revelation? We sit. We sit inside the cave of our own creation and dream a new world into being. And we draw others inside.
Mournings of Creation
I have a scale that Rebecca gave to me, one blue butterfly wing pressed between two sheets of mica. I hold it in my hand like a shimmering prayer.
Terry Tempest Williams
11 September 2010