When I was ten years old, I was as carefree and as pretentious as any child could be. I thought I could take on the world and had the need to prove that I knew and could overcome everything.
There’s a certain innocence in being a child—as children, we don’t think about the possibility of death, nor do we realize how small our existence is in comparison to the whole of the universe. Today, many people regard death as something to be afraid of, even if they don’t exactly know what happens when someone dies—whether it’s afterlife or judgement day, all we have are speculations. Some people also think of death as ugly, grotesque, or tragic, and although this is true, I had an experience which allowed me to see a different perspective of death—that amidst the brokenness of things, there is something beautiful, poetic, and light about it. Without the prospect of death, I don’t think we could appreciate life as much as we do now.
When I was ten years old, I had almost drowned in the swimming pool of my best friend’s relative. It was very ironic, because although my best friend was right in front of me one the pool’s edge, she didn’t know that I was drowning, and neither did my mother, who was in a Jacuzzi not too far away.
While looking back at myself now, I feel a bit reckless, because what kind of child would jump in the deep end of the pool when she knew that she was clearly too small for it? But I jumped in anyway, because I had wanted to prove to my best friend that I wasn’t afraid of anything, and this decision could have costed me my life had my hands not broken the surface and had my best friend not grabbed it.
The strange thing is, I might have I might have experienced some sort of ‘transcendence’ during my time underwater. I wasn’t able to comprehend it until the shock wore off, but drowning, I think, allowed me to experience what scientists call a “life review” which I shall describe as “seeing your life flash before your eyes.”
As a child, I think that the experience of near-death made me realize how fleeting and insignificant our existence was, but at the same time, how every individual carries infinite possibilities within themselves throughout their life.
As the infinite possibilities and the unknown are presented to us, what exactly do we go back to when we look at our existence?
How can the experience of drowning and the life review be recreated in the space of a children’s toy in order to reflect introspection? What does the introspection of oneself and life reveal about the viewer and the artist?
- To create a kaleidoscope which a viewer engages with to create unique experiences despite being based on the artist’s personal experience.
- To make use of mirrors as a medium that reflects introspection, creates an illusion of phantasmagoria and infinity.
- To use photographs and words(or maybe small found objects or drawings) as a metaphor for memories and thoughts in a person’s life.
- To translate phantasmagoria or the life review into a complex pattern, that despite its complexity, encourages the viewer to try to focus or make purchase on the most mundane images and words that remind them of familiarity in the unknown environment.
My interactive sculpture, which will be called “Memories under water are strange” will take the form of a kaleidoscope with a rectangular or circular body and an object mechanism. The kaleidoscope’s outer build will be made out of either plexiglass or stainless steel tubing, so as to create an illusion that blends it in whatever environment it is in.
On one end of the kaleidoscope will be the eyepiece where the viewer can look in and see the pattern created by the 3-Mirror system. The complex pattern that the viewer sees inside the kaleidoscope should look like a collage of a combination of transparent, and non-transparent images/photographs/drawings, words, and/or objects that are inside the object mechanism of the Kaleidoscope. A key element to take note is that all of these images, words, and objects should be the most random, familiar, mundane scenes, things, objects or people(for example, part of a tree, tail of a maya bird, a section of a driveway, crayons, the word “mother” or “you” etcetera.). The circular end cap, on the other hand, can be rotated by the viewer of the kaleidoscope in order to manipulate the patterns that the kaleidoscope creates inside of it.
If possible, my idea of the object mechanism would be that the kaleidoscope will be open ended, with the end cap transformed into rods such as the one in the the kaleidoscope above. The images, objects, and words will be casted in clear resin, and the viewer will both be able to rotate the rods and slide them left and right.
The kaleidoscope must either be suspended from the ceiling or placed on top of a white plinth inside a room. The room will smell of chlorine and the room will be playing the sound of being submerged underwater.
The title of the artwork comes from the first line of my poem, “Kaleidoscope”. The poem was also something I had written in an attempt to transform the experience into literary words. If possible, I would include the poem in the exhibit, and have it displayed on a wall inside the room.
approach and method
To answer the inquiry, I thought of the kaleidoscope as a metaphor for the experience because: (a) it’s a trademark of nostalgic memories of childhood, and (b) it embodies both complexity and beauty amidst confusion in its colorful patterns.
I also wanted an interactive sculpture because I’m trying to get a viewer to experience something, and a kaleidoscope always invites a viewer to experience it, which is what I’m trying to achieve in this work.
Kaleidoscopes also have that quality of taking you into another dimension, into another world that is visible to no one else but you in that moment when you look into it. It gives you the feeling of being isolated and ignorant of whats happening in the outside world around it. I wanted to create an unfamiliar environment made out of a collage of familiar things and immerse the viewer into this rich composition of images, words and objects.
By capitalizing on defamiliarization, I want encourage the viewer to pick out and hold on to what is familiar to them and hopefully in turn, resonate a part of my experience to theirs.
Kaleidoscopes can be created by a variety of material—from wood, to cardboard, to aluminum foil. So when thinking about creating my kaleidoscope, I took into note what qualities I wanted to get and replicate from the experience.
i. acrylic mirrors
First of all, I wanted to use the traditional element of a kaleidoscope which is the mirror in order to emulate the water in the pool.
I associate this with the fact that while drowning, the water acts as a sort of prism; it splits light and because of the light splitting, I saw images underwater while having the life review. In a kaleidoscope this would be represented by the mirrors, which act as a reflecting device as well as an illusory medium.
ii. photographs(old or new photographs, may be printed in monochrome or in color on transparent acetate, or traditional photo paper), words(printed or cut out from pre-existing items such as old readings, children’s books, etc.), or objects(small items from toys like for example, a barbie doll’s shoe, etc)
Instead of confetti inside the kaleidoscope to create the patterns, I thought of using the items above, so as to create collage like images that capture the essence of one having a life review. All of these will revolve around the most mundane or most familiar things or scenes we have in life.
iii. plexiglass or stainless steel with mirror finish
For the outer tubing of the kaleidoscope, I chose plexiglass or stainless steel with a mirror finish because I wanted the kaleidoscope to either blend in the environment or reflect the environment it is placed in. Plexiglass contains glass like properties but is lighter, cheaper, and less fragile than glass. Stainless steel with mirror finishes, on the other hand, will have the qualities of a mirror but are also more sturdy and durable.
iv. additional material for object mechanism: Resin
Should I go for the other end cap design, I will be using clear resin in order to cast the photographs, cutout words and images into a rod. When I was looking for a material to cast the materials in, I came upon projects and artworks which used glass. However, I don’t have the materials to manipulate and melt glass so that’s how I came upon resin as an alternative. It’s used in crafts and art so I think it’s easier for a first timer like me to manipulate.
v. chlorine smell and underwater audio
These would help further the experience, setting, and feeling of being submerged underwater for the viewers.
- Damien Hirst’s “I Am Become Death, Shatterer of Worlds”
Part of the series called “Kaleidoscope Paintings”, he used butterfly wings to create this kaleidoscopic effect in his work. The work shows Hirst’s fixation with death, and also his expression of death as a celebration of life. While Hirst used dead butterfly wings in order to create his piece, I plan to use different “objects” and mirrors instead, in order to evoke this continuous propagation of images of mundane things in life in the context of seeing it near death.
2. Chris Wood’s “Light Rain”
In Light Rain, the artist draws the connection between light and water in the form of rain using bottles, sand, and the drizzling sound. It made me think about art as experienced by different senses and inspired me to add the element of sound and smell to my work.
3. “Principessa” by Agnes Montgomery
By using found materials, the artist’s clever collages which created surreal scenes reminiscent of childhood inspired me to create kaleidoscopic patterns which create the same effect.
4. Sebastian Wahl’s “Kaleidoscope Eyes 5”
Wahl’s collages try to enhance mindfulness, concentration, tranquility and insight in both himself as well as the audience. His work inspired me to create a work that both tries to both draw concentration and insight for myself and my viewers.