I had an idea:
That I would paint an image of the universe based on a paradox posed by Stephen Hawkings.
It has taken three years to finish the painting, which in so many ways remains, a flat plane thinly layered with oil.
I have decided to leave it hanging and have instead, in so many words, chosen to describe it.
Hawking’s paradox was derived from his discovery that black holes slowly radiate their mass away and, as he had also proven that the radiation carries no information, a question was raised about what happens to the information that described the original star?
This paradox disturbed one of the major tenets of physics; that information in the universe cannot be destroyed. Or to put it another way, matter that escaped its infinite compression at the singularity of the big bang, cannot be removed from the universe. It is contained within the universe.
Hawking’s paradox was solved in 1972 by Jacob Berkenstein and by later string theorists, “who showed how the original star’s information could be encoded in tiny lumps and bumps on the event horizon, which would then imprint it on the Hawking radiation departing the black hole.”
Physicists Leonard Susskind and Gerard’t Hooft took this a step further speculating that if a three dimensional star could be encoded on a black hole’s horizon, then could it be possible that the same is true at the event horizon of the universe?
The question became, could this 2D surface, 42 billion light years away, encode the entire 3D universe that we experience and, therefore, is it possible that the life we experience is a holographic projection from this 2D surface?
They visualised this holographic universe by suggesting we picture ourselves appearing as characters in a 3D movie. The closer we move backwards towards the flat screen of the universe, the bigger pixels that make up our image, become smaller, denser, grainier, and pixelated. At this stage, such an idea is only a hypothesis, however evidence to support it is being seriously pursued through experiments, conducted on an instrument, currently under construction in Germany.
These matters piqued my interest, as the idea of our lives being a projection from a flat surface, is a construction that, as a painter, I have to contemplate while painting. My craft exists as a 2D world trying to capture sculpted forms onto its flat plane. There seemed a correlation and a possibility that the flat painting could pose like a miniscule fractal or maquette of the macro.
That perhaps I could construct a painting as a visual metaphor for the idea Susskind and Hooft had proposed and so I commenced this work:
“Because a man in a wheelchair
Has flattened the Copernican centre,
With his projection
Of a holographic vision.
That frustrate with their
Hint of infinity at the edges.”
Philosophically this paradox has enormous consequences as it has led to physicists predicting that in a few years we may need to make an astonishing adjustment to the perception of ourselves existing as solid bodies surrounded and defined by the cast shadows of other defined solid bodies.
The certainty of our belief that we are 3d objects in a 3d universe could potentially be shattered with the same force that shocked the population of 1543. They had to digest the unthinkable idea of Copernicus’s revolutionary heliocentrism, which was evidentially proven by Galileo in 1615, thus confirming the truth of the earth’s demoted position in the universe.
‘A positive result (from experiments testing the hypothesis) would challenge every assumption we have about the world we live in. It would show that everything is a projection of something occurring on a flat surface billions of light years away from where we perceive ourselves to be. As yet we have no idea what that “something” might be, or how it could manifest itself as a world in which we do the school run or catch a movie at the cinema.”
I began the preparation of applying layers of gesso onto a 2 metre wide canvas, which was the largest I could fit on my studio wall.
I had to work with the idea that the edges of my flat canvas invoked their own impression of unbounded space within my bounded space.
The first marks of diluted indigo oil paint were brushed on in gestural sweeps that began and ended within 10cms of the boundary and were separated form each other by a small gap between each long form.
Seven of these independent areas made their way across the canvas, the two on either end, interrupted by the edge of the canvas and it’s implications that this is just a snapshot, or a frame-contained part of a larger whole that we cannot see in its entirety.
I meticulously began to fill in-between every gap left by the dribbly nature of the turps-diluted paint, inside each of the forms.
The texture was reminiscent of painting dark pores between tiny, fissures or cracks in skin.
I was painting up close in a tight space using my time over a year to fill every pore with the dark indigo.
“Fine cicatrices within
The deepest dark.
The unseeable lair
Of the dark urges
Stirring at last
In the demi-urge.”
My next layer was to animate these forms that were moving across my static base of canvas.
I chose to slightly anthropomorphise them, with bones, skin, feathers, teeth, tongues and eyes.
I supposed our mammalian vanity would be more attracted to forms that hinted at our own path through time.
The underlying forms were nebulous and cloud-like so I named them the cloud seeders, and regarded them as the seeders of matter that had been released and then expanded outwards from the initial singularity, the moment that had projected their gaseous birth.
And they in turn would on this canvas, lie behind, as a memory, or trace of the matter that has expanded ever outward.
The visible particles coalescing into forms that were always inherent in the structure of their molecules. These forms that begin to become recognisable as parts of beings, as we the viewer look back to a past, from a future that is far forward from this historic moment.
Build to fractal shapes
Having escaped the black ink
Had always written
For their future form.”
Between the forms I again painted pure indigo to represent the deepest dark of the darkest matter that fills our space invisibly but actually.
Then I added sepia to acknowledge that time had been birthed at the same instance as the space our matter inhabits, before I started to fracture the surface with bright white, straight and curved lines of geometry.
I puzzled over whether to incorporate the elements of indigo, sepia and white all on an equal layer, but chose in the end to fuse the indigo and the sepia and layer the geometry on top, as physicists are still unclear about the universe’s relationship with mathematics.
The question is whether maths exists within the universe as an inherent law, an absolute quality that was birthed within matter, or is it a language that we have uniquely developed in order to give some transparency to the opaque black beyond our horizon of light.
We should be amazed that we can read the encoded language of the universe through mathematics, a structural language that evolved with us. Evolutionary biologists have discovered that we inherited the use of forms of counting from our deepest mammalian history and as our equations and algorithms advance in complexity, we are able to penetrate the impenetrable history of our beginnings.
We use these numbers like a telescopic lens that interprets code, which we then point outwards to peer beyond our boundary. With such a device we can replace our blind glare into the darkness, with an image our minds can understand.
“As did the once
Who adjusted quartz lenses
At the forms of shadows.
Pioneering sightings of
Within what had only ever been
An encasing; inky
Pioneer hunters of the
Newly naked visibility
“eppur si muove”
To detractors of marvels.”
Images by their nature are full of complex dense information. Pages and pages of code can be condensed into an image that then links to other images building to more comprehensive whole views.
I am interested in the code of images, so I return to the next layer of the painting that is now cracked by the geometry that describes the space and builds the forms, with time seeping its way alongside and in-between.
“Time organic sleeps in space laid straight
With sepia seeping
Through its geometric cracks”
We acknowledge time by our existence, it is organic because we are organic, the ticks and tocks we measure our passing time with, are relevant only to us.
“We head towards our imminent
Our molecules scattering
Like dispersed dye.
With a realization
That we never owned time.
We owned a watch.
Over our time.
12 numbers written on the
The infinite face of Pi.”
All other matter expands, exists within time parameters peculiar to its own matter.
The clock we have invented is a language of description peculiar to us, but we can use it to describe the life cycle of the universe and all the information contained within it and to describe the life cycle of all that we have shared our journey through the universe with, in relation to our human experience of time.
“The new Vitruvian man
Knows he floats
In an infinite circle.
His extremities racked
By the pull of its endless edge
Amidst a finite blackness
That contains his matter.”
The next aspect of the painting, is the darkest indigo, representing the opposite of matter. Anti-matter, dark matter, the darkest art of the universe. This is a huge part of our universe and yet we can’t describe it, or visualise it, we have no knowledge yet of what antimatter can possibly have as its structure. This is information we can’t penetrate or make visible with our current technology or the enormous machine driven experiments that seek it out.
At this time, the opposite of matter, remains an unknowable void that lurks outside our consciousness.
“Our own black-mirrored lens
Hungers to see
The treacle sticking
That coats our skin
As we wade through
An atmosphere we
Only half know”
Every molecule of the universe is coated by this mystery and every particle of us is independently coated by this mystery. With this thought alone our assurance that we are solid 3D impenetrable forms is compromised and starts to hint at spaces between the smallest particles of our fleshy matter.
“We had credited a depth of field
For our certainty of reality
But it is a dark matter that forms
The shadows between us.
Our seeding sculptures
Folded within the fabric
Of it’s invisible cloak
Our rottenness dissolving
On the nap of the black velvet
That skins every molecule
Of our not so solid flesh.”
At this point my interest was for the painting to retain a feeling of flattened horizontal space. To achieve this I gave the dark indigo an equal yet unnoticeable presence.
“Its own infinity
Doesn’t allow it to exist
As anything more
Than a future guardian
Of gaseous birth
And mineral hardness
Of the leeringly,
Leeching matter that
Evolved to be prayed for
And preyed upon.”
The difficulty of representing the idea of a holographic space needed to be addressed and I wanted something very simple rather than a highly developed perspectival trick as I felt this would have dominated the underlying horizontal flatness.
I chose to use simple straight white lines radiating from the central point, and to the ends of these I hooked small images taken from Palaeolithic cave drawings.
These lines project from a single point to create an impression of a moment that exists behind the vaporous cloud seeders. They push the forms out towards the uppermost surface of the painting, and then hang them there in space, as representations of our first identifiable marks and the beginnings of our self awareness. These marks of representation are our initial audible shout aimed forward into a future. Their placement hidden deep in caves implies a certainty of belief that these images will remain to be seen after they themselves, have gone.
Then I buried our recognisably modern skeletons along the curved lines of geometry, laying them gently in slackened poses to rest as reminders of our finite existence amongst this immense infinity.
And lastly, I wrote my words as the final layer. Symbolic of our vainglorious disbelief, the voices and language and tomes we entrust as proof of our contemporary existence, may not have a future in the vast time scape, in which we occupy such a minute fraction.
The fate of our language in the eons of impenetrable future time, is an untranslatable inaudible static that certainly hints at a history, but one that is indefinable amidst the clouded, grainy pixilation of the futures expanded matter.
What I am left with, three years later, is in itself, just a canvas 2 metres wide.
It is brushed with shades of blue, brown and white oil paint.
A shiny, varnished, painted poem, hung on a nail, and spread silent, in my hermetic room.
Sometimes I look at it and think it is beautiful.
Oh well, it was only an idea.