Friday, September 1, 2023

Biophilic Dome Project

 Hello Gentle Readers:

I am making the largest project of my life and I really, really wanna share it with you! Wheeee!

First two panels complete

I am an artist in residence at the Penn Center for Neuroaesthetics (PCfN).  What is neuroaesthetics you say? You can read some definitions here and check out the lab at Penn here.  I am really, really enjoying my experiences there and I can say with full confidence my mind is blown.  Down to matters more prosaic. As an AIR I need to do a project and I decided my project would be to build a dome based on biophilic design.  Biophilic design is this.

WHY THIS PROJECT? My goals (possibly lofty), intentions etc--

  1. To create a space inspired by biophilic principles (but not based on them!) that encourages a "spiritual experience" that (maybe) centers one's consciousness at the center of ("the") universe (Doesn't ALL art do that, really?) In other words, to attempt a "unification" of scientific and spiritual "truth".
  2. To create a space that encourages reflecting on the 'blue marble" from the inside. (Hopefully reflecting on climate change, habitat destruction and the interdependence of all life on earth)
  3. To underscore the primacy of imagination and to call attention to the futility of objectivity in a good way! :)
  4. To honor the history of architectural and ecclesiastical stained glass (specifically creating an intimate environment in which to view a stained glass piece)
  5. to make my largest project ever (and possibly one of my last if my arthritis is RA or gets a lot worse)
  6. To prove I can do this
  7. Detail of panel 2
    Another detail of panel 2
That was my elevator pitch.  Here it is in a little more detail going backwards towards the most important stuff:
6 and 5 The me stuff:  As Cormac McCarthy once said:"I'm not interested in writing short stories. Anything that doesn't take years of your life and drive you to suicide hardly seems worth doing."  'Nuff said.
4. Architecture: As a stained glass artist, I am constantly being taken to task by my colleagues in the field for not working in architectural space (my work is exhibited in lightboxes) and thus, I have always had in the back of my mind thoughts like “what is the ideal viewing space for my work?” and have thought for years to make a “personal shrine” for a single viewer.  This goes against the convention of thinking in monumental architectural terms.  Many wish to make imposingly scaled projects, which presume the viewer will be at quite a far distance from the stained glass itself.  That distance registers both physically and psychologically and I want to collapse that distance.  In addition, stained glass in churches and public spaces is almost always designed for an audience of several or more people at once. It is not a private experience, which the dome will be.  In the modernist age, there has been a disparaging of the small, the intimate and the domestic in favor of the grand and the sublime.  In the age of mass media, it is tempting to assume that reaching the largest number of people at once is somehow optimal. My project is, in some ways, intended to challenge that assumption. (Never mind this dome will actually be the largest project I have ever undertaken!  It will still be relatively tiny by architectural stained glass standards).  Because I am interested in how art, in particular visual art, acts on a single person at a time, I am interested specifically in creating an intimate environment. 
Proposal sketch
Actual dome in progress
3.Imagination:  I have this proto-theory that imagination is the most important, radical thing we can do as conscious beings. Think about it?  How would you define "imagination" anyway? How is it different or the same as "creativity"? Imagination has been condemned as fantasy and a solipsistic waste of time. But is it fair to marginalize imagination and not take it seriously?  Spoiler alert: NO.  For one thing: our entire understanding of anything is predicated on making sense of our senses and we must do that by encoding things in our heads somehow. If you want to know more read this book.  Go on, I double dare you!

I need to write and think more on this topic but enough for now or this blog post will never happen.  Suffice it to say, the imagery in this dome is being generated by all my doodles at PCfN and I am on a mission to redesign nature all myself. You know, in case we kill it all?  Someday we will need nature designers to make all our fake plants and animals.
Detail of panel 1
Another detail of panel 1
As for objectivity I dare you to read this. I am obsessed with natural history illustration.  Here's a factoid: women of the hilariously misnamed "Enlightenment" were permitted to be botanical illustrators.  Can you imagine funneling ALL your urgent artsy creativity into that?  That must explain Maria Sibylla Merian (another MSM link here) and Barbara Dietzsch's genius.  But that's not all!  Ernst Haeckel and John James Audubon also are big influences.  Yes, I know Audubon is evil, but have you seen one of his prints in the flesh?  They move me almost to tears.  And they prove my point that every artwork is the encoding of a human soul first and foremost and a repsonse to the external world secondly.  And I want my dome to hearken to that paradox as well.
2. Blue marble:  In addition to being inspired by the work of PCfN, it is my hope that the piece creates a venue for contemplation—of both inner space, how we experience spaces neurologically and psychologically as well as outer space, how we extend ourselves into our surroundings.  For me, this would include an environmental message.
The earth is our home, and it can be a welcoming home and perhaps if we thought of it as such, we might be less inclined to sit by while we destroy it.
1. Yeah, you got that right: its kinda supposed to be a sacred space inspired by science: Spirituality is not typically the realm of science (and from my personal experience, it is absolutely taboo in academia in general unless one is in a Religious Studies program). As such, I am assuming biophilic spaces are studied from a practical and material point of view. But I think, without getting too mystical about it, biophilic spaces offer an opportunity to reconcile a human consciousness with an environmental context. They can demonstrate that what appears to be a mind/body split, or a mental classification of interior vs exterior (self vs “not-self”) is a perceptual illusion and while it may have an important practical heuristic function, it also ensures a sense of a sense of loneliness and enables eco disasters, etc. Therefore, I conclude that if reuniting these seemingly separate things is not the essence of “spirituality” then nothing is.  I would say that from a neurological or psychological perspective, this has some value.
Ultimately, I see the project as a model of a three tiered cosmos, centering a single person inside a model of the “blue marble” that we humans inhabit externally—but perhaps experience as a bubble surrounding us.  At worst, we see ourselves as the center of the universe, but at best, we could say we are centered in the cosmos.
FINALLY! Stay tuned more to come.  What going in the dome itself?  BIRDIES.  That's what.
Yet another detail of panel 1
Yet another detail of panel 2