In Philip K. Dick’s novel A Maze of Death, 14 travelers, trapped in an inescapable orbit around a dying star, while away their time living through various scenarios in an advanced virtual reality system. While in the system everything seems real and reality and previous trips become forgotten. Only afterwards can the travelers wake up to their actual situation and discuss and analyze what they experienced. From scenario to scenario one thing becomes apparent: each of these educated, mature and responsible adults will kill or engage in abhorrent amoral behavior given the right circumstances.
Scenario after scenario, it is implied that none of them, or us, has the wherewithal to show restraint; we are not trained or educated to show restraint given a novel situation that can cause us to violently respond to the provocation of others or to resist the temptations of personal desire when there is absolutely no threat of punishment. In the story, we do not develop restraint even after feeling remorse for and analyzing our actions.
Lola de Miguel’s current show in Soho (Galaxies) seems based, loosely, on those amazing photos NASA releases from the Hubble Space Telescope of galaxies in formation. These gatherings of colorful, cloud-like images imply an inexorable process of creation and development. The colors in the photos are primarily based on the presence of sulfur, hydrogen and oxygen (each element given a color value of red, green or blue) which then allows other colors to be assigned to lesser elements. If we were flying through space and looked through our window at one of these nebulae, it would not look like the NASA photo.
NASA colorizes to learn about the actual composition of the huge clouds coming together through gravitational pull. These NASA supplied colors, then, also contain the seeds of what life in the universe will look like, but perhaps Miguel’s work asks whether life has to be based around the principles of dire competition, evolution through scarcity and change of environment, entailing technologically advanced societies of people incapable of basing their lives on compassion and cooperation. Will “life” in the universe have to repeat its flaws endlessly as Dick’s hapless space travelers do, with no hope for change? After all, Dick’s characters are made of stardust too.
For de Miguel to tinker around with the colors and the clouds is to imply that pessimism is not inherent in the elements. We are the only advanced life forms we can investigate. There is hope that life formation may present alternatives and, deep within the electron clouds of the elements themselves, perhaps there is hope that we can change our human natures, can develop the wherewithal not to respond to provocation or desire as has been common in the past. NASA creates the metaphorical process, de Miguel tinkers with it. NASA presents a process controlled by the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics with pretty colors and shapes that look like cute animals. NASA shoots for the grandiose and cute at the same time and wants to overwhelm the viewer with what has to be; but de Miguel aims to make the process of formation more humane and soothing and optimistic.
Maybe what has to be will be surprising and one day we will have a utopia of responsible and kind human beings living sustainably on their planet. Maybe our galaxy is still forming and others see us as just part of jumbled and pretty clouds. We can look to de Miguel’s galaxies with some hope and marvel at how there are ideologies formed through those elements, bravery and love and self-sacrifice are seeds being sown as well when we look at these images of galaxy formation. de Miguel’s colors change and orient themselves to each other as if it is possible for acts of will to change the very formation of galaxies, as if human experience of good and evil, revulsion and mercy, can influence the creation of new galaxies. NASA’s galaxies are not how our eyes would or should view these objects and neither are de Miguel’s galaxies.
To connect to nature is not to see nature as our eyes would see it anyway, as we know too much about nature to ever be able to submit to it or connect with it; and, we are not required to submit to nature as we have a special gift to separate from nature to examine what can cause us to kill it, before ultimately forming a partnership with nature, in a super-enriched form of interaction, where we merge with the planet’s own sustainability. Within the space clouds in NASA’s and de Miguel’s work there is a process implied, and what we see, perhaps, is the process of redemption even in a cloud of sulfur, hydrogen and oxygen.