Wormholes to Joy: On Making ‘Fig Tree’

My piece for the Enfolding exhibition, a series of drawings called ‘Fig Tree’, was born out of a desire to communicate visually some of what’s lately been roiling around inside and outside me. The initial inspiration came last autumn while trying to comprehend philosopher Bruno Latour’s book, We Have Never Been Modern. My first attempt did not go well. I found myself increasingly befuddled, despite Latour’s many diagrams, or figures, which apparently were supposed to express his ideas more clearly. I think? They certainly didn’t help me. The figures actually confused me more! Which was both hilarious and annoying.

This situation got me thinking about communication itself: how comically difficult it can be, and how frustrated I get when mutual understanding becomes elusive—when I am unable either to comprehend others’ thoughts expressed verbally or in writing, or to express my own thoughts in speech or writing. Not to mention the ambiguities of body language. Or word processors that refuse cooperation with my brain.

You know what I mean, right? Or no? Am I tracking with you here? …?

For me, this experience of non-communication tends to generate a downward spiral of thoughts and emotions. In turn, the incommunicability breeds a compounding sense of isolation and disconnection. If left unchecked, this can become a kind of implosion, a collapse into a point of infinitely private self-incurved density.

It becomes, in short, something like my own personal ‘black hole’.

By ‘black hole’, I mean that monstrous astronomical object which forms after a star dies, first exploding, then collapsing in upon itself by the force of its own gravity. The black hole, so hyper-compressed, is something from which nothing can escape, not even light. A terrifying reality, a wonderful metaphor.

The initial idea that became ‘Fig Tree’ was simply to get out of my own black-holed head, expressing visually something of my agonised relations to Bruno Latour and his figures. However, as typically occurs in the course of making art, I began discovering connections that far surpassed these initial intentions. Something strange beyond my own private black hole was being slowly unearthed. Beyond the meta-theme of communication, the act of drawing became a sieve for processing matters both within and beyond myself. This included a bout with physical frailty via appendicitis, my friend and fellow Transept artist Ewan Bowlby’s death from brain cancer, and a young family member’s diagnosis of brain cancer, along with other sources of grief on the personal level and world stage. Taken together, a depressing sense grew of the world itself as a black hole.

As my drawings progressed—many of which were of black holes—I found that perhaps the black hole metaphor means more than what I thought it meant; given a few mysterious qualities of black holes, the darkness of its associations are potentially transfigured. For instance, there is little scientific agreement for what precisely happens inside them, across their ‘event horizon’, the point-of-no-return which marks the boundary of their spacetime region. Nobody, even those with esoteric command of Maths and astrophysics, can tell you for sure what’s beyond that event horizon. A common way of putting this is simply to say that the understood laws of physics break down inside a black hole, and most especially at its centre, its ‘singularity’.

Related to this is the intriguing theoretical possibility of ‘white holes’. These critters are something like the reverse of black holes. White holes, possibly that from which whole universes are born, emerge from the ‘other side’ of a black hole. These black-hole-white-hole bridges (or wormholes) would then be like The Multiverse’s birth canals, basically. If our own baby universe emerged in this fashion, I suppose this means that we’re all indeed the fruit of a spectacularly Big Bang…

It’s interesting to consider too that supermassive black holes are likely at the centre of every one of the 200 billion or so galaxies comprising the observable universe. Such black holes are necessary for galaxies to come into being. Which means that a black hole was necessary for our own spiraling Milky Way to nurse to life our little solar system and its glorious third rock from the Sun. Which also means that black holes are the magical centres of each galactic Donut,[1]one might say.

And that’s not all. Physicists like Brian Cox hypothesise that a black hole enfolds the entire universe.[2] Which means that everything everywhere—across the 93 billion light-year-wide observable universe—is a cosmic Timbit.[3] I’m sure you’ll agree this clarifies all sorts of matters. If everything we see, from here to the edge of all that we could possibly know empirically, exists in the centre of a super duper ginormous black hole (SDGBH), then that means our cosmos is literally at the very centre of a mystery. Which explains why it’s so hard to make sense of so much here on this dot called planet Earth,[4] conditions of which were so precisely fine-tuned for life’s emergence across mind-bogglingly vast realms of lifelessness.

As it happens, during the creation of ‘Fig Tree’, I also found something eerily similar to this fine-tuned life-emergence, as joy upsurged from the pit of despair that threatened to overwhelm me early on in the project—almost as if my descent into inky voids all along were part of a plan for something good, something beyond me, always already at work through my confusion and pain and sorrow. Like maybe black holes and white holes and the whole cosmic shebang were designed to work together towards realisation of the good, true and beautiful, something of a good Creator that couldn’t help but shine through, a God who was enfolding me and all of us all along, end in the beginning.

All this to say: if ever you find yourself feeling on the margins of some perceived centre of ‘normality’, alone with incommunicable thoughts and feelings, isolated with depression or grief or a sense of disconnection, just remember: there is a weirdo out there who created ‘Fig Tree’—an upward spiraling series of drawings hung from a hula hoop. Remember that your own personal black hole is probably adjacent to a bunch of others, people occupying spacetime regions connected to one another by wormholes, hobbit holes, Internet (and bunny) rabbit holes. And that if the multiverse is real, and if anything we understand about black holes is true, then God is a galactic Donut Chef. If nothing else, hopefully ‘Fig Tree’ will show you or remind you—as happened to me in the making of this—of the Triune God’s sweet enfolding love amidst heavy, black-holed times.

[1] Or Bagel.

[2] ‘Brian Cox—Is the Whole Universe Inside a Black Hole?’ 3 December 2022. Accessed 11 April 2023. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4013hHZHf0I.

[3] Like the donuts from which Timbits (donut holes from the Canadian coffee shop Tim Horton’s) are made, that which lies beyond the SDGBH is a mystery.

[4] Or, maybe it suggests that it’s best not to go too far down the rabbit hole of theoretical physics without arcane mathematical knowledge to keep you hinged to the solid ground of numbers? One of those two options.

Author

  • (Associate Editor) is a doctoral student at the Institute for Theology, Imagination and the Arts at the University of St Andrews, under the supervision of Gavin Hopps. He is researching the theological implications of the fiction of Thomas Pynchon (1937- ), exploring his work as post-secular literature, and in relation to the Gothic tradition.

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