A Cloud of Unknowing: Apparitions and Manifestations
In the 14th Century, an anonymous Christian mystic wrote a treatise about the Cloud of Unknowing, a theological concept describing a state of bewilderment when contemplating the nature of the divine. My interest in the idea is not religious, but it is certainly contemplative.
There are occasions in the mountains when atmospheric conditions point beyond the empirical data of meteorological explanation, and extend out toward Mystery. Put another way, there are events in the high country that present as numinous, when a nexus of light and cloud and wind come together to both reveal and conceal the known world in ways that seem uncanny, unsettling, and even unknowable. The granite that was moments ago so solid dissolves into a luminous veil – up and down, left and right becoming impossible to navigate in a void of cloud and light.
For this exhibition, I have developed two bodies of work, intended to be in conversation with one another. Using my photography practice as a foundation, I have rendered large-scale charcoal drawings, all iterations of visceral experiences with the Cloud of Unknowing, on the steep edges of the alpine world. These images are drawn from my practice as a mountaineer, witnessing these ephemeral events with a sense of awe. The drawings are then dusted with mica, the ubiquitous mineral found throughout the Rocky Mountains that makes the landscape shimmer under the high-altitude sun.
The second body of work is concerned with Apparitions and Manifestations within the landscape, a direct outgrowth from the Cloud of Unknowing. We can find examples of these kinds of events in the wisdom literature of cultures across many mountainous geographies, from the Burning Bush in the Siani, to the gods of the Shambhala Buddhist tradition, embodied in the high peaks of the Himalaya.
My own response to this kind of mythical phenomena has been to construct imagined and implied narratives, using mica I have hand-gathered in the field and ground to a powder in the studio, applying it to my photographic images in the same way gold leaf is applied to iconographic imagery. In this case, the mica is an embodiment of the landscape itself, physically made manifest on the surface of the photograph as an apparition, radiating and reflecting light.
Mica and charcoal, rock and wood: these foundational elements are the physical mediums of my work. The charcoal remnants of forests brought down by ever increasing wildfires, and the resulting smoke plumes that can be seen from space must, in an honest reckoning, also be a part of the Cloud of Unknowing. The sublime and the catastrophic reside increasingly close to one another at the dawn of the Anthropocene. Beauty and loss fill the same space, often at the same time. My work tries to navigate this reality, seeking the wonder and mystery still present in a damaged world.