solar field

steel, ceramic, wood

69cm x 15cm

solar field detail - click to enlarge

|this object is currently on loan to EXO|

Ultan’s library

When I was a kid, I discovered sanctuary in the landscapes I found on the pages of science fiction. The road to Thrax. The open sands of Dune. The cylindrical sea of Rama. It wasn’t just the stories that became my refuge, it was the landscapes themselves — vast, lonely, mysterious — that proved to be more reassuring and reliable than my mother, or the trailer-park world I grew up in. Arrakis. Urth. Majipoor. Pern. Conjured terrains and imagined vistas that I could escape to. And time and time again, dependably return to. Terrains charged with wonder, freedom. And often, hope.

When I was a kid, my mom would often fall down under the pressures of life. And when that happened, CPS would roll up. Maybe it was the neighbors who called — after they’d grown exhausted from all the screaming — or when they’d finally tired of me appearing uninvited at every meal. Who knows? But they always seemed to show up at night. And I was familiar with the drill. The questions, and the answers. So while the papers were shuffled and signed, I’d carefully select a book from a stack of my most trusted paperbacks, half-fill a trash bag with clothes and wait in the backseat of the always anonymous, beat-up sedan. And in the dark, we’d always end up some place new. And I’d always be greeted by that faintly sour smell of shelters everywhere. And a strange bed. And with practice, I learned that the moment I opened my book, I could push the loneliness and fear to the edges of its thumbed and tattered pages. I could step out onto the endless dunes of Arrakis, or the windswept spires of Mars or the icy surface of Europa, and once again, be home. And safe — for as long as there were still pages to turn.

Forty years after crash-landing into Niven’s Ringworld; learning about desert ecology from the imperial planetologist, Liet Kynes — or following Master Ultan into boundless library of Nessus — science fiction has become a lens through which I see our world. My art. My photography. My entire creative process — is illuminated by a small, bright star fueled on an infinite stream of torn and battered pages…

“… (Master Ultan’s) grip on my shoulder tightened. “We have books bound in the hides of echidnes, krakens, and beasts so long extinct that those whose studies they are, are for the most part of the opinion that no trace of them survives unfossilized. We have books bound wholly in metals of unknown alloy, and books whose bindings are covered with thickset gems. We have books cased in perfumed woods shipped across the inconceivable gulf between creations — books doubly precious because no one on Urth can read them.

We have books whose papers are matted of plants from which spring curious alkaloids, so that the reader, in turning their pages, is taken unaware by bizarre fantasies and chimeric dreams. Books whose pages are not paper at all, but delicate wafers of white jade, ivory, and shell; books too whose leaves are the desiccated leaves of unknown plants. Books we have also that are not books at all to the eye: scrolls and tablets and recordings on a hundred different substances. There is a cube of crystal here — though I can no longer tell you where — no larger than the ball of your thumb that contains more books than the library itself does. Though a harlot might dangle it from one ear for an ornament, there are not enough volumes enough in the world to counterweight the other. All these I came to know, and I made safeguarding them my life’s devotion.”

— Gene Wolfe, The Book of the New Sun

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