Skip to content

Eden Turned on its Side



“Somewhere between our own culturally specific creation myths and the Big Bang, our planet was born. Out of nothing into something; out of darkness, a first breath. From tightly compacted space to infinite spaciousness.” -Meridel Rubenstein

EDEN TURNED ON ITS SIDE (2009– ), photoworks by Meridel Rubenstein, looks at ecological processes across time that either reinforce or destroy the notion of Eden. It focuses on intersections of nature and culture in relation to ecological and social imbalance. Composed of three parts, EDEN TURNED ON ITS SIDE “is not presented as a timeline but as a natural cycle of life, death and rebirth where human beings and nature are deeply connected and exist in true symbiosis.”

The three parts are Photosynthesis, The Volcano Cycle, and Eden in Iraq.

The first part, Photosynthesis, includes images of trees and people exchanging oxygen and carbon dioxide throughout the seasons, in a post-Edenic and threatened relationship.

The second part, The Volcano Cycle, explores deep time with images of volcanoes from Indonesia’s Ring of Fire that evoke earth, climate change and human co-evolution. Here the destructive forces of Nature are observed to be regenerative.

The third part, Eden in Iraq, is set in the marshes of Southern Iraq, a site said to be very near to the original Garden of Eden. Here Meridel is co-designing a wastewater garden/memorial site that aims to transform relics of war and destruction into art. Ongoing photographs and video are being created to make a new record of the transformation of this land and people. Among these images, we find a new Adam and Eve in the new Eden.

These bodies of work, consisting of photographs on paper and metal, exist independently as separate framed exhibitions and together as one installation with video and objects.

After millennia of destruction, can Eden be restored?

 


 

Eden Turned on its Side

Essay by PATRICIA LEVASSEUR DE LA MOTTE, France/Singapore

Assistant Curator for Photography and New Media , Singapore Art Museum (2007-11) Independent Curator, The Philanthropic Museum, an on-line database project dedicated to photography and new media art.

 

Meridel’s newest work, EDEN TURNED ON ITS SIDE (2007– ), looks at ecological processes across time that either reinforce or destroy the notion of Eden. It focuses on intersections of nature and culture in relation to ecological and social imbalance.  Composed of three parts, EDEN TURNED ON ITS SIDE is not presented as a timeline but as a natural cycle of life, death and rebirth where human beings and nature are deeply connected and exist in true symbiosis. The three parts are Photosynthesis, The Volcano Cycle, and Eden in Iraq. The first part, Photosynthesis, includes images of trees and people exchanging oxygen and carbon dioxide throughout the seasons, in a post-Edenic and threatened relationship. The second part, The Volcano Cycle, explores deep time with images of volcanoes from Indonesia’s Ring of Fire that evoke earth, climate change and human co-evolution. The third part, Eden in Iraq, is set in the marshes of Southern Iraq, a site said to be near the original Eden. It also features new Adam and Eve in the new Eden that aims to transform relics of war and destruction into art. Here Meridel is co-designing an artwork that is a wastewater garden/memorial site.  A sister garden, Eden Again, is planned for the International Symposium on Electronic Arts in Albuquerue, New Mexico, USA September 2012.

 

To understand the impact of photosynthesis and its relationship with human beings, Meridel photographed, at each solstice and equinox, people and trees at different stages of photosynthesis, initially in the US. Meridel believes that people must be aware of global environmental concerns as something akin to their own bodies. This work suggests our tendency to forget our origins in nature and that our survival depends on the balance between conservation and human development. In the wake of the Kyoto Protocol, we have failed to find global solutions to reduce carbon emission and energy consumption, or to find alternatives to fossil fuels. Incredibly, scientists are looking for life on other planets, even as we are unable to protect our own. Can we learn from our mistakes and our rapidly disintegrating environment? With the recent climate changes, devastating earthquakes and tsunamis, do not we see that the planet is severely reacting to our ecological recklessness?

 

Photosynthesis is the source of life and is the predominant light-recording system on earth. The humble leaf serves as a symbol of photosynthesis where sunlight converts carbon dioxide into sugar, a paramount source of energy for all living things. A by-product of photosynthesis is the production of oxygen all living things need for respiration.

 

Calm-Before-the-StormSM

The Volcano Cycle, continues the inquiry into carbon cycles, leading to an exploration of deep time and the idea of the creation of life being much further back in time, long before the creation of human beings.

Meditating two years ago on Photosynthesis, Meridel wondered where she had gotten such an idyllic idea of the symbiotic nature of people and trees. Despite her lack of religious training, she realised she still fostered an idea of a Judeo-Christian Eden. She also realised that wherever people thought there to be Eden, invariably there would have been some sort of environmental conflagration that destroyed it. The Garden of Eden is found in the traditions of the three Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Some other religions and cultures have creation stories in similar settings and ascribe various locations as the place of first habitation. This universal concept of paradise can be found for example in Tibetan Buddhism in the mythical kingdom of Shambhala (also called Shangri-La), Greek mythology in the Garden of the Hesperides, in Hinduism in Mount Meru and in Chinese traditions as the Age of Virtue.

 

Winter-CLoud-3-SM

EDEN TURNED ON ITS SIDE is an invitation to meditate on the mysterious cycle of life. The photo-making and the renderings proceed from Meridel’s spiritual research. As she explains: “I had some older images of clouds and scanned one to use. I drew a circle and then tried changing the interior space into a negative image. Instantly heaven and earth conjoined. Then I made my first mandala/cloud circle extended image. Meridel composes some of her photographs as mandalas, which means “circle” in Sanskrit. In various spiritual traditions, mandalas are used by adepts for focusing attention, as a spiritual teaching tool, and an aid to meditation.

 

EDEN TURNED ON ITS SIDE: Photosynthesis is a meaningful body of work that brings together some essential values of science, ecology, religion, and spirituality in order to find the true balance between human beings and nature. Her mandalas take us from oxygen molecules to the biosphere to the heavens. As it was in Eden, our lives and happiness depends on a perfect, yet fragile symbiosis with our natural environment.