The Revolutionary Theatre of the Divine Imagination (RTDI) is a marvellous and mysterious work. Part museum, part theater, part installation, part performance piece, part cathedral, it is a living philosophic testament and ever-changing kaleidoscopic experience. It is currently, and possibly for a limited time, housed in the Old Louisville apartment of its creator Gregory Chaney. To enter the installation, you must walk through a charming Victorian residential court, step down to the entrance, into small dim first floor and then slowly climb a narrow spiral stairway up to a hexagonal perch that feels something like a magical bird's nest full of salvaged transformed objects. During the day with the shutters pulled back it is bright, at night the ambience is set by light emanating from various sources: the aboriginal child bomb aka the diamond crystal radio telescope, a pinhole sieve, or "ego sieve", that projects diamond starlight, the open mind of the cosmic poet which resembles more than anything, a surreal antique phonograph cabinet, and various lamps ensconced in the space pouring forth an ambiance of mystery, at the center of which, reclining in dream, is the poet.
Once you enter the "theatre", you are not a passive viewer in the sense we are used to in the West when we view artwork. You have entered into a sanctum, into an experience, into a dream, and have become a participant by the mere act of your presence. And as a participant, the space begins its oniric work. It is full of rich multilayered metaphoric elements of all sorts-- the green hand, the luna moth, veins and arteries-- in fact, in this space everything becomes a metaphor with multiple meanings. And the presence of the black madonna abounds, a symbolic return to the integrative indigenous human values, a shift away from patriarchal splitting. The subject is the aesthetic history of what we know of consciousness itself, and thus the installation works on a mysterious meta-level on us as participant at that delicate nexus between our cultural and human mythologies and consciousness itself.
As a photographer of the "divine" work, I too became a living metaphoric participant of the work, as my photographs will be as they enter the world. It is at once prismatic, refractory, mirrored like a hall of mirrors might be at a carnaval, yet so much more sophistocated.
The experience of the installation along with its creator as guide (or perhaps he would prefer a term closer to describing channel or servant of the muse) Gregory Chaney, is in itself a process ever-birthing dynamic meaning as it is discovered and rediscovered. This might possibly be said of any great art, yet this work highlights this phenomena and the phenomena of making meaning which at its very base is dynamic becomes a central living subject of the art itself.
The Theatre of the Divine Imagination begins to weave its metaphoric effect on your imagination as you encounter the work on various levels; the sound of the human voice, african tribal music, endless symbolic juxtapositions and combinations, the artist, musicians, dancers, poets are all here in spirit. The work is woven in the language of dreams, of the subconscious, and even if conscious connections are not drawn immediately, they are there working. This is compounded by the fact that consciousness both acts as a mediator of and is the subject of the work and it becomes an creative co-creator of the experience. It is a place to dream, to connect what might normally be unconnectable in the realm of Cartesian logic. How we define perception through story, metaphor and myth is mirrored by the space, a hall of mirrors for consciousness, the effect is prismatic.
The work changes dynamically with factors like time of day and what the participant/observer brings at that moment and also what the guide, who in a sense becomes a kind of ancient Oracle, is inspired to highlight. It will be different for each person, and each visit will be different; and it is possible that the space will not open its secrets to all visitors.
These principals of subjectivity are at work in each of our lives all the time, moment to moment, part of the subjective nature of our perception, but this phenomena seems amplified and spotlighted by this space so that it comments on the phenomena and makes it more transparent, thus more conscious, and a subject for endless play and commentary; at the same time it remains mysterious as all great truths are, because their depth and multidimensional nature takes the mind beyond its reductionistic reifying tendencies.
The room itself is symbolically alive, as represented with the red and blue yarn that links the vital "organs" of the room together. Suggesting a circulatory system of mutual influences. Also connoting the animistic nature of the universe, a universe in which we are living participants, not superior to or apart from. We are introduced to the green hands of the green self, the indigenous, aboriginal self. As the installation experience comes into being through the relationship and perception of its participants, the work's existence is alive. This dissolves the museum paradigm for viewing art passively as a stranger to it as well as the prosenium arch audience-actor play-life dichotomy of theater-- and thus it is "revolutionary".
Spontaneously, my mind leapt to the Kivas of the Southwest and to the photographs of the world class mural work of Pottery Mound which I saw recently while I was visiting friends in Santa Fe. The Kivas are sacred ceremonial spaces of worship of cylindrical form dug into the earth, ritual participants sit around the edges looking into the center. The circular walls are often adorned with murals. In the case of pottery mound, there were an extraordinary number of Kivas and with some of the most outstanding artwork ever found in Southwest murals. I fell in love with the work. The forms, subjects, colors the very dimensions were refined to a high level connoting a spiritual culture that was extremely developed.
The Kiva is a space of collective worship, of spiritual renewal and fecundity; the people who celebrated their rites there were surrounded by their mythology, their keys to meaning. In RTDI Gregory has assembled keys of meaning to the Western experience where spirituality and art at some point got separated, sometimes the art taking the more soulful aspects of something that was once one, in the process of secularization, philosophy and the arts took on in many cases roles of making meaning, personal and collective. Here we have a space where we can explore and experience the meaning making process go back to its core, just as the Kiva is symbolically close to the core of the earth, it is in the Earth, part of the Earth, our context that gives us meaning. Here inside the RTDI we are inside the fertile soil of our collective artistic, philosophic, even scientific, meaning making process.
There is a sense of collectivity, all of the arts and sciences mutually influencing one another, great minds and artists are brought together to converse in new ways, Neruda, Kahlo, Merton, Edison, Tesla... And the question is raised, since this room does not deny or reject science, but includes it on the same plane and even recognizes it as an art, then, if our current inventions and current dominant socioeconomic structures (which appear to be failing our humanity so miserably) are the result of the Western mind which has created with certain premises, for example "man" is separate from "nature", what happens if those premises in which we are embedded, and therefore are normally invisible, are questioned, and we are therefore given the creative opportunity to change them? What will we invent then? How will we relate to ourselves, each other, the Earth, the Cosmos? With a premise of ourselves as interconnected with all nature, as creative inhabitants and participants in the chorus of existence. Other choices are possible, I have heard it said, for instance, that the aboriginees make a conscious creative choice, chose not to own/have and not to invent objects of "progress". What is science where subject-object duality is dropped? Perhaps this is the secret domain of genius. The statements of many brilliant minds certainly seem to throw light in this direction.
As found with great art, metalevels of meaning resound throughout the experience and reflection on its meaning. The fact however, that you physicially enter the space a ritual sacred space where art, spirit and consciousness meet, makes it very special. This brings us into an "aboriginal", as Gregory put it, relationship and awareness. Here our whole vehicle, the physical, sensory somatic vehicle of our embodied selves, something, we all share in this incarnate dimension, is activated, engaged. Exciting vertices of inquiry, and I would suggest embodied inquiry being the most fertile, are stimulated. For example: what is the relationship between body dream reality consciousness?; How can we create artful, ritual, spiritual spaces for living, dreaming, working, sharing collective visions?; What are the benefits/effects on and to our consciousness of such spaces? Though to frame this last question in terms of benefits seems ominously close to a western utilitarian and "profit-based" bias, as is the elusive, or shall I say, delusive, Western concept of "progress". Nonetheless, perhaps there is still some validity to the question if approached with care. What is certain is that allowing yourself to be moved by the experience of The Theatre of the Divine Imagination is fascinating. It is a one of a kind gem.
(Gregory Chaney is looking for a permanent home for this installation, where he can also serve as docent, guide, oracle. Please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have leads to such a place.)