Mending the World Through a Dream at CCA
There may be no direct evidence to support the notion that external reality and subjective experience are inseparable and that personal and collective actions influence and are influenced by the movements of the cosmic bodies. But cosmic events have been taken as signs of our collective human behavior incurring the wrath of gods and spirits throughout recorded history: Volcanoes erupt, floods devastate villages — all because we, as a species, have lost our way. When such occurrences happen at the same time as an eclipse or other celestial event, spectators are rapt in wonder and fear, and questions arise about the meaning of such incidents.
The works of Derek Chan take such premises not as sooth but as symbolism. Chan envisions the world as the product of a universe dreaming in uneasy sleep. “One thing I think about is if we’re just part of a larger, universal consciousness, and that possibly means we have more possibilities to affect change, transform ourselves and the world around us,” Chan said. Mending the World Through a Dream, a body of his work that deals inquisitively with questions of reality, is on view at the Center for Contemporary Arts.
The show is composed of several large-scale paintings related by way of their imagery to an animated video Chan calls When the Universe Dreams. Chan began the project by animating stills from the 1982 movie Tron and animating images of his own artwork. In the film, an engineer played by Jeff Bridges is transported into the software program of a computer and becomes subject to the whims of the tyrannical artificial intelligence that runs it. In his 11-minute video, Chan draws comparison to contemporary society’s dependence on technology and the world as experienced through myriad digital devices.
Chan created the video from a body of work he made while participating in the Roswell Artist-in-Residence Program. It began as a slide show, with written text on the screen, and it evolved into a timebased video for Mending the World Through a Dream. “The idea was to take my 2-D work and bring it to life with sound, music, and color,” Chan told Pasatiempo. “Originally, the video came out of an inquiry into causation — the law of cause and effect. Within that context there are various symbols that are explored, such as the tower, which refers to human greed, perhaps corporate greed; death and rebirth; and lunar and planetary cycles referencing, of course, time.”
The artist moved to Santa Fe from the Chicago area last year after completing the residency in Roswell. “It was one of the greatest experiences I’ve had. For
most art residencies, it’s considered remote, but I found a positive community there, and they were generous to me. I had wanted to move to the Southwest for a while, and when I had the opportunity to stay after the residency, I moved here.”
When the Universe Dreams is an experimental work with sound and music contributions from record producer and hip hop artist DJ Fatgums, music trio The Room Outside, and artist Ted Schooley — with some humming courtesy of artist Jessica Kirkpatrick. The video is narrated by The Room Outside’s frontwoman Karrie Hopper, who can be heard saying, “Dreams are a divine conduit. How might the universe manifest its dream?” The dialogue, written by Chan, suggests that the universe is illusory — or perhaps a hologram. “The level of mediation we observe the world through is really layered, mostly through many screens,” the artist said. To reinforce this idea, Chan inserts a recurring image into the video, a female hand holding a cell phone, to imply that the world as experienced through an electronic device isn’t real.
Chan’s video addresses the wanton destruction of the Earth in the effort to obtain fossil fuels. “When the Universe Dreams imagines what the universe would be dreaming about,” he said. “This could be a karmic dream, observing the imbalances that man has created. That’s the center of it: restoring balance from the imbalance we’ve created because of our greed and disrespect for the Earth.” A triptych, When the Mountains Begin to Walk: Past, Present, and
Future, depicts a symbiotic relationship between the world and the universe. Chan was inspired by Native American legends about events occurring in conjunction with an annular eclipse, which occurs when the moon blocks the sun’s center, leaving its outer edges visible as a ring around the moon. Monochromatic paintings of free-floating, geometric-shaped mountains are juxtaposed with imagery of moon phases or of Mercury in retrograde motion, warping and bending the Earth below and affecting the movements of the tectonic plates.
The paintings are arranged in a sequence from left to right. The imagery is chaotic, suggesting a turbulent, fractured world, but balance is restored in the final painting, where the elements coalesce into a recognizable landscape. The reawakening of a feminine, perhaps divine, energy in the universe brings equilibrium back to the world. “I tend to think of the universe as female,” he said. “I think about if we’re moving into a period of transformation away from the masculine. I think it’s an optimistic view.”