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George Wyllie holding a star at the beginning of his Cosmic Voyage

This declaration is tentative, for I’m not at all sure of where it is taking me, but my aspirations urge me not to dodge this uncertain adventure. Here’s my explanation and statement of intent…

‘Scul?ture’ was launched in the Collins Gallery in 1976. The question mark deliberately replaced the ‘p’ to signify doubt and apprehension within that movement. After random adventures in parts beyond the seas, its questionable strength became central to my scul?tural aspirations. It now extends itself towards an essential consideration of wonder. A happy compass will set the uncertain course, and so The Cosmic Voyage will begin.

Like good old Joseph Beuys I’m aware that new beginnings can only happen in the offing. I reckon it’s the way Columbus must have felt when he sailed due west over the horizon to see what lay beyond. Because of the uncharted nature of random destinations, it is worthwhile considering the ways of other cosmic adventurers. I am particularly interested in sculptural explorers such as Constantine Brancusi and the contemplative simplicity of his ‘Endless Column’ suggesting infinite upward directions to beyond ourselves. I am also intrigued by the ‘Nine Catalytic Stations’ of Paul Neagu—particularly his open-ended star inviting us to climb inside and metaphysically rummage for its mysteries.

The awkward business of ascending to the cosmos is probably best suggested by the dynamic Vikings who seemed intent on going anywhere and everywhere. Not unlike the Shaman ‘World Tree’, the Norsemen came up with the idea of the Yggdrasill tree. This was visualised as a ladder stretching upwards to heaven, and downwards to the underworld. Nowadays I cannot look at the solitary tree at the bottom of my garden without it making me aware that its roots are exploring the centre of the Earth—whilst its high branches strive to reach the heavens. And who can deny that it isn’t making an invisible cosmic connection—and from my garden too?

The cosmos and its relationship to trees are simple and believable. Consider the multiplicity of leaves, and understand that each one is a solar cell. They are busy—busy—busy collecting the radiated energy of the cosmos, then delivering it through the trunk and so into the roots, and then into the Earth. Thus, Earth and tree are nourished and energised—and then, the cycle of cosmic energy, hinged on to time, allows the tree to do it over and over again. This is known as ‘growth’. It is perfectly natural—not just for trees, but for all vegetation, aye, even Ourselves, for it ensures the totality of all Being.

All of this theoretical talk is fine, but none of it suggests the implications of transporting the enterprising human race to reach much further than the nearby moon. We can shoot scientific golf buggies into the ether and land them in planetary dust—and every now and again a failed high-tech astral device will lose its grip, and return to us to land with a ‘splat’ in some awkward desert. I must hand it to the scientists, however, for they do try, and seem to know that the cosmos has a lot to offer. I worry a bit about this, for on our own planet, the positive aspects of scientific ingenuity are not consistent, and also can go ‘splat’.

The unpredictable nature of cosmic voyaging is very handy for films and TV as Captain Kirk, galaxy hitchhikers and special effects departments well know. It is a strange human quirk that when we consider wonder, we are inclined to make fun of it. Is it because our power to imagine that which lies beyond our orthodoxy is not fully developed? Is our intuition embarrassed by the excitement?… But, hey!—here is a job for the arts—and not least this Cosmic Voyage —for even if it does not deliver the elusive ‘new beginnings’, it’s having a go. At best it will encourage me, and hopefully others, to regard the cosmos less unseriously.

Consider now, the ancient stones of Callanish. Positive-minded scientists have now figured out that these were arranged as an early lunar observatory—handy for the farmers and early astronomers. It’s not a bad idea to reconsider so-called primitive and honest fundamentalism. It was uncluttered by Corporates and Arts Councils and therefore fairly free from human contaminants. Now, in our new age, wonder and confused appreciation is expressed theatrically with sandals and folksy merriment—ah, the contrived merry tinkle of Hebridean temple bells.

I own a couple of meteorites that I regard as visiting cards from space. They arrived on our planet via Russia in 1914, offering me assurance that there are tactile things happening beyond our planet. They are not quite at home here but friendly enough to induce wonder from afar. I suppose they too landed in Russia with a ‘splat’ —but I hope this does not happen to my Cosmic Voyage . Anyway, I’m off to the offing.

George Wyllie