Monday, December 02, 2013


Into The Symphony Oil on linen 120 x 160 cm 2008

Over the last week I have attended two events that have made me think again about complexity. The first event was a lecture given by Prof David Christian. The title of the lecture was 'Is There Progress In The History Of The Universe?' It was the plenary session for a conference 'Perspectives in Progress' at the University of Queensland.

Prof Christian, from Australia's Macquarie University, is the Director of the Big History Institute. If you're wondering what Big History is please visit the Institute's webpage HERE and the Big History Project page HERE. Big History is enthusiastically supported by Bill Gates. Make sure you click on 'Learn More'...this takes you to a page where you can listen to and watch Prof Christian speak.

Here's a quote from the Big History Institute's introduction to the question What is Big History?

Big History is the attempt to understand, in a unified and interdisciplinary way, the history of the Cosmos, Earth, Life and Humanity. Big History is ambitious - it seeks understanding by bringing together and linking the knowledge available in many different scholarly disciplines.
To continue please visit the Big History Institute's webpage:
Upon reading the quote above, regular readers will need no explanation for my enthusiasm for Big History! Big History is like a 'Big Landscape'...and as regular readers know I am keen to untether notions of 'landscape' from Earth-bound horizons, so we can see, experience and benefit from its full and cosmic potential! Big History takes perspective seriously! I read about it a few years ago and have been following it on various forums ever since...even recommending its program to my children's school. Happily it is now one of Big History's pilot schools.
Untethered Landscape Oil on linen 50 x 50 cm 2013
But back to complexity: Prof Christian suggested that the progress of the Universe is one of increasing complexity. From just after the Big Bang when two basic chemicals existed ie: hydrogen and helium, pockets of 'Goldilocks' conditions have enabled the Universe to progress towards more and more complex 'life'. The formation of stars, planets, galaxies are outcomes of these pockets of 'Goldilocks' conditions. On planet Earth the appearance and evolution of organic life, of all kinds, is the result of just-the-right conditions. How lucky is that?! How lucky are we?! I am reminded of cosmologist, astrophysicist and Astronomer Royal, Lord Martin Rees's similar message in his fascinating book 'Just Six Numbers'.

The second event that made me think of complexity was only last night. I attended a performance of 'L'Enfance Du Christ' at St Andrews Uniting Church in Brisbane's CBD. The performance involved two main groups, the Brisbane Concert Choir at St Andrews and the Sinfonia of Saint Andrews. The Musical Director was Debra Shearer-Dirie.

The performance was marvellous and so deceptively simple...yep the perfect kind of complexity! The nearly two hour performance embraced the interior of the church, enfolding the audience in a story- telling that took you to the stars and beyond. There were no major theatrics and there was no technological augmentation of light or sound. In fact, no microphones. The choir, the soloists and the musicians certainly did not need any augmentation. The audience received purity and beauty in the mastery, genius and talent of the performers... and let's not forget the score and lyrics. I am not a musician and I cannot sing very well, but there's something very special about the human voice in choir...a community of voices stroking your heart as they couple with each other and with the sounds of the orchestra, creating miracles of consecutive 'pivotal moments' that transport everyone. In a way, when you experience something like this, it's akin to experiencing the history of the Universe in metaphor...and in just two hours!

Prof Christian suggested that with complexity comes an inherent vulnerability and fragility. As if exponential growth/progress reaches a point where breakdown occurs, thus sparking something that maybe quite different. I am reminded of the music I heard last night...I suspect music has a capacity to prophesise this very set of circumstances...I also think it holds clues to ways of working with circumstances of all kinds. And, this is what all good music, performance and art can experience of exponential emotion and complexity that exposes vulnerability, before being released in the 'colour' of contrast, nuance and rhythm. Sounds simple...but fortunately it's not!

I had a delivery of new stretched linen stretchers today and so I can get back into paintings. I'd run out of them and whilst I have made some attempts with gouache on paper, I am so very keen to return to my oil paints!


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