From darkness, light and life emerge.
Since the earliest of days, stars have acted as beacons home, simultaneously providing material for stories and fortunes. Our connections to the stars, the beginning and end of all that we know, are deep and unmatched. Stars, and our associations with them, link us all across time, geography, and being.
These celestial night images—my own nebulae and galaxies—aren’t made from dark matter of the universe, but rather by the common slug. Delicate and persistent, the slug moves about from dusk until dawn on gelatin silver paper in my darkroom, making marks through their biology, creating something new. These images exist as microcosms of the cycles of life: feeding, defecation, sex, movement, life and death. It is my hope that these galaxies form new connections from one to another, from the darkness into light.
In a catalog produced for the project, Dr. Alan Lightman, (author of Einstein’s Dream who continues to inspire me, wrote the introduction to the work in the catalog. The following is an excerpt of his essay:
“In this new work, Witman has taken a minimalist view of the art of photography. Not only has she dispensed with the lens of the camera. She has also dispensed with the whole camera, leaving herself only the naked film. And rather than impose lines and shadows on that film by her own design, she has chosen the commonplace slug – surely one of the slightest and most humble animals on earth – as her agent and accomplice. Her paintbrush is a living creature, and the image is created over time, unpredictably, as the that creature goes about its business of crawling, eating, defecating, unaware that it is achieving a bit of immortality in the traces it leaves behind.
The images. Some are simply white dots against a black background. Some are smudges and swirls and tails. Some seem connected to larger patterns, as if they were part of a life history, while some seem to begin and end abruptly in isolation. Could our own bodies, houses, cities, make similar patterns when viewed from afar by some cosmic being?
Larger questions, stimulated and provoked by Witman’s slug tracings, are: Why do we seek patterns at all? and Why do we seek connections between things? The universe is a vast jumble of sights and sounds and smells. We are thrust into this cosmic sensorium with a brain, a special arrangement of carbon and oxygen and hydrogen atoms that has miraculously developed an awareness of itself and the capacity to think. And with that thinking comes the desperate need to understand. We want to know what it all means. Surely, the cosmos must mean something, our lives must mean something. Surely the universe cannot be a random collection of things, a sheer accident. We seek patterns, in my view, to find order. If not intentionality, at least order, at least escape from a swamp of pure chaos. And we seek connections between things to provide meaning. In discerning a resemblance of Witman’s slug tracings to the majestic display of the galaxies, we find some union between the very small and the very large, between the fleeting and the long lived, between the animate and the inanimate. And if we can also find in these images a touch of beauty, a sense of imagination, and a flight of whimsy and provocation, then we have fully experienced the voyage that all art attempts to create.”