All civilisations have created forms that bridge between the divine world and us. Our imaginings of angelic creatures are the poetics of the inner life, the connecting of spirit and matter, and symbols of creativity itself. The figure of the angel allows us to grasp the raw, dark matter of the world and transform it into the vibrations of universal spirituality.
Angel draws together image, interactive and music makers to explore the angelic world. The point of departure for this exploration was an installation conceived by Nick Knight and Alexander McQueen for the Avignon Festival of Beauty in 2001. Set in an empty Rococo chapel, a six feet high steel cylinder was installed with a circular tray on its top, an angel’s face was mapped with an intricate pattern of thin metal sheets within it. The sealed areas created by the metal dividers had live maggots placed in them, dyed to create the colouration of the angel’s face and hair. This living pigment was not visible at close quarters but reflected in a mirror suspended twenty feet above the installation. It was the reflection that was seen from ground level, causing visitors’ perception to oscillate between the angel’s beauty and a curiosity for the motion of its elements.
The music that filled the chapel was composed by Björk, also titled Angel, and can be heard in the movie and interactive sections of this piece. The movie of Angel re-works the experience of the Avignon project. The interactive, created by Danny Brown, takes the installation as the starting point for another contemplation of this transient, angelic form. When you open the movie, swirls of dark flecks settle into the outlines of an angel’s image and become filled with grains of colour. The intricate connection of small vibrating forms swell to a brightness and fullness, matched by the flow of the musical score. This movie gives you the sensation of seeing the angelic form coupled with the feeling of revelation that it is through the mundane matter – the live maggots, the simple vibrating shapes on your screen - that the celestial creature is visualised. You experience both the two-dimensional perspective of the angel’s face and, at the same time, a curiosity for the gently moving three-dimensional elements of matter that collectively create the image. As the movie develops, the colours begin to deepen and the vibrations stop. The wonder of the angelic figure fades as the connection between spiritual and base elements begins to pass. There is a sense of uncertainty of the consequences of this installation’s alchemy once the motion and colouration has deadened.
As the maggots transform into flies in the final sequence of the movie, there is a fantastical and horrific moment of realisation. The angelic music is replaced by the intense hum of the flies and the engagement with the divine world fractures. Danny Brown’s magical response to the Angel installation initially appears to be an atmospheric view of the chapel’s Rococo gilded ceiling, as if providing the architectural context for the matter of the movie. But this gently moving scene has a lyrical quality, like an apparition, or perhaps a simulation of how the angel sees the scene above her. To guide the flow of the vision, click and drag and the perspective will gently shift. The movement will not stop despite your efforts and the scene will not come fully into focus. As you interact, you become aware of another image that is beneath it made up of painterly, feminine, circular points of colour.
If you graze the image with a swift movement of your mouse, the face of the angel will momentarily emerge. This angelic vision cannot be fixed and will only be present for as long as you interact with it. In the thirty-one days running up to Christmas Eve, you can sustain your wonder and contemplation of this angel. If you open the image download section of the project, you can print out one of the thirty-one sections of the Angel image every day. Three ‘states’ of the celestial form are available for you to select from, representing three moments in the unfolding relationship between us and the divine world that the angel represents.