Life Inside a Dome

By Jesse Gelaznik

 

Right now I'm typing in a tent at night, bathed in blue neon, listening to the sounds of the forest, their origins invisible to me. I've been out in the woods for a week now, building a dome-roofed home and painting a mural inside of it that’s devoted to a woman in the light of the moon.

Think whatever you want about me acting all 2012. I came out here to construct a site-specific installation in the woods that I would charge with creative energy, living in a tent while I built it, and I’m fucking serious about it. I’ve camped a couple times in the last few years, but this is definitely the first time I’ve lived in the woods for more than a few days. I’d been in Brooklyn for the last 12 years, working on my art in a small studio, where I incorporating an automatic drawing style that pulls from the subconscious. As I'd been working, I'd notice that these drawings would often be set in the woods. The idea of the forest began to seem so significant that I felt I should develop an idea that would take me there.

The idea to construct and illustrate the interior of a dome came to me a couple years before actually living in it. When I went to Cambodia in 2010 I visited the temples of Angkor Wat. So many senses were involved in viewing art in nature, and I didn’t feel pressure to give reverence to anything besides the energy created by the structures. I knew at that point that I had to check out this process for myself, try to build something based on similar principles. My other main influence for this piece came from a compelling interest in Renaissance art. Again and again I noted that these paintings would occupy a specific space, like multi-panel altar pieces displaying religious iconography on wood. My gut instinct was to make a painting specifically for the structure in an iconographical style that did not have to be attached to any formal religion.

The only thing I’d ever built by myself had been a small chicken coop in my backyard in Brooklyn, so making a whole building in the forest seemed fairly impossible. Still, I started sketching out what I wanted to build and asked my sculptor and construction crew friends how to go about it. I knew I wanted to have a dome as part of the structure, as it would enhance the acoustics, and open up the interior, and I could lead the eye to a prism in the oculus, which I felt was the focal point of the whole thing. I knew that I didn’t want to go the geodesic route for this project, but rather make it out of wood, lathe, and plaster—old school.

So, great, I knew what to make, but where the hell was I going to put it? As I was working on the design, word came through a friend that he knew two young documentary filmmakers, George and I’in Cox, who’d just bought land in the Berkshires, Western Massachusetts. They were about to start a residency program called Outpost where artists would make work in the woods. Sounded pretty perfect.

One Skype meeting later, I was on a bus headed for their land. I met up with George and I took a long walk in the rain, looking for the perfect spot for my project. I came across a ring of trees with level ground, and I felt it was a special place. With this in mind, I went back to Brooklyn and continued developing my sketches and ideas, and a few months later I was ready to get to work.

Luckily, my father also lives out in the Berkshires and was excited about helping me with this project. He’s spent most of his life in construction and so he steered me straight with all the materials and tools. After seven straight days of sweating in his garage, the skeleton of the structure started coming together and it was time to figure out how to get it out to its landing spot.

Of course I hadn’t really thought about how I was getting an eight-foot cylinder with a four-foot half-spherical roof into the woods. Eight feet looks a lot bigger in person than it does on paper. As soon as I felt completely fucked, an answer appeared in the form of an 18-and-a-half-foot trailer that a neighbor uses for his landscaping company. Next thing I knew we were carrying the structure in three parts through the woods and putting it back together. It took four of us to carry it about 50 feet, but it worked.

The first night I was in the woods by myself was a huge learning experience. I made a fire and was a little nervous about being alone. In fact, I was going pretty bonkers as I stared into the fire, thinking that all the trees were tiptoeing slowly towards me and that they would suddenly freeze in place any time I looked up. Then I heard a howl, then two, three... all of a sudden I felt surrounded. The howls seemed so close. I didn’t know if they were wolves or coyotes or what, but it was clear that I was on their land. It was strange because though I was scared of them, their concordant baying was magnificent. I was instantly in a state of hyper-awareness. Sitting by the fire got a little too intense so I walked back to my tent with an axe. What I could have done with that axe is up for debate, but it made me feel better about walking through the darkness.

The balance of nervous fear and serenity have become this project’s functioning methodology. Now I spend my days in a strange, trancelike state that comes from working long days, constant exposure to nature, and little social interaction. There’s a lot of work to do every day, both construction and creative work. I’m stapling lathe onto the ribs of the dome in preparation for the mortar, drawing with charcoal, and making fires. At night the darkness covers everything and I work on my mural with a headlamp and candles.

The Plexiglas pyramid in the oculus of the dome is composed of four equilateral triangles, each one tinted a vivid, translucent primary color, plus one clear panel as a representation of white light. As the sun passes through the pyramid, the different colored sections project onto the walls. At certain points of the day these swaths of colored light shoot out of the dome and onto the ground in front of the entrance.

Inside the dome, I close my eyes and watch the multi-colored geometric forms projected inside my new home change shape. The magnified sound inside the dome seems to surround me when I’m in there. I’ve been drawing in chalk on the floor, invoking glyphs of alchemy and astronomy, and then rubbing them out. This is how I’m charging the space, connecting the subliminal and pursuit of the metaphysical. In short, I’ve made a pretty radical home for spiders and other insects.

In the morning I will chop wood and boil water in a pan on an open fire to make my coffee and read The Secret Teachings of all Ages by Manly P. Hall. I have to learn what types of trees there are here, as I only recognize a few. All I know is that everything around me is alive, moving and making sounds.

 

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