Tales of the Infinite Absolute

You are holding two small metallic eggs, one in each hand. One is in your left, one is in your right. They are curious objects, as you are unable to determine whether they occurred naturally or were created by mankind. To you, they feel powerful. Now you place them to rest, one at the top of the Taygetos Mountains, the other you let slide from your fingers into the sea.

While this may sound like a fantasy-imbued dream, it is the culmination of 30 years of work by Carnegie Mellon art professor Lowry Burgess. As the sixth piece of Burgess’s Quiet Axis project, Seeds of the Infinite Absolute seeks to display and try to understand the power of infinities.

Over the past 30 years, Burgess has planned and then collected the elements that compose the seeds, his two metallic eggs. Each is purified from the emotional and physical substances that define our reality, including the blood of artists, sap from 44 types of trees, and crushed vermillion, the last of which was placed in a room where 60 pairs of people exchanged telepathic plans for the future. These elements were chosen to represent a distillation of our reality into a purer form. Burgess explained, for example, “with 52 flowers, which were collected from all over the world... there is one blooming for each week of the year, an ever-blooming flower, a flower of flowers.”

Many of the materials that have been distilled were collected by Burgess himself, such as samples from rivers including the Nile, Tigris, Euphrates, Ganges, Mississippi, and the Murray in Australia. The collection and method become part of the experience, a ritual for understanding our position between opposing infinities.

Both seeds have now been placed: The seed at the bottom of the Mediterranean will be sucked into the Calypso Deep, where the African continental plate dives beneath the Eurasian plate, and where the seeds will eventually be crushed; and the seed in the mountains will slowly erode. They were placed there, each pulling at the other so that, as Burgess describes, “between these two infinities, the one of crushing pressure, and the one of release, is most of our reality.”

With the completion of Burgess’s work on Seeds, he will focus on deep space. In 1989, Burgess was the first artist to have his work taken into space as an official payload by NASA, and he is now again exploring space, specifically the balance point, or Lagrangian point, between the Milky Way Galaxy and the Andromeda Galaxy, a point of zero gravity that Burgess believes represents a true sense of freedom.

Burgess hopes to send two sets of radio waves to this point, one from each side of Earth, creating an interference pattern which he describes as a radio hologram. This project, which will take place some 1.1 million light years away from Earth, is another demonstration that art can take place anywhere, expanding our own reality by expanding the locations where artists can work.

For anyone interested in experiencing Burgess’s work inside of our galaxy, check out Forum 61, running from November 10, 2007, to March 2008 at the Carnegie Museum of Art, an exhibition that will contain a number of his large-scale paintings from the past 40 years.