Inspiration – Behind the sculpture
By Peter Randall-Page
‘The One and The Many’ is primarily a celebration of human ingenuity and imagination. Our ability to convey meaning to one another, through time and space, by making marks has revolutionised human culture and society.
It is almost impossible for us to imagine a world without writing systems, a world where the only form of communication and dissemination of knowledge and ideas was through face-to-face contact.
Most writing systems began as pictographs and evolved into more abstract marks, eventually conveying their meaning through phonic rather than pictorial signs.
It seems that the earliest writing systems developed from accountancy, but it did not take long before this truly revolutionary communication technique began to be used for more imaginative purposes.
Creation and origin stories are common to all human societies and one of the earliest uses of written language was almost certainly to set down these stories by making marks on clay, papyrus and vellum. Trying to imagine ‘the beginning’ is an impossible task and imagining the unimaginable has produced a wealth of poetic musings and epic narratives.
These myths and legends have been distilled by a kind of cultural natural selection over countless generations and as such they often tell us less about literal cosmology and more about our own hopes and fears: the human condition itself. In fact, a description of our current understanding of cosmology written by astrophysicist Adam Frank is not so dissimilar from the speculations of our most distant ancestors.
My choice of which writing systems and stories to include was subjective. One could not include all languages, scripts, writing and proto-writing on the finite surface of a single stone. Instead, I have tried to represent examples of the major families of writing systems as well as some more obscure scripts chosen purely for their aesthetic quality. I have also tried to avoid pictograms and hieroglyphs, preferring to concentrate on writing as abstract mark making. I have included Braille and Morse code, but not musical notation or mathematical symbols.
I have made some exceptions to this rule in order to include stories from cultures that only use pictographs; a Yantra symbol of cosmic unity carved at the top of the stone and symbols of creation from the Dogon tribe of Mali and Lenape Indians of North America. These examples, as well as the partly deciphered or un-deciphered ‘proto-writing’ symbols known as Vinča and Linear A, are more diagrammatic than linguistic in a strict sense.
A quotation from Samuel Beckett’s play ‘Endgame’ is represented in Morse code and a quotation from Jorge Luis Borges’ short story ‘God’s Script’ is written in Braille.
However, the majority of the texts are creation stories drawn from the culture of the particular writing systems being used. Where this has not been possible, for instance where there is no existing example of a written creation story, I have made transliterations of the words “in the beginning” in English. In general, I have tried to concentrate on stories that describe the physical creation of the universe rather than lists of gods or rulers.
The human desire to make the world meaningful seems to be ubiquitous and intrinsic to our very nature. The naturally eroded boulder used for the sculpture is quintessentially “stuff” being a fragment of solidified magma, the material our planet is made of, its overall form being the result of innumerable chance events over a geological timescale stretching back to the creation of the Earth itself. The abstract marks on its surface embody human creativity, giving meaning to the stone in an imaginative transformation of “dumb” matter.
My hope is that the sculpture captures something of the idea of “breathing” human meaning into the world through the making of marks. An inevitable result of human consciousness is an awareness of our own mortality and endings imply the existence of beginnings. “The One and The Many” is an exploration of the ways in which we have mused on the problem of “in the beginning”.