2008, charcoal, mixed media and collage on paper, 30" x 44"
Cultural critic Lawrence “Ren” Weschler has had an illustrious career, including stints as the director of the New York Institute for the Humanities at New York University, and artistic director of the Chicago Humanities Festival.
His award-winning books include monographs and memoirs of Oliver Sacks, Robert Irwin, David Hockney, and Ramiro Gomez; essay collections such as Vermeer in Bosnia and Everything that Rises; and years as a staff writer for The New Yorker. (The cat’s cradle in Weschler’s hands is made out of collaged strips of longhand notes for Vermeer in Bosnia.)
This portrait places Ren in a camera obscura, standing in the beam of a pinhole-like lens. The projected picture is the interior of the earth, as imagined by the 17th century Jesuit scholar Athanasius Kircher, one of the preeminent intellectuals of his time. Music, biology, geology, geography, Egyptology, history, philosophy and physics were only a few areas of his accomplishment.
Weschler is fascinated by Kircher—in this case, the theory that the earth was heated and cooled by an underground circulatory system of fire and water. Ren’s tie is decorated with the Tree of Life (Etz HaChayim) from the Kabbalah, which maps the connection between mind, body and spirit. The Tree also echoes a model of a molecule, melding the mystic (inner) and physical/scientific (outer) worlds.