A Vision of Eternity
Capturing the essence of what is eternal is at the very core of art and architecture. It is the root of all creative inspiration, the lifelong pursuit of artists and architects throughout history. In the end, it is the pinnacle of beauty itself. As the philosopher Amit Ray has said, “Beauty is the moment when time vanishes. Beauty is the space where eternity arises.”
It has been said that the role of the artist is to reflect their time. But what the artist is truly after is creating something that transcends the quotidian. Theirs is not a fleeting desire. Their mark on humanity and culture is one that endures. At the turn of the last century, the great artistic minds moved away from realistic representation and explored the possibilities of the imagination in movements such as Abstraction, Surrealism, and Cubism. In these new, previously unexplored realms of expression, artists could investigate the concept of life’s great questions anew. The best-known artist of the Surrealist movement, Salvador Dalí, did not shy away from tackling ideas of the everlasting and otherworldly. His dream-like painting Visions of Eternity (1936) features an unending, undefined landscape punctuated by objects in the foreground that reference his 1927 Poem of Little Things. As it is described in the permanent collection of the Art Institute of Chicago, “…the desolation of the nearly featureless landscape gives the composition an overwhelming sense of infinitude.”
From Dalí’s imagining of eternity in image, we move to Mark Rothko’s uncanny ability to translate the concept in feeling. To stand before just one of the American Abstract artist’s paintings is to surrender oneself to time and space. The work’s purposefully engulfing, lager-than-life proportions are paired with colour so rich and deep, it is a marvel they are made up of mere canvas, frame, and paint. Rothko wanted his viewers to feel like they were inside the painting, transporting them to another realm, an alternate plane of reality. “They must be first encountered at close quarters, so that the first experience is to be within the picture,” he said. “Large pictures are like dramas in which one participates in a direct way.”
Rothko’s direct engagement with his viewer, intent on making them feel placed within the painting, could be seen as a precursor to the hypnotizing work of Yayoi Kusama. Since the 1960s, the Japanese artist has created enveloping environments through repetition, mirrors, assemblage, and visual pattern. Her mirrored “Infinity Rooms” are perhaps the best example of her obsession with the concept of eternity. Hirshhorn Associate Curator Mika Yoshitake, described the artist’s 2018 solo exhibition, “Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirros,” as such, “When visitors explore the exhibition, they will inevitably become part of the works themselves, challenging their preconceived notions of autonomy, time and space.” The spellbinding, participatory spaces create the illusion of a never-ending existence, dazzling with an infinitude of light and beauty.
At the forefront of advanced multimedia in contemporary art today is the artist group TeamLab, existing at the confluence of art and science. This collective of creatives explores the relationship between us and the world around us, through immense technologies and an interdisciplinary artistic vision. As they describe it, “teamLab seeks to transcend these boundaries in our perception of the world, of the relationship between the self and the world, and of the continuity of time. Everything exists in a long, fragile yet miraculous, borderless continuity of life.” Their engrossing installations are abundant with colour, light, and spirit, altering our understanding of the vitality of life in perpetuity.
The very notion of architecture is one of permanence. Structures made of substance and matter cannot be ephemeral. While architects consider the conceit of form and function, they are equally concerned with constructing something that lasts both in practicality, style, and in the collective imagination. “Form comes from wonder…this wonder gives rise to knowledge,” from the Notebooks and Drawings of Louis I. Kahn. The architect defined modern American architecture in the 20th century, juxtaposing imposing materials of fortitude with curving surfaces of suggestion that deftly diffuse light, orchestrating an experience of the endlessness blended with the ethereal. Kahn employed geometry alongside natural elements like water to lift the eye, leading it to rest and reconcile with the disappearing horizon.
The late contemporary architect Zaha Hadid was a master of leading the eye along her designs -crafting lines that swoop, bend, curve, and continue out of frame—a delicious trick of perception that offers a physical metaphor for eternity. Responsible for a new visual language in architecture, Hadid said. “I started out trying to create buildings that would sparkle like isolated jewels; now I want them to connect, to form a new kind of landscape, to flow together with contemporary cities and the lives of their peoples.” Her Art Museum of Changsha Meixihu International Culture & Art Centre (MICA) is the newest example of her legacy. Rising from the ground, framed by water on one side, not a corner, right angle, or ending point can be found.
Rather than providing a mere reflection of the present moment, artists and designers dare to define that which has seemingly no beginning or end. Whether by dream, colour, concept, or scale, creative minds pursue the possibility of transcending place and time, arriving at the eternal - not just for them, but for all of humanity.