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2.03 - Deliverance

Animal Magician's Hut - Astronaut Figures

These sculptures were produced in 1990 from many found parts and sculpted elements. The figures represent frail beings capable of flight, yet weighted by the earth.

The heads were cast in bronze, some with hinged doors so that sculpted thoughts could be extracted. The bodies contained many particles of fuel and sustenance for their voyage.  

I had read about the history of the first seven Mercury astronauts in the early 1960s and became entranced by their image as physically transcendent Gods of the earth.

As the first human beings to leave the earth’s atmosphere, they crossed a threshold that was a physical barrier between one realm and another. I understood this incredible feat as the mere physical attainment of a transcendent state that had previously been undertaken within spiritual terms by shamans over millennia.

I had considered artefacts such as the Nazca earth lines functioning to provide a shift in perception necessary to project vision into the skies above. I had also read many accounts of epic voyages into alternative spaces undertaken by shamans of many cultures, and they seemed loaded with as much drama and discovery as the NASA achievement. Yet the stories contained a multi-layered awareness of the nature of physical reality and how a spirit might pass through dimensions, while taking into account what was being left behind.

The projection of a physical being into outer space seemed to resonate with all the mythic qualities of transcendence as I understood it, while being an irreversible step away from that. A moral underpinning was exemplified for me at the time by the story of Phaethon, from Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

Phaethon, a mortal, demands permission of his father, the sun, to take control of his fiery chariot. The sun answers, “Look round, at all the rich world contains, and ask for anything among all the good things in earth or air or sea. You will not be refused. But it is a punishment, not a boon, that you are seeking.”

Phaethon, full of confidence in himself and denying his heavenly father’s wishes, is ill-equipped to cope with regions of air unknown, and is cast down onto the earth, setting the world ablaze. As he struggles to maintain control of his father’s horses, Phaethon wishes he had not touched them, and regrets that he had learned his parentage and that his request had been granted.

Although I did not fear literal disaster as a consequence of the voyage through the earth’s atmosphere, it seemed to me as if the giant step taken throughout the industrial age equated with a loss of meaning in the way we relate to our body in space, and the body of the earth.

The notion of the vulnerable, spent human body, refused by the heavens, was to inform many representations of the figure that I was to make over time.


Explore this theme

1. Introduction

2. Depot Boxes

3. Tracks

4. Art Battery

5. Puma Search

6. Astronaut Figures (You Are Here)