Heavens starts from the theory that the octopus evolved from a virus originating in outer space, expanding our perception of ecology as a network of interplanetary relationships.

Echoing the multiple-brained biology of the octopus, the work emerged through conversations with Philosopher Amia Srinivasan, writer and artist James Bridle, psychiatrist Estela Welldon, astrobiologist Chandra Wickramasinghe and escape artist Dave Diamond, to form a libretto, set to music by Pan Daijing.

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Look towards Heavens, an immersive installation conceived for planetary-style projection methods and inspired by Walter Benjamin’s essay ‘To the Planetarium’. Within it, Benjamin mournfully comments that the development of astronomical technology has brought about the death of the cosmic experience of the ancients: the more we see, the less we sense; the more we know, the less we conceive.

Heavens is dedicated to that cosmic trance, and to the peculiar and otherworldly behaviour and biology of the octopus, that age-old oracle, a being perhaps too alien to turn out to be alien, and yet might just turn out to be an alien – as a scientific paper suggests, hypothesising that the mass increase in biodiversity that occurred on Earth some 500 million years ago may have been due to extra-terrestrial DNA. Given a potential cosmic origin to the octopus’s secret history, the artists work their way back from the animal’s odd properties to a vast, cosmic state, an obsessive perception of interconnections, an apophenia delirious enough one might lose oneself in it.

On the other hand, if all ecology is interplanetary, then there is no outside, the virus didn’t come from anywhere, there’s nowhere to escape to, and the colonial, survivalist dream of resettlement is nothing but a suicide cult at the end of history – of this history.

Ego death: the dissolution of boundaries between self and non-self in collective dance – an ecstasy; orgasmic vanishing (like Hokusai’s Dream of The Fisherman’s Wife and her more-than-human eroticism: “boundaries and borders gone: I vanished”), those stars, spots, tunnel visions you see as you’re being asphyxiated during sex.

The event is in the future, and it is in the past. The event, the dramaturgical scaffold of a religious ritual that takes you through the tunnel and out the other side – the hole you disappear into: gravity at its most inescapable, swallowing what can be known into nothingness.

We are all children of the event, drifting bits of space junk ejected from original wholeness. Desperate for wholeness: loving, dissociated, euphoric, desperate.

– Lucia Pietroiusti

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Contributions to the libretto:
Amia Srinivasan
James Bridle
Estela Welldon
Dave Diamond
Chandra Wickramasinghe

Composition by Pan Daijing featuring vocals of Anna Davidson and Marie Gailey

Studio:
Alexander Paveley
Lizzy Deacon

Special thanks:
Edward Bloomer, Chauvet Lighting, Céline Condorelli, Mike Cooter, Andrew Fellows, Fabienne Hess, Susan Innes, Rebecca Lewin, Michelle McCormick, Olympus Europa, Lucia Pietroiusti, Filipa Ramos, Daniel Rothschild, Seymour Artistic Swimming Club, Kostas Stasinopoulos, Erik van der Heijden.

Co-commissioned by Serpentine and Malevich.io as part of Back to Earth.

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Excerpts from the libretto for Heavens:

Serpent Sea (22.6° N, 67.7° E, 150)
Southern Sea (38.9° S, 93.0° E)
Sea of Knowledge (10.0° S, 23.1° W, 376)
Sea of Crises (17.0° N, 59.1° E, 418)
Sea of Fecundity (7.8° S, 51.3° E, 909)
Sea of Cold (56.0° N, 1.4° E, 1596)
Sea of Moisture (24.4° S, 38.6° W, 389)
Sea of Showers (32.8° N, 15.6° W ,1123)
Sea of Cleverness (33.7° S, 163.5° E , 318)
Sea of Islands (7.5° N, 30.9° W, 513)
Sea of the Edge (13.3° N, 86.1° E, 420)
Sea of Moscow (27.3° N, 147.9° E, 277)
Sea of Nectar (15.2° S, 35.5° E, 333)
Sea of Clouds (21.3° S, 16.6° W, 715)
Eastern Sea (19.4° S, 92.8° W, 327)
Sea of Serenity (28.0° N, 17.5° E, 707)
Foaming Sea (1.1° N, 65.1° E, 139)
Sea of Tranquility (8.5° N, 31.4° E, 873)
Sea of Waves (6.8° N, 68.4° E, 243)
Sea of Vapors (13.3°N, 3.6°E, 245)
Ocean of Storms (18.4° N, 57.4°W, 2568)

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We see our bodies on the ground, we say to ourselves ‘oh no, we’re dead’. We have the perception of accelerating, being drawn up … We are going elsewhere, floating towards a dark, but not frightening, curtain-like area … we feel total peace. We roam beneath the murky skies, apathetic and contented. Then, as we are saying to ourselves, ‘This is the most glorious feeling we have ever had’ — SLAM! we are back.

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You can see them. You can’t see them very well, you can see the shape of them, because of the glass and the water, the vision is all blurred. So, when you’re in the tank you can hear the music playing and you can sort of gauge where the audience are and everything, but you can’t make up individual faces.

(The uncertainty and unsafety of the womb, offering a precarious, faulty position, then being subjected to a violent expulsion without any holding space. Only a rigid box could offer a sense of survival.)

When you’re in the tank… it’s partly a relief to get into the tank, you know, the whole day is built around getting into the tank, so… Because you’re hanging upside down and your ankles are secured in a metal lid, so partly the first thing is the relief. But the first thing that you can sense is you hear the padlocks going on. You can hear them. And suddenly you’re locked in this tank of water.

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In the beginning was the word and the word was a virus.
Sexless animals emerged spontaneously,
Fireflies born from mixtures of warm earth and morning dew,
Eels emerge from mud and rainwater,
(the sun warming the Nile.)
Cicadas hatched from the spit of cuckoos,
Hornets generated in the carcass of a horse.
Tigers conceived by the wind,
Flies produced by a wildfire,
Bees springing from the blood of the slain animal,
Snakes came from the marrow of the human spine,
Little fish spawn from the sea foam.

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Iridescent violet with a sheen of metallic pink highlights. Prism moonflower stained by silver and copper marks surrounding a matte black orchid blot. A radiant white colour-wash scattered with black and violet pinspots, gathering into an earth yellow blush.
Transforming into
Gold flecks spattered on a zinc white expanse, covering faint blots of radiant rose pink. Galaxian starburst laser beams, a pool of shimmering cadmium lemon, silver outlines, metallic teal blotches. (Endorphins.)
Entangled with
A luminous red deep colour field, electro swarm crimson splashes, circled by violet veins that emerge from a radiant white soft centre. Shutter chase, blade motion iris, freckled with translucent yellow and scarlet shades. (Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin, Noradrenalin.)
Implanting
Ethereal soft-edged light yellow cloud with a flesh tint. Circular spotlights, soft focus. Brown ochre rings surrounding faint pink blots and smoky turquoise pools with tiny bursts of red. (Norepinephrine, acetylcholine.)
Cannibalising
Blue grey surface with a shaded sepia pixelation, condensed peach streaks edged by thin purple rings. Covered by tiny white blinder spots. Red mist (cortisol, testosterone)
Circling around
Strobing white neon speckles on a scarlet rash melting into a yellow lagoon. Haze travelling through a narrow beam. Red pigment pinspots dance across the surface, clearing towards a pearlescent whilte pool edged with turquoise blots. (burst of electricity, blood goes to the head.)

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Next, Release from mother.
The colours outside the window change from blue to indigo to midnight black.
Fellow travellers, for your once-in-a-lifetime journey, you will travel past the boundaries. Transcend the sense of separation, go outside of yourself, experience weightlessness.
Hopes, dreams, steel, engines, 5,4,3,2,1 fire, fire.
If we keep expanding, up is the only way to go.
Enter Dragon to escape our eventual extinction.
Falcon Heavy will remove us from some doomsday Event.
We float up to Maui on its best day. No rain, no earthquakes.
On Mars we will dig out a Sea of solution.
An oasis against the backdrop of infinity.
I went into the wilderness and I rained

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Rapid heart beat
Rapid breathing
Pale skin
Flushed skin
Dilated pupils
Cold palms
Trembling

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You dance in your own room. There’s no mirror and you’ve never seen yourself dance, so you have no visual representation of your dancing and yet you are just dancing. In a sense it’s expressive, but it’s not representational. Not only because most dance is not representational in the sense that it’s non-figurative, but it’s not representational in the sense that you’re not required to imagine an Other… You don’t have to have a sense of yourself, to have a representation of yourself to do this expressive thing.
You dance in the middle of a rave. You sweat with thousands of others in a badly-lit space. A loud beat synchronises your body with that of the others and you know they are there but you don’t see them. There’s no meaning, there’s no figure.

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Hopes, dreams, steel, engines, 5,4,3,2,1 fire, fire.
Hopes, dreams, steel, engines, 5,4,3,2,1 fire, fire.
Hopes, dreams, steel, engines, 5,4,3,2,1 fire, fire.
Hopes, dreams, steel, engines, 5,4,3,2,1 fire, fire.

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The dance eventually became nearly automatic, as if we were simply breathing.
Movements become second nature,
All of us mothers, clinging to the hardened lava from an undersea volcano.
Repeating the movements over and over again to create a shortcut in the brain.
Thinking and doing become one.

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Perform the escape for an audience of one person, have an assistant stand by with an axe ready to break the glass.
Look down, there are no sides, no borders, no boundaries.

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