Offshore Beauty at Djerassi

By Thomas Skalak

Waking to strong offshore breezes this morning on the Djerassi ranch, I created a new photographic work entitled The Mirror of the World. 

In this work, one sees a Middlebrook writing studio at the left, intersecting in a geometric plane with the bright blue sky and intervening horizontal plane of the ocean - a complex flow producing swirling vertices.  The swirls contain the changes of life.  The single trigram symbol for “Water”, produced by the upward flow of sun/light from the Yang line in the middle and the inward flows of dark/moon from the Yin lines at top and bottom are visual representations of changes in the ancient I Ching (Book of Changes). 

Today was our first day with strong offshore winds, building from the crack of dawn until eight or nine in the morning.  These 20 knot offshore breezes swirl loudly around the corners of the writing studios, artist’s house, and barn on their way westward to smooth the faces of the waves breaking on the edge of the Pacific.  The ocean offers us a third interface, adding complexity to the swirls which carry us into the past and the future.

Much of the installation art on the Djerassi ranch carries a touch of whimsy.  The works delight and entertain us, even as they provoke contemplation.  In doing so, they sidestep the common tendency of modern conceptual “art of science” to convey merely representational impressions of objects and ideas.  Farce, in the presence of this awesome natural environment, would be out of place and uninvited, while true comedy and tragedy is welcome and inspiring.  Beauty in all its forms is ever-present, not least in the thoughts of my fellow residents.  Barbara Berrie constructed a small stone cairn and, aided by longtime staff member Tim DeVoe, lit a vertical electric bonfire for our observation of the Summer Solstice on June 21.  Dreams were spoken to the moon and stars in a dark night sky.  Eliot North has designed a series of words capturing the varied moods of fog here, to be etched into natural woods and stationed like a fogbank near the writing studios.

As Nick observed on the very final page of The Great Gatsby, “… man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation … face to face with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder” to be “borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

Just so, we hold our breath and wonder at Djerassi.