Bending the Universe

Today, the Earth is around 13.8 billion years old. To think about how all of this happened, and the blip of human existence so far in an expansive Universal story, is sublime: awe-inspiring, frightening, beautiful, spiritual, existential, and creative. I hoped to share that with others in my usual spirit of shared, embodied generativity: working within “games” to create space for sublimeness to sink into soul, flowing on a quiet current of Earth’s fragility and well-being.

Thanks to the Queens Council on the Arts in 2015, Bending the Universe was installed on the Brooklyn Grange’s LIC rooftop farm in Queens. The game board was a timeline, chronicling and visualizing phases of Universe creation, from the Big Bang — a white circle — to hundreds of circles, leaves, squares, and black holes, branching into three timelines trillions of years into a future with many possible endings, or new beginnings.

Creators first selected a ‘game piece’ with a word written on it, from “hope” to “witches” to “love” to “books,” and more. They could freely choose or be given one at random. They were asked to put their game piece down on the game board and walk along one side of the benches as they made their choice. On those benches was a long, continuous written narrative of our Universe’s timeline. To choose their spot, people explored the timeline, which detailed how Forces like gravity work and when scientists believe they came into being, when matters started to form, how Earth started to form, the emergence of life, the death of our beloved sun, and billions of journeys of matter and energy beyond. Peoples’ choices were conceptual and aesthetic as they changed the game board in their painterly ways.

When creators finished, they met me at the end of time. I gave them a blank milestone marker and asked them a simple question: what happened to your word at the moment in time that you chose? They reflected and wrote strange and beautiful stories, weaving in real facts about the Universe, and placed them on an alternate timeline mirroring the real one. Throughout the day, an alternate collective timeline emerged as stories accumulated, about love at the end of time, ideology at the beginning, and so much more.

Based on how they participated, they received a horoscope.

The Nature of Horoscopes

From reading hundreds of pages about the Universe to create this game, I experienced two understandings of my own:

1. From beginning to end, our Universe is a rainbow, filled with red explosion at the beginning, dreams of quiet blue in silent expansion, birthing in green majesty as galaxies and planets form, and sunsetting yellow and orange as we prepare for endings and beginnings.

2. Matter and energy, as one becomes the other, are us. We seek contraction, quiet, containment, introversion, and introspection as matter takes form by pulling into itself under the force of gravity. When we contract too far, do we absorb others? We seek expansion, explosion, dissolution, and distance as energy takes identity and stretches with the Universe. If we stretch too far, do we lose a sense of self?

These two understandings took creative form in a final step: a horoscope system that I designed. This system mapped our universe’s timeline to a spectrum or rainbow. People who wished for a horoscope tied to how they played were asked to share which moment in time they chose and whether they saw themselves as matter or energy. Based on their answer, they received a ‘horoscope,’ which predicted their life stage or their stage of mind, a mirror for the Universe. The horoscope, often eerily prophetic, framed an opportunity for participants to make a decision in their real lives. For those that chose to make a decision, I followed up one year later.

Design Prototype

A long, horizontal abstract drawing of a timeline of our universe’s history on a grey-blue background. Across the bottom is a timeline in white, from year 0 stretching trillions and trillions of years into our future. In year 0, white circle gives birth to hundreds of circles, which then morph into leaves, gray squares, and black holes until finally to branching into three separate timelines with unknown ends trillions and trillions of years into our future. This drawing was the prototype for the installation.

Horoscope System

A spectrum at the bottom mirrors the universe timeline. Along the top is a chart with two rows. The top row refers to matter; the second refers two energy. At each moment in time, or for each color, is a unique horoscope for matter and energy.

Brooklyn Grange Installation

People playing outside: reading, writing, and chatting with us and with one another. A collective fictional timeline emerges throughout the day.

Anjali Deshmukh, Artist
Bending the Universe.
Mixed Media, Pervasive Installation. 2015. Brooklyn Grange Rooftop Farm.
With support and facilitation by Ernest Verrett. Featuring poetry readings by Purvi Shah. Photo by Chasi Annexy.

Bending the Universe moved through Universe creation, from Big Bang to unknown end(s). Players selected a ‘game piece’ with a word on it, like “love” or “witches.” They added it to the installation while reading a factual narrative of our Universal story. On a mirror timeline, they then wrote a story of what happened to their word at the moment in time they chose, collaging a fictional story opposite the factual one. Participants then received a ‘horoscope’ based on a system I designed. The horoscope, eerily prophetic, invited participants to make a personal decision. I contacted participants a year later to find out how it went. Bending the Universe was woven into the Brooklyn Grange’s rooftop farm.