Cantos: The Rings of Heaven and Hell

Cantos: The Rings of Heaven and Hell, an ongoing series of 67 works inspired by the construct of Dante Alighieri's immortal poem of the Middle Ages, The Divine Comedy, explores the possibilities of translation between artistic forms and of non-textual techniques as narrative.

The poem's elaborate formal structure encompasses the realms of Hell, Purgatory and Heaven; within these allegorical realms, Dante and Virgil cross real landscapes and meet real characters. Each movement by the poet and his guide is crucial to their pilgrimage; every meeting they have is necessary because every meeting is needed to get the poet from Hell to Paradise. Each canto evolves from the previous canto and gives rise to the subsequent canto; the poem is always moving. Cantos: The Rings of Hell and Heaven is my attempt to translate these underlying constructions of the poem into sculptural objects that evolve from each other and inevitably fuse into a destination.

Over the course of several close readings of The Divine Comedy, the poem and my response to it merged into an incipient terra incognita. As smoke-blind Dante completely relied on his guide to make his way through the trials of Purgatory, I relied on the poem's shade to guide my steps. The number of cantos in Hell (34) and Heaven (33) set the project's boundary at 67 pieces. I chose to start with rings, which mimicked the primary form and motion of the poem, and they determined the materials: plaster, wax and metals. An excerpt, lifted from the middle of the poem, was carved in bas-relief; this gave the words a physical, and therefore mutable, shape. It also imbued the rings with the essence of Dante's sublime landscape.

From the start each hand-carved object has been made from re-working the previous object. This gesture generates the progression of the series and opens a space in which artist, materials, and metaphor solidify for a moment in a ring or other form. Yet, each object also acts as a verb and is in transit to the 67th; thus there is motion in apparent stillness. Each object contains its own small narrative; the series will contain a larger, different, narrative.

To date, the first 23 objects have been made: Hell, One through Eleven and Hell, One through Twelve. Each meticulously hand-carved original is reproduced on an individual basis using the lost-wax process and is cast in 18k gold, sterling silver or a combination of those two metals. The miniature scale of the carving strictly limits the quantity that can be produced from each original design.