Oh, I who long to grow, I look outside myself, and the tree inside me grows. --Rainer Maria Rilke

The Celestial Alphabet series evolved from our personal experiences in the last two years and our ongoing interest in the visual and symbolic, rather than the literal aspects of the written word. As a bilingual couple, the interaction of our two diverse languages (English and Russian) has always been a part of our work. Shortly after the birth of our child in 2002, we began to ponder the origins of language, as he uttered his first sounds and formed his first words.  This led to our research on the alphabet and the discovery of a 17th century scheme of the Celestial Alphabet in which each letter represents a constellation.  The letters themselves, originating in antiquity, are also referred to as the angelic script or magic letters because they were believed to have been sent by messenger angels to form the original language of Eden with which Adam named all things. Our new series makes a parallel between the celestial alphabet and the Florida banyan tree as an archetypal paradisal icon.

To us the banyan tree represents the ultimate symbol of fertility, creation and regeneration.  A masterpiece made by nature, a single banyan tree can grow into an entire forest if left untouched by the human hand. Our banyan tree series is inspired by our childhood memories, personal experiences, and the Russian barisaa, or "prayer tree" ritual (performed in Siberia and the Ural Mountains and of Mongolian origin), where pieces of fabric or one’s clothing are tied to a significant tree as a form of respect and offering to the spirits of nature.  Like Gothic cathedrals, the center of the banyan tree is an inner sanctum, resembling an altar, the roots form the foundation, and the branches are the flying buttresses, or skeletal structure as it were, reaching the heavens.  In our depictions, the light shining through the trees illuminates a golden celestial alphabet, or a rose window. Projected on to the landscape, the alphabet connects us to the mysteries of the earth and the stars and orders the chaos around us.  

The Celestial Alphabet series takes place in an archetypal Garden of Eden, referring to our separation from nature and distance from utopia, as well as a continual, but impossible, desire for a paradisal state and a return to our origins.   The presence of the niche in our paintings, or recessed human figure rendered in egg tempera, emphasizes this duality, as the figure is a part of the illusionistic space, yet physically separate from the environment in which it is placed.  

The Celestial Alphabet series is also a study of linguistics and the origins of language. Based on common Indo-European roots, it examines the cross-boundaries of languages and traditions.  It was inspired, in part, by The Alphabetic Labyrinth: The Letters in History and Imagination, by Johanna Drucker, 1999, (a Yale University art historian’s scholarly research into the history of writing) and by the experimental Russian Symbolist and Futurist poetry of the 1920’s Andrei Bely’s Glossolalia: Poem About Sound, 1922, and Velimir Khlebnikov’s The Gul-Mullah’s Trumpet, 1921-22. In one section of The Gul-Mullah’s Trumpet, Khlebnikov evokes a myriad of ancient and mystical associations and metaphors of the fig tree under which he slept and was protected by during his travels into the Near East. Many of the titles for our new works contain words or phrases from this section, such as Downpour, Tree-rain, and Umbilical Tree.  

While reading Andrei Bely’s Glossolalia, we discovered that many of our infant’s first attempts at pronouncing syllables and words corresponded linguistically to Bely’s concepts on the relationship between sound and the senses.  A theory of the origin of the universe based on sound, Glossolalia is structured on a verbal and spatial logic based on  repetition of sound, roots, and words. In one section of his poem, he plays on the interconnection of sounds, theoretically and mystically with the letter "M," such as in Am, Om, Mama, Dom (in Russian-home), Kram ( the Russian Cathedral), and amor.  Taking note of our son’s first sounds and words, such as mama, mmm, yum, we began to compile our own list of related maternal words such as womb, woman, man, warm, embryo, moloko (in Russian milk) and so on.  

The resulting series of works incorporates these concepts into a body of mixed-media paintings, DVD projections, installations, and photographs printed on various media.

---Scherer & Ouporov, 2004