2021/09/05

"GUARDIANS OF THE ORGANIVERSE"


Soon To Celebrate Its 50th Anniversary, in 2022

Art, Meditation, Ecology
100 Mandalas “Organiverse”
Atom by Atom - Dot by Dot

Organiverse is a glimpse into the multilayered beauty of all that is Life”. Dr. Mark Sherman

Organiverse reminds us of organic processes on the cosmic and microcosmic levels. It helps me understand the vastness, complexity and beauty of the cosmos.” Professor Leslie Mezei (Ret.)


In the summer of 1972, I created a portfolio of 100 paintings, “Organiverse”. The initial dozen were done in Morocco, in the former Phoenician fishing village of Essaouira. Organiverse is a meditational aid or 21st century kasina practice.

That summer, the winds were blowing off the Sahara and sand found itself everywhere in my makeshift ‘studio’. This was frustrating. One day out of the blue, I recalled a song from my childhood in the Lowlands: “Sunny Madeira, land of green and flowers”, and said to Natasha, “Let’s head to Madeira”.


Circled in red, the estate of “Quinta Santo Antonio", island of Madeira


This is the former cow shed on  the Quinta estate, converted into a cottage, where Organiverse was completed in 1972. (On the mountainous terrain of Madeira, cows used to be kept in sheds to prevent them tumbling down the slopes.)


Original Organiverse mandalas #001-#004 of the #100 set, in its Portfolio of twenty-five
pages - (4 mandalas per page x 25 = 100 total paintings)

All 100 mandalas are done in pointillism, dot by dot, atom by atom. The original portfolio consists of twenty-five pages, each with four spherical paintings 8.5 cm in diameter. My intention in creating the work was for it to be used as a meditation device.

Henri van Bentum around the time Organiverse was created


Small is Beautiful The original Organiverse mandalas are just 8.5 cm in diameter. Ever since the 1950’s I’ve been mindful about the environment, unnecessary consumption and waste. I’ve always advocated ‘Small is Beautiful’ and work on a small scale, using a minimum of resources for maximum results.




Here is what I wrote about Organiverse back in 1972:

While we are occupied with our daily existence, a great mystery takes place: Life, evolving in every form, from micro to the macro cosmos. 

With this project, we share insights into the enigma called life, embracing art, science and ecology – a timeless universalism of growth, evolution or genesis. 

We have the microscope and telescope within, and an unknown destiny.

This work also embraces the interplay and relationship of Colour. It is further a study in organic development. 

The invisible is made visible, through dots. 

 We are biologically no more nor less than dots --- atoms. The planets and even the Sun are only a spot in space, depending from where you look.

All life has a beginning, be it the birth of plankton, a whale, lichen, an oak tree, a mouse, and elephant or human being. 

All comes out of darkness the womb, the cosmic egg. Beyond darkness and ignorance there awaits Light.


My partner Natasha has been an active part of the Organiverse journey from day one

Organiverse has seen many manifestations:

In 1973 and 1974, the work was made into a 35mm colour and sound short film by filmmaker Julius Kohanyi, who studied with Stanley Kubrick. Kohanyi was commissioned for this project by the Ontario Arts Council. Since that time, the film has represented Canada in major international film festivals around the world.

Poster for the 7 min. short film "H-A" based on Organiverse. 
The film's creator was Julius Kohanyi, who studied with Stanley Kubrick.



When it came time to give the completed film a title, Kohanyi wanted to use only the symbol for Hydrogen: the two circles at the top left corner of this picture: (if If it looks familiar, this is from the plaque installed aboard Pioneer 11 spacecraft in 1973).

However, he was told a symbol alone wouldn’t “work” for cataloguing the film, so Julius had to give it a name, and he chose “H-A” (for Hydrogen Atom, the first building block of the universe.)

Back to the original intention

My intention all along was to have the Organiverse portfolio of twenty-five pages reproduced in a limited edition and made available to libraries, art schools, universities, museums and a few private collectors.

Although pleased with the film’s success, my purpose had not been realized. The contemplative nature of work was lost on the huge 35mm theatre screens.

Over the years, we tried to have the Organiverse Portfolio printed. However an accurate rendering of the colour was impossible owing to the pointillist technique. Even the best printing companies were unable to make a realistic reproduction.

New Scanning Technology Enables Reproduction

In early 2002, Natasha approached the CEO of Hewlett Packard Canada with a challenge: can their scanning equipment reproduce the “Organiverse” paintings, and be true to their original colours? The CEO assigned Allen Rothwell, their colour specialist, to the job.

In late 2002 and early 2003 Allen visited us in Vancouver where we lived at the time. He brought with him the latest HP scanning machine, and scanned all of the paintings to make digital files. I asked him if he could create a ‘reverse’ edition of the images, which he did. Thus, a “Starry Night” version of Organiverse was born.

Allen had 25 sets of Organiverse printed in Toronto which were shipped to us a month or two later. This shipment included another 25 sets of the new “Starry Night” edition.


Example of an Organiverse handheld "rotation" Set

In 2006 we entered into another collaboration, this time with friend and fellow Snooker player here in Victoria, Brian W.E. Johnson.

Brian had an idea: we could put the mandalas on individual cards, for a total of 100 cards, and house them in a wooden container. We called these a “handheld set”, and you can read more about this on my website here.

Close friend and patron, Brian W.E. Johnson, 
a staunch supporter of Organiverse and its further evolution

(Also, here's a link to a previous post in appreciation of Brian.)

UNESCO International Year of Astronomy

In 2009 Natasha was a volunteer for the UNESCO International Year of Astronomy (IYA) and its cornerstone project, “From Earth to the Universe”. She brought Organiverse to the attention of astronomers, who included a video that was put together by Garry Sedun, then at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory in an IYA exhibit in Victoria, in an exhibit at The Bay Centre.


Natasha and Henri van Bentum, International Year of Astronomy 2009
"From Earth to the Universe" (FETTU). Videos of both the original and Starry Night 
editions of  Organiverse were part of the local FETTU event.

You can watch these videos of Organiverse on our Vimeo site. The site was created by friend and local amateur astronomer, Joe Carr. Here is the link. 

Collaboration with NASA   "Coloring Space" project



In 2010, I entered into a collaboration with NASA's Chandra X-Ray Observatory through their public outreach program. The project was headed by Kimberly Arcand Kowal, Chandra's Visualization Scientist and Emerging Tech Lead. Our collaboration resulted in an online exhibit, "Coloring Space", juxtaposing images from space with a selection of work from the "Starry Night" edition of Organiverse. You can view the exhibit here.

Here is a recent quote by Kimberly Arcand, NASA's Chandra X-Ray's Visualization Scientist and Emerging Tech Lead, commenting on the collaborative project described above, "Coloring Space":

"There is such beauty to be found at the intersections of art and science, where we can negate the existence of two spheres and instead reflect on the commonalities and symmetries instead. Organiverse opens that door, bridging the micro to the macro, weaving the art with the science, threading the limited into the limitless." Kimberly Arcand


Astronaut Chris Hadfield on the Coloring Space exhibit:


“A lovely fusion of science and art.”

Astronaut Chris Hadfield was Commander aboard the Int’l. Space Station, 2013. Chris took with him aboard the ISS a memory stick containing all 100 Organiverse spheres, both the original and Starry Night editions. Earlier, in 2002, Chris was also made an Honorary Member of the international Circumnavigators Club, of which I've been a member since 1975.

Other Quotes About Organiverse

- “Organiverse is a glimpse into the multilayered beauty of all that is Life. These mandalas offer an immense opportunity for healing and for a heart-based understanding of who we are physically, emotionally and spiritually. A dance of colour, form and contemplation.” Dr. Mark Sherman, MDCM, CCFP

- “The technique of the [Organiverse] drawings is comprised of finely-tuned transparent and opaque layers of colour. This play of contrasts gives the work a three-dimensional quality enhanced by a delicate luminosity. The colours are complicated and would require a sensitive use of colour separation. In order to maintain the integrity of the original drawing imagery and effect, the most articulate reproductive methods would have to be utilized.” Rosemary L. Tovell, former Curator, Canadian Prints and Drawings National Gallery of Canada, 1979

- "Organiverse reminds us of organic processes on the cosmic and microcosmic levels. His work helps me understand the vastness, complexity and beauty of the cosmos. van Bentum's work is executed with a fine sense of colour and other elements. I see his work as a paradigm for enduring works of art in the future." Professor Leslie Mezei, (retired), Computer Sciences, U of T.

- "I am extremely pleased with the beauty and depth of the Organiverse Portfolio. It is a ‘Garland of Flowers’ in my daily experience. It is a wormhole entrance into both the depths of the starry night and the inner life process of the biosphere we inhabit. A tour de force that will reverberate down the annals of human cultural history. A unique and magical work of true and lasting significance." Brian W. E. Johnson, Victoria, BC. 


Organiverse - Mandala #23 of the #100 Set, original edition


"GUARDIANS OF THE ORGANIVERSE"


This just in :  here are Tashi and Karma, four-footed companions of a dear friend, 
keeping guard on an Organiverse handheld rotation set


Stay Tuned – a new development – it’s too soon to give any details, but Organiverse will be experiencing yet another iteration in its evolving life. We will share more information later this year.



1 comment:

Zeporah said...

The Organiverse continues to expand and evolve, much like it’s remarkable artist Henri van Bentum and his wonderful wife, Natasha.