The Ceiling

the "unofficial" Duncan Hall web site

Rice University
Houston, Texas, USA

Outram titled the drawing for the Shaper Ceiling "The Birth of Consciousness." It encodes a cosmological myth.

At first glance, it seems that the flower in its center must hold the key to its meaning. Look however, directly east of the flower to find the small black spot. The spot is nothing.

However, nothing has a dual-that which is not nothing. You will find it opposite nothing, to the west. Once nothing notices its dual, they begin a random conversation, which you can see running between them. This conversation leads to self-awareness, begetting consciousness-the flower in the middle.

The flower is the primal energy event; akin to the "Big Bang." Around it, the universe forms, creating both space and time. As matter coalesces into the twin planets (seemingly made of cinder block to show their solidity), it forms both day and night. You can see that the energy event, or sun, is carried from day to night in a boat made of papyrus reeds; it is falling apart, probably due to its ancient construction. The endless nature of this ritual is signified in the figure of infinity that surrounds the two planets-that of the snake consuming its own tail. (This infinity is a continuing motif in the decoration; it occurs on the floor of Martel Hall and in the groundcover that surrounds the building.)

This entire depiction of these ideas is carried in the center of the raft of migration. You can see the raft's outline, with its structure of logs that surrounds creation. The raft rides on the blue ocean, beyond which lies chaos. The corners of the raft carry crystalline mountains, which condense the sea-vapors evaporated by the sun to form the rivers flowing out to the corners.

Like many artists, Outram has produced multiple explanations for this work. In particular, the curious reader might consult his 'Outline of an Iconography" and "The Log of the Navigator."

To produce the ceiling, Outram drew the it on a single A1 sheet of paper. The drawing was photographed to produce an eight inch by ten inch color positive, which was scanned at 1200 dpi. This produced a file of roughly 750 megabytes of data. The image was enlarged, using Live Pictures software, into 232 panels, each two by eight feet in size. These were printed onto vinyl using a 12 dpi Scanachrome printer. The vinyl was then wrapped around curved acoustical tile and bolted to a standard ceiling frame. Installation on site took just two days.