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Friday, October 23, 2015

Life Cycles

In an exuberant ode to life filled with live music, Epiphany: The Cycle of Life (coming to the BAM Fisher November 4—7) sends its audience roaming through labyrinthine tunnels of video, light, and reflection to celebrate the ecstasies of existence. Here, filmmaker Ali Hossaini shares some of the experiences that helped incubate this new multimedia choral work.

On inspiration...

Epiphany came from reflection on mortality. I was with my mother when she died. As she became inanimate, her environment came alive—it seemed almost merciful. The balloons above her bed were talking. The walls breathed. I tried to imagine a world full of grace, a world where everything flows. Guided by spiritual traditions from Tibet and elsewhere, I began exploring her experience with a camera.

When our mothers die, they leave a cord that connects us to the numinous beyond. Every person on the planet grasps that cord, and I wanted to create a requiem that celebrates all our mothers.

On meeting Paola Prestini...

My first encounter with Paola Prestini was on the WNYC show New Sounds. Half the music I love comes from John Schaefer, and when he played Paola’s album Body Maps, I bought it right away. I listened to it every night for months—I had to meet the composer! I was a choirboy for nine years, and choral music still inspires me. Would Paola compose an ecumenical Mass? A modern Epiphany, catholic with a little c?

We met at my installation Ouroboros, and she asked me to film Oceanic Verses. Thanks to Paola, Epiphany has a marvelous cohort of collaborators that includes Brad Peterson, Francisco Nunez, Maruti Evans, Michael McQuilken, Nathaniel Bellows, Netsayi, Nicholas K, Niloufar Talebi and Sarah Kirkland Snider.

On fire and ice...

Creating Epiphany pushed me to my limits. Whether you're a scientist or a mystic, the world is framed by fire and ice. How do you film gods and demons, heavens and hells, the Big Bang and the cosmic egg? I wanted raw, powerful nature. I spent hours chasing icebergs off the coast of Greenland. A mere scrape on the tiny boat meant a quick, brutal freeze.

There’s plenty of fire between Ethiopia and Eritrea. You pay for military escort because it’s a war zone and hot in every way. One of the largest volcanic lakes on the planet straddles the border. After a steep night climb, I descended into Erte Ale volcano. No fences here! Fountains of lava burst every few minutes, and sprays of molten rock landed steps away. Thank goodness, the 2,000 degree heat was a solid barrier that stopped me from inching closer.

On the Bardo...

Reading about fiery passages in the afterlife inspired my descent into Erte Ale volcano. It was the closest I could get to hellfire and the harsh passages of afterlife. But I had a creative crisis. How could I understand the Bardo from books? Fortune smiled, and I met past life therapist Doug Buckingham.

Doug led me into my subconscious, to the verge of the Bardo, the "life between lives." Death was a lingering mist. Where was the Bardo? Tumbling through memory, I vividly remembered the time before birth. Leaving my mother's womb, I entered a void. It was vast. Enormous tissues of light crossed it, scintillating plasma that was electric but somehow alive. Chaos gave way to structure; the eruptions resolved into patterns. Kaleidoscopes of neurons, crystals, mandalas, and translucent, glowing palaces—the words aren’t quite right, but all manner of forms appeared.

In the Bardo were beings who communicated with pure light. Who were these beings? Angels or archetypes? Memories or rumblings of the imagination? I can assert only one thing. Deep within each of us pulses a vast universe of possibility.

Epiphany: The Cycle of Life comes to the BAM Fisher November 4—7.

The New York Times describes Ali Hossaini as "a biochemist turned philosopher turned television producer turned visual poet." His next project is Neurodiversity, a collaboration with autistic people and scientists to create a sensory model of ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder). Learn more about his work at

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