The Divine Arctic Comedy: Hell

A co-resident on the Arctic Circle asked me to write three essays to introduce her exhibit opening this June in the Montefalco Museum, Montefalco, Italy. The gallery has three rooms, one leading into the next, where she is presenting her paintings and sculptures from Svalbard in a version of The Divine Comedy. Each room will be introduced by an essay and will follow the theme of Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven. Hell is explored through water and the past, Purgatory as ice and the present, Heaven in air and the future. If you happen to be in Umbria in June, be sure to visit. In the meantime, and with no further delay, here is Part 1: Hell.

Hell                 Water              Past

Distant. Persistent. Resistant. Recalcitrant.

Divine Arctic Comedy: Hell

Immemorial time – Before there was Europe or Svalbard, the Arctic Ocean or coal, even before there was life, there was primordial soup – a steamy, overheated, water bath that covered the Earth. Whatever you believe about creation or evolution, there are undeniable truths: seafloors spread, mountains rose, life began.

Advance – Fire and brimstone greeted the first water-borne carbon-based biological beings. Across time, continents moved, an atmosphere formed, and life burgeoned. Shapeshifting was the norm, land masses stretched and smashed together; oceans mixed and remixed, and uplifted mountains washed back into the seas. Plants and animals diversified, flourished, lived, and died. Their bodies fell to the earth, to the seafloor, into the future in conglomerations of sediments and carbon reserves.

Mountain chains were spurned by wandering continents, eroded by unceasing weather, and churned by heat and pressure into new forms, into new mountains or no mountains. Carbon was compressed deeper, harder. Pieces changed position or were reworked, but the players remained the same.


Time immemorial proceeded into the ages of the ancients, pharaohs, empires, and deities. What was once wild and raw and orderly in its state of natural fluctuation became fodder for the human dynasty.

Infrangible, adj.: not capable of being broken or separated into parts 

“Eden is a conversation. It is the conversation of the human with the Divine. And it is the reverberations of that conversation that create a sense of place. It is not a thing, Eden, but a pattern of relationships, made visible in conversation. To live in Eden is to live in the midst of good relations, of just relations scrupulously attended to, imaginatively maintained through time. Altogether we call this beauty.” Barry Lopez