The Story Behind Wanda Orme’s New Sculpture, Akasha

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Wanda Orme Akasha 2020 Salton Sea art sculpture
Wanda Orme, Akasha, 2020Photography by Wanda Orme

“A symbol of hope, a lure cast to the beyond”, Wanda Orme’s new piece Akasha was set to be unveiled at the now-cancelled 2020 Bombay Beach Biennale – here, on Earth Day, she tells us the story behind her creation

This article is published as part of our #CultureIsNotCancelled campaign:

At this point it almost goes without saying that the coronavirus pandemic has had an enormous social and economic impact on us – as individuals and as a global community. It’s had an impact on culture, too, with venues closed and events cancelled (which prompted our #CultureIsNotCancelled campaign). One such event is the 2020 Bombay Beach Biennale, where artist Wanda Orme was set to unveil a new piece titled Akasha.

Erected at Salton Sea, a huge and very shallow body of water on the San Andreas Fault in California, Akasha is a towering, 20ft-high structure constructed from wire wrapped in fibreglass and resin. Like much of Orme’s work, the sculpture alludes to themes that are natural and supernatural, exploring energy that – in her words – courses through all life. It also stands as a symbol of hope, which is perhaps now needed more than ever.

Here, to coincide with Earth Day and in words much more eloquent and poetic than mine, Orme tells us the story behind her creation.

“I’ve been creating work around the Salton Sea for ten years, it is a place that I love and a constant source of inspiration. I was asked to create a piece for the now cancelled 2020 Bombay Beach Biennale and, after the emergence of Covid-19 and the ensuing crisis, I decided to stay here and create the piece in isolation. Akasha came to me as a fully formed idea, in London. I saw it in my mind and quickly sketched it down – that was five months ago.

Akasha translates loosely to mean sky, all pervasive substance or aether – for me it is a way to reference the animating substance or energy that courses through all life. I’m interested in this notion of energy or potency, the idea that beneath all exterior differences the energy which animates me or you or a wave is the same energy, ancient and always recycling.

“The limbs were made using a wire form, wrapped in fibreglass and resin, into which barnacles from the shore of the Salton Sea were set. These were new materials for me with much testing and learning along the way. The pieces are approximately 18- to 20-feet high, so the physicality of them was a challenge. There are often high winds here so there was also an engineering component to the design and construction which had to take into account the wilderness of the setting. Every part of the fabrication was done by hand so the piece bears a strong relationship to my own body.

“Calling to the waters that connect all life, Akasha is a symbol of hope and continuity – things slip through the cracks, life finds a way and through this unusual genesis new ideas are born. Where there is water there is life. This is about hope in a ‘hopeless’ place. At the shore of a dying sea, what can be done?”

“It has taken the demand for isolation to make us understand how deeply connected and interdependent we all are. The sculpture was created in almost complete isolation, except that even this relatively radical isolation was only partial – the water I’ve consumed, the air I’ve breathed – living means participating in a sprawling system of connection, a system that is as vulnerable as it is strong. 

“The environmental healing that is happening as a result of global shutdown is one indication of this strength, of this tendency towards life. The seismic noise of human hustle and bustle has reduced dramatically, a global calming of movement, making it easier to detect geological shifts over the human noise – an opportunity for greater sensitivity and connection. Akasha was always about hope and the delicate balance between vulnerability, strength and beauty, and that seems even more relevant now.

“Hope is something that we extend before us, it is a brave anticipation. Balanced between an awareness of the present and an idea of a possible future, it is a kind of double vision. Akasha is gentle yet defiant, reaching and delving – an unfolding potential, a vision of the possible. Where there is water, there is the potential for life. Akasha is a symbol of hope, a lure cast to the beyond – to the unfolding depths of sky and earth.

“Here it can be so quiet and still that when a flock of birds fly overhead you can hear the rushing of their wings. Away from the noise of modernity there is another sound, the hum of creation (and decreation) – life in process, nothing is static. Akasha calls out to our innate belonging and participation in the processes which animate the world, reawakening our awareness of the continuity between all things. I hope that this gives people a sense of freedom and connection – a reminder of their wilderness and of their body’s home in this expansive world.”