Cielo (2021) is a part of Ricardo Brey’s ongoing series Every Life is a Fire. The series consists of archival boxes that unfold to reveal dynamic assemblages of objects and miniature sculptures, each one a unique self-contained thematic universe.
In Cielo, Brey presents a deconstruction of practices that humans have developed to understand the heavens, as the title implies. Inside the box rests a large dark cast of a tortoise’s shell with stars affixed to its underside. Tortoise shells have an ancient connection to the heavens and were used in forms of divination in ancient China; in Afro-Cuban religious practices they are associated with Changó, a major Yoruba deity syncretized with Saint Barbara in Santería. Resting inside the tortoise shell is a collection of metal and wooden stars and glass, metal, and wooden spheres. These delicate objects, some of which are connected by thin gold-colored rods, are evocative of Western astronomic models known as orreries. By resting the deconstructed pieces of an orrery within the tortoise shell, Brey not only forms a physical representation of the heavens, but also creates a multitude of thematic contrasts between Western and Eastern cosmologies, science and nature, and ancient and modern forms of thought.
The tortoise shell rests atop a box, which opens to reveal another small assemblage of objects, including an aged hand mirror, a cast of a tortoise, a small figure of a leg and a piece of stone surrounded by a circle of tied rope. Again, Brey invites the viewer to continue searching deeper into the potential meanings behind these carefully placed objects, their relationship to one another, and their connection to the greater cosmic themes of Cielo.