During 1991–1992, Mel Chin worked with FWM to complete his ambitious installation Degrees of Paradise, which was first exhibited at the Storefront for Art and Architecture in New York. As is typical for Chin, the artist worked with a diverse range of collaborators to realize this project, including scientists, computer programmers, and traditional hand-weavers in Turkey. The title references Dante’s Commedia and the “complex vertical geography of the ascent from earth to heaven . . . [which was] earlier prominent in the Arabic and Persian traditions . . .” (Thomas McEvilley, Soil and Sky, The Fabric Workshop and Museum, Philadelphia, 1993).
For the installation, two triangular-shaped rooms were constructed opposite one another. A small drawing on slate of an unfolding lotus serves as the fulcrum between the rooms, in which two divergent yet complementary sculptural installations are suspended from the ceiling. On one side, Chin hung fourteen video monitors that display multi-dimensional fractal images chronicling the world’s weather mapped for one full day as recorded by scientists at McGill University. The images appear in a triangular format on the monitors, a looped display of clouds moving across a blue sky. On the ceiling of the other room hangs a hand-knotted Kurdish wool carpet made by women in Damlacik, Turkey, during the beginning of the Gulf War—the influence of which can be detected in a helicopter form hidden in the design. The carpet depicts the women’s interpretation of the scientific satellite mappings, samples of which were given to them in still format.
The elements of Degrees of Paradise represented Mel Chin’s first explorations into the subject of ozone depletion and provided the basis for a larger installation called The State of Heaven. Degrees of Paradise was included in an exhibition of Chin’s work, co-sponsored by FWM and Swarthmore College in 1992.