Whether conceived as the birthplace of innocence or a final destination that only the chosen few can enter, the concept of paradise has entranced us across cultures and eras. For some it is the stillness of absolute peace, for others a zone of sensual delight with fountains, fruit, naked virgins, kindly animals and melodious music.

As spiritual ascent or sensual escape, Paradise calls to us and we respond with our imaginations. From the hanging gardens of Nebuchadnezzar to the gardens in our own backyards, we seek to create accessible approximations of an unattainable realm. Jorge Luis Borges, explorer of imaginary worlds, said, “I have always imagined Paradise as a kind of library.” For less cerebral seekers, paradise may be found in sun-drenched tropical resorts, open to anyone with a bank account, or in amusement parks offering ecstasy on the backside of terror.

Whether commercially, spiritually or artistically derived, all paradises thrive by providing stark contrast to the daily grind. In his Natural History, Pliny the Elder added to his idyllic description of the Islands of the Gods (which he situated in the location of today’s Canary Islands): “These islands, however, are greatly annoyed by the putrefying bodies of monsters, which are constantly thrown up by the sea.”  And this is, indeed, the dark secret of paradise: for every heaven, there must be a hell.

This year, Proteus Gowanus explores the theme of Paradise, examining the light and the dark sides of this alluring word and inviting our friends and visitors to join us as we roam longingly in search of paradise.

Paradise Co-Curator: Erik Schurink
Paradise Correspondents:
Madhu Kaza
See Also

Poetry: Paradise on the Cloud


Paradise 1 – Locales

Fall 2010

Contributors: Angelo Bellfatto, Diane Bertolo, Svetlana Boym, Dominique Cooper, Ernst Haeckel, John Hudak, Okay Karadiyalar, KS Lack, Eva Melas, Lado Pochkhua, Lance Rutledge, Erik Schurink, Suzan Shutan, Suzanne Silver, Joshua Stern, Friese Undine, Studio AND (Audra Wolowiec and Niels Cosman)

Paradise 2 – Longings and Utopias

Winter 2011

Contributors: Diane Bertolo, Micheline Gingras, Marcia Hillis, Leslie Kerby, Peter Ketcham, Tom Klinkowstein, Patricia McDonough, Lisanne McTernan, Eva Melas, Joseph Motroni, Adine Sagalyn, Erik Schurink, Theo Stewart Stand, Terreforme One, Kit Warren

Paradise 3 – Bedevilment

Spring 2011

More information about this third and final Paradise exhibition can be found here.

Contributors: Sally Agee, Diane Bertolo, Peter Bonner, Jessica Cannon, Stella Chasteen, Enome Ekeh, David Eustace, Nancy Friedemann, Anne Garland, Madhu Kaza, Rosamond King, Edith Kollath, Paula Lalala, Clarinda Mac Low, Walter Polkosnik, Purdy Eaton, Leon Waller, A Wrecked Tangle Press, The Writhing Society.

Paradise Events

September 2010 – July 2011

La Calisto, an opera of misbehaving gods by Vertical Player Repertory. Friday, July 8; Sunday, July 10, 2011; Thursday, July 14; and Saturday, July 16, 2011. [more, with images of the event]
Living Utopia: Attainable Sustainable Cities, with Dickson Despommier of The Vertical Farm and Mitchell Joachim of Terreform ONE discuss the radical assertion that the city of the future should provide all necessities for living within its physical borders. Thursday, June 30, 2011. [more, with images of the event] 
Benefit 2011: Paradise Bizarre, a Fairground of Acts, Exhortations and Seductions, with music, performances, a tour of hell, puppets, healers, wine and food. Saturday, June 11, 2011. [more, with images and a video of the event]
Sounding Paradise, a participatory sonic exploration of the sounds of Paradise conceived and facilitated  by singer, composer, voice teacher, sound-healer, mythic astrologer and ceremonialist Andrea Goodman. Sunday, June 5, 2011. [more, with images and a video of the event]
Soundscapes in 3-D, acoustic spacemaking for stringed instruments, with Mike Eber and friends. Saturday, May 21, 2011. [more]
Shadow-stalkers and Resurrected Chickens, animal stories about the journey to paradise with Reverend Craig Townsend. Saturday, May 14, 2011. [more]
Snakes, a Big Apple and the Garden (of Eden) State, a comparison of two utopian communities in 19th century New Jersey by the historical anthropologist Edith Gonzalez. Tuesday, May 10, 2011. [more]
The Listening Tour, a sunrise walk through the sounds of spring in Prospect Park, led by bird-listening and natural history blogger Matthew Wills. Sunday, May 1, 2011. [more, with images of the event]
Paradise of Projected Light, an evening of short films by Ernie Gehr, Stan Brakhage, Jeanne Liotta, Sam Green and Mark Street, selected by curators Lynne Sachs, Mark Street and Erik Schurink, to splinter and refract our preconceptions about paradise. Saturday, April 23, 2011. [more]
Here is Where We Meet, an ongoing project with artist Madhu Kaza, that delves into the liminal state between wakefulness and sleep, and invites participants to re-engage with the paradise of listening to stories. [more]
Teknotherapy, with Cyborg Nation, counseling sessions to improve our relationships with the machines that surround us, and come to terms with our cyborg natures. Saturday, April 16 and Sunday, April 17, 2011; Saturday, April 23, 2011; Saturday, April 30 and Sunday, May 1, 2011. [more]
Bedevilment of Paradise begins with “The Naming of the Animals,” an exhibit within the exhibit curated in collaboration with Curious Matter investigates the human impulse to describe and classify the world around us. Opening on Saturday, April 16, 2011. [more, with images of the event]
Paradise Sermons, lay sermons on the nature of paradise by Christa Patton, Nicola Masciandaro, Amy Melson, Karl Steel, and Dominic Pettman. Sunday, April 3, 2011. [more, with images of the event]
Proteus, a film about the artist and biologist Ernst Haeckel, and the undersea discoveries which reconciled his struggle between science and art with a unitary vision,  followed by a Q & A with director David Lebrun. Friday, April 1, 2011. [more]
John Burroughs, a screening of two films of the nineteenth century naturalist John Burroughs followed by a reading from his essays on birdsong, with Barbara Mathé, Museum Archivist and Head of Special Collections at the American Museum of Natural History and James Walsh Thursday, March 31, 2011. [more]
Utopian Strategies: Artists Anticipate Their Audiences, a conversation with artists Janine Antoni, Ernesto Pujol, and Paul Ramirez Jonas about their diverse and unique engagements with the public sphere in their practices, led by writer and Dean of Columbia University School of the Arts Carol Becker. Saturday March 26, 2011. [more, with images of the event]
The Cruise, a documentary film that tours the paradise/inferno of NYC, followed by a discussion with director Bennett Miller. Hosted in collaboration with The New Inquiry. Sunday, March 13, 2011. [more]
Paradise and Destiny: The Fate of Four Georgian Modern Artists, a discussion of the Republic of Georgia’s utopian moment of freedom from May 1918 to February 1921 before the country was annexed by the Soviet Union by artist Vladimir (Lado) Pochkhua, accompanied by images of rare Georgian art from his collection of slides. Thursday, March 10, 2011. [more, with images of the event]
paradaisos/paradoxon: exploring one man’s thwarted passion for a perfect world, a staged reading by actors Damian Young and Welker White. Saturday, March 5, 2011. [more, with images of the event]
Cyborg Paradise, designer Tom Klinkowstein guides viewers through his nine-foot diagrammatic narrative about his vision of a cyborg paradise based on “The Singularity”, “A Day In The Life Of A Networked Designer’s Smart Things Or A Day In A Designer’s Networked Smart Things, 2030”. Monday, February 25, 2011. [more]
A Paradise of Soup and Song, an event featuring stone soup and the music of singer-songwriter Sarah Bouchard. Saturday, January 29, 2011.
No Longer in Paradise: Co-creating Freedom, writer, theorist, and media artist Svetlana Boym discusses her most recent book, Another Freedom: The Alternative History of an Idea, in which she argues that since “Fortunately, paradise has already been lost,” the time has come to co-create freedom in this world. Friday, January 21, 2011. [more]
Opening Reception for Paradise 2, an exhibition exploring both the inward aspect of Paradise, and its projection toward the future, featuring contributions from fifteen artists, designers and architects. Saturday, January 15, 2011.
The Paradise of Reading No. 2: Mood, an exploration of various representations of complex states of feelings through readings of passages from Ingeborg Bachmann, Ladislav Klima, Stacey Levine, the Psalmist, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Frank Stanford, and Robert Walser, hosted by Proteotypes, the publishing arm of Proteus Gowanus. Monday, December 13, 2010. [more]
Beyond the Sphere: Getting Lost with Dante, in conjunction with their exhibition Paradiso Contrapasso, project-in-residence, Observatory presents musical performance by Helen Gillet, followed by an illustrated lecture with professor of medieval literature Nicola Masciandaro, which considers Dante as a radically paradisical poet . Monday, November 22, 2010. [more on Helen Gillet] [more on Beyond the Sphere]
The Paradise of Reading No. 1: “Grotesque in Body and Spirit,” taking the truth, there is no paradise like reading, as a starting point, Proteotypes offers an evening of readings of passages from Jose Donoso, Amos Tutuola, Horacio Quiroga, Helen Adam, Thomas Kinsella’s translation of the medieval Irish epic Táin bó Cuailnge, and Jennifer Nelson. Monday, November 1, 2010. [more]
Paradiso Contrapasso, as a compliment to the Paradise theme, partner-in-residence Observatory explores the Paradise paradox with an exhibition based on Dante’s Paradise Contrapasso, or the idea that every soul inhabits a Hell all its own. Curated by G.F. Newland with Lord Whimsy and Susan Crawford of Plankton Art Co. Thursday, October 14 – Sunday, November 28, 2010. [more]
Poems from Paradise, a gathering of poets will each read a poem of their own followed by a paradise-related poem of their choosing with jazz interludes by Lila and Sam on guitar and bass. Featuring poems by Donna Brook, Lynn Aarti Chandok, Emily Haydock, Bob Hershon, Erik Schurink, Marty Skoble, and a Sestina, collectively written and performed by The Writhing Society. Saturday, September 18, 2010.
Opening Reception of Paradise, the Paradise year begins Friday, September 10, 2011.