Skip to Content

Meridel Rubenstein (USA)

The Volcano Cycle
Ring of Fire Between Heaven and Earth

The Volcano Cycle explores deep time using photographic images of volcanoes from Indonesia’s Ring of Fire to evoke the vast processes of Earth forces, climate change, and human co-evolution.I have printed the large-format negatives digitally on prepared aluminum plates, with archival pigment inks through either the dye sublimation or direct pigment printing processes, so the metal will echo the deep timbre of the eruptions as well as the transmutation of materials and minerals that occur during a volcanic event. The metal speaks to the immense time that has passed to bring us into being.

Somewhere between our own culturally specific creation myths and the moment of the Big Bang, our planet was born: out of nothing into something, out of darkness into the first breath, out of tightly compacted space into infinite spaciousness. After eons of fire and ice and then the world’s warming, our Eden emerged. Imagine what it was like 650 million years ago, when our planet was covered completely with ice (Snowball Earth). Without the earliest volcanic activity, not enough carbon dioxide would have been released to produce the global warming that melted the ice cover and allowed oxygen to arise and eventually breathe us into being.

Some 74,000 years ago, Mt. Toba erupted on Sumatra, creating with the volcanic ash thrown into the atmosphere an extreme winter that bought about the extinction of a large portion of life existing at that time. It also formed a bottleneck in human evolution, leaving only a small population of human beings to crawl out of the deep volcanic ash and keep going. Thus Mt. Toba is now referred to by scientists as the “Weak Garden of Eden,” because human life essentially began anew after its eruption. Volcanoes made it possible for life to exist on Earth and also changed human evolution. Now they enable us to see the beauty of the great natural forces of the planet of which we are part. They offer both a window into our own evolution and a metaphor for our participation in this era of global warming.

I hope these images can heighten our respect for and understanding of the Earth today. The Earth will do what it has to do to cope with our human excesses. And unless we can learn to get in sync with the Earth, our relationship with it may end. But Earth itself will keep going. I want people to see how alive the Earth is without being terrified by its huge forces. I hope these pictures are the opening of a conversation.

Meridel Rubenstein


Meridel Rubenstein began her professional career in the mid-1970s, with her work evolving from single photographic images to large-scale installations. She maintains a studio in Santa Fe and has exhibited widely, including at the Louvre, Paris; Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago; and MIT List Center for the Visual Arts, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Her works are in prominent collections including at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C.

She has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation,Harvard University, National Endowment for the Arts, Pollock-Krasner Foundation, and Rockefeller Foundation. After attending Sarah Lawrence College, she did special graduate studies at MIT with Minor White before earning an M.A./M.F.A. from the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque.

Her twenty-year monograph, BELONGING: Los Alamos to Vietnam (Los Angeles: St. Ann’s Press, 2004), features her photography and installations, and includes essays by environmental writer Terry Tempest Williams as well as by critics Elaine Scarry, Lucy Lippard, and Rebecca Solnit. The biographical text is by curator and film director James Crump.

She has been a visiting associate professor at the School of Art,Design, and Media at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore since 2007. Currently she is photographing and co-designing a wastewater garden in the Mesopotamian Marshes of southern Iraq in the vicinity of what is estimated to be the location of the historic Garden of Eden. The project includes restoration of the site, a memorial, and a public art venue. The project Eden in Iraq (2011 ongoing) is part of a larger body of photographic artworks entitled Eden Turned on Its Side (2009 ongoing). A forthcoming 2017 exhibition in three parts—Photosynthesis, The Volcano Cycle (on view at FotoFest), and Eden in Iraq—will address the relationship of ecological systems to human, geological, and mythical time.

Back to top