Fire, in idiomatic language, is a harsh teacher that grants wisdom at the price of pain. We are baptized and tried by fire; we crash and burn; and sometimes, we are (simply, but no less painfully) burned by scoundrels and charlatans. In Microscopic Hysteria, Leonardo “Rando” Onia Jr. makes literal these numerous baptisms of fire by using pyrographic pointillism.
Up close, Onia’s images reveal themselves to be made from constellations of tiny burn marks. These stippled surfaces full of infinitesimal textures reflect, for Onia, how we human beings are the sum of our experiences, good and bad. To contrast with his controlled and systematic pinpricks, Onia also lets loose fire’s voracious appetite to represent tragedies that have left deeper psychic scars.
Microscopic Hysteria examines scale on multiple levels: Onia’s wallworks remind us that, with a change in perspective, minuscule dots can turn into sepia-tinged pictures of doom and gloom. C. Wright Mills, in laying out his thesis in The Sociological Imagination, writes that “neither the life of an individual nor the history of a society can be understood without understanding both” and that the “the sociological imagination enables us to grasp history and biography and the relations between the two within society.” There is a need to be nimble enough to shift between micro and macro, small and big; to understand that each snowflake is a potential avalanche, that a smoldering cigarette can start a fire, or that a decision made a year ago can change life as we know it.
Onia brings his philosophical ruminations to another scale altogether in a ceiling installation accompanied by an audio loop sampled from Akron/Family’s mellotron-infused song “Don’t be afraid, you’re already dead.” From thinking about the relationship between structure and agency, history and biography, Onia shifts to contemplating theology, the universe, and the void. What do our petty squabbles mean, in the grand scheme of the cosmos? Looking up at the gallery ceiling mimics the act of looking up at the vault of heaven and seeing, like Alfredo Salazar did in Paz Marquez Benitez’s story of love and loss, the light of dead stars.
Let us step back from these (comparatively) microscopic matters that plague the earth. What do they matter to the Moon, to Jupiter, to the farthest and most incomprehensible reaches of space, Onia asks.
We are nothing.
Before fainting in the face of this vastness, we must remember that we are, as Carl Sagan pointed out, “made of starstuff.” Per the astronomer: “the nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars.” The same nuclear furnace that gave birth to the galaxies gave birth to us and we are, like Onia’s dots, part of the big picture.
– Sam Marcelo