The Cloud Messenger

The Cloud Messenger,  itinerant theater, installed at the University of California, Berkeley, 1999. Shawn Brixey, back; the artist, front, seen spraying alcohol into the yaksa's cloud chamber. Photo Credit, Bassem Elias.   More photos...

About the work

MA FISH CO's  Meghaduta  or The Cloud Messenger  stages this 5th century A.D. Sanskrit play by Indian poet/playwright Kalidasa as a physics experiment for itinerant theater with turntable, filmstrip, slides, chalk, dry ice, radioactive elements and two cloud chambers. The cloud chambers (also known as diffusion chambers) represent the forced separation of the protagonist of the play, the yaksa--a kind of lower divine being--from his wife.

The synopsis of the play is as follows: The yaksa suffers his master's curse for a year for paying too much attention to his new wife and neglecting his duties. He must go into exile in the mountains of Northern India. Eight months of despair have emaciated him when he alights upon a plan to convince a passing cloud to visit his wife and rain upon her his love and assurances that he is all right. (The cloud as bearer of rain upon the earth is a sexual metaphor in many cultures.) To make the journey worth the cloud's while, the yaksa describes the marvelous scenery, beautiful women in the rivers, and festival events the cloud will encounter across India.

In this installation, a cloud will form in the chamber's supersaturated environment as the result of the introduction of alcohol. The alcohol responds to a temperature differential within the chamber by forming a mist. When random cosmic rays or ions passing through this environment pick up condensation from the mist their path is momentarily illuminated (in this case, against the black velvet that lines the two chambers, made of two large jars).

The work was created for an art course taught by Shawn Brixey at the University of California, Berkeley. The Cloud Messenger was followed by another MA FISH CO work about love and separation, the video short, Exquisite Corpse. A second quite different offshoot of this project, Heaven's Dark Side: the body, is a work that explores the Sanskrit and Latin roots of language to question how we acquire knowledge.

Performance History

  • Durham Studio Theater, University of California, Berkeley, CA, 1999.
  • Littlefield Concert Hall (lobby), Mills College, Oakland, CA, 1999.
Photo credit, Bassem Elias