It’s a story of victorious resilience that’s been told over and over again.
In 1963, Stephen Hawking was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. He was 21. The doctors gave him two years to live. He lived on for fifty-five more, passing away on the 14th of March, 2018.
“We are all time travellers, journeying together into the future.
But let us work together to make that future a place we want to visit.”
Stephen Hawking refused to let death take him. Even with his deteriorating mobility and speech, he persistently searched for answers to our universe, fuelled with an intense curiosity and a wild heart. His fiery passion for life captivated us.
We were having drinks into the night when we heard the news of his passing. In a matter of minutes, we had the idea of composing this piece. This is an ode to Stephen Hawking.
“When we see the Earth from space,
we see ourselves as a whole.
We see the unity, and not the divisions.
It is such a simple image with a compelling message;
one planet, one human race.”
— Stephen Hawking
The first piece of the puzzle is the large, metallic vehicle you’ll see outlined in the foreground. Heavy and hidden in the dark, it holds everything in place quietly.
The wheelchair was not an instrument of lifetime punishment for Professor Hawking. It didn’t stop him from living the life he wanted; if anything, it gave him the momentum he needed in his daily routine. Lucy, his daughter, recalled how he would be out and about with his children, even in his wheelchair, bringing them around the neighbourhood for popsicles.
The vehicle encapsulates his stubbornness and eagerness in life. Beat it up and give him a new one, he’ll just keep on cruising around, completely rebelling against all safety measures. Never did he opted for a life of safety. He lived able-minded, perhaps greater than a fully-abled person might have.
“I have been enormously privileged through my work to be able to contribute to our understanding of the universe but it would be an empty universe indeed if it were not for the people I love and who love me. Without them, the wonder of it all would be lost on me.”
Look closely at the installation and you’ll find birth, growth, and death overlapping one another. Within shrubs that have shrivelled up, next to stems that are drooped over, there are fresh flowers and foliage bursting forth, alongside smaller buds about to experience the fullness of the world. All of it envelopes the wheelchair, consuming it whole.
The world often found Professor Hawking at the edge of the universe, where definite answers were scarce. He was fascinated with larger unknowns that terrified most: black holes, singularities, the formation of galaxies. He dived deep into ideas that were tough to unravel: science, but often with a large quart of philosophy.
“Our only boundaries are the way we see ourselves.
The only borders, the way we see each other.”
In complete blackness, a faint glow off each petal and leaf catches your eye, taking on a vague resemblance of planets and stars, circling one another in the dark. Whether it’s the alien-like Nigella damascena, the white ranunculus flowers that remind you of clouds, or the surrounding vine-like foliage echoing the rings of Saturn, it envisions the richness of life in outer space. Professor Hawking saw beauty in the lifelessness of massive voids—where the rest of the world saw death and nothingness, he saw endless possibilities of wonders.
This is an ode to a kind father, a tireless advocate for environmental issues, a strong voice in the community of people with disabilities, as well as a passionate human being who made science accessible for all through his books and public appearances.
Here’s to Stephen Hawking.
Photography by Wee, Senses Studio
*The wheelchair used in the photoshoot was donated to an old folks’ home.