Posts Tagged ‘alchemy

06
Aug
14

Exhibition: ‘Art and Alchemy. The Mystery of Transformation’ at the Stiftung Museum Kunstpalast (SMKP), Düsseldorf, Germany

Exhibition dates: 5th April – 10th August 2014

 

Since I have 7 alchemy symbols tattooed on my right bicep in a vertical line to represent the 7 chakras, I thought this was a suitable exhibition for a posting. I love anything alchemical, magical, spiritual – in art and in life. I have just had a couple of snowflakes tattooed on my forearms, one blue/green and the red/orange for an ice/fire combination. Each snowflake is unique and ephemeral, here and gone in the blink of an eye, just like we are. That is their, and our, magic.

The photographer Minor White said it is not just the images that matter, but the space between them that causes an ice/fire frisson. When looking at an exhibition I note how images play off of each other – in pairs, sequences and across the gallery space. It is a relatively simple thing for a photographer to take one good image, more difficult to put a pair of images together that actually says something, but when you get to a sequence of images (as in MW) or a body of work, this is were a lot of artists wane. The intertextual narrative, one woven from the imagination of the artist, does not resolve itself into a satisfying, stimulating whole. How many exhibitions do I see that have some good images but do not access the magic of the music.

Further, we must also remember that in Psychology and Alchemy, Volume 12 in The Collected Works of C. G. Jung, alchemy is central to Jung’s hypothesis of the collective unconscious. “Jung reminds us of the dual nature of alchemy, comprising both the chemical process and a parallel mystical component. He also discusses the seemingly deliberate mystification of the alchemists. Finally, in using the alchemical process to provide insights into individuation, Jung emphasises the importance of alchemy in relating to us the transcendent nature of the psyche.” (Wikipedia)

Jung sees alchemy as an early form of psychoanalysis. The melting of base metal in a crucible and its reforming into gold can be seen as a form of individuation – the dissolution of the ego and its integration into the whole self. Basically the recasting or reforming of identity into a new Self. As the instructive text on Wikipedia notes,

“For the alchemist trying to understand matter and develop base metals into their purest form, gold, substances are grouped as being alike based on their perceived value. Jung documents as these alchemists collectively come to understand that they themselves must embody the change they hope to effect within their materials: for instance, if they hope to achieve the philosopher’s stone that can redeem ‘base’ or ‘vulgar’ metals, then the alchemist too must become a redeemer figure. It became apparent to the alchemists that they were trying to redeem nature as Christ had redeemed man, hence the identification of the Lapis Philosophorum with Christ the Redeemer. The Opus (work) of alchemy, viewed through this interpretation, becomes a symbolic account of the fundamental process the human psyche undergoes as it re-orients its value system and creates meaning out of chaos. The opus beginning with the nigredo (blackening, akin to depression or nihilistic loss of value) in order to descend back into the manipulable prima materia and proceeding through a process of spiritual purification that must unite seemingly irreconcilable opposites (the coniunctio) to achieve new levels of consciousness.”

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Much of my early black and white work was based on an understanding of the magical nature of the (art)work. This is a fascinating area of enquiry for all artists because this is what they do – they see the world differently, reform it through their art and present it as a pathway for the future.

Marcus

 

PS The catalogue to this exhibition is excellent with lots of interesting essays.

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Many thankx to the Stiftung Museum Kunstpalast for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

Marcus new tattoos February 2014

 

Marcus new tattoos February 2014

 

Theodor Galle nach Jan van der Straet (Stradanus). 'Destillierlabor' (from the series "Nova reperta") c. 1589 - c. 1593

 

Theodor Galle nach Jan van der Straet (Stradanus)
Destillierlabor (from the series “Nova reperta”)
c. 1589 – c. 1593
Stiftung Museum Kunstpalast, Düsseldorf
Photo: Horst Kolberg, Neuss

 

Pieter Brueghel the Younger (after Pieter Brueghel the Elder). 'The Alchemist' c. 1600

 

Pieter Brueghel the Younger
after Pieter Brueghel the Elder
The Alchemist
c. 1600
Oil on wood
68.8 x 96 cm
Private collection

 

David Teniers d.J. 'Alchemist in his Workshop' c. 1650

 

David Teniers d.J.
Alchemist in his Workshop
c. 1650
Courtesy of Roy Eddleman, Chemical Heritage Foundation Collections
Photo: Will Brown

 

Adriaen van Ostade. 'The Alchemist' 1661

 

Adriaen van Ostade
The Alchemist
1661
The National Gallery, London, Bought 1871
© The National Gallery, London, 2013

 

Hendrick Goltzius. 'Allegory of the Arts' 1611

 

Hendrick Goltzius
Allegory of the Arts
1611
Oil on canvas
181 x 256.6 cm
Kunstmuseum Basel
© Kunstmuseum Basel
Photo: Martin P. Bühler

 

Johan Moreelse. 'The Alchemist' 1630

 

Johan Moreelse
The Alchemist
1630
Oil on canvas
90.5 x 107.5 cm
Robilant + Voena, London und Mailand

 

Giovanni Antonio Grecolini. 'The Education of Cupid by Venus and Vulcan' 1719

 

Giovanni Antonio Grecolini
The Education of Cupid by Venus and Vulcan
1719
Oil on canvas
48.9 × 64 cm
Museum Kunstpalast
Photo: Horst Kolberg

 

Neo Rauch. 'Goldgrube' [Goldmine] 2007

 

Neo Rauch
Goldgrube [Goldmine]
2007
Oil on canvas
80 x 160 cm
Private collection
© Courtesy Galerie EIGEN + ART Leipzig/Berlin / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014
Photo: Uwe Walter, Berlin

 

 

“For the first time in Germany, an exhibition spanning all epochs and genres will be introducing the exciting link between art and alchemy in past and present times. 250 works from antiquity to the present, encompassing Baroque art, Surrealism, through to contemporary art from collections and museums in the USA, Great Britain, France, Mexico and Israel reveal the fascination which alchemy exerted for many visual artists. Artists featured in the exhibition, such as Joseph Beuys, Jan Brueghel the Elder, Lucas Cranach the Elder, Max Ernst, Hendrick Goltzius, Rebecca Horn, Anish Kapoor, Yves Klein, Sigmar Polke, Rembrandt van Rijn, Peter Paul Rubens and David Teniers the Younger invite visitors to explore the mystery of transformation.

Alchemy was invariably practised in secret, but was by no means a rare occurrence until well into the 18th century: Eminent personalities, including Paracelsus, Isaac Newton and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, were alchemists, too. It was not until the Age of the Enlightenment that alchemy was ousted and became intermingled with occultism, sorcery and superstition. In connection with 19th and early 20th-century psychoanalysis alchemy was brought to new life.

The exhibition is divided into two major periods: pre-Enlightenment art, in particular works from the 16th and 17th centuries and the art of the 20th and 21st centuries.

In the pre-Enlightenment era both artists and alchemists laid claim to the ability to not only imitate nature but to even perfect it. This ambition is illustrated in the exhibition by casts from nature made by Bernard Palissy and Wenzel Jamnitzer. Their lizards and other creatures are extraordinarily life-like and yet have been immortalized in precious metal or ceramic as if petrified. The circumstance that artists and alchemists were ultimately rivals is exemplified by the Dutch artist Adriaen van Ostade with his painting depicting an alchemist in his laboratory, having failed to produce gold.

By contrast, the exhibition also includes works by artists presenting alchemy in a favourable light, such as portraits by Rubens and David Teniers the Younger, allegorical paintings by Jan Brueghel the Elder and Hendrick Goltzius, as well as three copies of the “Splendor Solis”, the most richly illuminated manuscript in the history of alchemy. Furthermore, an original manuscript by physicist Isaac Newton, contributed by the Chemical Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia, will be presented here for the first time in Europe.

The modern section of the show begins with Surrealism. Max Ernst, for instance, repeatedly took up the theme of the “Chymical Wedding” in his work. A particular highlight is the painting “The Creation of the Birds”, a key work by the Surrealist artist Remedios Varo. The Androgyne is an important theme, for instance, in the exhibits by Rebecca Horn. Joseph Beuys will be represented by a number of sculptures, drawings and collages, as well as a film and photo documentation of his action at the 1982 documenta. Moreover, the exhibition includes works by Anish Kapoor displaying his characteristic use of intensely coloured pigments. Further exhibits include selected works by representatives of contemporary art, such as Anselm Kiefer, Yves Klein, Alicja Kwade, Sigmar Polke, Neo Rauch and Gerda Steiner and Jörg Lenzlinger.

The exhibition was conceived by Museum Kunstpalast in cooperation with the research group “Art and Knowledge in Pre-Modern Europe” at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin, as well as a group of experts at the Chemical Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia, which also provided many pieces on loan. A Wunderkammer of curious and exotic treasures from flora and fauna is offered for visitors to explore. In an extensive accompanying programme the subject of art and alchemy will be expanded upon by means of lectures, talks and guided tours.”

Press release from the SMKP website

 

Jörg Breu the Elder (attributed) 'Splendor Solis' (Splendor of the Sun) 1531/32

 

Jörg Breu the Elder (attributed)
Splendor Solis (Splendor of the Sun)
1531/32
Manuscript; parchment, miniatures in opaque color; calfskin cover
33.1 × 22.8 cm
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin – Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Kupferstichkabinett
© bpk – Bildagentur für Kunst, Kultur und Geschichte / Staatliche Museen zu Berlin – Kupferstichkabinett
Photo: Jörg P. Anders

 

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn. 'Sogenannter Faust' [Allegedly Faust] c. 1651‑1653

 

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn
Sogenannter Faust [Allegedly Faust]
c. 1651‑1653
Drypoint
21.1 × 16.2 cm
Stiftung Museum Kunstpalast, Düsseldorf, Sammlung der Kunstakademie (NRW)
Photo: Horst Kolberg, Neuss

 

Francois-Marius Granet. 'The Alchemist' 1st half of the 19th century

 

Francois-Marius Granet
The Alchemist
1st half of the 19th century
Oil on canvas
61 x 48.3 cm
Gift of Roy Eddleman Chemical Heritage Foundation Collections, Philadelphia
Photo: Will Brown

 

Max Ernst. 'Men Shall Know Nothing of This' 1923

 

Max Ernst
Men Shall Know Nothing of This
1923
Oil on canvas
80.3 x 63.8 cm
Tate, London
Photo: © Tate, London 2013, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014

 

Victor Brauner. 'Le Surréaliste' (“The Surrealist”) 1947

 

Victor Brauner
Le Surréaliste (“The Surrealist”)
1947
Oil on canvas
60 x 45 cm
Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice (Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, NY)
© Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice (Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, NY) / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014

 

Rebecca Horn. 'Zen of Ara' 2011

 

Rebecca Horn
Zen of Ara
2011
Springs, motor, brass, electrical
D: 73 cm
Private collection Rebecca Horn
Photo: Karin Weyrich
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014

 

Yves Klein. 'Relief éponge bleu (RE 18)' (blue sponge relief [re 18]) 1960

 

Yves Klein
Relief éponge bleu (RE 18) (blue sponge relief [re 18])
1960
Wood, sponges, pigment dissolved in acetone
230 × 154 cm
Museum Kunstpalast, Düsseldorf, Modern Art
© Stiftung Museum Kunstpalast, Düsseldorf / ARTOTHEK / Photo: Horst Kolberg, Neuss / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014

 

Richard Meitner. 'Reductio ad Absurdum' 1977

 

Richard Meitner
Reductio ad Absurdum
1977
Glass and gold
25 x 80 cm
Privatsammlung
Photo: Ron Zijlstra
© Richard Meitner

 

John Isaacs. 'Thinking about it' 2002

 

John Isaacs
Thinking about it
2002
Wax, wire, plaster of paris
15 1/2 x 12 x 13 inches
30 x 30 x 50 cm
Olbricht collection, Germany

 

 

Stiftung Museum Kunstpalast
Ehrenhof 4-5, 40479
Düsseldorf, Germany
+49 211 56642100

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday 11 – 6
Thursday 11 – 9
Closed on Monday

Stiftung Museum Kunstpalast website

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21
Apr
14

Text / review: ‘A Vocabulary of Printing and the Syntax of the Image’ from the exhibition ‘KHEM’ at Strange Neighbour, Fitzroy, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 11th April – 3rd May 2014

Artists: Jane Brown, Ponch Hawkes, Siri Hayes, Ruth Maddison, Lloyd Stubber, David Tatnall, Claudia Terstappen
Curated By Linsey Gosper

 

A Vocabulary of Printing and the Syntax of the Image

 

“No matter how slow the film, Spirit always stands still long enough for the photographer It has chosen.”

“One should not only photograph things for what they are but for what else they are.”

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Minor White

 

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As an artist who originally trained in the alchemical, analogue art of photography, the magic of this process will always hold sway in my heart. No matter how many excellent digital photographs I see, there is always a longing for silver – that indescribable feeling of looking at a master printers work, an image that literally takes your breath away. I hardly ever get that in a digital print. For me, it’s the difference between the fidelity of a CD and the aura of an LP, with all its scratches and pops, hisses and, yes, atmosphere.

Minor White, that guru of enlightenment, knew how difficult it was to capture spirit in a photograph. To make a connection between photographer and object, back through a glass lens and a metal box onto a piece of plastic or glass (completing a Zen circle), then printed onto a piece of paper. There are three ways it goes: you see something (you previsualise it) and you don’t capture it in the negative; you don’t see it, and the negative surprises you; but, best of all, you see it and you capture it – the object of your attention reveals itself to you. Then all you have to do is print it – easier said than done. Much testing and assessing, dodging and burning to balance the print knowing that, as MW says, each negative is like a dragon that an image has to be wrenched from.

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No longer for ears …: sound
which like a deeper ear,
hears us, who only seem
to be hearing. Reversal of spaces.

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Extract from Rainer Maria Rilke Gong 1925

 

Emmet Gowin printing mask for The Hint That Is a Garden: Siena, Italy 1975

 

Emmet Gowin printing mask for The Hint That Is a Garden: Siena, Italy 1975 (below)

 

 

Emmet Gowin (American, born 1941)
The Hint That Is a Garden: Siena, Italy
Dedicated to Frederick Sommer, 1975
Gelatin silver print
19.5 x 24.5 cm. (7 11/16 x 9 5/8 in.)
Gift of Mrs. Saul Reinfeld

 

 

When you do the analogue printing yourself (or when assessing a digital test print at a lab such as CPL Digital), the most important thing is to understand the vocabulary of printing. In both analogue and digital printing it all starts from the negative/file. If you don’t understand your negative or digital file, what hope have you of attaining a good end result? You must study the negative to understand its pushes and pulls, what needs to be held back, what other areas brought forward in the image. You have to feel the balance within the negative/file in the sensibility of the print. Darren from CPL observes that he has a lot of photographers and students come in and say, “I don’t want it to be like that,” but then they can’t explain what they do want it to be like or how they can get there. They have no vocabulary of printing or how to get the “feel” that they want from the print. I believe this is where training in the analogue darkroom can stand digital photographers in good stead.

What photographers need to understand is the syntax of an image, “the system of organization used in putting lines together to form pictures that can stand as representations of particular objects,”1 where they is a clear association between the structure of photographic prints and the linguistic structure that makes verbal communication possible. Photographers are the Keepers of Light and photography broke the boundaries of the visual field that had been delimited by etchings and prints, to allow human beings to see far beyond the physical field of view, to have photographic power over space and time which fundamentally changed the scope of human consciousness.2 Photography makes drawing unnecessary in the physical sense, but through previsualisation photography is predicated on mental drawing (with light) and through the physical form of the photograph, the print, photography has a syntactical basis – which comes from the languages of the photographer inherent in human consciousness and the chemical, optical and mechanical relationships that make photography possible. Both feeling and technology.

I believe that these two things go hand in hand and when photographers have no language, no vocabulary to describe what they want from a photographic print, then they are basically coming up against the limitations of their feelings, technologies and the machine. “Genius is constantly frustrated – and tempered – by the machine.”3 As William Crawford observes, “You simply cannot look at photographs as if they were ends without means. Each is the culmination of a process in which the photographer makes his decisions and discoveries within a technological framework.”4 “Each step in the photographic process plays a syntactical role to the degree that it affects the way the information, the sentiment, the surprises, and the frozen moments found in photographs actually meet the eye.”5 In the case of the photographic print, this means understanding the emotional linguistic vocabulary of printing through the syntax of the image.

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With these thoughts in mind, the two standouts in this delightful group exhibition are Claudia Terstappen and Ponch Hawkes. Terstappen’s Brazilian rainforest photographs are as well seen and exquisitely printed as ever but this time they are slightly let down by the nearness of the frame and the colour of the moulding, both of which seen to limit the breathe of the image. Hawkes’ photographs are sublime (especially the two reproduced below), the best silver gelatin photographs that I have seen by an Australian artist in since Terstappen’s last solo exhibition In the Shadow of Change at Monash Gallery of Art. They have wonderful tonality and presence, and a quietness that really lets you contemplate the image through the beauty of the print – and a snip at only $800 each framed!

Other artists in the exhibition have singular images that are interesting (pictured below), but the major disappointment are the prints of Jane Brown. When I first saw the images of Brown’s Australian Gothic at Edmund Pearce Gallery in 2012 I said that they were, “small, darkly hewn, traditionally printed silver gelatin photographs… surrealist tinged, film noir-ish mise-en-scènes, the ones that emphasise the metaphorical darkness of the elements gathered upon the stage. Photographs such as Big TroutThe Female Factory, Adelong, New South Wales and Captain’s Flat Hotel, New South Wales really invoke a feeling of unhomely (or unheimlich), where nature is out of kilter. These images unsettle our idea of Oztraliana, our perceived sense of Self and our place in the world. They disrupt normal transmission; they transmutate the seen environment, transforming appearance, nature and form.”6 This was again the feeling that I got when I saw the series at a later exhibition at the Centre for Contemporary Photography.

Not this time. The prints shown here are much darker and have become almost ungrammatical; where the syntax of the image has broken down so that the linguistic structure of the image makes communication nearly impossible. It is not enough just to make prints darker and darker, hoping for some mystery to magically appear in the image because it won’t. This is a case of overprinting the negative, forcing the vocabulary of the image through a wish to impart something emphatic, some condition of being from the negative that has been imperfectly understood. Is this because this is Edition 2 out of 7, a different printer and a different size? I don’t know the answer to those questions, but Brown really needs to go back to the negatives and reassess the results, especially as these nearly incomprehensible prints are selling for an overinflated $2,000 each framed.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

 

Footnotes

1. Crawford, William. “Photographic Syntax,” in Crawford, William. The Keepers of Light: A History and Working Guide to Early Photographic Processes. Morgan and Morgan, 1979, p. 2
2. Ibid., p. 5
3. Ibid., p. 6
4. Ibid., p. 6
5. Ibid., p. 7
6. Bunyan, Marcus. Review: Jane Brown / Australian Gothic at Edmund Pearce Gallery, Melbourne, 6th May 2012 [Online] Cited 21st April 2014 http://wp.me/pn2J2-2RL

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Many thankx to Strange Neighbour for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

ps 6

 

William Crawford. “Photographic Syntax,” in William Crawford. The Keepers of Light: A History and Working Guide to Early Photographic Processes. Morgan and Morgan, 1979, p. 6

 

Claudia Terstappen. 'Jungle I (Brazil)' 1991

 

Claudia Terstappen
Jungle I (Brazil)
1991
from the series Ghosts at the Jucurucu
Silver gelatin print
46 x 68 cm

 

Lloyd Stubber. 'Untitled' 2012

 

Lloyd Stubber
Untitled
2012
Fibre-based silver gelatin print
11 x 14 inches

 

David Tatnall. 'Clifton Springs Jetty' 2012

 

David Tatnall
Clifton Springs Jetty
2012
From the series Coastal Pinholes
Silver gelatin contact print
20 x 25 cm

 

Ruth Maddison. 'Bellambi, NSW' 1989

 

Ruth Maddison
Bellambi, NSW
1989
Hand coloured gelatin silver print
19.6 x 49 cm
Vintage print, unique state

 

Ruth Maddison. 'Self-portrait #2' 2004

 

Ruth Maddison
Self-portrait #2
2004
From the series Light touches
Sun print on black and white photographic paper
Vintage print, unique state

 

 

“The process of analogue photography is created through darkness and light. To celebrate the launch of the Strange Neighbour Darkroom this exhibition brings together a group of artists who pursue and extend the practice of analogue and darkroom photography. These artists work across many of the countless possibilities of the medium: 35mm, medium format and large format photography, and their diverse processes include pinhole photography, photograms, sun prints, fibre printing and hand colouring. Contemporary photographers are driving the current resurgence in analogue photography and Strange Neighbour is excited to be able to facilitate this irreplaceable art form. Darkroom practice is unique and magickal, alive and well.”

Press release from the Strange Neighbour website

 

Khem; a possible derivative of the word alchemy, the native name of Egypt, is thought to mean black. Some scholars maintain that Khem is derived from a root meaning wise.1

Alchemy is described as chemistry endowed with magic, and alchemists as those who work with metals and keep these operations secret.2 Apart from the obvious associations of working with metals (silver) and chemistry, there are more subtle and intimate parallels between the art and science of alchemy and darkroom practice.

It is common among darkroom practitioners to consider the process as ‘magic’. When most people encounter printing their first photograph in the darkroom, the simple sight of an image appearing on the paper in the developer tray seems ‘magical’. Even experienced darkroom practitioners never lose this special feeling. Exhibiting artist, Siri Hayes notes, “Watching images come up in developing tray is as mysterious and exciting as any magic show. Perhaps more so as there are no tricks except that the photographic product is the grandest of illusions.”

Distinct from many other forms of photography, darkroom based practice is now specialised, with few people having access to the knowledge, equipment and skills associated with the medium. Like a secret esoteric order, few share this wisdom, and even those willing to teach it may keep special recipes, techniques and discoveries to themselves or within a select dedicated group. Some of this information, although scientific, is not completely understood in rational terms of facts or calculations, but is more related to intuition and perception. It is technical and it is intuitive.

The complex rituals associated with the process allow practitioners to get into a headspace that is conducive to contemplation, bringing forth intuition, allowing space for chance and universal cause and effect. In this art and science there are so many variables with endless possibilities. Ruth Maddison‘s Sun prints are made without camera, film, enlarger or developer. She states, “the tonal range depends on variables like paper stock, length of time in sun or shade, whether the objects are wet or dry…. and an unpredictable magic that happens when light sensitive paper is touched by light.”

In this unpredictable environment often mistakes lead to new ideas and create new methodologies. One of the charms of analogue processes is the discovery of beauty through error. Ponch Hawkes recalls this as disasters and wonderful happenstance. Claudia Terstappen remarks it is the number of variables in the darkroom that leaves the creative process wide open and it is often these inaccuracies caused by chemical reactions that lead to a new meaning. This is what makes analogue processes so valuable and irreplaceable. There are many effects in the analogue process that one can recreate with digital technologies, but not invent.

Imperfections caused by these variables or ‘mistakes’ may imbue the image with a ‘spirit’ and otherworldliness, as if the energy of a place or person has been captured. Black and white photography too has the ability to transcend time, memory and death. Jane Brown says, “I examine this a lot in my work – landscapes seem to have vestiges or traces of past life and memorials become otherworldly.” Claudia Terstappen’s work, “is motivated by the stories, beliefs and histories of the people who live there. Here people spoke about the forest spirits that one should be aware of. B+W images suggest a kind of silence.” At a symbolic level, silence is part of most sacred traditions3, and it is part of darkroom practice.

Using analogue processes and working in the darkroom can be aligned to the slow movement, of valuing quality over quantity and returning to a feeling of connectedness. For the images in this exhibition David Tatnall has used an 8 x 10 inch pinhole camera and made contact prints. He expresses of this technology, “my reasons for using this slow, cumbersome and fickle means to make photographs is because I feel it conveys the interaction of the sky and water, the presence of wind and the pulse of nature. I am particularly interested in how the long exposures and lack of sharpness make these features merge into something else… (The) simplicity: no lens, shutter or batteries, no need to upgrade, no click or buzz, no flashing lights or mega pixels no viewfinder and no distortion.” For Ruth Maddision, “she says of working with hand colouring, the pleasure of it – I love working on the real object again, and away from the screen.”

Clearly there is belief and an element of trust in the medium. Lloyd Stubber‘s images in this exhibition are taken from a one-month round the world trip. On return he processed the 15 rolls of film in his laundry. Perhaps the potential fear of loss is overwhelmed by the sense of anticipation, surprise and the flood of memories that return on seeing the work at a later date, as compared to digital, which is immediate and holds none of the mystery.

Another important distinction of darkroom and analogue practice from other forms of photography is the presence of artist’s hand throughout the entire progression of creation to final outcome. In each step of the process, significant choices are made from the many possibilities, from exposing light sensitive film in the camera, developing the film, to printing and finishing the art object. The artist’s mark is therefore not only discernible but also inherently valuable. To Ponch Hawkes, being the maker is of significance. For Terstappen, The physicality of arriving at the ‘perfect’ Gelatin Silver print – with its deep tonal ranges – is something that I highly value.

Contemporary artists are driving the current resurgence in analogue photography. This is a treasured, magickal4 and irreplaceable art form. It is with great pleasure that I declare the Strange Neighbour Darkroom open, and may it provide the space and opportunity for the love of darkroom practice to be enjoyed, shared and fostered.”

Linsey Gosper, curator, darkroom lover, 2014
1. Francis Melville. The Book of Alchemy. Quarto Publishing plc, 2002, p. 6
2. Kurt Seligman. Magic, Supernaturalism and Religion. Pantheon Books, 1948, p. 84
3. Ami Ronnberg (ed.,). The Book of Symbols. Taschen, 2010, p. 676
4. Magick, in the context of Aleister Crowley’s Thelema, is a term used to differentiate the occult from stage magic and is defined as the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will, including both mundane acts of will as well as ritual magic

 

Jane Brown. 'Decommissioned Art History Library, University of Melbourne' 2012-2013

 

Jane Brown
Decommissioned Art History Library, University of Melbourne
2012-2013
Fibre-based gelatin silver print
44 x 49.5 cm
Edition 2 of 7

 

Jane Brown. 'Lathamstowe' 2011- 2013

 

Jane Brown
Lathamstowe
2011- 2013
Fibre-based, gelatin silver print
46 x 44 cm
Edition 2 of 7

 

Ponch Hawkes. 'Silken Seam' 2005

 

Ponch Hawkes
Silken Seam
2005
Silver gelatin print
34 x 34 cm
Courtesy of the artist and Chrysalis Gallery, Melbourne

 

Ponch Hawkes. 'Rouleau' 2005

 

Ponch Hawkes
Rouleau
2005
Silver gelatin print
34 x 34cm
Courtesy of the artist and Chrysalis, Melbourne

 

Siri Hayes. 'Aquatic listening device' 2009

 

Siri Hayes
Aquatic listening device
2009
Silver gelatin print
39 x 45 cm
Courtesy of the artist and M.33, Melbourne

 

 

Strange Neighbour
395 Gore St, Fitzroy
Victoria Australia 3065
T: +61 3 9041 8727

Opening hours:
Wednesday – Saturday, 11am – 6pm

Strange Neighbour website

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22
May
13

Exhibition: ‘Hilma af Klint – A Pioneer of Abstraction’ at Moderna Museet, Stockholm

Exhibition dates:  16 February – 26 May 2013

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I don’t often say this about an artist but OMG, I am in love!

Five years before Wassily Kandinsky (he of the book Concerning the Spiritual In Art 1910), before Piet Mondrian and Kazimir Malevich, the images of Carl Jung (The Red Book) and Rudolf Steiner (Blackboard Drawings 1919-1924) – who dismissed her ideas as wrong – was this revolutionary artist and abstractionist, Hilma af Klint, possibly the first purely abstract painter to produced non-objective works in the early 1900’s. While her more conventional painting became the source of her financial income her ‘life’s work’ remained a quite separate practice and hidden from view. She worked in isolation with little knowledge of the Avant-garde movement in Europe and requested that her complex and articulate paintings not be shown until 20 years after her death.

“Through her work with the group “the Five” af Klint created experimental automatic drawing as early as 1896, leading her towards an inventive geometric visual language capable of conceptualising invisible forces both of the inner and outer worlds. Quite apart from their diagrammatic purpose the paintings have a freshness and a modern aesthetic of tentative line and hastily captured image: a segmented circle, a helix bisected and divided into a spectrum of lightly painted colours. She continued prolifically to add to the body of work amounting to over 1000 pieces until 1941. She requested that it should not be shown until 20 years after the end of her life. In 1970 her paintings were offered as a gift to Moderna Museet in Stockholm, which declined the donation.” (Text from Wikipedia)

Ironic then is it not, that this first major exhibition of Hilma af Klint’s life’s work is at Moderna Museet in Stockholm. How times and attitudes change. And yes, I have ordered the catalogue…

Marcus

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“Negotiating around the masculine domain of art making by working through automatism and spiritual séances, Hilma af Klint appears to allow herself more freedom and reverence by working directly through ‘High Masters’ in their masculine form; through instructed spiritualist experience. Influenced heavily by the infamous Madame Blavatsky, the co-founder of The Theosophical Society and writer of ‘The Secret Doctrine’, af Klint’s ‘High Masters’ guided her hand in an attempt to gain spiritual knowledge of the self and of the universe…

Her occult diaries containing symbols of crosses, mystical vowels, dead sea scrolls, astral and metaphysical planes, mystical initials, strange vowels cross over to the larger works, continuing to make the viewer work hard at understanding what message is being sent. It is then that you notice the rest of the space with painting after painting hung mainly in series, working their way with fluidity around the many walls contained within the exhibiting space. Cubicles of watercolours denoting The Tree of Life, Studies of world religions, paintings for the temple, they are all there. It is clear that af Klint was prolific in her secretive world but it is hard to imagine how she managed to keep all these vast works hidden from view.

It is clear that Klint has some understanding of scientific breakthroughs in her time however her occult physics, chemistry and mathematical understanding appears ahead of its time. Her provocative nature appears to ask questions of sexuality, suggests male and female equality and is probably through this enquiry, still seen as revolutionary. In light of this, af Klint experienced continuous dismissal of her working practices and ideas linked to the scientific and mathematical study of spiritual knowledge. Her friends describe her work as ‘inappropriate’ and her contemporary Rudolph Steiner, founder of The Anthroposophical Society dismissed her ideas as wrong when asked by personal invitation to view them, claiming that she couldn’t have contact with spirits in that way although he doesn’t appear to state clearly for what reason.”

Open College for the Arts tutor Hayley Lock on the We Are OCA website

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Many thankx to Moderna Museet for allowing me to publish the artwork in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Photographer unknown. 'Portrait of Hilma af Klint' Nd

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Photographer unknown
Portrait of Hilma af Klint
Nd

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Installation views of Hilma af Klint - A Pioneer of Abstraction, 2013

Installation views of Hilma af Klint - A Pioneer of Abstraction, 2013

Installation views of Hilma af Klint - A Pioneer of Abstraction, 2013

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Installation views of Hilma af Klint – A Pioneer of Abstraction, 2013
© Photo: Åsa Lundén/ Moderna Museet

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“In Spring 2013 Moderna Museet is dedicating a major exhibition to Hilma af Klint (1862-1944), featuring many works that have never before been shown in public. This retrospective exhibition of a Swedish pioneer of abstract art is Moderna Museet’s tribute to Hilma af Klint as one of the greatest Swedish artists. A woman artist whose work is still far too unknown to a wider public, Hilma af Klint eschewed representational painting as early as 1906. Between 1906 and 1915, she produced nearly 200 abstract paintings, some of which are in monumental formats.

Like Vassily Kandinsky, Piet Mondrian and Kazimir Malevich, who have previously been regarded as the main protagonists of abstract art, Hilma af Klint was influenced by contemporary spiritual movements, such as spiritism, theosophy and, later, anthroposophy. Hilma af Klint’s oeuvre builds on the awareness of a spiritual dimension of consciousness, an aspect that was being marginalised in an increasingly materialistic world. When she painted, she believed that a higher consciousness was speaking through her. In her astonishing works she combines geometric shapes and symbols with ornamentation. Her multifaceted imagery strives to give insights into the different dimensions of existence, where microcosm and macrocosm reflect one another.

Hilma af Klint’s groundbreaking images were created in the early years of the 20th century – before the dawn of abstract art in Russia and Europe. Her works are not concerned with abstraction of colour and shapes for its own sake, but are an attempt to portray that which is not visible. Kandinsky, Malevich and Mondrian also explored a spiritual dimension. Kandinsky moved away from Expressionism and gradually left visible reality behind. He had a great interest in the occult and published On the Spiritual in Art in 1911. Malevich arrived via Cubism and Futurism at his suprematist, abstract and exceedingly spiritual images. Mondrian successively turned his back on figurative portrayals of that which the eye can see, reducing his compositions to a play of vertical and horizontal lines, and to the primary colours red, yellow and blue, with white and black. As a theosophist, he was striving for a purely spiritual expression of the eternal ideas beyond the visible world. Spiritual searching was thus an essential element to many of the modernists who moved towards an abstract imagery. Unlike Hilma af Klint, Kandinsky, Malevich and Mondrian did not claim to be acting as mediums in their creative process. This was an experience, however, that she had in common with artists such as the artists František Kupka (1871-1957), Emma Kunz (1892-1963) and the writer Victor Hugo (1802-1885).

Hilma af Klint left more than 1,000 paintings, watercolours and sketches. Although she exhibited her early, representational works, she refused to show her abstract paintings during her lifetime. In her will, she stipulated that these groundbreaking works must not be shown publicly until 20 years after her death. She was convinced that only then would the world be fully and completely ready to understand their significance.

Moderna Museet’s retrospective exhibition presents Hilma af Klint’s most important abstract works, as well as paintings and works on paper that have never before been presented publicly, enhancing our understanding of her oeuvre. Her extensive diaries and notebooks have been included in the research for this exhibition, which comprises some 200 paintings and works on paper and will tour internationally in 2013-2015.

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About the artist

Hilma af Klint (1862-1944) was a pioneer of art that turned away from visible reality. By 1906, she had developed an abstract imagery. This was several years before Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944), Piet Mondrian (1872-1944) and Kazimir Malevich (1878-1935), who are still regarded as the pioneers of abstract 20th-century art. Hilma af Klint assumed that there was a spiritual dimension to life and aimed at visualizing contexts beyond what the eye can see. When painting, she believed that she was in contact with a higher consciousness that spoke and conveyed messages through her. Like many of her contemporaries, she was influenced by spiritual movements, especially spiritualism, theosophy and later anthroposophy. Through her paintings, she sought to understand and communicate the various dimensions of human existence.

In her will, Hilma af Klint wrote that her abstract works must not be made accessible to the public until at least twenty years after her death. She was convinced that their full meaning could not be understood until then. One hundred years ago, Hilma af Klint painted pictures for the future.

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A Woman Artist at the Turn of the Century 

Hilma af Klint began her art studies at Tekniska Skolan in Stockholm and also had lessons in portrait painting. Between 1882 and 1887, she was a student at the Royal Academy of the Fine Arts. After graduating and until 1908, she had a studio at Kungsträdgården in central Stockholm. She painted and exhibited portraits and landscapes in a naturalist style. In the late 1870s, Hilma af Klint attended séances, where a medium contacted the dead. There was a great fascination for invisible phenomena at the time. This can be seen in relation to scientific discoveries, such as x-rays that could reveal internal human organs, and electromagnetic waves that led to the development of radio and telephony.

In 1896, Hilma af Klint and four other women formed the group “De Fem” [The Five]. They made contact with “high masters” from another dimension, and made meticulous notes on their séances. This led to a definite change in Hilma af Klint’s art. She began practising automatic writing, which involves writing without consciously guiding the movement of the pen on the paper. She developed a form of automatic drawing, predating the surrealists by decades. Gradually, she eschewed her naturalist imagery, in an effort to free herself from her academic training. She embarked on an inward journey, into a world that is hidden from most people.

Press release from the Moderna Museet website

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Hilma-af-Klint-arbete

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Hilma af Klint
From A Work on Flowers, Mosses and Lichen, July 2 1919
1919
© Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk/Photo: Moderna Museet, Albin Dahlström

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Hilma af Klint. 'Evolution, No. 7, Group VI, The WUS/Seven-Pointed Star Series' 1908

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Hilma af Klint
Evolution, No. 7, Group VI, The WUS/Seven-Pointed Star Series
1908
© Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk, foto Albin Dahlström/Moderna Museet

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Hilma af Klint. 'Untitled' Nd

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Hilma af Klint
Untitled
Nd

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Hilma af Klint. 'The Swan, No. 17, Group IX/SUW, The SUW/UW Series' 1915

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Hilma af Klint
The Swan, No. 17, Group IX/SUW, The SUW/UW Series
1915
© Courtesy Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk. Foto: Albin Dahlström/Moderna Museet

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Hilma af Klint. 'The Swan, No. 1, Group IX/SUW, The SUW/UW Series' 1915

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Hilma af Klint
The Swan, No. 1, Group IX/SUW, The SUW/UW Series
1915
© Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk/Photo: Moderna Museet, Albin Dahlström

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Hilma af Klint. 'The Swan' 1914

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Hilma af Klint
The Swan
1914

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Symbols

Hilma af Klint’s imagery is full of symbols, letters and words. Symbols are like doors into another dimension. For Hilma af Klint, her entire work was about conveying the messages she received, and to shed light on the great existential issues.

It would be pointless to translate the symbols and letters in Hilma af Klint’s works into definite, unambiguous terms. They must always be seen in relation to the entire context. In her notebook Symboler, Bokstäver och Ord tillhörande Hilma af Klints målningar [Notes on Letters and Words pertaining to Works by Hilma af Klint] she attempts to clarify the complex meanings of the various signs. Here are a few general explanations:

The snail or spiral represents development or evolution. The eyelet and the hook,blue and yellow, and the lily and the rose represent femininity and masculinity respectively. W stands for matter, while U stands for spirit. The almond shape arising when two circles overlap is called the vesica piscis and is an ancient symbol for the development towards unity and completion. The swan represents the ethereal in many mythologies and religions and stands for completion in the alchemical tradition. In Christianity, the dove represents the holy spirit and love.

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Terminology

Esoteric and occult denote “the science of the hidden dimensions”. Western esotericism is a mixture of Neoplatonism, Hermeticism, Jewish kabbalah and the three occult “sciences” of astrology, magic and alchemy.

Spiritualism shares the conviction that it is possible to make contact with the spirits of the deceased. Modern spiritism was spread thanks to the Fox sisters in the USA in 1848.

Theosophy is a general doctrine incorporating inspiration from various religions and spiritism. The religions are regarded as different expressions of one fundamental truth. Theosophy teaches that the origin of everything, divinity, is inherent in every being. The Theosophical Society was founded in New York in 1875 by Helena Blavatsky and others. There is also an older form of theosophy that is significantly different to the newer version.

Anthroposophy is a life philosophy that originated in theosophy. Rudolf Steiner, who was the leader of the German branch of the Theosophical Society, left theosophy in 1913 to set up the anthroposophical movement. The two philosophies have a great deal in common, but anthroposophy in general has a stronger Christian element.

According to legend, the Rosicrucians were an esoteric society in Germany who engaged in alchemy in the early 17th century. Today, there are many secret orders that claim to uphold the Rosicrucian traditions.

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Hilma af Klint. 'Tree of Knowledge' 1913

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Hilma af Klint
Tree of Knowledge
1913

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Hilma af Klint. 'Primordial Chaos, No. 16, Group I, The WU/Rose Series' 1906-1907

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Hilma af Klint
Primordial Chaos, No. 16, Group I, The WU/Rose Series
1906-1907
© Courtesy Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk. Foto: Albin Dahlström/Moderna Museet

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Hilma af klint. 'The Large Figure Paintings, No. 5, Group III, The Key to All Works to Date, The WU/Rose Series' 1907

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Hilma af klint
The Large Figure Paintings, No. 5, Group III, The Key to All Works to Date, The WU/Rose Series
1907
© Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk/Photo: Moderna Museet, Albin Dahlström

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Hilma af Klint. 'The Ten Largest, No. 3, Youth, Group IV' 1907

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Hilma af Klint
The Ten Largest, No. 3, Youth, Group IV
1907
© Courtesy Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk. Foto: Albin Dahlström/Moderna Museet

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Hilma af Klint. 'The Ten Largest, No. 1' 1907

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Hilma af Klint
The Ten Largest, No. 1
1907

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Hilma af Klint. 'The Dove, No. 3, Group IX/ UW, The SUW/UW Series' 1915

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Hilma af Klint
The Dove, No. 3, Group IX/ UW, The SUW/UW Series
1915
© Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk/Photo: Moderna Museet, Albin Dahlström

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Hilma af Klint. 'Altarpiece, No. 1, Group X, Altarpiece Series' 1915

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Hilma af Klint
Altarpiece, No. 1, Group X, Altarpiece Series
1915
© Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk, foto Albin Dahlström/Moderna Museet

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Moderna Museet, Stockholm

Moderna Museet is ten minutes away from Kungsträdgården, and twenty minutes from T-Centralen or Gamla Stan. Walk past Grand Hotel and Nationalmuseum on Blasieholmen, opposite the Royal Palace. After crossing the bridge to Skeppsholmen, continue up the hill. The entrance to Moderna Museet and Arkitekturmuseet is on the left-hand side.

Opening hours:
Tuesday 10-20
Wednesday-Sunday 10-18
Monday closed

Moderna Museet website

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20
May
10

Review: ‘A Shrine for Orpheus’ by Pip Stokes at fortyfivedownstairs, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 11th May  – 5th June 2010

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Bees, books, bones… and biding (one’s) time, attaining the receptive state of being needed to contemplate this work.
This is a strong, beautiful installation by Pip Stokes at fortyfivedownstairs that rewards such a process.

What is memorable about the work is the physicality, the textures: the sound of the bees; the Beuy-esque yellowness and presence of the beeswax blocks; the liquidness of the honey in the bowl atop the beehives; the incinerated bones, books and personal photographs; the tain-less mirrors, the books dipped in beeswax; the votive offering of poems placed into the beehive re-inscribed by the bees themselves – and above all the luscious, warm smell of beeswax that fills the gallery (echoing Beuys concept of warmth, to extend beyond the material to encompass what he described as ‘spiritual warmth or the beginning of an evolution’).

This alchemical installation asks the viewer to free themselves from themselves – “the moment in which he frees himself of himself and… gives the sacred to itself, to the freedom of its essence…” as Maurice Blanchot put its – a process Carl Jung called individuation, a synthesis of the Self which consists of the union of the unconscious with the conscious. Jung saw alchemy as an early form of psychoanalysis in which the alchemist tried to turn lead into gold, a metaphor for the dissolving of the Self into the prima materia and the emergence of a new Self at the end of the process, changing the mind and spirit of the Alchemist. Here the process is the same. We are invited to let go the eidetic memory of shape and form in order to approach the sacred not through ritual but through the reformation of Self.

As Pip Stokes last few paragraphs of her artist statement succinctly observes,

“Maurice Blanchot, has interpreted this myth as the descent of the artist to the realm of death to gain the work of art. Out of the failure of the artist, a necessary failure, emerges the artwork, wounded and bearing the ash of its origins.

The work of mourning, the work of healing.

Reflection, apparition, illusion: what appears as image, disappears evaporatively. As we change our place the space is already gone: the mirror holds a trace. What is veiled, enigmatic, uncertain remains as shadow that casts a light.”

The space in which we stand falls away: the mirror may hold a trace but it is only ever a trace. Our visions elude the senses, slipping between dreaming and waking, between conscious and subconscious realms. As Orpheus turns back to look so Eurydice dissolves, “falling out of the skin into the soul.” We, the viewer, are changed.

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So far so good.

Unfortunately what does not facilitate this engagement with change is the combined verbiage of both the artist’s statement and the catalogue essay by Lisa Jacobson. These texts, especially the latter one, with quotations by Blanchot, Rilke, Calasso, Beuys, Cocteau, Neruda, Cobb, Virgil, Rilke again, Cocteau again, Poe and Derrida and meditations on mythos, the sacred, resurrection, mourning et al are mostly unnecessary to support what is strong work – in fact they seem to put a physical, textual wall between the viewer and the work, between the installation and the proposed dissolution of Self into the sacred. The catalogue essay is confusing and needed a judicious edit with the understanding that sometimes less is more! The work needs to speak for itself, not to be didactically spoken for and knowing when to merely suggest an idea is one of the skills of good writing. Perhaps all that was needed was the quotation by Blanchot and the two paragraphs above by Pip Stokes – nothing more.

Approaching the sacred is, I believe, and act of letting go, of aware-less-ness. As we immerse ourselves in that enigma we find that it is our fluid shadow aspect that has cast the light, with all attendant expectations, beliefs, dreams, visions, weaknesses, shortcomings, and instincts. This exhibition asks us to reconcile the journey into darkness with the hope of redemption.

Marcus Bunyan

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All photographs are installation shots of the exhibition – please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All photographs courtesy of the artist and fortyfivedownstairs taken by Marcus Bunyan who is completing an internship at the gallery.

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The Gaze of Orpheus

Maurice Blanchot

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“The Greek myth says: one cannot create a work unless the enormous experience of the depths – an experience which the Greeks recognized as necessary to the work, an experience in which the work is put to the test by that enormousness- is not pursued for its own sake. The depth does not surrender itself face to face; it only reveals itself by concealing itself in the work. But the myth also shows that Orpheus’ destiny is not to submit to that law – and it is certainly true that by turning around to look at Eurydice, Orpheus ruins the work… and Eurydice returns to the shadows; under his gaze, the essence of the night reveals itself to be inessential. He thus betrays the work and Eurydice and the night. But if he did not turn around to look at Eurydice, he still would be betraying,… the boundless and imprudent force of his impulse, which does not demand Eurydice in her diurnal truth and her everyday charm, but in her nocturnal darkness, in her distance, her body closed, her face sealed, which wants to see her not when she is visible, but when she is invisible, and not as the intimacy of a familiar life, but as the strangeness of that which excludes all intimacy; it does not want to make her live, but to have the fullness of her death living in her.”

“The sacred night encloses Eurydice, encloses within the song something which went beyond the song. But it is also enclosed itself: it is bound, it is the attendant, it is the sacred mastered by the power of ritual – that word which means order, rectitude, law, the way of Tao and the axis of Dharma. Orpheus gaze unties it, destroys its limits, breaks the law which contains, which retains the essence. Thus Orpheus’ gaze is … the moment in which he frees himself of himself and…, gives the sacred to itself, to the freedom of its essence…”

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A Shrine for Orpheus

Pip Stokes

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The first temple was made by the bees with feathers, wax and honey.

Calasso

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… it is Orpheus. His metamorphosis
In this one and this. We should not trouble
about other names. Once and for all
It’s Orpheus when there’s singing.

Rilke. Sonnets to Orpheus

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We are the bees of the invisible
We frantically plunder the visible of its honey
To accumulate it in the great golden hive
Of the invisible

Rilke

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In mythology, honey was regarded as a spiritual substance and the bees were godly… This belief was… influenced by the whole process of honey production as constituting a link between earthly and heavenly levels. The influx of a substance from the whole environment – plants, minerals, and sun – was the essence of the bee-cult… The whole builds a unity, … in a humane, warm way, through principles of cooperation and brotherhood.

Beuys

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This installation, A Shrine for Orpheus, comprises four hundred hand cast beeswax blocks and a traditional beebox, in use by the bees until recently, accompanied by found objects such as old mirrors as well as ephemera collected from nature including feathers, bones and the salt mummified skeleton of a rabbit. Over the past year I have worked with the living beehive, placing votive offerings associated with poetry, death and renewal into the hive: objects such as books, cast wax pages, vessels, textiles and bones. Melbourne writer, Paul Carter has engraved wax tablets with aphoristic poems to the bees. These objects have been transformed through the bees’ processes of honeycomb- building.

The metaphors of the beehive in this connection to poetry, death and renewal are explored in the materials and structures of the installation. The warm sweet- smelling wax of the bees, cast into six sided blocks, provides the building material for the Shrine and two mausoleums, each with a void space, a space of underworld. The void of the larger mausoleum contains, ashy, burnt books, personal photos from family albums scorched by fire, evoking ‘shades’, the shadowy dead – and porcelain-like bones which have been materially transformed by cremation in a kiln. The second beeswax ‘grave’ has two voids, one of which contains a beeswax- bound and dipped facsimile of handwritten poems by Keats and, in the other opening, a book of insect morphology, also dipped and bound in beeswax.

The traditional beebox in the centre of the ruin of the Shrine is placed on a lake of mirrors. The mirrors have lost their tain and been translucently washed with plaster of Paris to further dim our view into the obscurely reflective world that lies beneath. The Shrine is accompanied by offerings of honey, honeycomb, beeswax bound books and pages cast from beeswax awaiting new poems, laid at its entrance.

Myths of death, dismemberment, transformation and resurrection have haunted the Western imagination from Isis to Dionysus, Orpheus and Christ. In his essay, The Gaze of Orpheus, the French literary theorist, Maurice Blanchot, has interpreted this myth as the descent of the artist to the realm of death to gain the work of art. Out of the failure of the artist, a necessary failure, emerges the artwork, wounded and bearing the ash of its origins.

The work of mourning, the work of healing.

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Reflection, apparition, illusion: what appears as image, disappears evaporatively. As we change our place the space is already gone: the mirror holds a trace. What is veiled, enigmatic, uncertain remains as shadow that casts a light.

The temple re admits this invisible.

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Pip Stokes. May. 2010
A Shrine for Orpheus

Beeswax, beehive box, mirror. Mixed media, dimensions variable.
Original texts by Paul Carter, writer.
Sound by Kasimir Burgess, filmmaker.

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A Shrine for Orpheus

Lisa Jacobson

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If Orpheus is guardian of the sacred arts, then it is possible that never before has there been a century so much in need of his song. This is because the world insists, on a daily basis, that we lose ourselves rather than commune with loss, to be drawn to darkness as logos rather than seek out its mythos. The myth of Orpheus has an integral role today in that it returns us and brings us back into communion with the sacred through poetry, dance, music and art.

Pip Stokes’ most recent exhibition, A Shrine for Orpheus, provides a mythic language for the story of Orpheus. It is a contemplation of myth that reflects back on itself in an endless refraction of associations and images; a visual representation of the myth itself which is never simple or linear but, rather, layered with metaphor and re-imaginings. Stokes’ installation reveals the ways in which myth enters us, but does not belong to us. Rather, we are the conduit through which myth runs and Orpheus, indeed, does run and has run through the dreams of humankind for as long as we have been able to dream.

This is in keeping with the Neo-Platonic notion, in which Orpheus plays no small part, that the figures of myth occupy not only the rooms of the psyche, but the rooms of other houses outside of us. It is not the artist who invents these figures of the psyche, of Orpheus and Eurydice, of Persephone and Hades, but they who reinvent themselves. The zeitgeist or midrash (as the Jewish mystics call the spirit of the times) summons up those gods it needs most. In Stokes’ work, it is Orpheus who answers this call.

Orpheus, playing quietly on his lyre in the middle of the forest, coaxes the animals out to listen, as Rainer Maria Rilke writes in his first sonnet to Orpheus:

“…And where there had been
just a makeshift hut to receive the music,
a shelter nailed up out of their darkest longing,
with an entryway that shuddered in the wind-
you built a temple deep inside their hearing.”

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Summoning the animals translates, perhaps, into an ecological sensibility; to hear the call of Orpheus is to answer the ecological call, to re-sacralise nature. At a time when the world seems intent on hurtling towards its own demise, A Shrine for Orpheus inclines towards meditation and the transformation of nature, the stillness of catacombs, the quietness of wax, the purposeful industry of bees and silkworms, the potential for flight, the distillation of air, the reflective gaze, the emptying out of all colour until there are only shades of white: bleached bones, wax, ash, silk and paper, feathers in contemplation of flight as if, as the poet Pablo Neruda writes, “we lived falling out of the skin into the soul.” Like the bees which flew in through the open window of Stokes’ studio to busy themselves on the beeswax, even the very act of art-making has summoned and sung up, in its own way, the problematic aspects of creation. As Jean Cocteau observes in his film, Orphée, “Look for a lifetime in mirrors and you will see Death at work, like bees in a hive of glass.”

The music of Orpheus, as Noel Cobb has said, is “the activity of the theologos, the one who spoke with and about the Gods.” His sanctuary also encompasses poetry and art. Orpheus’ lyre has to do with both dismemberment and re-membering, god-like attributes, as Stokes alludes to in her depiction of Orpheus’ wax heart awaiting resurrection. Orpheus’ lyre was said to be strung with human sinews, and the music he plays as he sings nature and animals into being dips, inevitably, into the underworld, into death and decay, dismemberment, a scattering of the psyche into fields not yet dreamt of, in the act of its resounding. The wax which forms the foundation of Stokes’ Shrine for Orpheus, the books on which bees have fed in order to make their own inscriptions (texts by writers from Keats to the contemporary Paul Carter) also hint at resurrection and immortality. At the centre of this ‘temple’ is the beehive, symbol of transformation.

As Virgil notes in The Georgics in a section entitled “The Peculiarly Wonderful Features of Bees”, bee stock is immortal in that the hive itself is passed on from generation to generation, the structure keeps on singing, and never really dies despite the passing of the bees who composed it. In a similar fashion, Orpheus’ own lyre is carried forth, made from the shell of a tortoise whose death made possible the music itself. The heart of Orpheus, like his own severed head in the myth, does not cease its previous musicality, the song of its rhythmic beating. So too might the artist reach down into the darkness of herself, even if she risks being torn apart, knowing that the heart remains intact and can be resurrected.

Rilke again:

Only the man who has also raised
his lyre among the darkling shades
may be allowed a sense
of infinite praise.

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Inside the Orphic vision which Pip Stokes’ art immerses itself in, everything is panoramic and ornamented by mythic figures whom we cannot ever really know, but only glimpse via the language of metaphor: the hand that plunges through the earth while one is gathering flowers, the hem of a beekeeper’s shroud-like coat, the thin silken thread of a worm, the trace of words upon wax, or feathers, burnt books or ash. These are the images that translate the emotion of the myth but which remain, nevertheless, untranslatable because should they be hardened into the prosaic everyday language of the world, they would cease to be mythos.

Perhaps it is for this very reason that Eurydice cannot be brought back up to the shining world of which Rilke writes, in a different poem on Orpheus, and that Orpheus himself rises into at the very moment Hermes ushers Eurydice once again below. Eurydice is too far into death to be brought back to life. She has sunk into the “dream within the dream” in which, as Edgar Allan Poe writes, we are all participants. All Orpheus can take with him is the imprint of her, the illicit gaze, the melancholic pathology of the backward glance, that perhaps was not so much hastily stolen as executed too quickly. How long must the artist gaze into the underworld? Is it ever enough? Must she not continually turn back and gaze at what cannot be brought to the surface but that she must, even so, attempt to translate? Is it this that Rilke refers to when he writes in his sonnets, “it is in overstepping that [Orpheus] obeys?” Cocteau, speaking about his film, commented that “Poets, in order to live must often die, and shed not only the red blood of their hearts, but the white blood of their souls, that flows and leaves traces which can be followed.”

There is loss in this of course, great loss, that Stokes’ art both acknowledges and makes a place for. As Orpheus travels along “the path ascending steeply into life” towards “the shining exit-gates,” he cannot help but glance back. In the sonnets Rilke cautions, “Be ahead of all parting as though it already were / behind you.” This has echoes of Jacques Derrida’s The Work of Mourning, in which he argues that mourning begins the moment friendship begins; that we cannot enter into relationship without becoming conscious of the loss that will inevitably come with the other’s death. Indeed, the very idea of this loss precipitates the event itself, leaves us prematurely bereft and continually turning back towards the absent loved one in our grief. And if we are always turning back, is not the artist most required to do so, is not the artist most compelled to incline her head towards the darkness in order to write of what stirs beneath the shining surface of the world, of what calls to be heard? Is this not the invisible that Orpheus calls into being through poetry, music and art? Orpheus rises in Rilke’s poem, and in Pip Stokes’ work. In fact, if we dare to journey with him, he will rise in us all.

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fortyfivedownstairs
45, Flinders Lane
Melbourne 3000

Opening hours:
Tue – Fri 11am to 5pm
Sat 12pm to 4pm

fortyfive downstairs website

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17
Jun
09

Opening 1: Gareth Sansom at John Buckley Gallery, Melbourne

Opening: 17th June 2009

Exhibition dates: 17th June – 4th July, 2009

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A very busy opening at John Buckley Gallery in Richmond for the paintings of Gareth Sansom. Nice to meet the artist and catch up with artist Gavin Brown and manager of Abbotsford Convent Brenton Geyer. A big thank you to Daniel for allowing me to take the photographs!

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Gareth Sansom opening at John Buckley Gallery, Melbourne

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Gareth Sansom opening at John Buckley Gallery, Melbourne

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Opening night crowd with the artist Gareth Sansom third from right

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Opening night crowd in front of Gareth Sansom's painting 'Alchemy' 2008/09

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Opening night crowd in front of Gareth Sansom’s painting ‘Alchemy’ 2008/09

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From left to right Brenton Geyer, the artist of the night Gareth Sansom, artist Gavin Brown and Jenny Rees

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From left to right Brenton Geyer, the artist of the night Gareth Sansom, artist Gavin Brown and Jenny Rees

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Gareth Sansom opening at John Buckley Gallery, Melbourne

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Gareth Sansom opening at John Buckley Gallery, Melbourne

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John Buckley Gallery

8 Albert St, Richmond VIC 3121 Australia
Gallery hours: 11 – 5 pm, Wednesday – Saturday

John Buckley Gallery website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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