Work in Progress, April 2015

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This is a still from a series of short performative videos I shot this weekend with the help of my partner (he was very good as videographer and production assistant!). I’m currently working on the videos and ascertaining whether they do what I want, whether they work as art pieces, whether I want to do something else with them.

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Rudolf Steiner’s Bee Lectures from the book ‘Bees’

Over the last week I’ve worked my way through an audio recording of the 8 lectures Rudolph Steiner made available in his book “Bees”. It has been a pleasant, if somewhat waffly, look into Steiner’s worldview and the place that bees have in his overarching thesis on the interconnectedness of nature. I found a lot of the content was of little interest to me because it was based around pseudoscientific health principles strange musings on things like formic acid and milk. The parts that have come away thinking about are more to do with the organisational structure of the hive and the relationships between the hive and the human body.

Here are a few notes that I’ve made to think about further:

Developmental stages of the 3 types of bee from laval to maturity:
Queen 16 Days – closer to laval stage, interesting the the queen requires the least time in larval stage.
Workers 21 Days – significant: the sun revolves once on its axis (link to the sun) the worker bee experiences every single effect the sun can have on it and is instilled within the worker bee – a sun animal.
Drones 23-24 Days – the sun is past, the drone is an earth animal.

Macrocosm and microcosm ideas, particularly ideas around the blood cells in the body being the worker bees and the human body, the hive. The queen sits at the centre like the heart and the workers move around her like red blood cells. (Would that make the drones white blood cells seeing as they do the ‘protecting?’)

I don’t quite get what he was talking about but the is a correlation between milk/honey/quartz (six sided effect). I want to have a look into this because crystalline structures are another interest in my work. I’ve made a note that says “Quartz crystals and bee cells?? whats he talking about??” so I’d better investigate!

Bees can sense fear, anger. A hive establishes a relationship with a human – the beekeeper. It takes the hive time to acclimatise with a new beekeeper.

Beekeeping is so old that there is no record of what bees did and how they lived before domesticated bee keeping (I need to check the veracity of this statement!)

The queen can produce eggs without fertilisation. She can produce drones from unfertilised eggs, but workers and other queens only hatch from fertilised eggs. This makes the drones seem like quite a different sort of creature, they also have the longest maturation time.

 

Thoughts about works by Tracey Tawhiao and Tiffany Singh at Te Uru

Justine and I visited Te Uru gallery last weekend to have a look at the current exhibitions. There were 2 that were of particular interest to me due to their intersection with, differences and similarities to my own work.

Tracey Tawhiao’s work is part of a group show called  IOIOIOIOIOIO that examines the hidden order unifying our Universe. She examines the language of sacred geometry,the names of the Māori Creator IO and the simple but unifying language of binary code. In her work she is exploring the same sort of esoteric language that I enjoy and is taking both a universal and local approach by combining both western mysticism (in the form of ideas such as the Metatron Cube and the Tree of Life) with her ancestral understanding through mātauranga Māori. I related to this work because of her interest in sacred geometry and western mysticism and I enjoyed the relationship between the languages of the different traditions that resulted in a very universal work.

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Tracey Tawhiao (Ngai te Rangi, Whakatohea, Tuwharetoa), IOEAU (God and I), 2014, acrylic paint on paper, Te Uru Gallery [there is a material not listed in the artist’s statement which is the acrylic disks overlaying the painted words]

Tiffany Singh was also exhibiting at Te Uru with an exhibition called “Life is But a Vapour” that concerns itself with the grieving process and art as a process to come to terms with grief, death and dying. Over a three month period members of the public were invited to visit Singh’s studio and create memorial string which were incorporated into the work. The work displayed at Te Uru was a combination of this piece and several other in collaboration with other artists. The wall itself was a jumble of objects and symbols, the memorial strings combined with many other items of cultural significance. It felt overwhelming and despite being a participatory artwork I felt it did not invite the viewer to participate. Many of the objects incorporated into the wall were already loaded with heavy religious and cultural meaning so instead of being an inclusive collaboration from many different people it seemed more like a clash of cultures with the viewer being left wondering whether the artist could actually speak for and to all of these peoples who sign their scared items. It felt like a rather cavalier display of symbolic items that the artist might not fully comprehend, rather than a genuine and thoughtful enquiry.

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Tiffany Singh, I Have Died Many Times But Your Breathe Makes Me Alive Again, Ongoing collaborative work, Te Uru Gallery 2015

Tiffany Singh had another piece in the gallery that was concerned with a similar idea but was very different in the way it approached the subject matter. “Earth Air Fire Water Ash” is a suspended glass ash receptacle holding charred remains and suspended above a shallow bowl. There is none of the blatant religious and cultural symbolism in this work, but the materials and their display make it very clear what the viewer can explore in the work. It has a quiet poignancy that speaks to me of grief and death far more than the cluttered wall. The work is open ended, the elemental nature of the materials is understandable to all, it invites the viewer to experience it and it doesn’t block the reading through complex, and potentially exclusionary, symbolism. This was very useful for me to observe because its something I have been grappling with in my own practice.

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Tiffany Singh, Earth Air Fire Water Ash, 2014, Glass and ash, collaboration with Isaac Katzoff Monmouth Glass studio, Te Uru Gallery

These two exhibitions gave me a clarity about my own practice that I had understood to some extent before, but now have SEEN in the work of others. I can now understand exactly why work like this can be exclusionary and ways to approach subjects to make the art interesting for a wider range of viewers; to make the work better. I am going to hold these images and my realisations about them in my mind when creating my own work so that I move one way and not the other.

Ocean Without a Shore – Bill Viola

“Originally commissioned for the 2007 Venice Biennale,Ocean Without a Shore was first shown in the 15th century Church of the Oratorio San Gallo, a short distance from the Piazza San Marco. Inspired by the writings of Senegalese poet Birago Diop, it takes its title from Andalusian Sufi mystic Ibn Arabi, who wrote, “The Self is an ocean without a shore. Gazing upon it has no beginning or end, in this world and the next.” Viola’s work expresses this sentient self and, bathing the viewer in a sensorium of light and sound, is a masterpiece that asks us to reflect upon fundamental ideas of love, hope, sorrow, anxiety, death, regeneration, and being.”
Quote sourced from http://withart.visitphilly.com/artworks/ocean-without-a-shore/

Bill Viola, Ocean Without a Shore, 2007, Video and sound installation, running time: approx. 90 minutes, PAFA, 2010.22

Since I came across this work I have watched the available online video clips multiple times. The incredible creation of an invisible threshold by the passing of bodies through a wall of water is otherworldly and magical. The work utilises flickering, grainy black and white footage on one side of the threshold, then as they pass through they become full-colour super high definition. The choice of video technique, the slo motion movement and the ephemerality of the water-wall threshold highlights the fragility of life and the fineness of the border between life and death, between one reality and another.

Link to video footage: http://youtu.be/eTakwOpWqG4

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July Seminar works

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ABRAXAS (2014)
Gold, silver, mercury, copper, iron, tin, lead, glass petri dishes, acids, salt, water, blood. 1000 x 1000 x 160mm 

A exploration of the macrocosm and microcosm through alchemical and bodily interactions.
With this work I chose to examine the relationships between the human body, metallic elements and the planets of our solar system through symbolic associations and chemical reactions.
The small become large, the large become small.
The heavy become light, and the light become heavy.

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Face-Centred Cubic Structure (2014) Paint, formacote. 590 x 580mm (left)
Rhombohedral Crystalline Lattice (2014) Paint, formacote. 550 x 470mm (right)

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ABRAXAS (2014)
Gold, silver, mercury, copper, iron, tin, lead, glass petri dishes, acids, salt, water, blood. 1000 x 1000 x 160mm 

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shapes3 smallFace-Centred Cubic Structure (2014) Paint, formacote. 590 x 580mm (left)
Rhombohedral Crystalline Lattice (2014) Paint, formacote. 550 x 470mm (right)

 

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ABRAXAS (2014)
Gold, silver, mercury, copper, iron, tin, lead, glass petri dishes, acids, salt, water, blood. 1000 x 1000 x 160mm 

 

Accessing the Otherwordly

One of the issues within my practice that I am still working through is the problem of exclusionary subject matter. This is something I researched through looking at Kara Walker’s treatment in her work and I have continued to research in artists working with mystical or occult ideas.

Australia artist Mikala Dwyer also deals with this issue of the viewer as outsider in her work. Because of the esoteric strangeness of the work, there is the possibility of the viewer feeling that taking the time to engage is too difficult, and that maybe some sort of complex trick is being played on them, the nature of which is only privy to a select cabal of initiates. What is actually going on? Should we be scared? It this really something other than what it seems?

“Concealment of one sort or another is clearly a feature of the artist’s work. It is tempting to reject the quality of strangeness outright – on the one hand because interpretation proves to be too difficult and time consuming, and on the other because it is a reminder of our own relative ignorance, coming to the gatherings, as we do, as outsiders.” (Hansford, P.  Enigma Machines p48)
Clemens, J. Colless, E. Hansford, P. Long, D. Mathews, H. Michael, L. Ross, T. Campbell, K (2013) Mikala Dwyer: Goldene Bend’er. Southbank, Australia: Australian Centre for Contemporary Art.

dwyer_2008_detail11-mDwyer, M. Swamp Geometry (2008) various materials, Anna Schwartz Gallery, Melbourne, Australia

Dwyer uses formal elements to allow the viewer not just access to the work, but the opportunity to be part of it. In his talk “Frontier Spirits: Ghosts, Magic, and Colonial Half-Truths” (2013). Cranbrook Academy of Art, [Video], Anthony Byrt describes the use of circular spaces as choreographic parameters which restrain the work and create an area of invocation in which the work can be experienced. This appears to give the viewers access and permission to step inside a liminal space which might otherwise make them uncomfortable. Dwyer acts as a guide into the otherworld and leads the uninitiated across the borders; thanks to the artist the spectator can see.

“In Dwyer’s work, both artist and spectator find a way to connect through a second skin in the artist layer itself.” (Hansford, P.  Enigma Machines p48)

Dane Mitchell also deals with viewer suspicion in his work, “namely the ever present suspicion that a work of art is concealing something, that it’s not all there, indeed that some crucial, occult element can only be gleaned by a very small coterie of superhuman initiates. Either that, or it is what the French bluntly call ‘fouteage de gueule’ (roughly translatable as a spit in the face).” (Sharp, C.  Trajectories of Immateriality p61)
Mitchell, D. (2012) Radiant Matter I/II/III. Berliner Kunstlerprogramm DAAD and Govett-Brewster Art Gallery (New Plymouth), Dunedin Public Art Gallery (Dunedin), Artspace (Auckland). New Zealand

dane-mitchell_dpag3Mitchell, D. Gateway to the Etheric Realm (2011) Powder-coated steel, spell, spell materials. 6000 x 6000 x 3250mm approx. Radiant Matter II, Dunedin Public Art Gallery, Dunedin, New Zealand.

Much the same as Dwyer, Mitchell acts as an artist on the threshold of worlds, using boundaries as parameters to contain liminal spaces. In his work “Gateway to the Etheric Realm” (2011) Mitchell uses a delineated space to contain a conjured spell. It is only the borders of the space that enable the viewer to know that the spell exists in this world at all. His use of vitrines, blown glass and mirrored boxes create boundaries within which his otherworlds exist and can be accessed.

It’s noteworthy how much this feeling of being excluded can irritate the viewer rather than making them curious. Perhaps it’s an extension of the perceived inaccessibility of the art world itself where only the academic, the members of an elite art world can fully understand the work!

 

April Critique

For the April Critique I presented 2 works-in-progress that were both focussed on the use and understanding of symbols in visual documents and artefacts, particularly the use of symbology in artwork with esoteric content.

Symbols have layers of meaning and understanding attached to them that vary greatly depending on context and reader. They have the ability to surrender their secrets in a fractal manner when examined. Within esoteric art practice I have experienced an occulting and revealing of knowledge that seems to fold and unfold within the work.

My first piece, ‘Enochian Artefact’, was a complex, interactive, paper-craft piece that required a certain degree of inquisitiveness and bravery on the part of the reader. Some felt apprehension and even fear on encountering the artefact, and this was not something I had anticipated. I expected curiosity, but not such strong negative emotion. I felt that the symbols on the work would make viewers curious, but actually they created a barrier between them and the work. There was a feeling from a couple of readers that permissions were required to access the artefact and explore it’s secrets, that it was alive in some way and that it held a power that could be let-loose without permission from it’s maker – the opening of Pandora’s box.

The artefact hid and revealed certain elements (seen as ‘secrets’ by the readers) and came in several different parts that needed to be interacted with in different ways. It was pointed out that the whole piece operated a lot like a language and the reader had to believe that there was a logical system at play. The rotating torus and the moving star were the most successful elements because they held the viewer’s attention and got them asking questions. The torus in particular was fascinating to people and they seemed comfortable interacting with it. Many commented on its infinite movement and the balancing point where it was able to rest.

The second work-in-progress was a symbology game made up of tessellated tiles. It required the players to gain points by making symbolic connections and adding tiles onto each other, spreading out across the table. Yet again their was trepidation around the symbols and their meanings that created a barrier between the ‘players’ and the game. While some were excited to pick up tiles and see what connections could be made, others were repelled and felt unwelcome. There was even a suggestion that the player felt like a victim who was being manipulated into playing a powerful game that they don’t understand and don’t know what the outcome will be. Yet again, it was only the presence of myself as the ‘Host’ that made them feel safe enough to touch the tiles.

I had not anticipated the level of trepidation and unease, but this is because I am familiar with this symbolic language in a way many are not. This raises the very important question of whether these pieces actually *work*. While visiting Peter Robinson in his studio he brought up the pertinent question that he asks of his work (and which I need to ask of mine!) “Is this interesting to me? Is this interesting to others?” I have fallen into the trap of making work that is interesting to me, but is exclusionary to others.

The other problem is that there is too much going on in my work. One reader commented that it might be a bit ‘over baked’ and as soon as she said that I knew it was true. It is important for me now to take apart my work, find one aspect that I think is interesting to me AND to others, and delve into it in a way that I haven’t before. Leave behind the symbolic language I am using to avoid attachment to that particular code and find a new language. Materiality and scale are also obvious areas to explore and I feel that there is a lot I can express just through scaling and changing the substrates.

Denis Forkas Kostromitin

Featured image above: The Slant Serpent, The Tortuous Serpent, 2012-2013, Egg tempera, acrylics, gilding and ink on prepared wood block 

Denis Forkas Kostromitin is a Russian artist, currently living in Moscow, who has studied in China under traditional teachers. His paintings are dark, textural and hold a wealth of symbolism.

On speaking of Gilbert Durand, sociologist and anthropologist he says:

“Durand suggested breaking with the European Logos-centric tradition and going beyond the object-subject system. According to his hypothesis, our world (‘our’ being the subject and ‘world’ the external objects) is the fruit of imagination. Imagination is born from the fact of death, as a reflection of mortality – we exist ergo we are mortal ergo we imagine ergo we exist. The ever-unfolding vista of Mythos takes shapes of images, symbols, rituals, customs, social relations, poetry, games and legends. Imagination fills the space (or rather time) between itself and the realm of non-existence with things we see, hear, feel, create, destroy, hope for, dream about, etc.
If imagination is a reflection of mortality, its scale and intensity would probably be set by the proximity of death. This ‘(life)time’ would be a continuously changing value balance between Mythos and Logos and responding to the slightest changes in Mythos.”
Ansell. R (Ed.), 2013, Abraxas Issue 3, Spring 2013, Fulgur Esoterica, London, England. p134

I like this idea of the interplay between Mythos and Logos and the way Logos has to change according to shifts in Mythos.

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Etna, acrylics on paper

DFC talks about his sigil construction technique and how it differs from that developed by Austin Osman Spare. His experience in use of eastern calligraphic techniques (especially farsi) have influenced his sigil creation and given it a very fluid form.

He also talks of art as an initiatory experience that allows artist and viewer to be in a place where everybody speaks the same symbolic language:

“I believe that art helps us transcend cultural barriers and brings us to the ‘plateau of initiation’, where everyone and everything speaks the same language. In my sigil work I attempt to establish immediate connection between Logos and Mythos. These auxiliary artistic elements serve as shortcuts to the ‘plateau’.”
Ansell. R (Ed.), 2013, Abraxas Issue 3, Spring 2013, Fulgur Esoterica, London, England. p139

M L K (Moloch) Tempera, blood, charcoal and graphite on paper 50 x 50cm 2011M L K (Moloch) Tempera, blood, charcoal and graphite on paper 50 x 50cm 2011

On the artist as ‘channel’ or ‘conduit’ for ideas and messages (this is something I will be exploring further in a future blog post):

“This striking recurrence phenomenon made me take a closer look as my own art and I soon discovered that I, too, had been passing on a message that wasn’t entirely own.”
Ansell. R (Ed.), 2013, Abraxas Issue 3, Spring 2013, Fulgur Esoterica, London, England. p137

“At the heart of Poïesis (hi-lighting my own) is metaphor, a vessel that can project idea ideas from one conceptual domain onto another; it allows us to manipulate imagination. I believe metaphorical projection and transcendence is the main function of religious rituals, and I choose to base my practice on the assumption that ritual is, in fact, a metaphor.
The purpose of my practice is to restructure Logos through a ritualised performance addressing Mythos and emerge with pristine artefacts of imagination.”
(bolding my own)
Ansell. R (Ed.), 2013, Abraxas Issue 3, Spring 2013, Fulgur Esoterica, London, England. p137

On talking of the use of sigil to convey messages to the unconscious in esoteric artwork (see Austin Osman Spare for further info on this topic) DFK has this to say:

“The power of sigils lies in their mystery, as the cryptic ornamentation stirs waters of the unconscious. This is why it is so much easier for the viewer to experience the spell than the artist. Unconscious puzzle-solving is the key element that opens the great cache of the Mythos.”
Ansell. R (Ed.), 2013, Abraxas Issue 3, Spring 2013, Fulgur Esoterica, London, England. p142

ABPA A , 2014, ink on paperΑΒΡΑΣΑΞ, 2014, Ink on paper

Ansell. R (Ed.), 2013, Abraxas Issue 3, Spring 2013, Fulgur Esoterica, London, England.
http://www.denisforkas.com
fulgur.co.uk/artists/denis-forkas-kostromitin/

 

The Hierophant – Harris and Crowley Thoth tarot

Between 1938 and 1943 Aleister Crowley worked with Lady Frieda Harris to create a series of 78 paintings for the Thoth Tarot. Crowley sketched basic ideas for the cards with the symbolism and imagery that he envisioned and Harris brought them to life as paintings in gouache and watercolour. These paintings are absolutely abundant in esoteric symbolism but have an added element brought my Harris; her interest in Projective Geometry.

The Hierophant trump is one of my favourite paintings in the series:
This is trump number 5, roman numeral V, the hebrew letter is Vau (the nail). Around the head of the Hierophant are 9 nails affixing a serpent above a rose and a dove. The astrological equivalent is Taurus, the elephants and the bull seen behind the Hierophant show the Taurian nature of the card. The colours are oranges, browns, reds; the colours of earth. the Hierophant himself is an Initiator and he carries the child Horus in a pentagram over his heart. The woman who stands in front of him is ‘girt with a sword’ and represents Babalon, the Scarlet Woman who ushers in a new Aeon. At each corner are the Powers of The Sphinx, the guardians of the shrine of initiation: To know, To will, To dare and to keep Silent, represented as eagle, bull, lion and man. They also represent the 4 elements. The Hierophant carries a wand with three rings, potentially representing the 3 Aeons and he makes a sign of benediction (seen in the traditional ‘Pope’ trump) that is also a V.
In the large hexagram and the 2 smaller pentagrams you can observe Harris’s inclusion of Projective Geometry showing the movement of a potential geometry through space.

The richness of the imagery is occulted to most viewers of this painting who are not familiar with the symbolism and it’s meanings. But despite the potential lack of specific understanding, the familiarity with the colours, animals, shapes and forms could lead a viewer to have a dialogue with the artwork and receive an innate understanding of the messages within the work: the colours are earthy, the animals are strong and forceful, the Hierophant is imposing and solid, these clues all convey ideas to the viewer. With greater involvement in the ritual aspects of the symbols, comes a differing perspective on the painting and a different experience when interacting with it. Each symbol has a wealth of meaning that adds layers to the understanding of the artwork. For example, a casual viewer might see 9 nails, but an initiated viewer will see the Hebrew letter Vau and the number 9 which opens up all the symbolism associated with both of those symbols as well as the symbol of the nail. The symbols unfold before the viewer like a fractal pattern.

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