This is the booklet I wrote for my exhibition “Where is my sacred?” @ Fondazione Cerere december 5th – 21th 2018.
«The sacred is an element of the structure of consciousness and not a moment in the history of consciousness. The experience of the sacred is inextricably linked to the effort made by man to build a world that has meaning. Hierophanies and religious symbols constitute a pre-reflective language. Since it is a specific language, sui generis, it needs its own hermeneutics.»
– Mircea Eliade
With these words the Romenian historian of religion and athropologist defined, in his Fragments of a Journal 1945-1969, the aspects of this dimension, presupposed to every religion, connected to one of the most ancient and foundational experience of humanity : the “feeling of existence” together exciting and terrible, capable to open up primordial man to the mystery of his own presence. That man, according to Mircea Eliade, was intrinsically religiosus, in the sense that his experience of the world was integrally and originally permeated by a transcendent character, so it can be said for that primitive sensitivity, the Cosmos itself, as a whole, was manifestation of the sacred.
Today, after Nietzsche’s terrible declaration about the death of God (“Gott ist tot!”), meaning the end of a world based on theo-eschatological horizon in favour of a world based on technical-materialistic premises, we have been orphans of the divine, nostalgic for a spiritual or a numinous dimension, forgetful of the sacred.
Yet the radical experience of the “ganz Anderes” (of the “radical Other”), of what language cannot explain, is irrepressible, and constitutive of the human mind. The exhibition is structured as an itinerary through three works I ironically define “pop-hierophanies”, which address three traditional aspects of the sacred: beauty, invocation, and faith.
The intent is to recall the tremendum, the maiestas, the mysterium fascinans of this terrifying and irrational experience, but also all-encompassing and full of wonder: the sacred. Hence the title of the exhibition:
Where is my sacred?
And so – dear visitor – where is yours?
ITINERARY – NUOVO SPAZIO MOLINI
“BEAUTY WILL SAVE THE WORLD!” – [BEAUTY]
At the entrance of the space, a 3D cardboard print of the Venus di Milo (created by NextMaterials from Milan), stands as a totem at the beginning of the “hieratic path”, waiting for the visitor. The statue is covered with medical bands like it was wounded. My intent is to address the idea behind the famous statement by Prince Myskin in Dostoevsky’s The Idiot: « Beauty will save the world. »
On the body of the goddess, turned into a projection screen, and on the back wall, a video montage shows the evil of the world: terrorism, pollution, war, overpopulation, murders, violence, but also catastrophes and natural events, those primordial events that have opened up humanity to the overwhelming experience of the sacred (hierós), which initially manifested itself as a cratophany (krátos = power): the showing of natural forces.
The statue is in silence, like an infirm deity, appearing and disappearing, while the video plays. Her silent epiphany, as a symbol of beauty, is what can redeem (save) the world. In the presence of the goddess, the video changes theme and shows the good of the world: acts and situations of extraordinary grace, a gesture of help or goodness, a sublime song, the pathos of harmony in human and natural forms that unleashes in mankind those feelings of compassion, enjoyment and power, which typically characterize the experience of beauty.
Beauty is the principle of order and civilization. It is an intuition of harmony, creative drive, superior adaptation, effort of the imagination, sublimated horror.
It is an extra-ordinary “tool” capable of emancipating mankind from the so-called “evil”: its own destructive and self-destructive tendencies.
In this sense, a beautiful gesture is intrinsically ethical, certainly senseless in the face of the absurd, thus sincere selfless, hence superhuman, extra-terrestrial. Just like the “turn the other cheek” can be understood as an artistic performance, in which the possibility of holding back a destructive and violent impulse, in favour of a higher end; so beauty can be seen as a regulative ideal capable to drag humanity, as a whole, towards higher and inscrutable ends.
All these images are gathered from that digital collective unconscious that is YouTube.
From this point of view, the destination of the human species towards beauty, also inted as marvel of discovery (of its own infinite potential) is the only possible motif that can justify human efforts to survive and prosper. A superhuman response to an infinitelly philosophical question: Why existing at all? Perhaps simply to contemplate.
Beauty, therefore, will save the world.
Of course, as long as the world preserves the beauty!
ORACULAR SKULLPTURES – [INVOCATION]
The main core of the exhibition are the Oracular Skullptures series: 10 skulls of animals lacquered in pastel colors with golden details, between the sacred and the profane. These “deliciously macabre” and “beautifully grotesque” pieces, the driving centre of the exhibition, evoke the strength and the animal spirit, reconnecting mankind with the natural – instinctive, unconscious – and the transcendent.
In ancient times, the oracle was a being or an institution considered a source of wise advice or prophecies, an infallible authority, usually of a spiritual nature. The same term can also refer to a prediction of the future dispensed by the gods through objects or life forms.
From my point of view, each skull is an oracle: if questioned, even if only by looking, it will respond; if respected, it will bring luck, wealth, knowledge, love or wisdom. The animal skull abdicates here to its natural function, in favour of a cultural one, thanks to the artistic intervention.
The Skullptures are standing a thin line between the sacred and the profane. The glossy surface recalls a spray painted car, giving the skulls a “toyish-look”. At the same time, the skulls look like magical creatures, astral beings from outer space or otherworld. Each colour, is my interpretation of the animal’s character. For the creation of this series, I was inspired by the Jungian readings of the animal in the dream and the suggestions of post-humanist theories.
In psychoanalysis, the archetypical meaning of animals in dreams is central. Unlike in commercials, where a desacralized version of the animal is used to express the “as if” of the consumer or the product, in a gratified manner; in dreams the individual “is” the animal. Because of their body structure and behavioural characteristics, animals in dreams hold a huge symbolic power, they function as synthetic catalysts of a wide range of feelings and situations: they crawl, jump, fly, swim, camouflage, attack, sleep, surrender, watch around. The animal in dreams can be downsized, reduced to minced meat, transformed into bones, or become a numinous and out of scale super-Animal: a huge lion, a magical horse, a golden bird.
Also the animal represent a repression of the traumatic experience we inflict upon nature in order to dominate, survive, and prosper.
In this sense, the Skullptures can be interpreted as guardians of the terrestrial order, as warnings both for the individual and for humanity as a whole.
Precisely linked to this last concept, in post-humanist theory the figure of the animal is very much linked to the displacement of anthropocentrism, but not necessarily in the anti-specist key. The animal symbolic power, its ability to arouse wonder and fear is, in fact, precisely based on its “species-specific difference” that inevitably becomes “ontological”.
In its bony version, suggested by the Skullptures, while the human skull is the emptied face that reminds the observer of the future of his inevitable mortality, the presence of the animal skull can evoke a sense of nostalgia for taht past condition humanity has forever left behind. Observing the animal skull, the observer is inevitably driven to fantasize about his own primordial wildlife, through that evolutionary line that reconnects him to the first life-forms. An archaic state shared by humanity of the origins in which the earthly microcosm was immediately connected to the macrocosm.
In this sense, the animal skulls are an invitation to regain a more universal look that includes all beings.
“IS THERE CHOCOLATE INSIDE?” – [FAITH]
At the end of the itinerary, almost like a revelation, a chromed frame enclosed by a Plexiglas screen, containing a series of 18 Ritter Sport Minimeter tube-packs in the center of which is placed a Russian icon depicting the Christ Pantocrator, stands awaiting for the visitor. Multicolored LED lights illuminate the content from the inside, giving the work a supernatural aura.
This work is a reinterpretation of the “Edicola Sacra” (Sacred Shrine), an architectural element very common in Rome and in Christian-Latin cultures in general. The term derives from the Latin aedicula, diminutive of aedes (“temple”), hence a miniature temple, which housed the statue or the depiction of a deity. These sacred niches, also called “Madonnelle”, are an expression of popular faith, naive but sincere, and are realized after some miraculous event, a foiled calamity, a ceased epidemic, a sudden recovery. Around the sacred image, there was an ex voto by the faithful ones who would aske for and obtained “grace”. The sanctuary is often found at intersections of streets where it gave light when there was no public lighting.
This work, taking up the symbolis, and the characteristics of this architectural element, addresses the concept of faith. If the visitor believes that there is chocolate inside tubes, then there will be. Divinity is present. If he does not believe there is, then, the tubes are empty. Divinity is absent. In the centre of the aedicule, an icon of the Christ Pantocrator is mounted, a copy made by an Ukrainian craftsman with the traditional technique. The Christ Pantocrator (Χριστός Παντοκράτωρ, from the Greek pan [all] and kràtein [to dominate strongly, have in hand]) is typical a representation of Jesus typical in Byzantine and generally Paleo-Christian art and also of medieval art, particularly present in the mosaics and in the frescoes. It is the embodied version of the deity, with which to relate visually.
Christ in the fifth century was considered the organizing principle of the Cosmos, generated and not created by God the Father, the key to understanding reality and the answer to the mystery of existence. The human desire for order had found its fulfillment in Jesus, the incarnate Logos, the Reason and the Structure of the Cosmos. The intellectual and spiritual implications of this meaning of the Cosmic Christ are still felt today. The eminent philosopher Alfred North Whitehead even advanced the idea that the scientific vision of the world, now deeply engraved in Western consciousness, has its roots in the theology of the Christians of the fifth century.
In my vision, the union of Ritter Sport Minimeter tubes – a symbol of industrial production and of human desire (chocolate) – with a sacred object like the Russian Icon of Christ Pantocrator – the mathematical order of the Cosmos – creates an apparent contrast, which ultimately reveals its coherence and connection on several levels.
Ideally, the work of art brings together the cultures of Central, South and Eastern Europe, while the LED strip lighting, in addition to provoking different emotional states, recalls Chinese folklore and the low-cost products of globalization sold through the platforms online.