The Earthly and the Uncharted
“Appearances delight us,
whereas things which appear not,
make their believing hard.”
Hermes Trismegistus, Corpus Hermeticum IV. (V.), The Cup or Monad.
Under a crescent moon a powder-blue hut and concrete mound hang suspended from the Earth positioned among the marram grass, along a coastline enveloped in black. The site of this photograph is Tarifa, Spain. Tarifa is a gateway, a boundary, one of the most southern points in Europe, just ten miles from Morocco, and in recent years the landing site for significant migration out of Northern Africa. Each week hundreds of people, seeing the lights of Europe, attempt the journey.1
Deeper in our collective past it was via Spain, and the work of Gerard of Cremona translating Arabic texts, that the alchemical process found its way into the European consciousness.2 As we look into and out and through the inverted photograph across the Strait of Gibraltar toward Northern Africa the ruptures and schisms of humanities collective past reverberate through mitochondria and dredge universally recognisable symbols up from the under-mind.3 The concrete blue mound tilts us backward to the parabola of lapis-blue wax to be confronted by a form that simultaneously strikes language unfit, yet has always been with us.
Were we to encounter the wax object alone, it would impress itself upon us as matter without a container, the vessel stripped away revealing the aqua nostra, ‘our water,’ the baptismal fluid.4 Zosimos, a Gnostic scholar of Hermes Trismegistus in writing to Theosebia (a fourth Century Christian Saint), recommends that she is baptised in the ‘Krater.’ The Krater being a vessel of transformation described by Hermes in his alchemical texts. Just after creating the world, God is said to have filled this vessel and sent it to earth as a baptismal font. Zosimos describes how this font and those baptised in it will be free from the sleeping state, awakened and raised to higher consciousness.5
At first sight, the sculptural positive maintains the illusion of our everyday orientation. It is in the photographic image that we discover our polarities have been inverted - what at first seems to be naturally concave, is shown to be a convex inversion. In this echo, this ‘Droste,’ we find ourselves within the underside, the subconscious, asleep.6 In this room the blue parabola evident in the photograph and mirrored in wax takes the form of the alchemical crucible, the Hermetic vessel, the container where matter is mixed and formed. Exposed to heat the blue wax in front of us would alter from solid to liquid, similarly, the language of materials in this space augment and adumbrate the murmurings flowing beneath the surface.
The specificities and conventions of sculptural practice are present in the wax and through this work we are held in stasis - as the boundary between earth and water - at a point between inception and completion. The wax mould has conventionally been the material disposed of, a temporary positive in the process of casting bronze objects, but in this sculpture the transitional state becomes the object that fixes attention. The blue objects - wax in the gallery space and concrete imaged in the photograph - are not protruding, they are receiving, waiting.
Suspended upside-down, asleep at the edge of the European continent and gazing toward our ancestral home, the sound of waves pulled by the crescent moon are hourly interrupted by rescue boats hauling bodies from the Strait of Gibraltar.7 As the waters rise to fill the sacred font and the nightmares produced by misadventures beyond the bounds of the soon to be twenty-seven member states, a light projects through the blue crucible and casts a gold shadow. The gold would seem to signal refrain, a cessation to watery suffocation resulting from resource wars and a malfunctioning climate. But in this space, the convex inversion of our shared reality reveals gold lustre not as “the image of our highest virtue,” but the shadow of monstrous values.8
However, in this state of technological somnambulance, pitched between the spectres of brutal histories and the ghosts of vanishing futures, the collective shadow of the Western nethermind is at least visible, identifiable, thinkable and positioned to be encountered and assimilated.9 In the language of alchemical process, the great work is achieved when the union of opposites - the coincidentia oppositorum - takes place.10 When the triangle and it’s inversion intersect, when fire and water meet. In this all elements must be brought into perfect union, all components of the self-harmonised, then relinquished, not for one epiphanal moment, but continually.
The alchemical semiotics contained within the wax material, and the site of the photographic image unfold into peculiar mysteries unique to our moment in time that lie beyond the gallery walls and within them. In the darkness beyond the coastal grasses of sangria saturated holiday destinations, the consequences of our nightmarish projections lie sodden and cold. The font and crucible of our collective awakening may not reside in any one white void, but hope lies with the thought that the formation of useful questions and pathways reside in a language not yet spoken, but at any moment to be extricated from mediums and materials presently being explored.
1 “They can see the city lights, Europe is that close,” The Irish Times, accessed January 19th, 2018, https://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/people/they-can-see-the-city-lights-europe-is-that-close-1.3197053
2 “Gerard of Cremona,” Encyclopaedia Britannica, accessed January 19th, 2018, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Gerard-of-Cremona
3 Bryan Sykes, The Seven Daughters of Eve (London: Corgi Books, 2002), 73-85.
4 C. G. Jung, Psychology and Alchemy (London: Routledge, 2010), 234-238.
5 C. G. Jung, Psychology and Alchemy (London: Routledge, 2010), 299.
6 “Droste Effect,” Wikipedia, accessed January 19th, 2018, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Droste_effect
7 “We Would Rather Die Than Stay There,” The Guardian, accessed January 19th, 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/aug/23/we-would-rather-die-than-stay-there-the-refugees-crossing-from-morocco-to-spain
8 Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra (London: Penguin Books, 2003), 100.
9 C. G. Jung, Aion: Researches into the Phenomenology of the Self (London: Routledge, 1991), 8-10.
10 C. G. Jung, Psychology and Alchemy (London: Routledge, 2010), 186.
The first issue of the printed essay in the gallery contains a few misprinted dates in the footnotes. These have been amended and corrected in this version.