Labirint - fontana misterioznih susretišta

Irena Brunec Tebi

Predavanje održano dana 9.9.2002. godine u 20 sati; Korištena tehnička ili druga pomagala ili sredstva: dijaprojektor Predavanje trajalo 90 min., nakon toga dvoipolsatna diskusija sa publikom


In this lecture I would like to present a part of my previous work and the concept I was following in realizing it through a series of sculptures, paintings and reliefs in the last few years.

The main theme of my work represents human figure, where I search for formal solutions and at the same time I emphasise the abstract-emotional content of human appearance in the modern world.

In the years 1995-97 I created the cycles "Homeless", "America", "Emigrants", "Journeys", where I was striving for in sculpture overtly social themes ofoutcasts, homeless people, emigrants.

The iconography of the cycles "Seven Deadly Sins" and "Seven Virtues", dating from 1996 to 1998, is the logical consequence of my up-to-then sculpture explorations, mostly the early sculpture cycle of a chess play from 1992, where I set a dualistic relationship between the principles of light-dark, concious-unconcious, manly-womanly, intellect-instinct, body-soul. The result of this was the creation of expressive, perhaps even caricatured pairs with an entirely clear symbolic connotation. The cycles "Seven Deadly Sins" and "Seven Virtues" consists of seven oil paintings, seven bronze sculptures, seven sculptures cast from solid silver and mounted on marble plinths, and seven neo-reliefs created from silver figures mounted upon a black Californian clay ground. In these works my complex symbolism relates to the motifs of traditional iconography. My largest project dates from the year 2000. It is the permanent setting in the hall of Palace Kapitelj in Ljubljana, where I created "Seven Virtues". Here I used a painting-sculpture attitude, where the backgrounds to the reliefs represent three-coloured spaces, in perspective moving from and towards the spectator. On this surface bronze reliefs of woman virtue figures are situated with their attributes, all together being polished to the high shine. The cycle in the hall is therefore more sophisticated in its message with the use of four alchemical colours: black, white, red, and golden.

My starting point for all my series was dualism. Dualities are symbolic structures or systems of binary patterns for which the main characteristic is the tension between two components, each of which is less expressive if isolated. Dualism is characterized less by complementary thesis and anti-thesis, tending to resolve into a syntesis, than by two opposed principles. Some of such patterns are yin and yang, black and white, female and male, light and darkness, good and evil and so on. The repeated ordering of the world into new dual structures is itself apparently "archetypal" and is universal.

The first series in which I used binary patterns of black and white, female and male, instinct and intellect, body and soul, was the series about a chess game. I have used the composition of chess figures in the game of Kaprov and Kasparov which took place in Lyon in 1990 and used the position of the figures from a certain moment in the middle of the game when each of them had eight figures left. The position of both was approximately equal. I separated the chess figures into females and males. The dark ones were personifications of what were traditionally considered sexual deviations (what were in the domain of matter and they were confronted with very well-controlled, rational (in the domain of spirit) and so-called "normal" light figures. The specific theme of binary oppositions, which will certainly never be completely clarified (and which is recognizable-for example-in Freud`s psychoanalytic research about the unconsciousness and the consciousness or about the instinct or libido and the intellect) served for as the basis of this dualistic division. I created expressive, caricatured pairs with a very clear and obvious symbolic connotation. The regularities of chess and its unchangeable rules take the royal game to the very end of the conflict between the Devil and God. I placed the fighting pairs on a huge square support with an exposed and separated fields on which each figure stood. The whole composition was shaped as a pillar-like formation. It was this project which led me to the series of the "Seven Deadly Sins" and the "Seven Virtues".

Let me use an explanation of Virtues and Vices from the Dictionary of Subject and Symbols in Art, written by James Hall: "The human figure, generally female and with identifying attributes, personifying an abstract concept, was well known in classical antiquity. The idea was taken up by early Church which used it to teach a moral lesson by representing virtues and vices in conflict. This is seen in the "Psychomachia" a long allegorical work by the 4th century Spanish poet Prudentius, which describes a series of single combats, in which the virtues all finally triumph. His influence is found in Christian art until the 13th century. Gothic sculpture commonly represents a virtue treading the appropriate vice, human or animal, beneath her feet. The canon of principal Christian virtues in the Middle Ages was made up of the three "theological virtues" FAITH, HOPE and CHARITY and the four "cardinal virtues" JUSTICE, PRUDENCE, FORTITUDE and TEMPERANCE. The latter were formulated by Plato in the "Republic" as the virtues required of the cicizens of the ideal city-state. The Fathers of the Church sanctioned them for Christians : they were the benefits to be derived by man from the Eucharist. The cycle of seven virtues, sometimes paired with appropriate vices (not necessarily the Seven Deadly Sins) was widely represented in medieval sculpture and fresco, often associated with the Last Judgement. There was in addition a large family of minor virtues whose more important functions were the glorification of popes, kings and princes, both in life and death, and the celebration of public events. They are found less often in museums and galleries than on the ceilings and walls and in the sculpture of churches, palaces, public buildings and on funerary monuments.

In representing the classical pantheon and the anonymous females that stood for the virtues and vices Renaissance and baroque artists had available for their guidance a number of dictionaries of mythography which appeared towards the close of the Middle Ages and later.Their authors drew on antique and medieval sources, adding their own, often fanciful, explanations of the emblems they were presenting. One of the most scholarly and influental was Cesare Ripa`s ""conologia"" published in 1593, and written not in Latin but Italian. It describes in detail, often with illustration, the proper attributes belonging to each personification, not only of virtues and vices but the four elements, the seasons, the parts of the world, the Liberal Arts and so on. Ripa`s work determined the character of a large part of religious and secular allegory in the 17th and 18th century.

Ripa`s Iconologia and many other dictionaries were the main source I used to present proper attributes for each vice and virtue. I thus related to the heritage which modernists as a rule carefully avoided because it rests on an understending of art which contradicts the modernist one. Ripa understood art in a completely useful meaning. Modern art too, can express great ideas, but these are no greater than this art itself; it is its greatest law and hence not useful in the old sense. I created those sins and virtues not in a Christian moralist sense, but in a secular one; or not in religious but in a bit wider and still spiritual one.

The list of Seven Deadly Sins, which was constituted in the 4th century by Egyptian hermits, was actually always to a certain extent an historic monument: the terms themselves remained the same, while meanings were constantly changing, wrote Czeslaw Milosz in his article "Ratio and Christian Values" from 1979. In this article Milosz is concerned with the contemporary significance and signification of the Deadly Sins, aspecially what importance they carry for him, resonally. The reason for his interest is that in his childhood he found them very enigmatic. For me too, the question about the meaning of the sins today was crucial. Was there anything left of their content or was it only the outer form, or better the framework, that remained today? It turned out that what was left was really but a half-forgotten historical theme, which no longer carried its own Christian moralistic consequences. But in spite the fact that most people today cannot count all seven of the seven deadly sins or the seven virtues, they nonetheless still consider them of relevance and respect them. The reason is clear: both virtues and vices have become a part of our everyday life-they were assimilated in it so deeply that we cannot recognize them in their distinctive individuality.

Through the history artists represented virtues and vices as female or male but I decided to separate them into two different groups. In the series of "Sins" I used male figures for the bronze sculptures and female figures for the oil paintings. Bronze figures are naked and by that they acquired timelessness. In contradistinction to the severe and cold architectural forms which form the constructed pedestal of every sculpture, the human body functions as very tender and feelingly human. Some of the seven female figures that are represented on the canvases are dressed, some of them are naked, some of them I have copied from other artists (for instance Rodin or Mapplethorpe), and some are painted versions of my own sculptures. By painting my own sculptures and by installing them on the two-dimensional surface in different compositions and by adding colours to them, they acquired richer or changed meanings. The series of the "Virtues" is construed in a dissimilar manner. There are only nude female figures which are divided into seven sculptures and seven reliefs. For this theme I didn`t use bronze, but sterling silver. In sculptures I combined silver figures with marble plinths, while in the reliefs I combined fired black clay, silver relief figures and wood.

In contradistinction to the bronze used in the "Sins" series, the silver in the "Virtues" series is employed to overcome and transmute matter (that is the passive, negative or inferior principle), redeem it and bear it upwards. In the "neo-reliefs", as Paul Crowther denoted them, "there is a clear formal tension between the silver figures and the black clay background. The relation is formally artificial and highly mannered. Even if tarnished, the silver is still silver-a culturally debased kitch idiom. It is not in the strictest physical terms emergent from the clay ground but neither can escape from it. The silver has been caught and reconfigured-however much it formally protests the fact." "Likewise the marble plinths for the free-standing sculptures. In their common structure of seven ascending steps they are formally no more than the standard kitsch plinth. But on the top surface this simple progression is not only physically terminated, but fusses into a web of iconographic inscriptions which culminate in the free standing figure itself. "Likewise in the alchemy processes where from primal matter, via purifying steps, the philosopher`s stone is to be formed, which will enable its possessor, among other things, to turn base metals into gold and silver.


Throughout the centuries, the labyrinth has been one of the most important and mysterious symbols of mankind. The labyrinth is a specific sort of tortuous path, originally constructed around a system of co-ordinate axes (cross) in fretwork or spiral curving lines. The near iniversality of similarly constructed labyrinth throughout history suggests that they were significant as religious symbols. Subsequently designated as "Trojan fortress" they appear in ancient Greek floor mosaics, in the arrangements of rows of stones. In medieval cathedrals they were understood as "roads to Jerusalem" which the faithful followed, praying and on their knees, in lieu of a pilgrimage to the Holy Land; the labyrinth on the floor of the Chartres cathedral has a diameter of almost 40 feet and the path through it measures approximately an eight of a mile. In many myths and legends of distant cultures there are labyrinths through which the hero must make his way in order to attain a great goal. The Greek myth of the demigod Theseus, who killed the minotaur in the labyrinth at Crete, also indicates the association of the labyrinth with rituals of initiation. In later times, especially in the baroque and rococo periods, labyrinths-which originally had been clearly, if elaborately constructed-became garden mazes of cropped hedges with blind alleys, serving merely as distractions for park visitors.

I use the journey through the labyrinth as a metaphor of life-we begin our journey from the darkness; life itself leads us toward the light. As we make our way through the labyrinth (life) we meet and we are faced with many events-some we understand, some we do not. Sometimes long periods of time pass before we understand them, recognize them as enlightenments and use them in our every-day life.

Upon entering the Fountain of Mysterious Junctions, we will be faced with a sculpture representing three columns-Strength, Beauty and Wisdom. Then we will meet Faith, which is needed at the start of every serious work, and we will also find Hope and Love. As we journey through the labyrinth we meet the "Seven Liberal arts and Sciences". These represent the insight into the unconscious which characterizes the maturing individual. GRAMMAR is the Art which sets out strict rules for structuring ideas in order that they can be communicated and recorded in the physical world. It is a "guard" in the sense that it protects the psyche from being overwhelmed by stimuli from the physical world. LOGIC is the Art which teaches rules for rational analysis; highly structured but entirely psychological. It represents the habit-following executive of day-to-day psychological activity which distinguished by its capacity to form mental images. It provides the personae that enable the psyche to relate to the world. RHETORIC is the Art which teaches persuasive and impressive writing by invoking the feelings of the reader. It also contains instructions in the art of memory -it relates to the capacity to recall events from memory. SCIENCE OF ARITHMETIC is a subject used for training in the manipulation and representation of abstract ideas. To be awake in this sense is to be present in the moment, to be aware of events as they occur both in the world and within one`s own psyche, to understand their implication, and to see the threads and opportunities they imply. SCIENCE OF GEOMETRY - a "science whereby we find out the contents of bodies unmeasured by comparing them with those already measured." It alludes to the old principle of "as above so below". The Self is expected to emerge into consciousness and then to find out the contents of the uncouscious by the observation of day-to-day experience. SCIENCE OF MUSIC can be seen to represent the level of the soul; and the association with music suggest the soul`s task of maintaining a harmonious relationship among all the component of the psyche. SCIENCE OF ASTRONOMY - it suggests a level of consciousness which can see at a broad transpersonal scale, and can perceive the intent of the Divine plan. The level of consciousness is in an intimate contact with the spirit. In this way in symbolic terms we can understand seven "levels of consciousness" within the psyche which, when developed and brought to mature functioning, comprise a conscious connections between Divinity and the physical world. The fundamental issues of this level deal with individual morality. Individual is free to make his own moral judgements, he is expected to calibrate his personal standards of morality against the standards provided for him by the Deity within his own soul and heis able to exercise will freely. In parallel we meet the seven alchemical operations. CALTINATION, SUBLIMATION, SOLUTION, PUTREFACTION, DISTILLATION, COAGULATION, TINCTURE. Here alchemy may be seen as a metaphor for all other work, demonstrating that there is virtue in every kind of activity, even the humblest, and through these activities the soul is strengthened and the individual develops.

These ideas are first seen as intellectual concepts. But with practice they become more tangible through our day-to- day activity in the physical world. If one makes a real effort to understand one`s self, one`s motivations and one`s behaviour, the Deity (or its agents) will provide the experiences needed to facilitate this learning. This material cannot be communicated all at once but must come gradually: the candidate must not be taxed, but rather shown the way step by step.

A lighthouse will stand at the very Centre. Windows at the topmost level be large-they will correspond to the eyes and the mind of man. Its beams of light will rotate, throwing lightning (symbolizing spiritual illumination) over the water and sand surface of the labyrinth. These beams are the manifestation of morality, the intellect, the seven virtues, cosmic energy and the creative force.

The symbolism of the labyrinth is variously suggested as the return to the Centre; the mysteries of life and death; the journey of life through the difficulties and illusions of the world to the centre as enlightenment or heaven; the path of travel and escape to the next world (this world being easy to enter but once entered into, difficult to leave); fate. Theseus` labyrinth implies a paradoxical answer to an apparently hopeless question; both of which arise out of the labyrinth`s symbolism: once you have made the difficult and complicated journey, what is at the centre?-You are.

(Tekst je u originalu na engleskom napisala autorica Irena Brunec)