WHEN EARTH FLOWS INTO ART
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WHEN EARTH FLOWS INTO ART

Everything dreams. The play of form, of being, is the dreaming of substance. Rocks have their dreams, and the earth changes… But when the mind becomes conscious, when the rate of evolution speeds up, then you have to be careful. Careful of the world. You must learn the way. You must be a part of the whole, intentionally and carefully – as the rock is part of the whole unconsciously. Do you see? Does it mean anything to you?” [1]

“Earth, water” raw clay rock (12000C), glass (7500C)

Social sciences in art enables new insights and new possibilities for artistic explorations of meaning production. This artistic research project concentrates upon an anthropological approach based on the philosophical perspective of Mircea Eliade, a historian of religions. His philosophy enhances a holistic view in art including perspectives of the sacred and the profane, and in this study his concepts of hierophany and alchemy are explored through material-based art with a series of personal artworks made of fired clay schist.

Modernism: A World of Dichotomies

In the traditional modernist perspective, the abstract and the concrete are generally seen as stagnant opposite positions, and thus the fluidity between them is underrated. The word modern(ism) has a common usage in everyday speech and generally serves positive meanings like, “up to date”, “new”, “advanced” (way of thinking, ideas, practices). It derives from the root modo in Latin, which means “just now, in a certain manner”[2]. As well as the lexical definition, the etymological meaning indicates a deviation from ancient custom or previous genre.

Although modernism is considered to have originated in Europe in the early nineteenth century, it is possible to trace its intellectual origins in earlier periods. However, within the context of this study, modernism or being modern is not approached as a historical period or a location, which points the west. The concept is examined in the direction of bifurcation and alienation, which are the results of modernism itself.

The adjective modern points out a new regime, an acceleration, a disconnection and motion of time [3]. Being modern can be read as a boundary, which is between settled past, and today. It has an irreplaceable sense of time. This attitude means that development is much better if it is the latest part and it refers progressing in a certain line. The term modern, usually comes to mind as the part of chronological chart where we represent the present and latest state. Modern understanding thus has a linear sense of time that goes in one direction and a present time as moving away from the past.

The concept of rationalization, which is integrated with modern thought, can be defined as the regulation of every aspect of life based on an efficiency principle [4]. The age of rationality requires that all elements which are mystical should be removed. Basically modern science relies on empiricism, which handles experience as the most important basis of knowledge. However, the role of the observer in modern science is different from classical empiricism. Instead of observing nature personally as a participant and waiting for it to create appropriate situations, it creates its own environment in which observational results can be obtained more securely [5]. Thus, the transfer of knowing ability from object- to subject- positivism, which is purified from all kinds of metaphysical elements, locates science on the top of the knowledge hierarchy.

According to Lyotard, scientific knowledge tends to see anything as worthless if it is uncalculated, immeasurable or unobservable, but Lyotard thinks that this does not represent the totality of knowledge [6] and therefore science is never a complete explanation of the universe; it is a preliminary body of methods, which has achieved success [7].

The modern understanding shaves away all kinds of metaphysical items that can cause uncertainty. Modernism favors values from the methods of natural sciences and positions the human sciences including subjective value, against it. This division between natural sciences and human sciences, which have been defined as “the two cultures” by Snow [8], actualized in three levels. First, it breaks the link between secular knowledge and theology; second, the natural world and secular knowledge take the name of science and finally two poles form as science which is the neutral and law-like knowledge, and human sciences which are the values and can be experienced in a more chaotic order [9].

Within the activation of academic fields and rationalization, the social and human sciences to some extent have internalized the methods of modern natural science, which are non-personal, logical and consistent. As well as positivist ideology, which penetrates every field -even it is spiritual, nominative and emotional- art has often been in positions under the rule of aesthetic truths. In the beginning, the aim of aesthetic concepts, which entered into literature in the 18th century, was to make the sensory world appear beside the conceived one. However, it entered the domination of mind and positioned itself in a formalist line by minimizing the potentials of body or practice. Now the main task of aesthetics is, putting things in a reasonable frame even they are the most contrary to mind [10]. In other words, the famous Cartesian quote “I think, therefore I am” was correspondingly reformulated to “I sense – therefore something is” [11].

Following the line of thought on the separation that happened between metaphysics and physics, art also created non-art categories such as kitsch, craft, dematerialization and life itself [12]. Compared with revealed art, life includes concealed concepts. Art relates to these hidden elements and has a complex relation with non-art categories through material and earth. 

Hierophany: Art as Alchemy

Eliade sees dichotomies as products of modern thought and discusses them within the axis of the sacred and the profane. It is possible to extend his sacred and profane dichotomy-based critics such as “circular – linear” sense of time; “old-new”; “primitive – modern” and “alchemy – chemistry”.

His writings include the word hierophany which is originally derived from Greek words hieros that means sacred / holy and phainein which stands for ‘revealing’ or ‘bringing to light’. The association of an internal concept like being sacred and revealing to an external one provides insight about what Eliade generally argues.

In parallel with a hierophanic approach for overcoming dichotomist thought, he discusses the position of alchemy. According to Eliade, alchemy is not a pre-phase of modern chemistry. It collapsed and became chemistry rather than developed [13]. The division of sacred and daily life also affected alchemy and within the cleaning of all metaphysical items, a new method of chemistry was established.  

According to Eliade there are three types of temporal rhythms: geological time, floral faunal time and human time [14]. The alchemist acts in the part of geological time and arranges it. Earth keeps mines such as metal inside and protects them like a mother. It can be seen as the earth aiming to reach an ultimate result, like transforming base metal to gold. The alchemist performs earth’s duty and shortens the time of this process. This manner is not for saving time, profit or financial interest because the essential thing for the alchemist is the transmutation itself and not the material gold [15]. Here the alchemist can be thought as a representative for earth, where the roles of man and earth are integrated [16].

This relation between alchemy and chemistry can well be seen as similar to the tension between techne and art. Techne is not just a paradigm of manufacturing. The primary meaning of word contains revealing something. It is about knowing, not just an epistemological knowledge but also perceiving a substance [17].

In opposition to techne, the modern aesthetic approach is unable to bring ontological and epistemological knowledge together. It locates art-work as art-object. Eliade relates, “forgetting” to “alienation to mythology”. Generally, he uses myths of various cultures for exemplifying the tension between the sacred and the profane. Contrary to common sense which describes them as fiction, legend, fairy tale or an irrational field, he considers that myths reserve a core and truth. Humans know the “origin” of objects and are able to dominate them via myths. Here, knowledge is not extrinsic, but “experienced” being [18]. For instance, he explains the concept of forgetting through Deus Otiosus, which means ineffective and insignificant god [19]. The form of a sacred one can be change like the name of the gods but the important thing is pure matter. This core can be reached by returning [20] intellectually [21].

According to Eliade’s hermeneutics, although myths and sacred elements moved away from daily life; past, remembering and returning keep their importance [22]. From this point of view, even in the aesthetic approach that locates art far away from techne, art keeps sacred possibilities inside and tries to remember [23]. Therefore, the effort of the alchemist, for consummating the material and being a part of earth can be equated with artists. Earth, which generally has a tendency for concealing, sometimes uncovers itself and fuses to other actors [24]. In this flux, the role of the earth is both tangible and abstract. It is a concrete being, because it is a shell, which presents solid minerals. On the other hand, it is an abstract being, which conceives sacred experiences.

Being a Part of Earth

“Karatepe Highland” (left), “Clay Schist” (right), Gazipasa, Antalya, Turkey

The relationship between revealed and concealed can give birth to an art form which is open to different interpretation. The tension between concepts, which is a result of a modern dichotomist approach, should be transformed to a flow between concepts because bifurcation of metaphysical and physical items creates blurred images. Things which are not classified in “ordinary categories” are thought as unknown and unfamiliar [25]. However, meditation between the opposites also presents many solutions [26]. The view of progress, increases the tension between the “ultimate” one and the lower one [27]. For reducing the tension, a circular approach can be promoted, to reveal tacit knowledge. Uniting with the earth, which provides tacit and codified knowledge, will serve alternative possibilities to artist. Artists who work with diverse materials and material thought can see new ways of working that is not just a body practice, but which also set out of conceptual processes and mind practices. By understanding the material or becoming integrated with it, it also means merging with earth itself [28].

Even the final result of artwork after firing remains at the front and can be seen as revelations of the earth. It should be remembered that it is not an art-object; it is an art-work. It contains so many sacred, forgotten or invisible items during the process. The embodiment process has many actors and the artist is not the only subject.

The art oriented social anthropologist Taussig criticizes the positivist approach in social anthropology, and thinks that both a micro and macro perspective should be enhanced in creative ways. He criticizes the insistence of the objective observer in fieldworks, because there is a need for a double perception of distant observation and close up registration. This was originally proposed by the legendary ethnographer Malinowski who was able to combine the diarist’s eye for subjective detail with the anthropologist’s eye for the social context according to Taussig [29]. Taussig proposes that the dominance of the disembodied observer in ethnographic approaches must come to an end [30]. He proposes that, in the same way that Malinowski created artificial set ups with natives where he made performances for the camera, more novel and exciting ways of thinking about the work of fieldwork should be practiced. He suggests that one should not only passively live in a specific culture to observe, but ethnographers should, like Malinowski, act up and act out [31].

As well as Eliade’s equilibration effort between sacred and profane, anthropological approach of Taussig which criticizes disembodied observer turn the study back to field where the story started.

Earth Serie (works, process)

[1] Ursula Le Guin, Lathe of Heaven (New York: Scribner, 2008), pp. 167-168.

[2] Ernest Weekly, An Etymological Dictionary of Modern English (London: John Murray, 1921), p. 941.

[3] Bruno Latour, Biz Hiç Modern Olmadık: Simetrik Antropoloji Denemesi, trans. by İnci Uysal (İstanbul: Norgunk Yayınları, 2008), p. 17.

[4] Sıdıka Benan Çelikel, Endüstriyel Tasarımda Paradigma Kaymaları: Bruno Latour’a Ozel Bir Ilgiyle (Ankara: Nobel Yayıncılık, 2015), p. 21.

[5] Ibid, p.  30.

[6] Jean François Lyotard, Postmodern Durum: Bilgi Üzerine Bir Rapor, trans. by Ahmet Cigdem (Ankara: Vadi Yayınları, 1997), p. 26.

[7] Andrè Mauris, Yaşama Sanatı, trans. by Nihal Önal (İstanbul: Varlık Yayınları, 1981)

[8] Charles Pierce Snow, İki Kültür, trans. by Tuncay Birkan (Ankara: Tubitak Populer Bilim Kitapları, 2010)

[9] Eric Mielants, ‘Tepki ve Direniş: Doğa Bilimleri ve Beşeri Bilimler 1789-1945’. in İki Kültürü Aşmak, ed. by Lee Richard and Immanuel Wallerstein (İstanbul: Metis Yayınları, 2007), pp. 50-76 (p.50).

[10] Nusret Polat, ‘Estetiğin Ideolojisinden Sosyolojisine’, İstanbul: Sanat Dünyamız,152 (2016), (pp. 100-104).

[11] Juha Varto, Art and Craft of Beauty, trans. by Esa Lehtinen and Laura Manki (Helsinki: Aalto University Publication, 2008), p. 131.

[12] Glenn Adamson, Thinking through Craft (New York: Berg Publishers, 2007), p. 2.

[13] Mircea Eliade, Demirciler ve Simyacılar, trans. by Mehmet Emin Özcan (İstanbul: Kabalcı Yayınları, 2011).

[14] Mircea Eliade, Asya Simyası, trans. by Lale Arslan Özcan (İstanbul: Kabalcı Yayınları, 2002), p.83.

[15] Ibid, p. 24. 

[16] It can be thought as a colour blending. Green includes blue and yellow but it is impossible to separate them.

[17] Zeynep Direk, ‘Heidegger’in Sanat Anlayışı’, in personal blog (2012)  https://zeynepdirek.wordpress.com/2012/12/15/heideggerin-sanat-anlayisi-2/  [accessed 3 February 2017].

[18] Mircea Eliade, Mitlerin Özellikleri, trans. by Sema Rifat (İstanbul: Alfa Yayınları, 2016), pp. 32-33.

[19] Ibid, pp. 131-33.

[20] Which can be understood as connection to past, opposite direction of progressing idea, thinking in a circular way.

[21] Ibid, p. 152.

[22] Ibid, p.185.

[23] In Greek mythology, Lethe was one of the rivers of the Hades’ underworld. The Lethe flowed through the underworld, where all those who drank from it experienced complete forgetfulness. Death is a kind of forgetfulness.

[24] Heidegger’s earth-world and Latour’s network-actor metaphors are also parallel to this study but the research focuses on Eliade’s alchemy principle.

[25] Mircea Eliade, Dinin Anlamı ve Sosyal Fonksiyonu, trans. by Mehmet Aydın (İstanbul: Kabalcı Yayınları, 2015), p. 13.

[26] Ibid, p. 187

[27] Imagine that you tie a rope to a pole than start to move away from pole by handling the other end of the rope. Depending to distance the tension increases. Tearing apart is an inevitable ending.

[28] Çelikel, pp. 89-92 

[29] Michael Taussig, What Color is the Sacred? (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009), p. 112

[30] Ibid, p.113

[31] Ibid, p.128

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