Deus sive Natura: Bone-Skies, Wire-Lights, Instant-Rainbows, Electric-Stars

I have finally found some time to post an update about my class Classical Myth/Contemporary Art. We have the final presentations on Monday on the topic of ‘Conflicted Identities’, so I thought what better way to warm up for the post following that class than to highlight this particular topic in some of the previous weeks’ presentations.

After ‘Origins & Creation’, the following works were discussed in terms of the topic of ‘Human & Divine’: 

Clido Meireles Missions/Missions (How to Build Cathedrals), 1987  
Fiona Tan Saint Sebastian, 2001
Louise Bourgeois Maman, 1999  
Chu Yun Constellation, 2006
Bill T. Jones Still/Here, 1994
Nancy Spero Black and the Red III, 1994 
Olafur Eliasson Beauty, 1993
Matthew Barney Cremaster 4, 1994
Lygia Pape Web I, C, 2002
Zoe Leonard Tree + Fence, 1998-9

 
A thread running through several of these works and the students’ presentations on them was the idea of the dynamic between gods and mortals in terms of a deceptive division between the earthy and heavenly beings and realms. Works of Clido Meireles, Lygia Pape, Olafur Eliasson and Chu Yun (below) all, in differing ways, expressed this deception in terms of the materials they use to evoke/depict the divine. Meireles canopy of bones, Pape’s golden showers of wire, Eliasson’s artificially generated rainbow, and, my favourite, Yun’s constellation of stand-by lights on a grouping of appliances.
Clido Meireles Missions/Missions (How to Build Cathedrals), 1987
Lygia Pape Web I, C, 2002
Olafur Eliasson Beauty, 1993
Chu Yun Constellation, 2006
Such deceptions were interpreted by the students in a range of ways, from the becoming-god of humans, either in terms of apotheosis or Euhemerism (the idea the gods were once great mortals, deified through their exploits), or the becoming-human of gods, specifically through the erotic exploits of the gods from Ares and Aphrodite in Homer’s Odyssey to Arachne’s tapestry in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Perhaps the best ‘hinge’ between the two ‘becomings’ was the Ovidian figure of Nature. At one time Nature (or some god) is given the role of creating the universe, and at the same time the processes of creation are paralleled with the artistic creation of the human poet. It then follows that Ovid’s Epilogue must be read as a culmination of the series of deifications of Aeneas, Romulus, Hersilie and Julius Caesar with his own poetic immortality. Nothing too surprising here. Yet one aspect of Chu Yun’s piece stood out for me and made this correspondence between human art and divine power less balanced, and, on short, more deceptive. Chu Yun claimed that he ordered the appliances as they were in his apartment. Yet, in the slide shown by the student in her presentation, I could clearly make out the Plough! (See for yourself below – the top image is Chu Yun’s Constellation; the bottom image the constellation):
Do you see it? If you do, then how can both the biographical reference of the apartment and the manipulation of the appliances into the Plough be true? A cosmic coincidence? If not, it means that we must admit a further level of manipulation at the human level for encounters with and depictions of the divine. In other words, it is not merely a balancing of two processes of the becoming-human of the divine or the becoming-divine of the human, but the grounding of both in human resourcefulness (or deception?). Prometheus would have approved!

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