Seeking the Invisible
my artistic process ~ the sacrum of praxis
The methodological propagation of mass-mediated narratives gives birth to rewritten myths and proclaims new societal dreams and ideals. The abdication of these new truths from any form of constancy of tradition, however, gives little opportunity for the development of one’s holistic awareness and connection with the universal consciousness. The diminishing importance of past traditions and the growing sovereignty of self-identity  further disorient one’s motivation for personal growth, and strip away any revelations of human wisdom . This leads to a critical enquiry into the forces needed to aid the re-negotiation and redefinition of the culture’s core constructs. It is a reciprocal attempt, rooted in the need to re-establish self-connectedness with the larger realm defining one’s place and purpose.
One possible approach is to focus on the richness of signals emitting from the artist’s personal history and the various cultural subtleties caught in its fabric.
Stemming from fragmentary manifestations of moments shaped by structures of time, such enquiry embodies not only that which is utterly personal, but also strives to offer an important insight into the various social forces shaping the recollection of the artist’s personal history. Such process of tracing the lineage of the personal story is designed to become a way of deconstructing the rich complexity of cultural constitutes. It is a transformation through meditation – an attempt to both comprehend the disarray of energies freed from the skeletal structure of self-reality, and to present a sharper, more enlightened view of the spirit that surrounds the artist’s enveloping culture. Without a doubt this is a risky adventure. Such illumination carries the risk of evolving into a self-centred exploration with an insignificant recompense for an outside viewer of the work. This process must rely on maintaining a delicate balance between the creator’s instigated feed of experiential energy and the resulting array of possible interpretations. It is only then that this delicate circuit will provide a means of evaluating the communicative signals between the creator and the viewer of the work. In the context of the work, this process provides a way to escape the past and arrive at what Sontag  calls transparence: experiencing the luminousness of the thing in itself.
Many mundane products of the Eastern European culture assume elements of sacred significance, thus indicating the fundamental need to understand and manifest the significance of human life. The need to contemplate one’s humanness seems to be present in all evolutionary stages of man’s creative expression. From the primitive cave paintings and their celebration of the mysteries of life, to contemporary films of Tarkovsky, Malick or Zvyagintsev, one witnesses the common thread in the attempt to locate the “centering point for meditation and contemplation that leads towards the possibility of a spiritual encounter that is fundamentally grounded in an aesthetic experience” . But these notions have succumbed to what Eliade calls involuntary camouflage , their manifestations forgotten in the modern language of expression, yet continuously sending weak signals for future rediscovery of their inner meaning in “the materialized fields of energy and matter” .
Such impulses are the base interest of my artistic practice, which considers the notion of sacrum as the endeavour to free oneself “of the ‘surface’ of things and to penetrate into matter in order to lay bare its ultimate structures” .
First introduced in the 1960s by Polish art critic Janusz Bogucki, the term sacrum embraced “an attempt at rediscovering the relation between the sacrum of art and the primal sacrum, manifested in reflection on the timeless and non-material meaning of human existence” . Although initially deeply rooted in the Catholic Church’s fundamental position in Poland’s intertwined religious and political spheres of the 1980s, the significance of the religious aspect of sacrum in the arts has largely diminished. “Religious iconography and activities associated with religious practices are treated as quotations, pretext or provocation, and thus no longer fulfil their basic function,” argues Gralinska-Toborek , pointing out the loss of the “sacral or transcendental dimension” of contemporary art.
This separation between the works of creative expression and the element of the sacred, however, does not necessarily suggest a prevailing impartiality to spiritual attainment. On the contrary, some notice a growing trend among the artistic spheres to reclaim art’s meaning-giving dimension, to again reposition the role of an artist as one that reflects “the conscience of the World” . Sacrum permits its exploration to take place apart from the phenomenology of religion, while still maintaining the possibility of encompassing varying levels of sensuous experience depicted in one’s awareness in the “manifestation of something of a wholly different order, a reality that does not belong to our world, in objects that are an integral part of our natural ‘profane’ world” . Transcending the deliberations of the religious discourse, the position of an artist as the modern conveyor of myth (frequently emphasized in Joseph Campbell’s work) is assumed here: one who unconsciously strives to depict the granularity of sacrum and express its revelations.
The central positioning of sacrum draws its roots from the Christian tradition and is unravelled through what the Polish historian and anthropologist Roch Sulima calls kod sakralny , or the “sacral code.” The manifestations of sacrum’s indicators in the Polish peasant culture exist on multiple systematic levels, which –– as Sulima argues –– can be deciphered with the use of kod sakralny and become the source for the formulation of knowledge about this culture. The resonant positioning of sacrum, therefore, becomes the core construct, not only in the formal religious aspect, but more interestingly, in the mythical dimension. In this case, a multitude of seemingly mundane, yet ritualistic everyday activities further propagates the subtle elements of sacred significance. This saturation with sacrum’s reverberation hence transcends the ideology of religion, and becomes the very essence of one’s cultural identity.
One of the examples of such ritualistic tasks are the songs performed during harvest activities, as they illustrate the intrinsic quality of sacrum’s positioning in the peasant culture. Harvest songs become clear indicators of sacrum’s resonance, as they imply a ritualistic, hence sacred approach to life. Polish ethnomusicologist Anna Czekanowska notes such impulses of sacredness in her study of Polish harvest songs, and characterizes them as a “highly specialized genre of folk music, related to certain activities but primarily with a magical function” . The uniqueness of harvest songs lies in their “close connection with ritual” , externalized in the context of communal activities and performances. With their underlying structure built upon “circling movements and repetitions of short phrases and formulae” , the ritualistic character of harvest songs strongly alludes to the notion of trance. Becker defines trance as a state of mind characterized by intense focus, the loss of the strong sense of self and access to types of knowledge inaccessible in non-trance states . Especially interesting is the noetic quality of trance states, argued by Becker as having the capacity of allowing the participant to connect to a special type of knowledge […] accompanied by a sense of absolute certainty concerning that knowledge.
This new awareness, attributed to the process of creation and participation in an artistic experience, becomes a symbolic expression of my work’s theoretical grounding. Praxis, in this case, becomes an expression of personal engagement in the act of creation, translating the past manifestations of tradition into a contemporary artistic process, where the act of expression becomes a sacred commentary in its own right.
1. Scruton, Roger. An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Modern Culture. South Bend: St. Augustine’s Press, 2000. 115
2. Campbell, Joseph, and Bill Moyers. The Power of Myth. New York: Anchor, 1991.
Campbell, Joseph. Myths to Live By. Boston: Penguin, 1993.
3. Sontag, Susan. Against Interpretation: And Other Essays. New York, NY: Picador, 2001. 13
4. Apostolos-Cappadona, Diane. Introduction. Symbolism, the Sacred, and the Arts. By Mircea Eliade. New York: Continuum International Publishing Group, 1992. ix-xxi.
5. Eliade, Mircea. Symbolism, the Sacred, and the Arts. New York: Continuum International Publishing Group, 1992. 82
6. Perlmutter, Dawn, Koppman, Debra. Reclaiming the Spiritual in Art: Contemporary Cross- Cultural Perspectives. Albany, New York: State University Of New York Press, 1999. 63.
7. Eliade, Mircea. Symbolism, the Sacred, and the Arts. New York: Continuum International Publishing Group, 1992. 83.
8. Gralinska-Toborek, Agnieszka. “The Idea of Sacrum in Polish Art of the 1980s.” Inferno VII (2003): 1-7. 1.
9. Ibid. 7
10. Sulima, Roch. Głosy tradycji. Warszawa: DiG, 2001. 123.
11. Eliade, Mircea. The Sacred and The Profane: The Nature of Religion. New York: Harcourt Inc., 1987. 11.
12. Sulima, Roch. Głosy tradycji. Warszawa: DiG, 2001. 51.
13. Ling, Jan. A History of European Folk Music. Rochester: University of Rochester Press, 1998. 36.
14. Czekanowska, Anna. Polish Folk Music: Slavonic Heritage – Polish Tradition – Contemporary Trends (Cambridge Studies in Ethnomusicology). New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991. 24.
15. Ibid. 25
16. Becker, Judith. “Music and Trance.” Leonardo Music Journal 4 (1994): 41-51.