Sensory information can lead to catathymic responses in an individual to reveal affect-laden unconscious material. Continuous exposure to such transformative processes will enhance a person's awareness of and interaction with subconscious states of awareness. This paper addresses research about "Working Places of Mourning" and relates it to philosophical concepts found in German mystic writings. Such "working places" are artistically designed environments, one of their purposes is to free unconscious states in both the artist as well as the viewer, and to enhance one's realization of transcendent states of being. Identifying objects or places as potent mediators for transcendence is a commonly recognized practice. For example, we find in Hölderlin's "Hyperion" that the two main characters, Adamas and Alabanda, are named after two precious gems commonly recognized for their magical qualities.
The objective of this presentation is to streamline some results of an ongoing research collaboration in the history of philosophy, philosophical practice, and aesthetic presentation of "places" to depict emotional and subconscious responses in the artist and perhaps even in a viewer. This experimental exposure of an individual to the irrational subconscious forces of one's existence is related to the work of Sigmund Freud and his research on "work of mourning." Freud describes "work of mourning" as an intrapsychical process of severance from memories and expectations in which a person's libido is bound until the person finally frees the ego from such loss.
While the Freudian concept "work of mourning" relates to the psychological states of an individual, our research that is conducted in collaboration with my spouse, Ilse Stockhammer-Wagner, transposes this concept into the domain of a shared socio-economic phenomenon, viz., the work place environment. In playful and painful arrangements of creative, catathymic, affect-laden psychological states, along with socio-economic states of production and labor and learned behaviors to cope with bereavement and loss, we designed and installed art exhibits (LabOratoriums) since 1984.
Each working place of mourning is shaped by a multiplicity of elements that include but are not limited to social, economical, religious, historical, and artistic factors. A person's interaction with bereavement can take place in an unhealthy environment, such as the occurrence of manic or depressive states; or in a healthy environment, such as in states of trance, meditation, or catathymic vision.
The purposeful organization of objects together with subjective phenomena and experiences can lead a viewer to realize the interconnectedness of mental and spatial states of existence even to the point of changing the artistic collage with functional qualities that traditionally have been labeled with the concept of "soul." The permeating nature of spirit and soul is usually recognized in animistic or panpsychical theories of nature; it may come as a surprise to find that modern functionalist interpretations of mind (formerly "soul") unearth a new meaning to traditional mystic writings.
The following images are taken from Exhibits No. I (1984) and II (1992) of our series "Working Places of Mourning I-X." All images and other related text are available on the web; the address is given in the handout.
1.) This visual is from our first exhibit and performance in Gallery Hildebrand in Austria. The gallery was permanently closed just on All Saints Day in 1984 and, consequently, we declared the gallery to be a working place of mourning. The piece has the title "Video-tombstone." We used an old black drawer that we inherited from our grandmother and added a TV that was connected to a video machine. In front of it you can see a grave that is build from old video cassettes. These cassettes symbolize the lives that have passed. Visitors to the gallery had an opportunity to rest in front of the "coffin" (an old suitcase), to meditate about their own finite existence, and to reflect on their last will. Their meditation is then simultaneously visible on the television screen, recording just another event that has passed away. Such encounter with one's own finite existence is in a way similar to searching for the philosopher's stone.
2.) This is a detail of Exhibit II. Its main theme relates to Freud's concept "work of mourning" and it utilizes states of being to depict contemporary work place environments. The image is situated in the Trauerarbeitsplatz LabOratorium and is taken from the work of a renown scholar in the Paracelsus tradition, Stolzius von Stoltzenberg. It is commonly recognized that the German poet Hölderlin was deeply influenced by Stoltzenberg's work.
(a) The image shows a hermetic circle that demonstrates the interconnectedness of alchemical knowledge about properties of matter, and their correlation to mental states of awareness. The letters in this circle read: VISITA INTERIORA TERRAE RECTIFICANDO INUENIES OCCULTUM LAPITEM. (Discover the innermost essence of earth in a correct manner and you will find the philosopher's stone.) If we read only the first letters of these words, we find a reference to a chemical formula, VITRIOL, this formula used to be the most potent sulfuric acid fluid needed for alchemical research. Searching such stone is a central theme in alchemical research. Its main purpose is to find a cure to combat death. For example, the precious gem, pyrite, acquires magnetic qualities if it is heated and can be used to identify celestial directions. Derivatives of the heating process can be used for increasing vigor (doping) in humans and working animals alike, and we can also find traces of gold in it. Besides, the properties had also been used to solve problems by poisoning one's opponents.
b) In the very center of this alchemist disk is a human face with a triangular circumference, each side of the triangle represents one alchemical property, sulfur, quicksilver, and salt. The disk is used in a multifaceted way. It serves as object of contemplation and rotation, and it represents a recipe for the production of vitriol, a sulfuric acid used for alchemical formulas.
c) There is a general tendency in contemporary research about alchemical practice to neglect two primary substances related to vitriol. While the properties of salt are broadly accepted, arsenic compounds such as pyridine and iron remain unconsidered. Here we see two birds representing these two compounds as they hold up a crown.
d) Salt would serve well as primary ingredient for alchemical mixtures, especially in the context of this presentation about mourning places and their relation to the salt of tears that is representative for a psychological renewal process in a social context. However, it is not salt but a compound of sulfur, iron, and arsenic. Pyridine maintains its properties even after exposure to heat and has the same qualities that are attributed to the precious gem adamas. Both adamas and pyridine are associated with Saturn who points at a cube, the symbol for either "body" or "philosopher's stone."
e) While Saturn is associated with the color black, Mars is given the attribute of sulfur and its corresponding yellow color. This is in accord with Babylonian color charts that use yellow to signify Mars. The picture shows Mars pointing at Saturn's hand holding a torch or candle that points toward the soul (anima). We see here a stone with red crystalline titanium, creating a bellicose environment, hardened, and already subjected to a chopping block.
f) Mercury. symbol of female fertility. Above all is spirit, also attributed with traditionally female qualities.
g) The triangle around the human face symbolizes body, soul, and spirit. It represents a microcosm and serves as a model to understand reality.
h) The soul is attributed with traditionally male properties, i.e., activity and fury, and can be symbolized with the sun.
i) Here we see Saturn-Kronos with male attributes who has become a pawn in a global capitalistic scheme for profit accumulation. The profane application of alchemy strives for producing gold as a symbol of wealth and greed.
j) This image relates to meditative trance-like appreciation of dreams and catathymic perceptions. For example, on Mondays dream activity may increase when a lunar colored pebble is placed right on the forehead; since Monday is the day of the moon. All other days of the week have similar references to celestial constellations (Mars on Tuesday, Mercury on Wednesday, etc.).
k) The salamander symbolizes the traditionally male nature of "living in fire," while the traditionally female nature is symbolized with the eagle. On the left we see a male figure next to a lion and above a dragon, in the dual meaning of a King of Sun and Jupiter. On the right we see a female goddess riding a dolphin, in the dual meaning of Venus and Diana.
l) One symbolic meaning of the great triangle is the unification of male and female forces to give birth to a hermaphroditic philosopher's stone. The sun symbolizes male attributes while the moon symbolizes the female principle of fertility and motherhood. In nature we find these two principles separated. The task of the alchemist would be to unify the principles; it is assumed that by giving birth to a hermaphrodite, the divine attributes of communion would result. Spirit and Soul must merge to one divine presence.
m) This is another symbol for the seven allegorical reflections. We see seven rays of the planets, seven days of the week, seven colors, seven metals. The theme begins in the lower left corner with a reflection on death, then moves through stages of life to the right lower corner with the resurrection of the dead.
3.) The title of this installation is Monument for Seven Women. It is a meditation on the aforementioned seven allegories. One aspect of our shared human experience is the construction of working places of mourning, either alone or in communities, with or without rituals. Such places hold their own dynamic presence and contribute to their unique parameter of meaning that are formed through objects, memories, arrangements, relicts, craft and arts, etc. In a Heideggereian terminology, such places are assemblages of events.
4.) The search for a philosopher's stone is culturally embedded in my native culture of Austria. I am certain to have found my answer to this eternal query, primarily as a result of a combination of personal experiences, philosophical research, and artistic expression. For the purpose of this presentation let me emphasize on a commonly accessible identification of this search as it is attributed to the precious gem Pyrite (Markasit). The gem is recognized for its homeopathic healing powers related to breathing ailments. In addition, the gem is attributed to enhance vigor and intellectual strength.
5.) Alchemy is a science in its own right. It can be seen as the beginning of modern scientific chemistry. Reflections on the natural sciences are at the center of this piece, called LabOratorium. Today's function of scientific laboratories primarily is subjected to meet objectives related to industrial and economic prosperity. The same shift in emphasis can be found in modern schools of higher learning and in universities. The dual meaning of "laboratory," i.e., labor + oratory, has lost its traditional meaning. Modern working and research places no longer are dwelling houses for prayer. My installation Trauerarbeitsplatz: LabOratorium was inspired by Heinrich Khunraths's etching of 1624 and combines "philosophical interior-architecture" (symbolized by a chair and a table) together with elements of sacred spaces, lecture halls, workshops, archives, and residential living space. Most important is to recognize that the design is not a result of systematic arrangement or intentional manipulation of objects. Instead, the final design is created by all its constituent parts. The creative aspect of this work reminds one of psychoanalytic discoveries or catathymic perception of images that are unveiled from earlier preconscious and subconscious affect-laden states. Objects are arranged and re-arranged over and over again until a trance like state of creativity is reached in which the objects apear to manifest their own group dynamic interaction. In this particular scene many of the objects have strong symbolic powers reflective of our personal histories (born in 1946 respectively 1956).
6.) Individual human beings as well as groups or entire cultures perpetually build working places of mourning. This can lead to the founding of religions, of philosophical schools (e.g. the hermetic tradition), or, as is exemplified here, to a combination of philosophy and art. Such a search can be extended to the natural sciences (i.e. the production of vitriol, of gold, or of other remedies), it can lead one to mysticism, or to the philosopher's stone.
In conclusion, the human experience is enhanced by one's ability to both liberation from form as well as communion with shared spaces. This experience manifests itself in a multiplicity of different pathways to consciousness. My presentation emphasizes on the co-creative powers of psychoanalysis, analysis of being, hermetic philosophy, art, and on meditative visions. The alchemical use of adamas and alabanda demonstrates that certain physical properties can have a healing affect as well as a consciousness altering affect on humans. Thus it can be demonstrated that there is a genuine connectedness between material and immaterial properties that can be utilized in our combat against death.
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