Until the 17th century, art and science were one identically understood discipline, combining mastered 'skill' to understand and to create. If we adopt this stance, we will see in renaissance and baroque cabinets of curiosities not only exoticizng collections of artisanally encrusted products of nature, but also multimedia archive of knowledge, imagination and hyperlinks.
A book called Atalanta Fugiens, the Fleeing Atalanta, was also published in the 17th century for the first time, written by Michael Maier, it is a complex work that is considered one of the first authorial examples of multimedia. In this gesamtkunstwerk, Maier uses the combination of poetry, visual arts and music to metaphorically describe scientific knowledge about nature. As a physician, philosopher and alchemist, he stayed at the residence in Prague at the court of Rudolf II, his practice at the time, in an achronic analogy, correspondes symptomatically with the current situation of the creative duo Øleg&Kaśka.
It is the illustrations of Maier's book, as well as other Renaissance, mainly graphic pictorial publications, that are referenced by the paintings and drawings in the exhibition. Figures of knights in armour, scholars in pilgrim's robes, mythical animals, scenes from historical epics and, most importantly, symbols with an intuitive magical meaning, in their fairy-tale ability to narrate, do not claim the viewer's perfect reading of all references. They are a well-blended alchemical substance that, after just sniffing at her post-romantic flacon, escapistically transports us away from the multi-level crises we are forced to face in reality.
Two-dimensional works in the exhibition, in their spectrum from large-sized colour illumination, through patinated frescoes, to drawings soaked in sticky ectoplasm, represent a narrative imagination about sexless heroes*heroines*, which are easy to identify with, though their appearance clearly refers to a history hundreds of years away. It is like they are on a quest to find the philosopher's stone that will avert the dystopian future of our society. Despite the original, generally beneficial and in fact, socialist mission of alchemy, occult knowledge became a privilege belonging to kings who were able to pay for the secrets of the alchemists. This bygone commodification of information that would solve the problems of society as a whole is easy to see, through the lens of Øleg&Kaśka, as a historical parallel to the present state of affairs, or rather as a link in a chain of unfortunate decisions, preferring wealth to the salvation of the world.
The Red, Crimson or even Blood Moon is the moment of the eclipse, the instant when the Earth is in a precise line between the Sun and the Moon. It is, therefore, the archetype of an ambivalent situation that is inherently in a state of equilibrium, providing hope for all-encompassing harmony, but also an inexplicable, terrifying configuration of space dance that provokes catastrophic interpretations since ever. The Moon is the mysterious, passive antithesis of the Sun, to whose pale light we naturally attribute purifying power.
Øleg&Kaśka provide this healing energy to the viewer through the full moon charged water from a natural source, whose presence in the installation of the exhibition seems to refer to an alchemical ritual from the past, while simultaneously mirroring an uncertain future in its surface. But it will certainly appear to the curious (or careless) viewer in the half-blind mirror behind an improperly cute dressing-table curtain.
Polish alchemist Jan Twardowski made two such mirrors for the then ruler, who longed to see his dead love and later in one of them Napoleon II saw his future end, the other was lost... Do we have the courage to look into the future that we now fear so much for many reasons? What purifying processes will we have to put water through (if there will be some) in the future to get rid of toxic pollution? The light of the Moon will probably not be enough, and if any scientist, artist, or alchemist finds a way to save the lives of millions, they will make people pay well for their secrets.
In the previous version of Frightened by The Red Moon we presented an object called Kurza Stopka, a mythical part of Wawel castle in Kraków. Abode of court alchemists. This time our imagination went inside of this castle.
In which walls are blackened, the fire is burning and scholars in robes are passing by the stairs. Everything under the elegant charm, covered in wax, a place in which all the knowledge is kept, forever.
Alchemy is a way of seeking for so-called transmutation.
Same as art can be. Our artistic process is based on creating narrations, filled with intuitive meanings or symbols. The Alchemical process could be something like going completely blind through a huge field of speculative fiction.
In order to find the one which will somehow answer the question asked at the beginning of the journey. We always try to seek a way of conjuring the world, maybe to understand it better or to feel it better...
Frightened by The Red Moon I & II
gallery exhibition curated by Šárka Koudelová at Studio PRÁM, Prague, Czech Republic
offsite exhibition curated by Torre Alain & Ian Bruner at (former) Admiralspalast Hotel, Zabrze, Poland
Photographer: Anna Pleslová