Patmos. Two-faced Janus and the Apocalypse

 

PATMOS (GREECE). TWO-FACED JANUS AND THE APOCALYPSE

Adaptation of the homonym tale by Joan C. Roca Sans

 

TEARS OF NON-EXISTENCE

The incense smoke wafted up from the carvings of the two angels behind the easel to the wooden beams in the ceiling. In the middle of the room, David painted and remembered Pessoa’s words. “The poet must put his pain behind him and then use another pain, the fabric of poetry”. The two figures flanked David’s pain and, with their offering, filled the place with sense and aroma and with pagan ritual. Only in this way would he manage to make the pain he felt universal, by applying the tricks of the trade to it. A long time ago he had adopted a certain behaviour and now he was trying to explain his desperation in pictorial terms —inhabited as he was by her— to keep her alive in his paintings, as otherwise he would have died of pain.

Suffering is the most powerful revealing experience and David had known for a long time that he would have to suffer to be able to paint and that only this suffering would develop his talent. He continued to feed the idea of harmony: the principle of virtue raised on aesthetic bases, the principle of proportionality that tries to approach beauty.

This had always been “his idea”, a Greek idea par excellence that covered a span which went from Plato through to Plotinus and, like a Kantian corollary reached as far as Alan Greenberg, the great informalism theorist, to be disputed with the arrival of contemporary art.

He vindicated the freedom that came with it, to carry on looking for a personal mysticism of order, convinced that the universal laws of aesthetic gratification, recently proposed by North American evolutionary biologists, are recorded in the human brain and that aesthetics preceded ethics in time.

The sculpture of Saint John the Evangelist, which both of them had restored, was still standing in the studio and every year, the flowers of the Japanese cherry tree in the garden of Palau Castle Tower announced the anniversary of her death, appearing punctually every year on March the twentieth, the date of the accident. For a few days, they filled the garden with colour and later made a pink carpet on the ground to symbolise the ephemeral character of beauty.

Once again, nature reserved its most beautiful surprise for the most fleeting of moments, as occurs in the life of man. It had been doing so for ten years, since the sorrowful days that were the beginning of this story.

 

HEADING FOR THE ISLAND OF PATMOS (DODECANESE – GREECE)

“When you hear three blasts of the siren like these” —three gloomy honks could be heard— “please go to the meeting places signalled on the informative panels” a recorded voice announced first in Greek, then in English, and then again in Greek.

The Greek passengers carried on resting, sprawled on the seats and on the floor, covered with jackets or travel rugs, used to this life-saving drill, but the foreigners milled around, visibly concerned, near the exits to the bridge, while the shipping company steward demonstrated how to use the life jacket.

However, not all the Greeks were unconcerned. On leaving his rucksack in the cabin, David had struck up a conversation with a professor of philosophy from the University of Athens, who was going on holiday to his home island. As they left Piraeus, Miltos, the Greek man’s name, told David that the weather forecast was for bad weather.

“I’m going to Patmos in the hope of finding the answer to some questions” David confided in him. “I’ve heard that on Patmos the Easter rite is performed just as it was in Byzantine times.”

Miltos replied “The Orthodox church gives priority to experience and to a musical performance of the mystery. Its greatest concern, as it is a formalist church, is the transmission of the rites with the fewest variations. In this sense, the Patmos Easter will not disappoint you. Rites are a way of giving rhythm to life”, he added with the beginning of a smile “and, as Plato said, life cannot be lived without rhythm”.

“I also have a series of suspicions that I would like to clear up, such as Christianity misappropriating the myths of Mitra and Attis in the times of Constantine”, David said, hoping for a reply.

“Well, it’s not a case of plagiarism or fraud”, the Greek replied firmly. “It’s a question of language. They are archaic ways of “narrating”, mythical categories which diverse religious traditions took on. The primitive peoples had their own way of narrating, before historiography was invented. We are aware of the similarity of the myths of Horus, Mitra, Attis, Buddha or Christ. Analogies with the agricultural world, heroes who die and are reborn, Sons of God, and so on”.

In addition”, he added, “for the old myths and legends to have Darwinian advantages they need to be disproportionate. That’s the only way they can survive in the face of the other myths and legends competing against them. And any exaggeration is little in the face of the absolute affront of death.

 

IN THE ROYAL HOLY MONASTERY OF ST. JOHN THE THEOLOGIAN AND EVANGELIST

The lights of Skala Port started to become visible through the reassuring fog the enveloped the island of Patmos and David started to experience the fascination that always comes with the certainty of immediate landing at a new port. At moments like this, he felt like a true nomad, who finds no satisfaction in staying, but in arriving and departing, the only acts able to fight, through their very fleetingness, against the transitory nature of existence. But at that moment he was unable to imagine what he was going to see, hear and draw later on.

On Saturday evening, David went down to Skala Church, where the flame of a single candle, symbolising eternal life, spread to all the others, flooding the atmosphere with a dense aroma of honey. They were later to be placed in each house to light the corner in which the photos of those no longer with us hang next to the favourite icons.

Everyone greeted each other with kisses for Easter. Everywhere, you could hear Cristos Anesti, in Greek: Christ has risen. The church bells mixed with the sirens of the boats that were moored in the port, while rockets lit up the Monastery, on the crest of the hill, with a twinkling crown of sparks of colour.

He drew it all, not using his camera once, and on Tuesday, mid morning, he was at the entrance to the Apocalypse Cave.

 

IN THE APOCALYPSE CAVE

“This is Costas A. Zouveloc, from Thessaloniki, a theologian and resident on the island since last summer. This is David, an artist and painter from Barcelona. I thought you would like to meet each other.”

They shook hands and Zouveloc greeted him saying. “Hello David, Father Stavros has told me you’re an artist. I’m very interested in art personally because it is the best, deepest way of living with our abysmal ignorance. At least art stays alive and the artist seeks the experience of what is sacred inside himself. Parmenides also looked for an expression of a beautiful form to tell us his harmonic idea of the Being of the world. Harmony, poetry, aesthetics and passion for explaining and organising the chaos: this is Greece. Welcome, my friend.”

“Father Stavros has given me the address of your website. I’ve read that in your work there is an obsession for light.” he continued, and then asked. “Did you know that Einstein defined light as the shadow of God?”

“No, I didn’t, but it’s a really beautiful idea.”

“Are you Orthodox?” Zouveloc asked him.

“I’m often asked this question. I’m fascinated by the representation of drama, the impact on the senses, in particular, the visual impact. The Orthodox Church pays importance to ritual. It’s a question of affinity. I feel at ease in an Orthodox ceremony but not in a Catholic one, and even less so if it’s a Protestant one. In the same way as Theravada Buddhism fills me, with all its messages to the senses, Zen Buddhism, which is aimed straight at the intellect, does nothing for me. With regard to what you say about art, there are artists who work with light —some of them extraordinary ones— and, for the same reason, James Turell, who is more corporeal, does a lot more for me than Bill Viola, who is much more mental.”

“I’m familiar with Viola’s work but not with Turell’s. However, I understand what you’re trying to say. But tell me, do you believe in God?”

“I don’t think it’s important at all whether God exists or not. This detail will not affect my life, nor will it change the knowledge of the corporality of my spirit. What I cannot accept is the infallibility of dogmas.”

“Although I don’t share your posture, you are not mistaken, David, because all true mystics, as mystics, are agnostics in what they do to the dogmatic contents of any form of religiousness.”

[…]

 

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Instalation Video

EXHIBITION AT THE

CAN MARIO MUSEUM OF THE VILA CASAS FOUNDATION

 

Can Mario Museum. Palafrugell (Summer 2010)

 

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OPENING

 

EXHIBITION

 

 

THE COUNTER STORY OF A MYTH

by Glòria Bosch

 

Unlike what is usually said, the future is already written,

what we do not know is how to read its pages,

Cain said, while asking himself where he had got this revolutionary idea from…

José Saramago. Caín, 2009

 

The project that Joan Carles Roca Sans proposes is an initiation journey, the construction of a story that subverts the concept of certainty and emerges as a staging carried out in three times, in which he includes the dialogue between some of the popular carvings, which came from antiquarians, which he has collected over the years and the selection that he has made of his own work to organise a proposal, which is the story and counter story of Two-Faced Janus in the Apocalypse Cave. A trip which starts and ends in a way totally opposite from the concept that one usually has of travelling today, far removed from the overcrowded recurrences that are intent on repeating themselves without leaving room for questions, mystery, personal experience and, above all, the desire to convert oneself into the explorer of one’s own internal and emotional needs.

If Saramago demystifies in his story about Cain, Roca Sans also does so when taking apart the myth of St John and bringing us closer to a world in which not only the future but also the past can be written, and in which the problem is always about “how to read the pages”. Through art, thought or literature, we can access the light that is hidden on the pages, a learning which —instead of closing— opens up to the individual experience of each person. And he, through David, the painter who does not agree with a society “that denies the spiritual categories of creation and artistic contemplation” offers us his own experience of travelling around a mystery, a story created —using fiction— to guide us towards a counter story about the myth, to invert the dogmatic and strategic codes that religions usually use, to find the origin in this Two-Faced Janus that leads us to his image split into two by Christianity, because the role of the mystic, as one of its characters points out, ends up being that of the agnostic.

The show suggests this dialogue with carvings from an author’s collection, however the way in which he achieves a whole series of complicities related to everything he wants to tell us, obeys artistic and creative criteria that erase the fact that they are objects preliminary to worship. Despite his reflection on the ritual elements, on how time controls meanings to fill them with content and also the search for features that are common to different religions, his aim is to question and to open up possibilities. Following the line of Pessoa who feared men full of certainty or of Saramago who unifies human contradiction as if everything responded to the two sides of the same coin, he —to follow the thread of his narration— needs to specify it through staging registers.

From where does he explain his multi-disciplinary story? This Two-Faced Janus in the Apocalypse Cave is created in the field work of Joan Carles Roca Sans who, like an anthropologist, compiles notes, the beginnings of a fragmentary visual construction that, little by little, takes on shape as if it were a fiction story. Sculpture is treated like architecture and colour, in the same way that with these disciplines and others, he organises the space to create atmospheres in it in which light is the essential element. The constructive meaning, between the drawing, painting, photography and digital technology, is always present in his creative world and it is from here that they relate, tighten and balance the various components to achieve the textures, the veiling or the diverse visual effects. It is not surprising that buildings appear such as temples, stairs and so on; that he is interested in a reversal of the image, in the photographs which have two faces, two sides to view or that three versions can be made of a single drawing depending on the context in which he wishes to integrate it, with a diversity of treatments and colours. The resources are broad and in some cases, such as Torre Blava and Torre Roja, the image unfolds itself in the triangle that is the base of the structure, with a mirror effect that even integrates the spectator. All the works created for the exhibition, some fifty of them, are unique pieces, because although he goes back to work on the same file, there are multiple variations and finishes. Although for many it could seem to be contradictory, digital tools allow to give this unique character to each piece.

The exhibition allows us to “travel” through three differentiated areas over time: Museu del Ritual, El Panteó del Temps and Deambulatori de les promeses complertes, the last scene that synthesises the story and definitively transfers the universal character of a myth, a way of vindicating secular spirituality aside from established beliefs. Altogether, with knowledge about it and a good sense of irony, he takes a poke at the myth of Salomé as if he were Flaubert, Wilde or Beardsley, among others. However, before reaching the end of the route to all meet together at the Columnari del Palau d’Herodes, he has taken us through many concepts of worship, through the purifying ritual bath –with six basins each dedicated to a different nymph— through philosophers, obedience, offerings, relics, towers of fire, processions, the tombs of the Panteó del temps —between men and gods—or through mosaics.

The opening and breaking down of barriers coincides both with regard to his concept of work as to his philosophy, it does not matter whether we talk about visual contents or about the results that he achieves when relating apparently contradictory practices to find the point that “allows us to go through the surfaces to oblige them to show their two faces, which is the same as revealing what is real”. What Joan Carles Roca Sans achieves is that, with the excuse of spinning out a story, he enters into the combination of a whole series of elements that are to do with the way of facing and taking on not just a way of thinking and feeling but of understanding creative work, just where the dogmatic linearity breaks, which, as it is new, must eliminate what is old without realising that art, as an existential trip, is a timeless bridge to the past and back to the present, to reflect and to update from each point of arrival, not forgetting the transitory nature that makes us start over again.

 

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