Introduction into the exhibition:
TAN - The Golden Mirror
by Stefan Laug
Shizenkan Yakusugi-Museum Yakushima, Japan, 21.03. - 06.04. 1993.
Professor Martin Radt
National Academy of Fine Arts Stuttgart, Germany
We probably all know the feeling, that appears when we succeed in discovering a special place in nature, that still has remained largely untouched and that makes us happy by the simple virtue of its naturalness. At least temporarily, all tensions drop from our shoulders, we are at the right place, wanting nothing eine, than simply to be, in as much as in the pristine sense, we realise ourselves to be an unseperated part imbedded in nature, of a larger "arcadic " interrelation.
However the conditions for that kind of experience become less and less. Startled, one learns that they seem to dwindle in proportion to our growing yearning to find an intact nature.
Then paradoxically even our love for nature seems to be a catalyst of its destruction: when a nature reservation is created, the number of visitors rapidly grows, the fairytale of "soft" tourism has already revealed itself "We need nature - nature doesn't need us". This concrete slogan of environmental conservation unfortunately is only partly right, nature needs nothing more urgently than a radical change of human lifestyle.
So the new American vice president Al Gore writes in his book "Earth in the Balance": As long as this civilisation in its whole, with its predominating technological power follows the principle of thinking that encourages the control and exploitation of nature for short term benefits, that devastating force will continue to ravage the earth, indifferent to what each of us does.
But he also asks: "no is so bold as to claim that any developed nation is willing to give up industrial and economic growth ? Who wants to announce that any rich nation is willing to accept compromises of its comfort level in favor of environmental balance ? Moreover, the industrialised world must understand, that the third world has no other chance than to develop economically."
So far there has been no one who would know a way out of that hopeless predicament.
Characteristically this apparently irreversible predicament reveals the realistic core of a feeling, that hitherto was smiled at as being unworldly, but increasingly makes us uncertain.
We can`t assume that Man changes his awareness starting from the base, due to the insight into the self-blamable estrangement from the whole of the creation but that the preservation of nature occurs so not only for reasons of material guaranty, but arises from the inner desire of an, existence, which is wedded with the sense of the creation.
But we feel that the probably last still remaining chance for the survival of this planet is directly connected with that desire and its accompanying attitude.
We see more and more clearly, that the compensation for technically failed development with technical means is the real utopia.
Al Gore: "The idea, that new technologies could provide a solution, is a central part of the way, yet that actually has lead to this crisis."
If it's allowed to use the picture of the outer appearance of a person as a mirror to interpret his inner nature, then this applies to Stefan Laug in a memorable way. Since his artistic approach is closely combined with this view of life, I first like to search for the key to the understanding of his work in him. For the high grade of aesthetic purity, which is characteristic for his work, could tempt one to approach his artistic concept only by conventional methods of a work contemplation by form analysis. That would be a misapprehension ! Therefore, allow me to start with contemplation on his clothing: Stefan Laug's appearance is intrinsically characterised by his clothing, that he not only designs himself, but also makes himself. The hard to overlook appearance of the artist - even his shoes are a selfmade product - arouse interest. On the other hand it is astonishingly relaxed accepted, even in a surrounding where one would more likely not expect so. It is apparent that one feels his evident being different not as a self-absorbed ostentatiousness, but as a natural expression of the personality. So his appearance seems exotic and familiar at the same time, unusual and yet natural, that peculiar constellation can not have developed from a formal borrowing from historical models. For a "period dress" should seem ridiculous. On the other hand the austerity of the form, its more functional-ascetic design reveals not a concern for fashion, but a time-independent attitude. It includes a form relationship to the monks, however on inspection, the differences become clear,- it ifs them a matter of dressing uniformly as a sign of their other-worldliness, the lovingly elaborated clothing of the artist is too body emphasising, too sensual-individual to point in this direction. It seems rather archaic as well as modern, time-independent as well as time-related.
In this apparent seeming contrast it corresponds with his artistic attitude, which is simultaneously his lifestyle: The artist concerns himself with the living of the reflection of the imagination, that has gradually become forgotten, of an "extrahistorical" time, in which the undivided state of human existence was more than the pursuit of the individual functions.
In this respect likewise the clothes and the process of their production play apart in the illustration of the is original state, that has become lost and has to he regained. They refer to the integrated world-feeling of the artist and the pictorial expression of an awareness of life, that is not subject to a time underlying lifefeeling. This life-feeling of the artist engendered by the feeling of loss and subsequent hope constitutes the core of his mental and form-sculpting creative process: From a letter: "On one hand I mean the re-reflection of an understanding, of the world and of one's own existence in reference to mythological points of view, unified with all planes of the cosmos, which is to say resting in the heart of the creation, on the other hand the pictoral form finding illustration of this awareness. I consider this to be the origin, the "original sound of being" and therefor of art. This is my entire motivation of being, to reveal this by pictorial-spiritual means, in a time with a human race, that, estranged from itself, threatens to exterminate itself and its environment."
The dismay expressed in these sentences about the lost mythical awareness and the consequently occurring destruction of the lifeless results not from a rational weighing of the damage that arose. It results from the soul being hurt on an elemental level, feeling that is inferred by a special sensibility for the life of all things and beings within the framework of nature.
So the artist meets for example trees, the wind, the water, the stones and mountains, sky and earth as kindred entities, yet as part of himself, with whom a spiritual interchange is possible, his magical-religious world feeling seems to make him capable of communications, that in animistic cultures are reserved for special persons, those of the mediation between Man and nature, matter and spirit, sky and earth.
Herein lies the difficulty in interpreting his stated esthetical formulations. For they are images of a spiritual experience, illustrations of the "supra consciousness", that, by its nature, can only be tapped by those to whom similar experiences are accessible, whom discerns to the extension beyond the physical plane, into the realm that is past space and time. So they are picture and instrument simultaneously, meditation objects for the path of spiritual enlightenment.
An example shall illustrate this context:
The sifted signs on the ground have only a very slight thickness, so to speak a "thinness". On the other hand they perceptibly consist of matter, granular sand, flowing flour, are not only coloured plane phenomena.
These fine material substances suffice to engender a remarkable phenomenon: despite a planar arrangement the space seems filled, spatially composed. With this the artist writes:
"I portray mental experience space, that, by the way is also a reason why I am so unwilling to become too sculptural ! Because I have the feeling that the flat 'mirrors', so the flat shapes, that I mean, need absolutely open space above them, for they are for me energetically and spiritually multidimensional, even though physically often very flat. That's very important to me ! They submerge from their flat, material appearing nature into a deep spatial, mental-spiritual dimension and so create, as I hope, a place of meeting, at which soul and matter, sky and earth, origin and present do touch."
The spectrum of the materials chosen by the artist, which play apart in the creation of the described space of experience, underlies a conscious restriction and is not optionally expandable. Flour, earth, wood, goldleaves. It is not the matter of the innovative development of relations of shape and colour in sense of an advance, or of the superficial attainment of "esthetical newground", but of the ritual embedment of certain term containers in an overtemporal, pictorial-spiritual process, in which they become mirrors of the experience of the soul, image of an inner spirituality. The choice of the materials, like the process of their transformation, is therefore part of a complex feeling- and action-structure, an inseparable component of a pictorial and spiritual whole of a creation. The flour that hitherto had been used in all his projects takes in this context a special importance.
About this he writes: "Flour is something extremely sensual, not only a wonderful material to represent the pure spirit, or the power of light, it is in its materiality like light, yet just in its growing process as grain constituting the breath of the light, the breath of heaven, I would wish Man could follow that example."
"In silent and clear geometry, by the use of simple materials on one hand and precious materials on the other, the knowledge resting in us shall be roused and revealed, the origin of the soul shall be evoked, the basic origin of being. 'The Golden Mirror'."
The mythological imagination of the primordial land, the paradise, the Golden Age, goes back to an archetypal root. It recalls the origin of human existence and concousness, in which the experience of the unit of body, mind and soul with the All-One, the absolute, timeless, therefore eternal existence, created an indissoluble constant. It is not an illusionistic description of an historical fiction, for instance of a certain religious ideology, but an integral part of human primordial experience, that is impressed in the collective consciousness. Although this experience in present times frequently only exists distorted and kitsched, so to speak reduced to its material shadow, it determines our yearnings, dreams and wishes. It finds its pictorial-spiritual equivalent in archetypical symbols and primordial pictures. Even though they can achieve different forms, they point to a common root picture: the symbolism of the centre.
Obviously the archaic Man experienced the world as a compound enclosed in itself, as a microcosm, that disassociates itself from the external, the chaotic. The exemplary picture of every world-creation is the island. All of a sudden it emerges out of the vastness of the waters, out of the formless element, from which it is born. The picture of the "cosmic mountain", the world mountain is based on a kindred complementary imagination. It is the highest summit of the world, which had not been submerged at the Deluge. This, in the mythic geography, most important territory means the centre of the world, the point at which the creation began, the navel of the world, the original true holy district. For only in the centre of the world can the direct link to the extra-spatial, extra-temporal ultimate be achieved. But the most wide spread picture of the centre is the cosmic tree, the world tree, which is situated in the centre of the universe. Its roots reach until to the underworld, ist treetop touches the sky.
Like an axis it connects all three cosmic planes. As a stake it can become a "pars pro toto" (a part representing the whole) picture and instrument of a centre rite: He who makes the sacrifice or the inaugurated person, who climbs, sets out on a mystical journey, an ascension into heaven. Since he is in the centre, he can break through the this-sided plane of existence, can leave time and space and descend into a different form of being, that of absolute reality, the unsplit pristine initial, the paradise.
Mircea Eliade: "With the primitives, same as with the Christians, it's always the case of a paradoxical return "in illud tempus " (to that time) about a "jump backwards", that engenders the restoration of the paradise."
After reconnaissance of the county for a month, a certain disillusionment had appeared for the artist, connected with the disappointment about the cultural change and the one-sided orientation towards material values, present also in Japan.
Yakushima, of which he had heard of stayed, perhaps not only because of the geographical location, but as if it were a hope, saved for last. Finally he was yet cast down to this southern recess, upon on what appeared as a tiny spot on a map, Yakushima island, which in its geographically isolated position seems almost to have lost contact with Japan, so to say, the end of the world. He must have been impressed all the more, here to find a scenic constellation, that in its reaffirm embodies a type, that includes all that he had previously searched for in vain.
From a letter: "I don't know if`yon ever heard about the notion of the world mountain in Buddhism, symbolically representing the process of the creation, which raises out of the chaos of the original water, thenceforth bearing the picture and the form of the creation ?
Then it is this feeling, that brought this idea back to my mind, the first time I slowly approached the island on the ferry, and it was strengthened, for this island rises out of the vastness of the sea, and is almost round in its appearance, its core almost mounting up to 2000 m and in addition it houses the cedar tree, that ever since his birth represented a symbol of the creator-god and of the life-tree. In addition this 'old man' of 7200 years is older then the presumed history of human civilisation even though his personal history and that of the island is a sad one and only reveals the fall and the process of de-mythologization and de-sacredization in our spiritual development, so this pictorial completeness, that this island embodies in itself, contains a human archetype, concrete, materialised by that island Yakushima. That is for me a central point of this exhibition."
Indeed the accumulation of relations, referring to the symbolism of the centre, is impossible to overlook: The coincidence of mountain and island, its being round, the incarnate embodiment of the world-tree, a museum dedicated to him, even the exposed crossections of the cedar tree in the museum, seem to correspond. Finally also the appointment of the island as a "world treasure", proposed to UNESCO, gains in that context additional importance. So the artist considered the task of inquiring for facilities for the realisation of an exhibition almost inevitable. In his words: "Now it has become clear, what the point is for me: the island is not simply an island, where I just have an exhibition, it just fits there. And it is for me as if the island has called and appointed me to do that. The island wakens exceptionalities in me, undisputedly.
Despite long preparations and the support of helpful friends, it remains astonishing that he succeeded in obtaining also the surrounding prerequisites, for the exhibition project. Is it not highly improbable, as a complete stranger, to meet a museum director in the remotest part of Japan, who, with appreciation and support, actually facilitates the exhibition, to find a woodworking shop in which one may work, connected with an appropriate accommodation? On the other hand this lucky chance seem to underline the necessity of the process. In addition, the special architectural form of the museum facilitates a concept, that uses the spatial course as a direct component of the installation. So the spiralled staircase situated in a central position, leads to the core of the central part of the exhibition, the "white ring", which gives access to the "Golden Mirror". Thus it connects the two exhibition planes.
The artist writes about this: "If a renewal should occur, it would only proceed in the heart, pacific and inward pointed, revealing itself from inside to outside, without rules or law, simple and natural. For that reason I exceedingly appreciate the given architectural situation of the museum, for it leads from the wide spaced entrance to the basement, first into the circle and then into the dimmed room with the "Golden Mirror", an "ascension to inwards", while architecturally a descent, however an ascension is meant. I think this will be palpable."
Additionally there is only to say, that the task assumed by the artist does not end with the completion of the exhibition. He feels obliged to redissolve the created arrangements and to lead the used materials in an ultimate process back to nature. Thus, one part will be brought into the mountains and another part will be entrusted to the sea. Wind and water as transformative and creative elements will continue the process.
I want to conclude with a poem of the artist:
The White Circle
If the lifting into spaceless
if the transition into freedom
would leave a sound, so it would be
like a white circle,
fleeting, transitory and soft.
The statements relating to the symbolism of the centre are based on the definitions stated by Mircea Eliade in his book "Eternal Pictures and Symbols".