The STYX – Levan Songulashvili
“The wave from which there is no return (the river Styx).” ― Virgil
I am always in search of new forms and a new conception of painting. This process looks like a never-ending quest for an answer. In my view, an artist should be somewhat Don Quixot-ish. I am familiar with a state, after self-reflection an irrational impulse urges me to find water in a desert, which would then lead me to the ocean.
The cornerstone of The Styx project, is the water and existential issues in the universe. I started painting The Jellyfish, and the source of my inspiration was the origin of life and how life is shaped. The water – colorless (the intrinsic color of water is visibly turquoise), transparent, chemical substance that is the main source of life, and the jellyfish – aquatic animal, which has become an important discovery for me as a visual metaphor of a notion of the human existence.
There is a single jellyfish, Turritopsis Nutricula, an immortal jellyfish hybrid, the unique organism that is able to regenerate and rejuvenate. 95% of jellyfishes consist of a water and it has no brain, though at the same time it is the only eternal substance. The jellyfish maintains its form for several months only, until it returns to a polyp form again. This cycle continues endlessly in the depths of the ocean, for eternity, where shining cells are lighting the dark.
My artworks are created with the synthesis of rational modules and inner vibrations. The process of problem identification, understanding and finding the other reality and finding all possible answers is at the core of my practice. The most important thing is the idea, and the conceptual vision of the reality. I choose to use monochromatic colors, which, in my opinion, convey in the best way, emotion, psychological depth and the principal massage. I do not distinguish between painting and drawing, as art is a visual language spoken in different forms and mediums. By and large, graphic art plays an important role in formation of modern artistic thinking and taste, and its capabilities are diverse. I enjoy dealing with a color and have worked with many mediums since childhood, albeit my experience, along with my creative thinking, has been transformed into my artwork, in which the neutral colors and less chromatization have become methods of speech.
Photography and cinematography, as well as music, have always been an important part of my life. Victorian art photography, the Pictorialist movement and Daguerreotypes took my attention. E.g. Fading Away, composite photograph made from five negatives by Henry Peach Robinson (1858), refers to a style in which the photographer has somehow manipulated what would otherwise be a straightforward photograph as a means of “creating” an image rather than simply recording it. My creative process of self-expression is connected to the visual form of Daguerreotypes.
I am frequently thinking about objective reality, wishing to observe the world and myself from different perspectives; thinking about the language of form, visual codes, music in color, comprehension of image, particles separated from the entirety; about interaction of the eye, mind and soul; about the current and future of art. Ultimately, I return to a secret feeling of comprehending the incomprehensible, which means the defeat of nihilism for me.
The human mind tries self-determination at a certain stage of life. Living consciously is a lifestyle that you can form for the rest of your life. Mankind asks questions about the origin of the universe and human existence. The individual should try to move forward, shifting areas in order to enable transgressions. I try to manage the replacement of the skin I live in to penetrate into a new dimension of the galaxy. And when I accept the new world as my own, still I have to take the path toward new areas.
“Every man is born as many men and dies as a single one.” ― Martin Heidegger, death is ontologically needed for a human existence; “If you are lonely when you’re alone, you are in bad company.” ― Jean-Paul Sartre; When we stay alone the objects are ready for conversation; we should try to listen to their voices calling us. The system of objects is an independent living organism connected to our everyday life, and loneliness is an experience to be welcomed rather than banished. “The order of Nature (primary options, instinctual drives, symbolic relationships) is everywhere present in the system, but present only as signs. “― Jean Bdaudrillard
Birth, life and death are part of an irrevocable cycle; the way I treat time and space is dependent on me. The same can be said about a country that can not find its place in the modern world, finding a shelter under myths and a history, and escaping the present, making it impossible to create a future perspectives. Young nations can easily pass through adaptation to the post-modern era. My curious mind does not give me a rest from asking questions about the past to better analyze the present. Sometimes I think that it is all an illusion. I have a sense that I would never be able to touch the objective reality, though I can imagine it.
I get stuck in a maze of past and future…
Sensing and analyzing real-life problems can be transformed into a visual language and become the basis of conceptual structure. But, by and large, I do not wish to stop at what I have found, I see a loss in it. In my view, an artist should have something Don Quixot-ish. I am familiar with a state, when apart from a self-reflection, irrational impulses urge you to find water in a desert, which would lead you to the ocean.
A wide, extended space and the sense of infinity have inspired me since I was a child. Even now, wherever I come across interesting “emptiness”, new ideas begin to occur; e.g. I started painting “The Jellyfish”, and the source of my inspiration was the origin of life and how life is shaped. Turritopsis Nutricula – is an immortal jellyfish hybrid, the unique organism that is able to regenerate and rejuvenate. The jellyfish maintains its form for several months only, until it returns to a polyp form again. This cycle continues endlessly in the depths of the ocean, for eternity, where shining cells are lighting the dark. I quickly understood that I wanted to change the scale of this work so that it would have become part of a conceptual project.
“Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to each person according to what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” Jellyfish are about 95 percent water living in deep sea, and the water is embodied in it. For me the aquatic animal has become an important discovery as a visual metaphor of the whole notion I was thinking about and working on. The idea of water is a cornerstone of my conception. Water, undertone of purity and fertility, a source of life, nearly colorless (the intrinsic color of water (or ice) is wturquoise), transparent, odorless, formless chemical substance that is the main constituent of Earth’s streams, lakes, and oceans, and the fluids of most living organisms. Even two-thirds of the human body contains water, which allows us to exist while maintaining our body temperature in the environment. Despite the gravity, it can flow upward and freezes from the top down, but not completely, therefore the “ichthys” or “ichthus” (from the Greek ikhthýs , ΙΧΘΥΣ, or also ΙΧΘΥC with lunate sigma, fish) can live even in winter.
“For there are Father, the World, and the there that testify: Holy Ghost: and these three the Spirit, the are one. And there are water and the three that bear witness in blood; and the earth, the Spirit, and the three are in water, and the blood: and agreement.” these three agree in one.” (In the King James Version Bible, 1 John 5:7)
The elemental forces of fire and water often symbolize change, redemption, transformation and renewal. I considered the water as an absolute, fish as an individual, and the jellyfish as the second hypostasis of the Trinity, “threefold”.
During Thales’ life, people believed that man was made of the same substance as everything else. If the earth was the macrocosm, man was the microcosm; each served to explain the other (Wastson, 4). Thales reasoned that the earth, air, and all living things came from water. This, perhaps, also has something to do with the fact that water can be seen as snow, ice and steam, so it naturally has all physical characteristics of liquid, solid and gas (air). It stands to reason that this must be the substance that everything came from.
“But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water.” (John 19:34) Water and blood – the mystery of the sacrament and baptism… It was prohibited to depict Christ’s image in early Christian art, which is why many of these symbols emerged. The image of the fish (ΙΧΘΥΣ) had eucharist value; “the source and summit of the Christian life” (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, paragraph 11), and it has been a symbolic code of Christianity over the centuries. Loaves and fishes were both part of Jesus’ Eucharistic miracles (Mt 14:17; 15:34; Mk 6:38; 8:6,7; Lk 9:13; Jn 6:9), and they were part of Jesus’ Eucharistic meal with his disciples after the Resurrection (Jn 21:9). Believers in this Ichthys were themselves “little fishes”, according to the passage of Tertullian (On Baptism 1): “we, little fishes, after the image of our Ichthys, Jesus Christ, are born in the water”; “And then Jesus said to them (Simon and Andrew), “Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” (Mark 1:17 (NKJV) The association of the Ichthys with the Eucharist is emphasized in the epitaph of Abercius where he says that in his journey from his Asiatic home to Rome, everywhere on the way he received as food “the Fish from the spring, the great, the pure”, also “wine mixed with water, together with bread”. The earliest literary reference to the symbolic fish is made by Clement of Alexandria, born about 150, who recommends his readers (The Pedagogue III.11) to have their seals engraved with a dove or a fish.
In the “Metaphysics” Aristotle reported (“Thales of Miletus taught that “all things are water”) Thales’ hypothesis about the nature of all matter – that the originating principle of nature was a single material substance: water. Sambursky writes: “It was Thales who first conceived the principle of explaining the multitude of phenomena by a small number of hypotheses for all the various manifestations of matter.”(F Ueberweg, A History of Philosophy, from Thales to the Present Time (1972) (2 Volumes)).
Thales gave no role to the Olympian gods. For him the Earth was a flat disc floating on an infinite ocean and he explained earthquakes from the fact that the Earth floats on water. He is the first recorded person who tried to explain such circumstance by rational rather than by supernatural means; he was the first to suggest a single material substratum for the universe — namely, water.
Belief in generation of earth from water was not proven to be wrong until A.D. 1769 following experiments of Antoine Lavoisier, and spontaneous generation was not disproved until the nineteenth century as a result of the work of Louis Pasteur. Louis Pasteur attempted to prove that life can not emerge from non-life.
To Thales water held the potentialities for the nourishment and generation of the entire cosmos. Aëtius attributed to Thales the concept that “even the very fire of the sun and the stars, and indeed the cosmos itself is nourished by evaporation of the waters” (Aëtius, Placita, I.3).
”Everything requires water to live, and of course, the sperm itself is a wet substance.” So it is also with the ancient Egyptians Nile river is akin to the birth canal
of their existence. Ancient Greeks understood the power of transition water holds. From liquid, to solid, to vapor – water is the epitomal symbol for metamorphosis and philosophical recycling.
Bill Viola also uses water as a metaphor, the surface both reflecting the outer world and acting as a barrier to the other one. The artist has made reference to transitions and passages in works such as The Passing (1991), made after his mother’s death, or Two Women (2008) in which figures move through a symbolic barrier of water.
Viola’s artistic practice has been guided by questions of “how we see, how we hear, and how we come to know the world.” Nantes Triptych (1992) is a contemporary form of religious iconography focused on life and death. Viola displayed three different videos as a tryptich, a format used in Western art for religious paintings. The first left panel of the tryptich is a symbol of birth (inspired by the birth of the artist’s first son), the second right panel represents the death, and the third video, placed between the birth and the death, depicts a naked body floating in water. The floating body was filmed in a swimming pool for an earlier work, The Passing (1987-88).
Throughout the centuries many different ideologies arose that influenced significantly human consciousness. The true and genuine substance of religion has been covered and overlapped by the systematic and dogmatic ideologies created by certain individuals. And the people united by these ideologies could not make any improvements. My aim is to encourage others to start self-reflection, to think how we began, where do we come from and where are we going? I begin to question – what is this civilization in which we find ourselves? Globalization finds its reflection in our everyday life. Scientific and technological progress made a significant breakthrough among the countries’ boundaries and created tremendous opportunities for settling active communications among different cultures. At the same time, 21st century’s human being has embraced the pragmatism. Rationalism has swallowed the spirituality and inhibited the sentiments. Doubts, questions and quests raised in my mind have become a basis for destroying strong monolithic constructions. Humans became victims of media, computers, mobile phones; crowds of people got lost in a labyrinth of pixels, and cannot notice mother nature in front of them. As long as our bodies are grounded, our consciousness is tied to the virtual network. Still humankind remains an abandoned creature in the modern surroundings. A large part of society turned into the technology-dependent post-evolutionary animals, which are not users but mostly consumed by manufactured products. We are consumer goods consumed by the inventions of the scientific mind.
Currently, I am more influenced by philosophy – Existentialism in particular – and psychological tests than certain artists. As Goya used to say, “I have had three masters, Nature, Velasquez, and Rembrandt”, so am I guided by nature and the soul of a child that wanders the avant-garde. Afterwards, I return to the origins of life; the water and a single jellyfish alone drowned into the silence of the cosmos. “Silence is the element in which great things fashion themselves together … Speech is too often … the act of quite stifling and suspending thought, so that there is none to conceal … Speech is of Time, silence is of Eternity … It is idle to think that, by means of words, any real communication can ever pass from one man to another …” ― Maurice Maeterlinck.
Through a new project I am able to confront the critical questions of life and death, mortality and immortality, and grasp some meaning in the face of life’s impermanence. Some members of our society tries to escape from the outside world, some try to escape from their own identity. I try to remember and reinterpret the story of human beings, to indicate a potential future.