gallery 21    
  • Mystic Art and Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) - © Milan Golob
  • Mystic Art and Martin Gigl (1963-2011) - © Milan Golob
  • Mystic Art and Jugana Štuk (1924-2005) - © Milan Golob
  • Mystic Art and Pierina Zambenedetti (1858-1865) - © Milan Golob
  • Mystic Art and Luca Flori (1811-1865) - © Milan Golob
  • Mystic Art and Franz Demuth (1959-2014) - © Milan Golob
  • Mystic Art and Marijo Bauk (1952-2012) - © Milan Golob
  • Mystic Art and Ester Franconi (1862-1943) - © Milan Golob
  • Mystic Art and Janos Pasztory (1945-2004) - © Milan Golob
  • Mystic Art and Ottilie Wolf (1900-1995) - © Milan Golob
  • Mystic Art and Enrico Fermi (1901-1954) - © Milan Golob
  • Mystic Art and Margareta Sporer (1975-2010) - © Milan Golob
  • Mystic Art and Silvester Magerl (1899-1987) - © Milan Golob
  • Mystic Art and Baldo Kuvara (1925-1944) - © Milan Golob
  • Mystic Art and Marina Nannarelli (1906-1986) - © Milan Golob
  • Mystic Art and Torquato Magnani (1840-1911) - © Milan Golob
  • Mystic Art and Basilio Perugini (1826-1902) - © Milan Golob
  • Mystic Art and Božena Mikuljan (1981-2013) - © Milan Golob
  • Mystic Art and Emilia Buffa (1854-1912) - © Milan Golob
  • Mystic Art and Riccardo Gianotti dell Agnese (1901-1983) - © Milan Golob
  • Mystic Art and Karin Weiß (1957-2014) - © Milan Golob
  • Mystic Art and Marianne Janosch (1949-2013) - © Milan Golob
  • Mystic Art and Leon Hartl (1889-1973) - © Milan Golob
  • Mystic Art and Vigil Giggenbacher (1874-1953) - © Milan Golob
  • Mystic Art and Artur Mahnić (1883-1907) - © Milan Golob
  • Mystic Art and Ingrid Kahr (1964-2012) - © Milan Golob
  • Mystic Art and Matijas Grbavac (1987-2014) - © Milan Golob
  • Mystic Art and Pia Rosalia Hafner (2012-2012) - © Milan Golob
  • Mystic Art and Monika Pilz (1955-2011) - © Milan Golob
  • Mystic Art and Linus Amherd (1923-2001) - © Milan Golob
Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968), 2015, oil on canvas, 20×20 cm

 



 

 

 

THE BEGINNING OF DUCHAMP’S MYSTIC ART


Glyn Thompson; Metaphysics: Occult Munich (Part 1)
Glyn Thompson; Metaphysics: Occult Munich (Part 2)

Glyn Thompson; Metaphysics: Occult Munich (Part 3)

In order to contextualize before, at this point our enquiry must be limited to a consideration of those elements of Steiner's philosophy and practice which appear to resonate directly with Duchamp's specific activities in Munich, during the first production of The Guardian of the Threshold, whose basic epistemological theme is that the mutually inimical spiritual and scientific groundings of truth are reconciled in a time-honored esotericism; that, from time immemorial, exalted spirit beings have instructed humanity in the mystic shrines, in secret, investing the mystic lore they must pass on into the souls of those now ripe to be ordained. All the present mystic schools therefore derive from one source. Now it is the turn of the present to inherit the treasures passed from age to age. History teaches that 'modern science' has always existed in the cosmic scheme. But Thomasius, a scientist who the Mystic League of the Rosicrucian Brotherhood is attempting to recruit, fearful of the consequences of his powerful knowledge being put to the wrong use, has come to warn humanity of the dangers of misapplied technology; Lucifer wants Thomasius to unite scientific human knowledge with spirit sight, for his own evil purposes.

According to Steiner, the great struggle of being human is the balancing of the 'Ahrimanic' and 'Luciferic' impulses which Ahriman and Lucifer transmit. The psyche experiences any domination by either impulse as 'The Devil'; if Luciferian, the individual becomes controlled by passions, emotions and desires: if 'Ahrimanic', by obsessive materialism and the blind faith in the exclusively mechanistic aspect of modern science.

Maria, Thomasius' soul mate and spirit guide, reassures him that, once guided over the Threshold by her, he will leave the world of the senses and science for the world of spirit, He will abjure mundane science, and "wait in silence for the spirits' gifts".

So, as Thomasius needed a soul-sister, Maria, Duchamp later needs a Rrose.

But what Thomasius abjures, Strader embraces. Spiritually starved, after years of research, Theodora shows him how, such striving being in vain, spirit pupil-ship worked on the human soul. Bereft of faith in science and good sense, seeking oblivion in a distracted life of technical pursuit, he had met Theodora, who showed him the higher worlds. Giving himself to spirit guided knowledge; he crosses the Threshold and becomes divine.

The introduction of the character Strader to this debate concerning the benefits and dangers of modern science leads us to Steiner's second theme, good design, the philosophy of which is summarized by Strader thus;
Through application purely technical / Restore that freedom to humanity / In which the soul may find development. / No more shall men be forced to dream away / Their whole existence, plant-like, fashioning / In narrow factory rooms unlovely things. Industrial power will be so dispersed / That every man shall have what he may need / To keep him in his work, in his own house / Arranged by him, as he may think it best.

Strader's spirit technology, first appearing in Scene Four, in the form of stage props, relates directly to Steiner's third theme, art; on his table, in a room that he and his mediumistic wife use in common, are mechanical models resembling the apparatus that Steiner had inspected at Hübbe-Shlieden's. But Maria and Capesius, set free in the supra-sensible realm from their earthly bodies, reflect that,
The body which is proper to earth's souls / Bears now itself the means to recreate / In lofty pictures loveliness sublime / Which pictures, even if their substance now / Seems but a shadow of the human soul / Are yet the buds which the future worlds / Will open out to blossom and to fruit.

According to Steiner's reasoning, in a passage recalling Papus' astral body which appears to have been the pictorial source for Duchamp's Bride[149] what happens here in pictures comes to pass to everlasting life in spirit worlds, via 'spirit pictures', in which one sees the spirit equivalent of life on earth: attempting to cross the threshold, to reunite with his spirit guide Maria, Thomasius had referred to pictures of spirit forms of 'earthly beings.'

Magnus Bellicosus fills the picture in.
Thomasius gave himself to painting's art / Until he felt an inward spirit call / To take up science as his work in life ... he saw full well that spirit science must first find a firm foundation, and for this The sense for science and strict reasoning / Must be released from mania for set form.

Steiner's view is that in order to attain true spiritual enlightenment an artist must give up painting in favor of spirit science, which is precisely what Duchamp does at this very point, in Munich, on the very night which witnessed the premier of The Guardian of the Threshold; As Maria says to Thomasius,
Johannes, No longer wilt thou now / Weave only in thy pictures that which souls / Still pent within the body, live in dreams / For far from cosmic progress are these thoughts / Which but as self-begotten show themselves.

Steiner's philosophy of design is ultimately clarified in the fourth play, of 1913, The Soul's Awakening, in which Hilary's factory manager complains about a failing business unable to compete with its rivals;
A plan to fabricate such wonder wares / Suits not the spirit of the present age. The aim of all productions now must be / Complete perfection in some narrow groove.

Due to Hilary True-to-God's failure to separate business from mystic interests, quality and delivery are down. And now a mystic is to be made head of design, because;
So will the product made by our machines / Be molded by his will to artist forms, The useful with the exquisite combined. Art and production shall become one whole / And daily life by taste be beautified. So will I add to these dead forms of sense / For thus I do regard our art just now / A soul, whereby they may be justified.

Strader's the man to do it, but the manager thinks his spirit-science-based industrial design philosophy has no place in the actual market place, (except, presumably, one exclusively populated by wealthy occultists, of which there was no shortage in Germany at the time.) But Hilary will have his way, the factory will be turned into a Sanctuary for Spirit Knowledge, the manager will be enlightened, the now dead Strader recognized as a genius, and Ahriman revealed to be the Devil, by his cloven hoofs- all of which come to pass.

Informing our judgment of Duchamp's post-Munich fabrications, the issue of the impact of the industrial design that he might have seen in Munich, which is addressed by Theirry de Duve, in Resonances of Duchamp's Visit to Munich,[150] would then appear to be resolved here. Set against Duve's assumption of a significant difference between German and French industrial design theory, practice and style we should perhaps bear in mind that in March 1910, the year in which Duchamp met Max Bergmann, Apollinaire reviewed an exhibition in Paris of decorative arts and industrial design from Munich.

The industrial design philosophy variously expressed through the characters of Hilary, Thomasius and Strader situates Steiner's understanding squarely within the milieu of German-speaking European modernist industrial design theory and practice of the time, one manifestation of which must suffice here as illustration. Hilary himself appears to be cast from a similar mould as the real-life factory owner, Karl Bensheidt who, by the April of 1911 had engaged Walter Gropius (who married Mahler's widow, the theosophist Alma Mahler), to take control of the design of the Fagus Factory, in Aafeld. Through this factory the manufacture of shoe lasts was intimately connected to the new concepts of health and improved education examined by Treitel, and which Steiner's Waldorf education system still espouses; the name Waldorf comes from the cigarette factory where the first of such schools was set up. As a sickly child, Bensheidt had become fanatically keen on using every scientific advance to counteract diseases and bodily malformation. From the start he insisted that his workers should enjoy all the benefits of American industrial planning; well ventilated machine shops, a strictly linear throughput to minimize unnecessary transportation, and well-lit offices and studios. Following Muthesius' rehearsal in 1901 of Hilary's policy statement;
Let the human mind think of shapes that the machine can produce. Such shapes when they are logically developed in accordance with what machines can do, we may certainly call artistic. They will satisfy because they will no longer be imitation of handicraft, but typical machine-made shapes.

The key issue of the day focused on the relationship between the soul of the creator and the spirit of the machine subsuming it into anonymous industrial forms of mass-production, which the romanticizing and humanizing of the machine and its products made more acceptable. This nullification of the attributes of craftsmanship promoted the search for absolute laws of good proportion residing in color, line and texture.

So Duve's assumption of the radical difference between the cultural milieus of Paris and Munich is undermined further by the strong contacts individual artists maintained, not least those exhibiting in the capital of Bavaria, one of the more prominent of whom was the close friend of the brothers Duchamp, Pierre Girieud , who also exhibited in Moscow and St Petersburg. In the case of the occult, the links were even stronger and well developed, as the relationship between Steiner and Schuré illustrates. The Steiner's were very familiar with late Symbolist Paris. In the late 1890's, whilst co-directing productions of Maeterlinck's The Intruder with Otto Hartleben, for a Free Dramatic Society in Germany, an independent theatre dedicated to producing 'misunderstood' plays, Steiner also directed two of Schuré's plays. Steiner's wife, Marie von Sivers had studied artistic recitation in Paris, where she had become friends with the Theosophist Schuré , whose works she translated, and through which she became acquainted with that of Blavatsky. Schuré considered himself a play-write of the Théatre de l'Âme, in the mould of Villiers de L'Îsle-Adam, Péladan and Maeterlinck, as he makes clear in his eponymous text of 1922. In May 1907, Steiner produced and directed von Sivers' translation, in free verse, of Schuré's The Sacred Drama of Eleusis, for the Theosophical Congress in Munich, and in August 1909, his Les Enfants du Lucifer, at the Munich Playhouse.

Like Steiner, Schuré wanted to regain contact with spiritual powers through drama; the "Eleusian idea" was the realization of the divine in the other life through the deliverance of the soul which had achieved perfection. Greek tragedy contained the "Promethean idea" of the realization of the divine life on earth that modern theatre would make possible, and that a harmonic synthesis resided in the blending of the two. According to Schuré, it is only through experiencing the earthly and sub earthly realms that a purification of the occult initiate's innermost being, a rising to the ethereal spheres and a marvelous sense of harmony with the Cosmos, becomes possible.[151] Steiner's theatre drew then on Symbolist theatre, Mediaeval miracle and mystery plays, and Goethe, particularly Faust. Frantisek Deak identifies the various practices which Steiner adopted from the former, among which were verbal orchestration, a recitational acting style, slow movements, ritualistic behavior, a resemblance between iconography in the visual arts and the actors on the stage, an emphasis on imagination and the inner life, hidden reality, spiritual aspiration, ideas of mysticism and an initiated audience.[152] The everyday setting for the modern gnosis is revealed in the setting for the Prelude to Steiner's Portal of Initiation, at the Goetheanum - a living room containing a sofa, couch and other familiar items. However, the walls did not match the height of the proscenium, the exposed space above showing a cyclorama decorated with esoteric symbols resembling stained glass Imagery.

The Strader machines suggest themselves as the precise trigger for Duchamp's 'total' liberation, because we know what they looked like; one, resembling nothing so much as an anemometer from the Land of Cockaigne, is described in Memories of Hans Kuhn (1889-1977),[153] Kuhn informs us that (in his punctuation);
Beside the bigger object there were originally three objects that were more little. Additionally there was an open copper sphere on the wall at the performance in Munich. I hereby refer to the apparatus that was built during the winter of 1912/13, after specification to Rudolf Steiner, by Dr. Oskar Smiedel and his mechanics. When the Guardian was performed for the first time 1912 in Munich, a sort of dummy was used for which Imme von Ekhardstein (who had been publicly praised by Steiner in the first lecture of August, 1912) received specifications by Rudolf Steiner. The next Winter we had the time to work out an exact model, for which various metals, that were specified by Rudolf Steiner, were used for the four half spheres R S did entrust to Oskar Smiedel for their production. Two of the half spheres were made from Antimony, one from Nickel, one half of the fourth was made from Copper. The other half should be completed with a metal that was so far unknown. Very thin feel/sense organs made from gold foil (1/1000 mm thickness) were hanging at the side of this double bowl. At the fourth side of a cross of lead a tip of uranium pitchblende should be mounted. The connections between the six tips were partly made of copper and partly of tin. From one bowl to the opposite one there was a spiral glass tube. Even more cryptic were the three additional objects. One was a glass container with a wire of platinum that was hanging inside of it or as molten into it, the second was a lemniscates of glass tube with a coal tip on, that had a little copper bowl above it. The third object should have four uranium tips at the same level. The form of this object let it seem probable that it could rotate. Electricity should be kept away. The original models have vanished, though they survived the Goetheanum fire. One didn't take enough care and recognize the importance of the apparatus. Today they show a dummy at the performances.

So the 1912 audience witnessed rough-and-ready approximations of the real thing. Fragments of a biography, by Ehrenfried Pfeiffer, also carrying Kuhn's text,[154] discusses the magical new energy associated with this technology, another astral force, for which the world is not ready.

From this, and more, it is quite clear that no proper understanding of the principles of orthodox science is required of any occultist, or of a Marcel Duchamp interested in bending the laws of chemistry and physics. But whilst it is the visual appearance of this ramshackle organic machinery which, we suggest, directly informed the techno-visceral imagery of Duchamp's two exactly contemporary paintings, it was the concept of spirit-technology which it embodied which lead to Duchamp's simultaneous rejection of painting in favor of the construction which informed his post-Munich production, coincidentally demonstrating the idea that if three-dimensional realities can be proved in the two-dimensional representations of his essentially spirit-technology blueprints, the same must be true for four dimensions.

But Steiner's set design, as described in the mise-en-scène, also appears to confirm Duchamp's knowledge of Steiner's theatrical productions. Evidence for this would appear to be those two paintings he describes as "a juxtaposition of mechanical elements and visceral forms" which combine structures from the two drawings entitled Vierge, with which he now terminates his avant-garde painting career, The Passage from the Virgin to the Bride, and The Bride.

There is, for example, a notable correspondence between the iconography of Duchamp's these paintings and the set design for Lucifer's Kingdom, which, in Scene 3 appears as a space which is enclosed, not by artificial walls, but by fantastic forms which resemble plants and animals. Likewise, Scene 6 shows a space enveloped by intertwined plants, like trees, and structures which spread out and send shoots into the interior. Finally, scene 7 is a landscape composed of a fantasy of forms. These images echo Strader's description of man's plant -like existence fashioning, in narrow factory rooms, unlovely things, cited above.

And indeed, Duchamp's two paintings do appear to satisfy Steiner's design ethos, as identified by David Adams.[155]

Attempting to achieve an organism-like relation between part and whole, Steiner employed the principle of metamorphosis in the abstract form, relating this to Goethe's studies of biological morphology, creating forms which not only fulfilled but also directly imaged their functions, which Adams labels 'organic functionalism.' Steiner had edited Goethe's natural-scientific writings for the Körschners Deutsche National-Litteratur series, published between 1883 and 1901, in which Goethe's way of researching the organic realm provided Steiner with a model of a possible methodological bridge between nature and the spirit.

Sharing Goethe's opposition to the arbitrary expression of subjectivity in art, (which Duchamp rejects at precisely this moment,) Steiner felt there must be something as true and lawful in art as in nature, frequently quoting Goethe's saying, "Art is a manifestation of the secret laws of nature, without which they would never be revealed." Steiner's term "organic structural thought" expresses his belief that only through intuitive thinking could the laws governing organic beings be understood. He constantly stressed that no forms of his buildings, of which designed 17, all in collaboration with qualified architects, imitated any organic form in nature, as in his eurhythmic 'dance'; nor were designs intended to be allegories or symbols of anything but themselves.

The formal qualities of Steiner's designs bring us very close to Duchamp's last two paintings completed in Munich, and which display a much more organic character than the preparatory drawings constituting their immediate antecedents.

The third of Steiner's five concepts of "organic architecture" is expressed in his conception of the "living wall", conceived as continuous sculptural surfaces expressing the play between the polarities of concave and convex, above and below, right and left, and load and support; as he remarked; "The wall is not merely a wall, it is living, just like a living organism that allows elevations and depressions to grow out of itself.": it was "a relief full of meaning."

Steiner also attempted to make sculpturally visible virtually every detail of the various tensions of the spatial and load-bearing relationships throughout the building; the only way to express the functional organic-ness was sculpturally - "the life of the surface itself, the soul of the form itself," the curved surfaces embodying what he called "the simplest Urphänomen of life", both a convexity produced by "cosmic" formative forces of nature working inward, and a concavity resulting from the polar, centrifugal forces working outward.

The fourth organic characteristic was metamorphosis, which is the subject of the first of Duchamp's two paintings under consideration here. This phenomenon had first been recognized and articulated by Goethe as part of plant morphology; Goethe described a plant as fundamentally a leaf, but one that rhythmically metamorphoses through an ordered procession of expansion and contraction, to become a seed, calyx, blossom (an épanouissement, so to speak) and fruit. Yet all the sequences cannot be observed in one organic form in a single specimen, only sequentially, in their progression through time, demonstrating that the qualities of any form in the sequence are always both hidden and prefigured in the previous form, and continue, to some degree, in the succeeding shape.

This rather brings to mind the 'cinematic' Nude Descending the Staircase.

All this was illustrated in Steiner's design for the first Goetheanum, which he sometimes called the House of the Word, linking the mobile element of human communication to the surrounding architectural forms; as Steiner says, "Up to our time architectural thought has been concerned with the qualities of lifeless, mechanical rest. Now, however, architectural thought becomes the thought of speech, of inner movement, that draws us along with it."

This fusion appears to be manifested in both visual and literary components of Duchamp's two Munich paintings, thus. The verb Marier, the homophone for the French for both Bride and Groom, Mariée, means both to unite and join, and to splice. Duchamp's painting technique used in these works, so the Ephemerides tells us, was to blend the colors with his fingers; to blend colors is marier des couleurs, and alternate masculine and feminine couplets are termed Rimes mariées.

The final aspect of Steiner's approach was what he termed the "semblance of consciousness", by means of which the edifice was attuned to human consciousness, responsive and sympathetic to its function to "bring expression as in one living being, the spiritual, the psychical and the physical." This is the empathy theory at the heart of Expressionism, according to which, aesthetic expressive features of either a living organism or an aesthetic object stimulate an impression that affects a viewer physically and psychically.

And as we know, from Duchamp's own mouth, The Passage from the Virgin to the Bride does not represent a physical passage, but a psychological one, a stage in Duchamp's life as painter.

The first Goetheanum was then a Gesamtkunstwerk, whose origin lay in projects beginning in 1907. From March 1911, this new building was planned to house, inter alia, the mystery dramas, its basic form, two interpenetrating circles of stage and auditorium. This "Johannesbau" was rejected by the City of Munich in 1911. A drawing from 1912, Adams' Figure 9, shows the building as it would have been constructed, in the Munich-Schwabing where Duchamp listened to café conversation. It contained such details as a curving stairway, freely fashioned, whose zoomorphic shapes were meant to express its structural dynamics.

Recalling here Duchamp's insect dream[156] which occurred on the night of the performance of The Guardian of the Threshold, in which the image mutated into a creature which lacerated him with its elytra, a Virgin is a female insect which produces eggs by parthenogenesis, and a Bride is a network which connects patterns in lace.

Other, uncanny, liaisons, such as the subject of Dame Balder's dream, a "shining-light child" anticipating Duchamp's 'headlight child' from his Jura-Paris Road text, composed a few months later, cannot detain us here. But the correspondences drawn by the Ephemerides, such as that between two cults of bearded virgins, one in Bavaria and another in Duchamp's Pays de Caux, under-scores the way in which Duchamp's self-confessed key Munich experiences can be seen to have set the scene for Roussel's pfennig to drop.

And a speech that Maria delivers, on Page 76, illustrates how Steiner's semiotics coincides with Roussel and Duchamp's practice. It runs:
So must the Master bring them to this place / Where words do not depend on human speech / But are imprinted on their souls by signs, Here he transforms speech into word happenings - A word descriptive language for the soul.

Following this, we learn on Page 82 that cosmic speech occurs as Thought Forms representing words; those spoken by Lucifer and Ahriman are visualized, on stage, through dance, by their 'creatures'. Reciprocally, Benedictus' words uttered on earth have effect in the spirit world, where souls grasp the meaning of everything with ease, because each explains itself through something else - through resemblance.

[Glyn Thompson; Metaphysics: Occult Munich. (Unwinding Duchamp: Mots et Paroles à Tous les Étages. Volume 1. Text., pp. 132-141.) Dissertation. The University of Leeds School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies. September 2008.]

Glyn Thompson; Metaphysics: Occult Munich (Part 4)


References and Sources:

[149] Papus. "The Physical Organs of Astral man" from "Comment est Constitué l'Étre Humain", La Vie Mystérieuse. Sept. 25, 1911, p. 276.
[150] Kuenzli, R and Naumann, F. eds.; Marcel Duchamp: Artist of this Century, MIT Press. 1989. Op. Cit. pp. 41-63.
[151] Schuré, E. Théatre de l'Âme, in Les Enfants de Lucifer et La Soeur Guardienne, 1922, xiii.
[152] Deak, F. Symbolist Theatre; Formation of an Avant-Garde. 1933. pp. 171-177.
[153] Taken from an article "Vom Strader-Apparat", published in Mitteilungen aus der anthroposophischen in Deutschland, 25. Jg. Heft 4, Nr. 98, p. 291, and see for drawings and photographs of the apparatus, http://userpage.fuberlin.de/~dieringe/Strader.
[154] Ehrenfried Pfeiffer. [http://home.earthlink.net/~johnrpenner/Articles/StraderMachine.html]
[155] Adams, D. Rudolf Steiner's First Goetheanum as an Illustration of Organic Architecture. The Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Vol. 51, No. 2, (Jun. 1992), pp. 182-201.
[156] Jennifer Gough-Cooper (author), Jacques Caumont (author), Pontus Hulten (editor); Ephemerides on and about Marcel Duchamp and Rrose Selavy 1887-1968, Thames and Hudson, 1993. Entry for 28.06.1912.

- Hunter, I. Christian Thomasius and the Desacralizaton of Philosophy. Journal of the History of Ideas 61. 4 (2000) pp. 595-616.
- John Francis Moffitt; Alchemist of the Avant - Garde: The Case of Marcel Duchamp. S.U.N.Y., Albany, 2003.


BIBLIOGRAPHIES