Meditations on the Red Mass by Ann McCoy

BOMB 14 Winter 1986
014 Winter 1986
Bomb 14 Mccoy1 Body

Ann McCoy, Sacre Coeur for Proinsias Stagg, 1985, 105 × 165 inches. Courtesy Brooke Alexander. Photo by Ivan Talla Dana.

In the past ten years we have all seen art saturated with blood. Usually it is the end product of cartoon violence, a graphic pretext for a visual pot boiler, a sensationalist movie poster trick. Its dramatic possibilities have been exploited to the hilt in the most facile way. However, another multi-dimensional use of blood in art has evolved in a parallel fashion. The Apollonian rationality of the scientific era, and the diminishing religious structures have left a void to be filled. That our culture, in the age of science, should favor the Apollonian is not surprising. The value of light is beyond question; but where there is no darkness there can be no illumination. Rejection of the Dionysian does not serve the purpose of clear and total seeing.

(Thomas McEvilley)

We are living in an age which has become very one sided. The rational and the scientific have been offered up as a solution for all of our ills. An overly masculine Logos has been favored, and the positive value of a feminine Eros rejected. With all of our “rationality” we have forgotten an essential psychic fact, that our modern civilization is a thin veneer over a still pagan structure. The events in Germany in the ’30s and ’40s are a warning to us that the overemphasis of the “rational” at the expense of the transformation of the inner pagan opens the gates of hell and destruction. The rejection of the dark, pagan side of the psyche only causes it to erupt in a dangerous way. Modern civilization has taken materialism to an extreme. The inner transformation process—the life of the soul—has been projected outward onto matter to build the skyscrapers of our modern world. The pagan, the Maenad, has been left in the unconscious, untransformed as our energies have been projected outward. The inner life has been forgotten.

Our current religious myth with the Protestant Reformation and Vatican Councils grows more sterile by the year. Religious rituals have lost their power for redemption; they exist as shadows of their former selves. Our Eucharist ritual mumbled by rote, is pale in comparison to that of the Orphite Christians who offered up menstrual blood and semen to the creator in revelry. Current religious trends, with their Calvinist thrust, have more and more stressed the rational, at the expense of the mysterious and the numinous.

A group of artists working in the Dionysian vein in the past 20 years seems to be a response to this dilemma of our modern age. The early blood and meat works of Robert Delford Brown, the O. M. Theater of Hermann Nitsch, the mutilation work of Günther Brus; the performance works of Paul McCarthy, Carolee Schneemann, Ralph Ortez; the blood works of Eric Orr, Michael Tracy, Eleanor Antin, Patrick Ireland, Marina Abramovi?’s; Kiki Smith’s blood jars, Joseph Beuys’s hare’s blood works, and my own work are but a few dealing with blood as subject in a complex, ritualized, multifaceted, and often pagan manner. This is only a partial list, and represents only artists working with blood that fit into the fabric of the discussion to follow.

Many of these artists are interested in depth psychology, magic, inner transformation, initiation rites, religious ritual, archeology, ancient medical practices, and the collective unconscious in general. Complex content seems to be a part of the works, as well as that which transcends literary discourse—cathartic and numinous experiences. It is as though they are re-examining our collective past, and are creating works which are not rooted in the current materialism.

… through a complete ‘living out’ and experience, the feast of the resurrection is reached … . I want to recognize myself in the joy of resurrection.
“… . My aim is to free humanity from the animal element … .” (Nitsch)
It is my belief that even the most totally bereft wretch will be jolted into some kind of consciousness when confronted by the fearsomely beautiful sight of tons of meat, gallons of blood … . The meat show will be created to induce startling spiritual, sexual, and aesthetic revelations in the viewer.
…” (Delford Brown)

 

In this essay I have taken the position of the Sophists who supposed that philosophical matter consists of animal and human blood. I am presenting the classical, heretical (pagan and alchemical), and Christian lore on the subject of blood. Blood in its symbolic context is multi-dimensional and complex, and its various aspects and levels of meaning deserve to be examined. The alchemical view has perhaps the greatest scope. Too often, we are presented with only the immediate rather than multiple meanings of a symbol, reducing it to a cliché.

I will begin the discussion of blood with an alchemical text by Gerhard Dorn:

(The philosophers) called their stone animate because at the final operations, by virtue of the power of this most nobel fiery mystery, a dark red liquid sweats out drop by drop from their material and their vessel and for this reason they have prophesied that in the last days a most pure (genuine) man, through whom the world will be free, will come to the earth and will sweat bloody drops of a rosy red hue, whereby the world will be redeemed from its Fall. In like manner, too, the blood from their stone will free the leprous metals and also men from their diseases … . and that is the reason why the stone is called animate. For in the blood of this stone is hidden its soul … . For a like reason they have called it their microcosm, because it contains the similitude of all things of this world, and therefore again they say that it is animate, as Plato calls the microcosm animate.

In alchemical literature Christ is shown enthroned with blood pouring from his side wound into chalices which are held by the souls redeemed in purgatory, or which flows in some instances into the Fountain of Life. The “Red Mass” is a stage in the alchemical Great Work, the object of which is the transformation of the base elements, in matter and in man, into a higher state of being. The wounding and the sweating of blood represent a psychic advance in man which arises from the suffering of the soul. The flaying of flesh, and the drinking of blood are pre-Christian in origin, originating in the cults of Attis, Mythra, and other mystery deities. The Christ in the Red Mass is a soter cosmi (preserver of the cosmos) who represents the still unconscious idea of the whole or complete man who will bring about the deliverance of the world. The opus (end product of the alchemical Great Work) is in this discussion not the making of material gold, but rather the alchemical gold, a psychic and spiritual stage of perfection. The blood which flows from the side of Christ into the Fountain of Life feeds the later stages of the work and is crowned by the figure of Mercurius, the divine child, whose birth is the outcome of the Great Work. The blood’s essential quality is its power for redemption, its archetypal dynamism.

The author of the treatise “De Sulphure” says the soul “is the vice-regent of God (sui locum tenens seu vice Rex est) and dwells in the life spirit of the pure blood.” (C. G. Jung)

In the medieval mind the blood of Christ contained both the “soul” and the divinity of the savior. It was a spiritual essence beyond price; blood as the essence of life itself was the most precious thing which man could conceive. Blood as the essence of a person is implied in the blood jars of Kiki Smith where the quantity of blood in a person is displayed to represent the person. Blood was thought to belong only to god and carried suprapersonal connotations. Medieval manuscripts show the heart of Christ marked with stigmata of five wounds. The blood of Christ which was symbolically shed for all men was also seen as an individual life-giving source. The equation of blood to life, and the notion of blood containing the soul can be found in almost every major religion … . the blood was considered to be the seat of life or soul. Because the liver was thought to be a mass of clotted blood, the soul was located in that organ. (Edward Edinger) Liver and Heart were both considered to be the seat of life in the ancient world. In his 1964 liver prints, Robert Delford Brown made prints of that organ from its own blood. The works in some way suggest the notion of the soul’s imprint.

Blood took on the identity of the “blood soul.” Erasistratus of Alexandria thought the arteries carried air transformed by the heart into spirit or pneuma. Galen theorized that air and blood combined formed three pneumata. They correspond to Plato’s idea that man had a soul divided into three parts. Blood signified the “blood soul” which was highest in the hierarchy of the seven souls. The seventh, or highest, soul was the blood soul. The secret was concealed under such figures as Adam, the red man from dirt; Atum, the red creator; Isis, the red heifer; Horus, the red-complexioned calf; Neith, the vulture, the bird of blood; and the pelican nursing her seven young from the blood of her breast. (J. A. Herbert)

A direct relationship between the notion of the soul and the “blood soul” can been seen in the Blood Shadow by Eric Orr (1970). Orr covered a sheet of glass with his own blood. The artist scraped away the blood around a man’s moonlight cast shadow, creating a silhouette. The glass was crated and transported to the plain of Giza, just south of modern Cairo, Egypt. When the moon rose, Orr uncrated the glass by the Mycerinus pyramid. Calculating the position, he dug a pit (three by nine by one feet) in the sand where the shadow, of the pyramid apex would fall at moonset. The glass was laid face up in a grave-like pit. As the moon approached the horizon the shadow of the pyramid apex (from which the soul of the pharoah Mycerinus was to launch itself into the eternity of the circumpolar sky) glided slowly up the blood-self on the glass and tapped lightly at the brainpan just before moonset, summoning its spirit. When the moon disappeared, the glass was buried. (Thomas McEvilley) The relationship between the blood person (created through an act of sympathetic magic) the soul of the pharaoh, and the blood-self as geist is evoked.

The theme of sacrifice is important here. Christ sacrifices himself to make manifest his spiritual essence. Furthermore, Christ is not only the sacrificial victim, but also sacrifices himself. Christ becomes what Jung describes as the … agent who extracts from himself the redeeming blood. The notion of a god who sacrifices himself is not only Christian, but also has its origins in pre-Christian myths. In the Visions of Zosimos, Ion, the priest of the inner sanctuaries cries: I am Ion, the priest of the inner sanctuaries, and I submit myself to an unendurable torment … til I perceive by the transformation of the body that I become spirit! … and even as he spoke thus, and I held him by force to converse with me, his eyes became as blood. Later the commentator describes Ion. This is the priest of the inner sanctuaries. It is he who changes the bodies into blood, makes the eyes clairvoyant, and raises the dead. (C. G. Jung) In the Visions of Zosimos as in Christ’s sacrifice, the main purpose of the sacrifice is transformation. The sacrificing priest in this spiritualization process is changed into pneuma.

The theme of sacrifice, is often lived out in a most dramatic way in the work of the Austrians Hermann Nitsch, Günther Brus, and Rudolf Schwarzkögler. Often the sacrificial act is carried out through the use of totem animals, the pascal lamb in the works of Hermann Nitsch and Robert Delford Brown, chickens and mice in the work of Ralph Ortez, and with the actual participants in the performance taking on the role through the mingling with sacrificial animals. Rudolf Schwartzkögler, in a photographic work, sacrificed himself in the tradition of Attis.

Frazer points out that the eating of the god serves a purpose, it helps the god to be reincarnated, and imparts some of the divinity to the eater. The eater also participates in the reincarnation and in the rebirth. In art this motif is not limited to alchemical manuscripts. Hermann Nitsch works with this theme repeatedly in his Orgien Mysterien Theater. The mythical image of death, sacrifice, resurrection, and redemption pervades the O. M. Theater to a certain extent as a leitmotif and is an image of the human (redemption) wish for a conquest of death and a spiritual purification … . The play embraces two extreme situations of life: SACRIFICE and RESURRECTION. The total world of feelings must be mirrored in the play. The descent into the subconscious, into the vegetative, into sleep, into perversion, into death must be carried out so that the released joy of resurrection finds its reality. (Nitsch) Nitsch becomes a participant in the sacrificial act, much in the same way a participant in the mass becomes identified with the mystical body of Christ. The multitudes who celebrate the Eucharist and the art of Nitsch make it clear that the “sacrificer” and the “redeeming blood” still play an active role in the psychic life of mankind, and are not to be relegated to the annals of church history or to medieval and classical texts.

The Attis Cults with their baths of bull’s blood also have a modern counterpart in the work of Nitsch, Delford Brown, Ortez, Schwartzkögler, and others. Attis who castrated himself for the Goddess Cybele, became a symbol of resurrection because his body would not decay. Young male members of the Attis cult underwent a baptism in blood. The initiate lay beneath a wooden grate onto which a bull was led and slaughtered. The bull’s blood ran through the grates and onto the worshiper. By cleansing his sins in the bull’s blood, the Attis worshiper had the hope of eternal life. In his book on the O. M. Theater Nitsch discusses religious blood baths … during the Phrygian communion the mystic had to climb down into the GRAVE and let the blood of a newly slaughtered bull run over him in order to be reborn into eternity.(Nitsch)

In the mystery religions the drinking of blood was used as a method of transmitting knowledge. Those experiences which could not be described by literary discourse, the numinous, the unspeakable, were transmitted through the blood tie. A Germanic example of Knowledge being transmitted through blood is Siegfried who learns to understand the language of the birds, and thus dominate nature, by drinking the dragon’s blood. Eleanor Antin’s work, The Blood of the Poet (1965–68), is a box containing slides of the blood of different poets. She presents the notion of the blood as carrier of the knowledge, inspiration, spirit, and essence of the poet. One is reminded of the reliquary in Naples with its vial of St. Janarius’s blood which mysteriously liquifies. The blood contains the magical properties identified with the donor. The Antin piece is also a pun on Cocteau’s work of a similar name.

Blood also has life-giving properties. Not only is one given a new life in Christ through the drinking of blood, but life can also spring from spilled blood. The Erinyes were born from the blood of the castrated Kronos; the Sirens from the blood which fell from the broken horn of Achelous. When Bata was killed a second time, two persea trees grew out of the blood. In the Cybele and Attis rites, the altars were splashed with blood as the devotees castrated themselves so that the fertility goddess might be impregnated. The Golden Bough by Frazer contains hundreds of examples of blood being spilled upon the earth to insure fertility. Blood is also mingled with earth in many creation myths. In the old Babylonian myth, Enki commanded the slaying of another god, so that Ninhursag might mingle the clay with the blood of the slain god to create man. In Genesis man was made from the blood of Kinga Ea. The Koran says Allah made man from flowing blood.

Blood is often considered an autonomous entity which can call forth its own revenge. Not only does blood have to be avenged, it can possess a memory in other ways. When Odysseus allowed Teiresias and the shades to taste the blood in the underworld, their memory of the upperworld was restored. As an autonomous entity it can carry memory, demand revenge, possess intelligence, and transmit hereditary traits.

14 Antin Body

Eleanor Antin, Blood of a Poet Box, 1965–68 (with the material used in its making). Courtesy Ronald Feldman Fine Arts.

The Blood of the Covenant acts as a cement between god and man. In the drinking of the blood the communicant establishes a bond between himself and god. By the drinking of the blood of the god man absorbs the god’s nature. This is also true in a more primitive sense. Victors drink the blood of their victims as a way of absorbing the victim’s strengths, this was regarded as being true in general, one drank the blood of another (god or man) to absorb the other’s nature.

Blood is used as a cementing agent in the work of Michael Tracy. Mexican icons are stuck together with blood and hair. The blood seems to glue the imagery one associates with the “penetente” or bleeding santos with a kind of paganism. One is reminded of the aboriginal habit of fastening feathers to the body with blood, or of blood used in African art as a glue along with mud and hair.

The god may also drink his own blood. An older view of the Eucharist has Christ drinking his own blood. Christ drinks his own blood. (St. Chrysostom) Two artists in the group mentioned re-enact this drama. Günther Brus in a performance drinks his own blood mixed with excrement. Robert Delford Brown has a nurse draw his blood, a Chinese cook fries it, and then he eats it. The artist consumes his own essence.

Blood also washes away sin. We as sinners are purchased from His holy blood, Acts 20:28, and become clean in God’s eyes. This is the gospel as taught in both Testaments: and the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanseth us from all sin. (I John 1:7) The blood of Christ not only redeems those on earth, but is also supposed to redeem those souls in purgatory.

The notion of blood flowing from a deity is not only Christian. Narokhachöma, the Tibetan goddess drinks blood from a human skull cup. The skull cup has the same meaning as similar death objects in Western art, it is a symbol of the impermanence of the physical body. The cup has the female association with menstrual blood, and has the power to release one from the endless cycle of eternity. In Mexican mythology, Xiuhteccutli, the mother/father fire diety who lives in the naval of the earth, has blood flowing from his/her body in four streams to the four cardinal points.

Stigmata appear in the work of artists like Günther Brus, Kim Jones, Chris Burden, who cut their bodies in patterns. The Dutch artist Marina Abramovi? (in 1974)* in a performance entitled “Thomas Lipp” cut her body over the navel in the shape of a five pointed star. The artist then reclined on a cross made of ice. In another performance (in 1973), Abramovi? lay on a table and allowed viewers to do as they wished to her body with a variety of instruments. One viewer cut her neck with a knife. In Written Ten, Abramovi? used ten knives to score the spaces between her fingers.

The Orphite Christians linked menstrual blood to the blood of Christ by using Revelation 22:2: I saw the tree of life with its 12 kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. This was thought to describe the menstrual cycle. The menstrual blood was offered up by the Gnostic Christians to their creator; this was later regarded as heretical, and menstrual blood became unclean and taboo in the eyes of the church. Egyptian pharoahs achieved divinity by drinking the “blood of Isis,” an ambrosia called sa. The dead were buried with amulets praying Isis to redeem them with her magic blood. The Australian aborigines also linked menstrual blood, which flows from the womb of the earth, to rebirth. Carolee Schneeman and Shigeko Kubota have included menstrual blood as a theme in their performances. A collaboration between Robert and Rhet Delford Brown (1967) used menstrual blood to make “Vulva Prints.”

In the mass Christ’s blood is represented by the wine, and the bread or host signifies the body. The blood also represents the soul. After the transubstantiation a piece of host is mingled with wine producing a coniunctio of the soul with the body, thus producing the living body of Christ. By partaking in the Eucharist, the celebrant becomes part of the mystical body of Christ. Again, this symbol is not reserved for the church, but can be found in today’s art. In one of the performances of the O. M. Theater, Hermann Nitsch uses lamb or bull’s blood, wine, water, water in which meat has been washed, and white bread (wheat bread) dipped in red wine. Paul McCarthy has also made communion-like performances using his own blood.

Certainly the blood of the Iranian martyrs flowing in fountains and the rivers of blood in the work of Hermann Nitsch demonstrate that blood retains its power as a spiritual symbol, and cannot be relegated to our plasma banks; as do the multitudes who gather in Naples for the feast of St. Janarius (when his blood liquifies).

The side wound also reappears in a modern setting. In Grail legend, the body of Christ was given to Joseph of Arimathea to prepare for burial. Joseph also obtained the cup Christ used at the Last Supper, and while he was cleaning Christ’s body for burial, blood flowed from the wound into the cup. In the Red Mass, blood also flows from the side wound of Christ into the cup. In the Greek Orthodox mass the loaf (Christ’s body) is pierced with a small silver lance to represent the side wound from which the blood of grace will flow, and perhaps also the slaying of the victim (mactatio Christi).

As myths can be compared with our collective dreams, through which the reality of the wish-dream principle can be recognized, Christ’s side wound can be seen as a paradoxical symbol of an erotic surging up of a break-through of the phallic at the peak of the excessive repentance for the original sin (sexual intercourse with the mother). (Hermann Nitsch)

Christ became identified with the pascal lamb and was called the Agnus Dei. The Old Testament prototype of the blood of Christ is the blood of the Pascal Lamb. The blood sacrifice of Christ has many parallels with the sacrifice of the pascal lamb which protects the Israelites from the vengeance of Yahweh and these parallels help elucidate the psychological meaning of the redemptive power of the blood of Christ. (Edward Edinger) The pascal lamb theme occurs in modern art in the work of Hermann Nitsch and Robert Delford Brown.

Blood plays an important role in alchemy. The blood of Christ corresponds to the elixir vital or aqua permanens, a liquid form of the philosopher’s stone. It is identified with the “sacred waters” in alchemical literature. Blood is one of the best-known synonyms for the aqua permanens, and its use in alchemy is often based on the blood symbolism and allegories of the church. (C. G. Jung) The aqua permanens was also called the water of the Holy Ghost. According to Heraclitus, spirit assimilated to matter turned to water. The Christian parallel was Christ’s blood which was why the water of the philosophers was called spirituales sanguis. For the alchemists blood and water were identical.

Many alchemical symbols, not unlike other important religious symbols and archetypes are dual in nature. For example, the serpent may be a negative or positive symbol; the serpent crucified on the cross and identified with Christ, or the evil serpent in the Garden of Eden. Where one finds the Christ or that which redeems, one also finds the opposite constellated in the form of the anti-Christ. A classical example would be Asklepios, the divine healer, often identified with Christ, who obtained his healing powers from the blood of Medusa. The blood which came from her left side healed, that which came from her right side destroyed. Blood with its dual nature, like Mercurius, can either be poison or panacea. When Heracles is given a shirt soaked in the blood of Nessus, it produces a fiery agony that ends on his funeral pyre. The lapis is dual in nature, as is Christ’s tincture, a sanguis spiritual is, a spiritual blood. The lapis is not just a stone since it is composed ‘de re animali, vegetabili, et minerali,’ and consists of the body, soul, and spirit; moreover it grows from flesh and blood. (C. G. Jung)

In alchemy blood is often used to describe the end product of extraction procedures. Jung says, these instructions are the typical alchemical procedure for extracting the spirit or soul and thus for bringing unconscious contents to consciousness. Again, it must be emphasized that the alchemists were projecting an inner process of spiritual transformation on quasi-chemical procedures. The alchemist’s art was chiefly a spiritual quest.

Blood was used to bind contracts. In Faust a pact with the devil is signed in blood. Blood could also serve as a binding agent with god in alchemical procedures.

14 Brown 1 Body

Robert Delford Brown, Meat Show, 1964.

The mixture must not lack the thing that really keeps body and soul together; human blood, which was regarded as the seat of the soul. It was a synonym for the red tincture, a preliminary stage of the lapis; moreover, it was an old-established magic charm, a ‘ligament’ for binding the soul either to God or to the devil. (C. G. Jung)

The tincture (red) is further compared to the Red Sea, which is made red by the blood of Christ. Michael Meier, the German alchemist, in his Atlanta Fugiens discusses the baptism in the Red Sea which is mixed with Christ’s blood. A modern work using the Red Sea theme is Anselm Kiefer’s Red Sea Casket. I have also made a 14-foot drawing called The Red Sea, and have written a book entitled, Das Rot Meer.

The Rubedo, the reddening process in Alchemy is frequently compared to blood, and when it is a stone to the carbuncle Gutheil. Blood in alchemy is also linked to the blood of the lion, the rose, and the pelican (a Christ symbol) who it was thought fed her young with blood from her breast. In Khunrath, the ‘lion lured forth from the Saturnine mountain’ had rose-colored blood:

… the costly Catholic Rosy-Coloured Blood and Aetheric Water that flows forth Azothically from the side of the innate Son of the Great World when opened by the power of the Art. Through the same alone, and by no other means, are Vegetable, Animal, and Mineral things, by the ablution of their impurities, raised to the highest Natural perfection, in accordance with Nature and by the Art.

In the treatise the “Son of the Great World” is correlated with Christ, and his blood is the quintessence, or the Red Tincture.

In the miracle at Cana, Christ transformed water into wine. This established Christ as the winemaker. Early chalices like the Lycurgus Cup show Christ surrounded by grapes. A 15th-century woodcut shows Christ as a grape being pressed in a wine press. From his breast flows blood, into a chalice, and from the chalice a number of streams flow out to the various activities of man. The miracle at Cana further identifies the wine/water with the elixir vitae. The wine miracle at Cana was the same as the miracle performed in the temple of Dionysus. Philosophical water was called “the Grape Clusters of Hermes”; the wine links the Christ to Dionysus.

Herman Nitsch explores the Christ/Dionysus link as well in the O. M. Theater. The analytical leitmotif list reads:
1) Transubstantiation, Last Supper (this is my flesh and blood) and 4) Debauchery and Sacrifice of Dionysus, his tearing up. Peter Gorman in his text on Nitsch further makes the Christ/Dionysus link: the decaying or torn up, ugly, deformed example of humanity, the bestially mutilated sacrifice of the murder of passion along with the ill-treated, bleeding Christ of the Passion, the crucified and disemboweled corpse of the lamb can be seen as the neurotic substitute images for the repressed, mutilated Dionysus, for a creative principle.

The blood of Christ has a further important attribute, the ability to reconcile opposites. This factor probably influenced the alchemists’ conception of Mercurius, as peacemaker, mediator (between warring elements), a producer of unity. Mercurius is conceived as “spiritual blood” on the analogy of the blood of Christ. (C. G. Jung) The redemptive sacrificial aspect of Mercurius further established the Mercurius/Christ parallel … but by the shedding of his own blood he calls back those who are near to death, and restores to them unimpaired their former life, like the pelican. (C. G. Jung)

A brief word must be said about blood and its relationship to the Philosophical Tree. The Philsophical Tree is a picture of expansion, death, and rebirth; the tree is thought of as a system of blood vessels. This tree has its roots in the heart and are the counterparts of the Gokard, the source of all medicines and the White Haoma, which is destined to serve man with immortality at the time of the resurrection. This can be compared to the writings of Robert Fludd (an alchemist and physician) who compared the sun to God, and the heart to the sun’s image in man. Heart and blood are linked as containers for the soul. In Finno Ugric mythology, souls are hidden in the most important organs, such as the heart, the liver, and blood. The circulation of the blood has given rise to the belief that the soul can travel about within the body. This idea may be found in the writings of Ibn Tufail, who first described the circulation of blood before Harvey.

Patrick Ireland, a trained physician as well as an artist, created a work entitled: The Duchamp Portrait (1966–67). He transferred Duchamp’s heartbeat on electrocardiograph to an oscilloscope, thereby making his vital function immortal. This complex work bridges the world of Fludd and Harvey, where the heart was the sun or body’s capital, and the modern notion of pulse. The work is not without art historical roots. In Chinese art the pulse is linked to Ch’i (life force) and the veins and arteries to landscape; the veins carry the life force through the landscape.

The soul of the philosopher’s stone is also found in its heart: (C. G. Jung)But as regards the fixation and permanence of the soul and spirit at the end of the sublimation, this takes place when the secret stone is added, which cannot be grasped by the senses, but only by the intellect, through inspiration or divine revelation, or through the teaching of an initiate. Alexander says there are two categories: seeing through the eye and understanding through the heart. (C.G. Jung)
Go to the waters of the Nile and there you will find a stone that has a spirit. Take this, divide it, thrust in your hand and draw out its heart; for its soul is in its heart.
(Ostanes)

This discourse ends appropriately on the heart and soul. It is precisely these two elements which seem to have been torn from art by the trends of the current art market place. Content has become taboo, any notion of high art buried beneath calloused cynicism. The works mentioned are significant in their departure, and are linked in a profound way with the psychic and religious history of mankind. The works are not merely an echo of a Judeo- Christian past but are a re-examination of the whole mythic structure. The dark side is not excluded as it is in Christianity, with its lily-white redeemer. The works deal with the psychic totality of men, light and dark. If art is not to become a pawn of the marketplace, it must begin to embrace complex content, the totality of the organism. At the same time it must have a regard for its philosophical and historical foundations. Artists must help create the new myth of the new epoch. Art must once again become serious business. It must be restored to its transformative and transcendent function.

14 Brown 2 Body

Robert Delford Brown, Meat Show, 1964.

* The Serbian artist Marina Abramovic in 1974 in a performance entitled Thomas Lipp cut her body over the navel in the shape of a five-pointed star with a razor. The artist then reclined on a cross made of ice. In another performance in 1973, Abramovic lay on a table and allowed the viewers to do as they wished with her body with an assortment of instruments. One viewer cut her neck with a knife. In Written Ten, Abramovic used ten knives to score the spaces between her fingers.

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Originally published in

BOMB 14, Winter 1986

Roy Lichtenstein, Jackie Winsor, art by Sarah Charlesworth, Francesco Clemente, and more.

Read the issue
014 Winter 1986