Sunday, September 21, 2014

Alchemy in words, images, stone and paper.

A couple of weeks ago I visited the calligraphy collection of Jan Broes in the house 'De Zomere' in Oude Zomerstraat, Brugge, which Marguerite Youcenar decided would be the house of her fictional hero, the physician/philosopher/alchemist Zeno in her book 'The Abyss,' set during the Renaissance in Flanders. 

The four elements, earth, air, fire and water are present in both obvious and subtle ways in the various parts of the house from the threshhold of the door to the windows, alcoves, fireplaces and the pond in the courtyard. 

The calligraphy which can be found in several significant locations around the house on stone, paper and other materials, often appears in conjunction with the recurring motif of a carved labyrinth. The whole house has a quality of charged significance. 

Encounters with mundane everyday spaces and things are potential moments of metamorphoses, as the ordinary is transformed into the extraordinary. Like the alchemist's quest for the philosopher's stone,  base metal becomes gold and relative time aligns with the absolute.   Ciphers and symbols provide keys to unlock a parallel universe 'hidden' in full view in the domestic space. 

There is a very Flemish sense of enclosed spaces, with windows leading to both inner and outer worlds and visions; immanent and transcendence, sacred and profane.  

The medieval mind, described by Umberto Eco in his book 'Art and Beauty in the Middle Ages', saw and read the most ordinary things with loaded metaphysical significance. Those who look closely and try to decipher the meanings encoded in early Flemish paintings, like Robert Campin's 'Merode Altarpiece', will find the same ordinary domestic world full of theological and supernatural significance, framed by solid perspective of doors and windows, both painted and real, hinged to the frame of actual triptych itself which opens and closes to both hide and reveal its message like the angel in this annunciation. 

Here are some more pictures from 'De Zomere'

Yesterday whilst waiting for the builder I visited the paper maker Piet Moerman

.....and took these photos of him making paper by hand in his workshop in Greinschuurstraat.  

One way to save paper is to value it - in a world of disposable Xerox handmade paper is something you keep for life......

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