BYZANTINE THINGS IN THE WORLD / by Caitlin Murray

  Hagia Sophia (537-1453) Istanbul, Turkey

 

Hagia Sophia (537-1453) Istanbul, Turkey

"objects of daily piety and living" / the Byzantine Fresco Chapel Museum : "That space was surely in control of us. It told us how to approach, in what posture or attitude, when to look up, ahead, or down." / the New Testament in his left hand - teaching or blessing with his right

BYZANTIUM: Byzantion is the name of the city the preceded Constantinople, the city of Constantine I the Great founded in 330 - came to be applied to all inhabitants of the empire ruled from that city / considered themselves Romans - only since the sixteenth century have "Byzantium" and "Byzantine" been used commonly to distinguish ancient from medieval Romans. Then end of the Byzantine period is almost always given as 1453, when Ottoman Turks conquered Constantinople, but a Greek kingdom lingered at Trebizond until 1461 / Many different dates for the beginning of the Byzantine period / often defined as a medieval empire inhabited by Greek Orthodox Christians (but there were also other Christians, Jews and Muslims in the empire)

DIVIDUAL: the opposite of individual, non-divisible entities, as we understand them to be / the dividual then is a porous being, open to the world and its transformations, and likewise it operates out in the world and changes it, too. Our notion that we are discrete beings - intact, self-contained, and unchanged by the world - does not really hold up under scrutiny.

EULOGIA: a pilgrimage token

HETEROTOPIA: coined by Foucault; a flexible term to describe the opposite of utopia - so instead of a no-place (utopia's literal meaning), heterotopia is a place that represents another place, but in a manner that subverts, challenges, distorts our understanding of that represented place

ICON: an active agent in full relation with the divine with deep circulation throughout the culture

ICONOCLASM: the destruction of images

ICON-MODEL RELATIONSHIP: conventionally icons are considered by their prototypes (God, saints, angels, etc.) In this explanation, they are not like their models except in terms of visual resemblance and even more often because of inscriptions that state their identity - Byzantine Things argues the opposite - icons are indeed related in essence to their subjects, and their actions and treatment by human subjects enact a widespread assumption in the Byzantine world that divinity saturates all creation

LATE ANTIQUITY: third to eighth centuries

MANDYLION: God's self-portrait in an image; the great touch-relic of the medieval world

ORANS: a position of raised hands, arms, and eyes held by a person in a devotional manner, asking for favor and protection in an attitude of prayer or request (Christomimesis - being like Christ - leads to assimilation with the originary body)

RELATIONALITY: the condition of swimming in the flows of creation, as we all do, and of realizing that our skin is not the edge of us. Being fully open to and transformable by the reach of the material world.

STYLITES: a category of saint who excelled at a particular kind of self-denial, the removal of oneself from the surface of earth and instead dwelling on top of a pillar for remarkable periods of time / Particularly popular in Late Antiquity, such saints became less popular, certainly by the twelfth century, when such individualized attempts at extremes of piety were frowned upon by church authorities. The most famous of these saints were the Symeons, Elder and Younger. (SIMON OF THE DESERT)

THEOTOKOS: a theology-laden honorific given to the Virgin Mary. From the fifth century, it denotes her role as the vehicle of the entry of divinity into the world with the New Dispensation: she, that is a women, who bore God.


Byzantine things in the world (glenn peers)

panpsychism: "To overcome this anthropocentric perspective, the panpsychist asks us to see the 'mentality' of other objects not in terms of human consciousness, but as a subset of a certain universal quality of physical things, in which both inanimate mentality and human consciousness are taken as particular manifestations."

In Byzantium, divinity infused matter, and when properly activated and perceived, that matter mediated and transformed / Icon, relic and person were in relation, their identity assumed / the passage from objects to figures and their power to summon others and then to travel between the court of Christ and back again - the remarkably labile nature of things

not a non-essential relationship between image and model, but a presentation - attendance, presence, agency : THE QUESTION: WHAT IS THE DEGREE TO WHICH OUR WORLD IS SENTIENT AND ALIVE (also the question of iconoclasm) : the fear of the presence of things - yet, incarnation was at the center of Orthodox theology, namely, the Incarnation of God - this informed assumptions about materiality : No line needs exist between worlds of meaning and objects. Knowledge is a relation between knower and known, and it is unequally distributed amongst all knowers:

(participation in the world "becomes extended as a defining attribute of all perception involving a dynamic interplay between the perceiving body and that which it perceives. In that sense, we are all primitive animists. Merleau-Ponty's philosophy is effectively a modern western exposition of animistic and totemisitc thought in which the essences of persons and things are intertwined through an embodied mind in which perception is a worldly event governed by participation rather than a disembodied mental image") (The Materiality of Stone: Explorations in Landscape Phenomenology"

 

SHOWING BYZANTIUM

What is modernism's ability to tell us something new about Byzantium? The premise of this exhibition is that Byzantine things emerge more fully as themselves when we subtract sacralizing and deferential exhibition practice, and when we give them some room to act and reveal their agency (always now, incompletely, however). This argument operates through placing Byzantine things in constellation with like-minded things, modern and non-western, and analogies between these non-Byzantine artworks and Byzantine things will demonstrate that their world was in fact porous and open to dynamic relation among all things in the world - human, made, and natural.

. . .

The organizational principle is analogy / how do you make the material histories and properties

. . .

"forms of objects are not imposed form above but grow from the mutual involvement of people and materials in the environment. The surface of nature is thus an illusion: we work from within the world, not upon it. There are surfaces, of course, but these divide states of matter, not matter from mind. And they emerge from within the form-generating process, rather than pre-existing as a condition for it." (see Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Primary of Perception and Other essays on Phenomenological Psychology, the Philosophy of Art, History and Politics)

"Thought is not necessarily connected with a brain...Not only is thought in the organic world, but it develops there. Where there is a relationship, there is a thought, whether or not a brain is thinking it. We come upon our thoughts, discovering them in the world as much as inventing them in the imagination" (Charles Saunders Perice - through Shiff?)

SENSES IN CONTROL

THE OTHER SENSES / halation (the spreading of light beyond its proper boundaries to form a fog around the edges of a bright image in a photograph or on a television screen.)

Works by Rauschenberg, Klein, and Byars present ways of being in the world that are meaningful for an understanding of what it meant to be Byzantine in their world. See remarks on gold.

The philosopher Merleau-Ponty talked about the sensual reversability and self-alienation inherent in even a simple gesture like touching one's left hand with one's right. The left hand is not simply a passive recipient; it experiences and connects to the touching agent. He called this process the formation of identity through difference, that led to an opening of the body in two (see The Visible and the Invisible, 122-5)

"This is at the heart of all acts of perception. To perceive anything, including my hand, a relation of distance must be established from my own body, yet, even i the case of looking at something, I am 'touched' by what which I look at. It has an effect on me, and my perception of it" (see Tilley, The Materiality of Stone).

THE POWER OF THINGS IN CONCERT (see "The Force of Things: Steps toward an Ecology of Matter," Jane Bennett) (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q607Ni23QjA) / bodying oneself back into the object's realm can reveal affordances not provided by museum study / Imagining weight, texture, temperature of objects, let alone the destabilizing qualities of light, is risky, and of course it reveals a good deal about our own insecurities about and alienation from our objects of study (the placelessness of the white cube gallery - a utopia - a no place)

"the properties of materials, regarded as constituents of an environment, cannot be identified as fixed, essential attributes of things, but are rather processual and relational. They are neither objectively determined nor subjectively imagined but practically experienced. In that sense, every property is a condensed story. To describe the properties of materials is to tell the stories of what happens to them as they flow, mix and mutate" (see "Materials against Materiality" in Archaeological Dialogues)

ABYSS VS. PLAIN

how do things make the presence of the holy possible? / the holy alive in material traces / a rehabilitation of the sensible / all things are in relation, all things have the potential in the world to transform others

THE EXTENDED ORGANISM

trees and soil and stones and tokens - "Take this token and we will be with you" / not a clear separation between the saint and his traces / a web of relations - an extended organism / the Stylites / the saint as organism

HAUNTING MATTERS

the geological animation of the earth / in the life of St. Nikon (930-1000) a stone altered itself to become an icon of the saint / To what extent can the materials worked on and the actions of the technician transforming the raw materials shape and reshape our concepts of mature or of life itself?


BASE MATERIAL (CAITLIN HASKELL)

Using Documents as an indicator of broader cultural current, one might argue that the new "art" worth experiencing and writing about in Paris around 1930 were not exclusively, or even primarily, works produced in accordance with European pictorial intelligence / Rather, artists and critics were drawn to an assortment of "things" - fetishes, effigies, natural oddities, abstract forms - that could produce dramatically cogent and intensely revelatory experiences.

THE SCHLUMBERGER'S : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schlumberger_%28surname%29 (a zine)

coins formed from the dust and clay collected at the base of his column - minted on site 

EULOGIA : AN OBJECT BLESSED

 

what is today's modern eulogia? 


THINGLINESS (CHARLES BARBER)

Martin Heidegger: "The Origin of the Work of Art" (1935-36) and "The Thing" (1950-51)

the activity of things in the world and also the shaping of the world in things

the stamp of Meletius - framed by its named blessing, this thing extends the power of the saint to wherever it impresses its design / while it may be materially humble, it circulates a powerful name

(BACK TO HEIDEGGER / HAVE NOT READ THIS SECTION)


TOKENS TOUCHED AND TOUCHING (SHANNON STEINER)

touch that transmits God's grace : THIGMOPHILIC : touch-loving things : relying on touch to navigate an environment / Pilgrimage objects bridged touch between a saint and a pilgrim and pilgrims expected the things they handled in veneration to touch back (EULOGIAE) / palm prints on tokens / cradling the token in your hand * in Byzantine understanding, dust was the building block of the human body :

the use of Symeon's dust to manufacture clay blessings in this form freed his body of locational and temporal restriction

HOW TO CREATE CLAY TOKENS FROM WEST TEXAS DIRT


RESISTANT SURFACES (SUSAN SUTTON)

boli an object in the Bamana (was a large west-african state, 1640-1861, now Mali) ontology - take form in a flow of energy known as nyama

Animism as it is normally defined by anthropology, is a paradigm imbuing objects with personal and subjective forces. Understanding animism in these terms entails a falsely animate world - one that is animated solely by the power of human psychology / objects become displaced actors : objects are conceived of as agents with ability to act in the world, but dependent on and deploying the activity of the human mind - the object is not conceived as able to act without human presence, without the animation of human psychology 

SURFACES - resisting naming, resists objectification - however solid or perfected we perceive a thing to be, its surfaces are permeable, transformable and fluid

Many objects, like boli, are created or made with thingness at the force of their existence in the world. Their surfaces are intended to magnify presence and to articulate agency beyond the human. The manipulation of materials to make objects intended to inhabit a liminal space of thingness, to use their properties in the service of making things extraordinary, is integral to many forms of making that we consider art / ATTESTING TO THE PERMEABLE NATURE OF SURFACE

the nkisi of Kongo (thingness also achieved and understood through its surfaces) / though these objects' arresting compositions emerge in a social web of relations (a successful nkisi accumulates a mass-like cloud of objects driven into its body, revealing the object's resourceful, cunning, sharp and decisive ability to handle human problems), the nkisi's ability to act in the world lies in the material properties that make up its sculptural form. The combination of materials is chosen for the unique attributes of each and the power it contributes in concert with the others to create a charged object that resides in a liminal space. 

the Dogon in Mali - Holding an animistic worldview, the Dogon express the mask as an interdependence of human and animal, and that activates life and things in the world. God here is conceived of as a thing - outside the reach of full human understanding, but recognized as an entity: it exists. 

the human not as a privileged position but a co-emergent thing (emergent? emerging?)


FACE (Gleen peers)

Christ's divine self-portrait - the Mandylion - christ pressed a cloth to his face, creating a miraculous image : this motivated a whole category of image relics in Christianity and Islam / seeing Christ is like facing a mirroring face, for his is the originary face, the face from which all faces are derived, as in a kind of mirror

the Mandylion as talking, moving, replicating and performing miracles 

that aspect - the face - that we take to be the most essential part of ourselves, our own hard-won sign of individuality, was, in fact, the sight of dividuation / our face is where humanity's relation to its creator is shown to be open-faced to him / the elimination of individuality from our understanding of face

the Mandylion determined an abstract system that included all faces in circulation and created a relation among all human creation and its creator : 


ineluctability


inexorability