While searching the internet for yet more occult inspired Russian artwork I came across a multimedia display of some virtuosity in the form of the Conclave Obscurum.
The site claims that it is not a portfolio, but rather a collaboration between the Moscow based artist Oleg Paschenk, programmer Ivan Dembicki, and musician Alexei Bazunov. Despite this disclaimer, Paschenk’s actual portfolio seems quite tame compared to this site, which nevertheless does also serve the purpose of a portfolio in the “Sulfur Album”. But let us describe the experience:
The letters themselves twitch and crawl as the screen loads.
The home page is a study in anxiety familiar to any gamer. You’re loosing life, the white screen is turning red. But unlike any game, you have no way of controlling the damage, or even knowing where it comes from. Clicking on the screen will make the sound of gunfire, but still, you die, and something laughs at you. There are two escapes from this fate, navigate away from the page, or explore it.
A small slit in the mottled paper of the page reads “Prior”. Clicking it will take you to a page called “Rubedo”, the reddening stage of the alchemical process. Red stones fill up the screen, mousing over them will make them seem to jump and scatter, and to the right of the stones is a text in Latin, so stylized as to be almost illegible. In comes from an old Alchemical treaties, the Cabala Mineralis, and reads:
“Hic Aurora paulatim evanescente,
consurgit Sol noster in granula pulchrima et rubicum dissima,
que sunt Sulfur nostrum rubeum a Sophis, tam desideratum,
quod tamen non est finis laborum.”
or, if my vague smattering of Latin and a quick search of levity.com holds good:
“[The red sulphur.] By this the dawn gradually vanishes, our sun rises in beautiful and most red grains, and our red sulphur by the wise so desired, which however is not the end of the work.”
The whole site contains a mixture of European languages, English, German, Latin, surprisingly very little Russian, and when navigating from page to page sometimes the viewer is presented with “visual disturbances”, which you have the option of minimizing by pulling a switch to decrease the “poltergeist anxiete”.
The alchemical references of the site are also played out in Paschenk’s artwork. We see a playfully linear representation of the Ouroboros alongside of a number of other works specifically connected to the Cabala Mineralis, such as this one:
And yes, that fellow in the back is in fact urinating on that tree. As strange as it sounds, urinating cherubs were one of the visual tropes of some medieval alchemical texts, because of the association of urine with both the foul smell of sulfur and the colour of gold, among other properties. It is also a little known anecdote that the element phosphorus was first isolated by an alchemist working with urine provided to him by several generous neighbours. So every time you light a match you have in part the alchemists to thank for exploring things that few of us would want to explore, to bring back a kind of light.
The richness and depths of the alchemical tradition in art is a constant source of fascination, and a testament to its profound psychological energy. I still don’t know if contemporary Russian art is currently unique in its preponderance of these occult sources or if it’s merely where I keep finding them. Nevertheless I suspect that the particular mix of wealth, social disparity, history and anxiety in that particular nation would serve as a fertile ground for explorations into these darkest, and most illuminating corners of the psyche.