Picture Perfect Apocalypse

Drawing from internet l33t speak and such classics as A Canticle for Leibowitz and Dr. Strangelove, Romantically Apocalyptic is as absurd and disturbing as it is sublime and darkly funny. Using a mixed medium of photography and digital art to remarkable effect the webcomic follows the post-apocalyptic lives of  “zee Captain”, “Sniper” and “Pilot” as they try to survive the many dangers of our radiation engorged future, be they humans, mutants, aliens or otherwise.

In any event, worth a look.

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Conclave Obscurum

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.

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The Soviet Block

Despite myself, being Canadian, I still feel a strange resonance with Russian culture and history. Perhaps its the snow, the Montreal-based film “The Trotsky”, or the socialism, or maybe even the chronic angst that emanates from nations in constant danger of fracturing, physically and psychologically because they simply don’t make sense. Probably the last one, though.

Does Putin worry me? Yes. In general the political situation in Russia has been frightening and difficult for at least the past hundred years, but the sense of identity and history to emerge from this maelstrom is quite remarkable. From Mendeleev to  Dostoevsky, from Rasputin to Nabokov, and many more if you also include the Russian diaspora. As readers of this blog have noted, I’ve also had an illiterate eye on the occult art emerging from this corner of the world.

In any event, here are some resources to delight and terrify.

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Nikolai Kalmakoff

Chimera, 1926

The Sphinx, 1926.

There is a considerable dearth of information on the internet about the Russian Symbolist painter Nikolai Kalmakoff (1873-1955). He had roots in Russian, Italian and French art, and during his time in Paris around 1934, is reputed to have been deeply involved in occult practices. He is said to have become a recluse after the failure of his art exhibition of 1928, and ended up in a hospital for “indigents” later in life.

Primate, 1927.

In any event, he has re-sparked my interest in the Symbolist movement of the nineteenth century which spread across literature, music and art. It is a movement which has received relatively little attention compared to its romantic cousin, more gothic, more enchanted with the forbidden, but it touched upon the work of such notable French artists as Claude Debussy (1862-1918) and Charles Baudelaire, and payed homage to the German philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860).

Rat with Jaws of Gold, 1927

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Symbolism, Art Nouveau and Art Deco. New York: Sothebys, 1980.

Serge Sunne, Time, Identity and Otherness

I know very little about the artist Serge Sunne. He is Latvian, but I don’t think he’s gained a wide enough circulation yet to attract the kind of theorizing and speculation given to more popular artists.

Since discovering his works I have quickly become enamored with their strange depictions and surreal sense of the uncanny. Sunne seems to enjoy playing with concepts of identity, otherness, and time in his works in ways that I have not seen before.

“Another Holy Mother”, the title of the above picture combines an unsettling union of the Virgin Mary with the Baby Jesus with an entirely unworldly subject whose motherly embrace is a nightmare of its entangled, strangely disproportionate limbs. The contrast is made even more complete by the addition of the halos around the two figures, whose pale, almost feeble light contrast so sharply with the darkness of their bodies.

Then there is the question raised by many of his pieces: When will the future get old? One example can be seen in the derelict ghost spaceship at the bottom of this post. Few artists I know have really focused on a little explored theme in science fiction: when the new gets old, then ancient, the half-forgotten. Sunne’s “Abandoned Space Port” is another example of this lovely juxtaposition of an almost unfathomable futurity clashing with some sense of deep time.

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