The Art of Janda Zdenek, the Ars Memoria of Giordano Bruno, and Dream Theory
"Beauty and the Beast"
"Gothics in Bohemia"
Janda Zdenek is a painter, born in Louny Czechoslovakia in 1953.
"Adoration of the Three Magi"
"At the Beginning There Was Stone...
Words from the artist:
I painted two stones as a study into a sudden flash of thought I received . I painted them, one hanging above the other. Oh dear, my inspiration. These stones were different from the heavy lying ones. There will forever be tension between them. Stones levitate. It was my first stimulus and it needed to be considered. From stones still life emanates, from stones human drama can be created. By arranging stones and other various components into mutual combinations, chords of feeling can be created. These cords of feeling radiate the human experience."
I create new shapes with my fantasy and onto empty stages I place the players of dramatic experience; puppets; stony mountains; sand; wood; metal...myself the scenarist, costume designer, lighting technician, director. My own Commedia dell Mundo."
It's interesting that Janda Zdenek describes his work as being a placing together of disparate objects to give them new life and meaning...Girodano Bruno (painted above) had a similar process through which he developed the Ars Memoria, or Memory Arts. Above, he is painted with many objects sailing around his head; in his right hand, he holds a pointer which he directs towards a disembodied head. The whole universe is there, emanating from his brain. To have the whole universe at one's fingertips, like that, was the goal of the memory arts. The process of the art was (loosely) to create symbols to represent ideas and facts and hypotheses and arguments, symbols that were meaningful to you, the creator, but were "funny" in some way--odd in their juxtaposition with the idea to be remembered, because it was understood that things that were funny (or violent or sexual) were easier to remember. Verbal puns (for example) on the words or ideas to be remembered would be visually expressed and then the visual symbol would be "placed" in a particular corner of a particular room of a particular floor of a house (or a place in a garden), which was your memory castle, or your memory garden. You, the Mnemonist would then be able to stroll through the house or the garden (or the castle or the library) in your mind, and with each item you passed, recall a different aspect of the speech, or the list of medical facts, or the arguments of a proof, that you were trying to memorize.
Your first step was to create the house or garden. Your second step was to decide upon the symbols you would use for each letter of the alphabet and for the numbers 0-9. Then you were ready to begin.
John Michael Greer gives this example:
"For instance, if-to choose an example wholly at random-one needed to memorize the fact that streptococcus bacteria cause scarlet fever, rheumatic fever, and streptococcal sore throat, the first task would be the invention of an image for the word "streptococcus." One approach might be to turn this word into "strapped to carcass," and visualize the figure who represents the letter S with a carcass strapped to his or her back by large, highly visible straps. For scarlet fever-perhaps "Scarlett fever" -a videotape labeled "Gone With The Wind" with a large thermometer sticking out of it and an ice pack on top would serve, while rheumatic fever-perhaps "room attic fever" -- could be symbolized by a small model of a house, similarly burdened, with the thermometer sticking out of the window of an attic room ; both of these would be held by the original figure, whose throat might be red and inflamed to indicate the sore throat. Again, this takes much longer to explain, or even to describe, than it does to carry out in practice."
There was a secondary purpose to this process, and that was of a more alchemical nature. The Hermetic magicians of the Renaissance (and Giordano Bruno himself) felt that if you could organize an image of the universe from your memory (holding always the Platonic view that all "learning" was really just memories from before you were born into human form), you would attain the key to universal knowledge. Your mind works in images and puns (think here of the odd scenes of your dreams, which reorganize the occurrences of your day into short story form to help you understand them), and your mind knows more than you are aware of (more than you have yet “remembered”). If you access that image-producing, pun-producing part of your brain, regularly storing all the knowledge you come across that way, then you will (according to this school of thought) come to a point where you can begin to have an effect on the outer, physical world by moving around those symbolic images in your mind. This may seem like a ridiculous claim, but it reminds me of the current dream theories, which posit that since your subconscious mind works in images and puns (!), it is much easier to change a deeply-held fear or other weakness by using the visual representations of that fear provided by your dream than it is to try to logically reason away that fear. The most common example: if you are dreaming of a dark monster chasing you down the stairs every night, then the task set out for you is to stop running, turn around, and ask the monster what it wants, exactly. According to dream theory, the monster, like every other being that shows up in your dreams (including your cheating husband and your mother-in-law) is only an aspect of yourself. It is something you are creating that is holding you down by terrorizing you. Once you turn around to face it, once you talk to it, once you touch it, refuse to be afraid of it, it will stop chasing you, and then big changes are set to occur in your waking life. Opportunities will pop up unexpectedly, because you will be ready to move forward. (It is important, here, to feel the things that are happening in this dream, so that your body is fooled into believing it is an actual experience.) This practice, by the way, is also called alchemy.
So, returning to the memory castles, the idea becomes that you can address a problem symbolically. You create a visual representation of all the knowledge you have on the problem, all the problematical aspects, and then think about what you hope to gain by solving it. Move things around in an effort to get to that resolution, and... voila, the world changes. It's not a joke to say that most of the bigger problems of the world are often solved by looking at the issue sideways or upside down; this is the same kind of idea.
"Psychoanalysis on the Bridge"
Note the bird, the Jungian symbol of transcendence, waiting to be released from the cage of the mind. The horse drinks from the glass-encased brain of the man behind her--a man composed only of legs and head, drive and will; the horse seems to be sucking everything out of the man's mind. In dreams, a favorite source of materials for analysts, animals symbolize your instincts. Horses represent some sort of passion. Here it seems as though that passion is perhaps sucking the juice out of its owner, making him behave like a dummy? A bridge would be symbolic of a crossing, a transition from one land to another; maybe bridging a gap (speaking of puns), or an age transition-- it is at this transition that the psychoanalysis occurs. Note that the uber-passionate male is not looking where he's going in that transition, and he's barely on the bridge. It will not take much to cause him to drown-- which, by the way, is another symbolic act, as water mostly represents emotions, and thus the over-passionate male, blinded by his passion, is overwhelmed by his passion, "drowns" in it.
The Surrealist movement, of course, was based on the idea of juxtaposing seemingly disparate objects, especially as would be formulated in a dream. Salvador Dali, here painted right behind the figurehead, referred to Sigmund Freud as his "father" for most of his professional life, and painted many canvases that seemed driven by the same bizarre logic as a dream. The Tree of Knowledge in the biblical Garden of Eden has often been represented as a pear tree, so it could be that the pear here is the fruit that the "automatic," (and thus subconscious) bizarre pairings that occur in a surrealist painting strive to capture--the ultimate knowledge, that same ultimate knowledge the practitioners of the Hermetic Arts strove for.
For the meaning of the egg on the head of the last member of the party, I looked to http://thealchemicalegg.com, where it states:
"According to Rulandus' 17th century Alchemical Lexicon, the "Ovum Philosophicum," which can be translated as the Philosophical or Hermetic Egg, is the principal vessel used in alchemical operations...The alchemists would seal the subject of their work, the substance that would be transformed through the alchemical operations, in the egg. During the alchemical process, the subject, Hermetically sealed in the Egg, would go through a symbolic death and rebirth. When the Egg was cracked, a new mystical substance emerged which was an elixir that prolonged life and acted as a catalyst capable of improving any substance that it came in contact with. This substance, called the Philosopher's Stone, could change lead into gold and change an ordinary person into an enlightened master."
Back to Janda Zdenek:
"The frame provides the psychological distance by surrounding the picture. Consequently, the frame protects the soft painting in the middle with its massiveness physically. From the very beginning, my intention was to create a unique frame for every picture, and after several failed attempts from specialists, I came up with the conclusion that I must create the whole frame by myself. Only the artist by himself can, if he is capable, complete the unity of his work. Into the frame I enclosed not only various shapes and kinds of wood, stone and other natural materials connected to the pictures, but I also enclosed my careful artwork and my own personal fantasy."
"Legend of the Warrior"
"Angel in the Rocks"
Zdenek describes the above painting on his website. Parts of that description are copied here:
"The Angel in the Rocks is about faith, not just faith in the sense of religion, but in the belief of the idea of faith in general. The test of faith comes when you can't see the horizon, yet you believe if you follow the light, your conviction in faith will protect you.
The composition of The Angel in the Rocks is divided into three meaningful settings. The left part of the composition (allowing for the sense of movement of figures in the foreground) a messenger of the truth is walking -the Angel. She is leading a group of men and women, showing them the way through a difficult part of life - the rocks..."
“From the head of the Angel the light of truth is waving like hair over those in the middle part of the composition. These are the faithful, the believers in the idea. The first figure is walking with steadfast confidence and has no doubt in his belief....
“The last part of the composition belongs to the undecided ones. The fourth figure has not yet recognized his direction. His eyes are covered by a velvet ribbon, which prevents him from properly seeing the illuminated path. His mouth, closed by a medieval wooden pear prevents him from speaking. The figure is blind and mute and must through the power of his mind break his psychosis and find the right direction. If he doesn't, he will fall into the depths . The fifth and last figure, with his hand cupped around his ear, is listening. Atop his rounded head a fragile bottle is balancing. Though the bottle is still closed and not able to accept the light of truth, the figure is beginning to feel the beneficial influence of faith.”
For more from John Michael Greer on the Ars Memoria, see: http://www.synaptic.ch/infoliths/textes/arsmem.htm