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Jacquard Sweater - 100% Acrylic
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"…a turn toward the periphery in order to reach the center…
There's no need to build a labyrinth when the entire universe is one."
- Jorge Luis Borges
The Coins of Knossos
The silver coins of Knossos are quoted again and again when talking about the labyrinth. The Cretan town of Knossos has been closely linked to the myth of the Minotaur since antiquity. His mythical dwelling, the labyrinth, was one of the city’s landmarks. The 7-course pattern known from the coins (ca 400–200 BC) appears in several examples from antiquity, some perhaps as early as the late Stone Age or early Bronze Age. The depiction of the labyrinth on the Knossos coins came in very different ways, since a real non-existing place had to be shown. The labyrinth is always pictured in supervision, but with different outer shapes and structuring. Only in supervision, the labyrinth can be detected as such.
Coins in antiquity served various purposes other than their purely transactional use. Their iconography was used for religious, political and national propaganda, reproducing narrative scenes or figures and symbols from the past and the history of each city. Ancient Greek communities created and used myths to solve the mystery of their origin and past, and an amount of these myths were very often imprinted on coins. These coins and labyrinths are early examples of mass communication.
From the inauguration of the Knossian mint, a labyrinthine motif took its place as the “national” symbol of the city, placed mainly on the reverse, but sometimes also on the obverse of the coins. Constantly evolving for the next five centuries, the motif remained a symbol of self-sufficiency, religious power, and economic stability of the city. It was as if a coin was a living organism, the specific details of the labyrinth never ceased to mutate, taking various forms.
Graffiti on Pompeii Wall
The spiraling arms of a classic labyrinth have, at various times, in parts of the world as far afield as Tamil Nadu, India; Knossos, Crete; and Flagstaff, Arizona—represented the journey of life, the cosmos, and the womb, while serving as a trap for evil spirits, a cage for monsters, an ancestral abode, a ritual dance floor, and a path for pilgrims. Untangling where the design first arose is all but impossible, the symbol’s shape has remained essentially unchanged across time and place, as depictions in rock art may date back as far as 10,500-4800 BCE. While the symbolism may be unclear, they all share the same form—a unicursal, meandering symbol, turning and changing directions from outside to the center but never crossing itself.
A labyrinth of precisely this type was discovered traced on the surface of a crimson-painted pillar in the peristyle of the building known as the House of Lucretius, in the excavated portion of Pompeii. It was evidently scratched with a nail or stylus by some idler of 2000 years ago (Pompeii was overwhelmed by Vesuvius in A.D. 79) and is accompanied by the words "LABYRINTHUS. HIC HABITAT MINOTAURUS," possibly in waggish reference to the owner or occupier of the premises.
The oldest labyrinth carving that can be scientifically dated is a squared-off, single-path labyrinth scratched into the back of a clay tablet at the Palace of Nestor, in Pylos. When the palace burned down in about 1200 B.C., the tablet, whose other side recorded a goat-related transaction, was accidentally baked, and the labyrinth was preserved.
Troy-town, Pimperne, Dorset
‘The triangular design at Pimperne was unique. Nobody has seen its strange and wandering path before or since.’
“This labyrinth vulgarly called mizmase was on the North side of the road betwixt Blandford and Pimperne but is now Annialated. Supposed to be the work of the Munks of Old But to keep the world in ignorance they said iit was the work of Faierys whom used to dance there.”
The turf maze is a British invention. Sometimes they are called Troy Towns (Draytons) or the Walls of Troy - in Wales they’re the City of Troy. Sometimes they are called Julian’s Bower, apparently after Julius who was the son of Trojan Aeneas. The insistent connection with Troy is hard to explain. There was no legend of a labyrinth at Troy, as there was at Knossos. Another name given to the turf maze is Shepherd’s Race, which is self explanatory.
At Pimperne, not far from Blandford, there was formerly a maze of a unique design. John Aubrey, writing in 1686, says it was "much used by the young people on Holydaies and by ye School-boies." The path was bounded by ridges about a foot in height.
Mizmazes go back to the dawn of history and are wreathed in legend, though up until the 18th Century they were still regularly maintained by villagers. They have all but disappeared from Dorset though there are some scant remains at Leigh which was recorded as being used as a witches coven. Speculation about the point of a maze leads, inevitably, to the question of why one would choose to get lost in the first place.
A landmark in twentieth-century exhibitions was Les Immatériaux, co-curated in 1985 for the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris by the philosopher Jean-François Lyotard and the design historian and theorist Thierry Chaput. The Immatériaux pluridisciplinary exhibition mingled abstract art, French theory, design, new technologies, electronics, and elaborate scenography in an ambitious show dubbed a “presentation of ideas.” Its angle of attack rested primarily on technoscience.
From the press release (1985):
At the Centre Georges Pompidou, the CCI seeks to stage what changes. Seems like the changes, as always, come from outside. From the working conditions, from everyday life, from the media. What a difference, they say, respect the lives of our fathers! But it is in our heads that all this changes: ways of feeling, watching, hearing, language, the intimacy of the body, etc. “Les Immatériaux “is a kind of dramaturgy placed between the completion of a period and the anxiety for an emerging era at the dawn of postmodernity, and in this sense, is part of a philosophical and artistic project.
It seeks to awaken a sensitivity which is already there, to feel the uncanny in the familiar, and how difficult it is to get an idea of what is changing. A whirlwind of stopped paths where you will draw your own. Sites of bio-genetics and visual arts, architecture and astrophysics, of music and food, of physics and clothing, a maze of linguistical machines, of habitats and photography, industry and law. Miles of invisible wiring. And our questions: reality, material, equipment, matrix of meaning, and who is the author?
The visitor will not quickly forget the sound of blood in the entrance hall, Artaud’s cry to the equivalent derm, or the voice of Yves Klein talking about the architecture of air.
In 1958 in the Iris Clert Gallery in Paris, the artist Yves Klein presented an iconic work, a completely empty room, an installation entitled “The Specialization of Sensibility in the Raw Material State into Stabilized Pictorial Sensibility, The Void.” This crucial episode might be considered the starting point of the artist’s research for an architectural space in connection to the notion of immateriality and his paradoxical attempt to materialize it. After 1958, Klein began working on his projects of “Air Architecture,” collaborating at first with the architect Werner Runhau, a member of the Mobile Architecture Group. Later, artist Jean Tinguely invited him to contact Claude Parent, as at that time, the architect used to work with artists to help them express their thoughts in architectural drawings and forms.
“Air Architecture” was Yves Klein’s concept of an immaterial architecture, made of ephemeral elements of nature, such as air, fire and water. It was the symbol of materiality liberation, humans would have complete access to the space of the Universe.
Klein began to design schemes of buildings and cities inspired by ancient Islamic palaces with pavilions, fountains, sky; the exhibitions included films, drawings, plans, construction details, installations. Engagement with climate was at the beginning of the design: walls of fire were proposed for cooler northern climates and walls of water for the south; shelters were shells of moving air, providing protection from rain, which could be blown away before it landed. Klein’s investigation responded to the artist’s radical vision of an evolving society where the main activity would become leisure.
“The architecture of air has in our minds always been just a transitional stage, but today we present it as a means for the climatization of geographical spaces.The principle of privacy, still present in our world, has vanished in this city, which is bathed in light and completely open to the outside.
A new atmosphere of human intimacy prevails.
The inhabitants live in the nude.
The primitive patriarchal structure of the family no longer exists.
The community is perfect, free, individualistic, impersonal.
The principal activity of the inhabitants: leisure.”
Yves Klein, Manifesto. Inscribed on the painting Architecture de l’air, Translated in Yves Klein: Air Architecture, eds. Peter Noever and François Perrin
Klein’s conceptual project rather than his aesthetic objects are available to everyone attentive enough to perceive them. What if Klein envisioned an art-making in which the art lay not in an object, but in a breathless, transitory experience—something that is always already gone? What if all the monochromes, the sponge reliefs, monogolds, Fire Paintings, and Anthropometries were just a significant yet preliminary draft for an art still to come? Just artifacts. Klein himself wrote, “my paintings are not my definitive works. They are the leftovers of a creative process.”
What would be left? Earth, wind, and fire?
Dylaby, an exhibition from 1962 organized by Stedelijk director Willem Sandberg in collaboration with the artist Jean Tinguely, transformed the museum into an immersive labyrinth. At times dark and disorienting, the participating artists—Tinguely with Niki de Saint Phalle, Daniel Spoerri, Per Olof Ultvedt, and Robert Rauschenberg—cluttered the galleries with physical obstacles that required visitors to navigate raised platforms, climbing structures, and false stairways amidst a cacophony of noise.
The actual structure of Dylaby, which gave the exhibition its title—an abbreviated form of “dynamic labyrinth.” Dylaby was far from the only exhibition to foreground the labyrinth as a central motif, metaphor, and organizing principle. Following World War II, the labyrinth experienced a revival in popularity throughout Europe, evident in works by collectives like the Letterist International, the Situationist International, and the Nouveaux Réalistes, which counted Tinguely, Saint Phalle, and Spoerri among its members.
Jacqueline de Jong devoted an issue of the Situationist Times entirely to the labyrinth, the second in a series on topological forms in art, archeology, and visual culture writ large. With over four-hundred illustrations of labyrinths, texts by an interdisciplinary range of scholars, and a bibliography of recent labyrinth-related studies, the ST offers a thorough, if eccentric, view of the labyrinth as a prevalent motif and symbol in art and discourse of the era.
The magazine layout was a labyrinth in its own right: eschewing historical chronology and disciplinary categories, she juxtaposed images from disparate places and time periods to draw out striking and surprising morphological similarities. Examples of labyrinths varied widely in source and type: there were hand-drawn diagrams of labyrinths by De Jong, images of archeological sites and artifacts, and photographs of what she identified as “found labyrinths”—anything from city maps to children’s games. In the absence of a didactic narrative, the onus was on the reader to make connections between these various elements through free associative play. Indeed, De Jong has confirmed that she conceived of the labyrinth issue as a dérive, in the way that the reader drifted through the magazine, spurred on by visual resonances rather than a clear narrative trajectory.
De Jong reproduced texts by an interdisciplinary group of writers, including Aldo van Eyck, the philosopher Gaston Bachelard, and the mathematician Max Bucaille. Texts intermingled with the hundreds of images of labyrinths, past and present. Just as Chtcheglov believed in the labyrinth as a site of play, Constant explicitly conceived of New Babylon as facilitating a perpetual state of Homo Ludens: Man the Player.
The postwar revival of the labyrinth—an archetype redolent of ritualistic associations—reflected the concomitant attention accorded to forms of play in art, which was itself tied to a broad turn away from the primacy of the visual toward more embodied modes of participation. As an anti-monumental architecture, often predicated upon darkness and confusions (a confusion achieved through obfuscation of sight), the labyrinth was the ideal stage on which a kinetic, ritualistic play of the body ensued.
The connections between the labyrinth, ritual, play, and the body were most thoroughly explored in the ST by the art historian Hans Jaffé. According to Jaffé, the labyrinth was nothing short of a symbolic worldview. While it had been integral to archaic societies, Jaffé argued that it had fallen into decline beginning with the classical period, and only in the twentieth century had it found new relevance (he discounted the Baroque labyrinthine gardens as frivolous formal imitations, devoid of symbolic value). Citing archeological studies, he traced the shift in the pre-classical world from a proliferation of spiral forms, such as those found on ancient Babylonian tablets, to the “true labyrinth,” structured as a maze (as in the famous Daedalian labyrinth at Knossos). This shift, wrote Jaffé, visually indexed a changing belief system, from a one of predetermined fate, evoked by the single path of the spiral, to that of free will, represented by the true labyrinth in which the wanderer had to make choices. Jaffé contended that the continued decline of religious belief systems as anchoring worldviews in the twentieth century catalyzed the re-instantiation of meaning in the true labyrinth, which he understood as a symbol for the disorientation and anxiety inherent to navigating everyday life in the modern world. In Jaffé’s words: “But a waking of myth has announced itself in our present day: man, anguished by the complexity of his world, searches for a new model of life, and this anguish translates itself into mythic terms.”
Jaffé argued that this anguish could be worked through by ludic means. Play, he wrote, was always an integral part of the rites associated with the labyrinth, but a type of play that was “highly significant, full of meaning and implication.” If the revival of the labyrinth was a symbol of humanity’s journey through perennially confusing terrain, Jaffé suggested that ritualized play was also experiencing a renewal, writing, “Really, every study of the labyrinth must begin with a dance.”
The Book as Maze: The Metaphor
Navigating through Jorge Luis Borges’ labyrinthian stories, Kane X. Faucher writes: "The maze does correspond to a figurative and abstract notion, and so appears to conform to the traditional view of metaphor. However, nothing prohibits us from viewing the lines of the text themselves as a maze, as a pictoral representation, for we could trace a pen between the spaces of words and letters (and the maze changes with translation, a new space of reconfigured patterns). “Perhaps an archetype not yet revealed to men, an eternal object (to use Whitehead’s term), is gradually entering the world; its first manifestation was the palace; its second was the poem. Whoever compared them would have seen that they were essentially the same.” (The Dream of Coleridge)
The worst labyrinth is not that intricate form that can entrap us forever, but a single and precise straight line. - Jorge Luis Borges