Sunday, April 28, 2013

Angelo Musco

source detail Xylem (derived from Greek xylon, meaning wood). 

 Angelo Musco is an Italian New York based photographer. He has created these epic photo collages by photographing hundreds of people and carefully photoshoping them into trees and other nature inspired entities. The tree of life is a common symbol in many cultures and tree metaphors are common in everyday language; "rooted in the community", "branching out", "can't see the forest for the trees", the tree in the garden of Eden,  Darwin's "Tree of life", and so on*. It is also one of the major themes of this blog (Roman Loranc and people writhing in tree-like shapes by Roberta Coni).

source The Whole

Ultimately, the tree is a complex and all encompassing symbol suited to serve as a metaphor for many aspects of life. The comparison between trees and peoples' bodies helps us sympathise with nature. Insight is born of sympathy. Musco's Xylem represents going beyond one's personal suffering to a greater understanding of human existence. He suffered much trauma, he was paralyzed for the first years of his life and went through therapy but he seeks to transcend his pain. He is obsessed with, inspired by the events surrounding his birth. In my opinion this can translate into the events surrounding our origins as a species, (maybe I'm looking too deep, a risk I always take). One of the reasons that the tree is present, in one form or another in all mythologies, is that the symbol is very old, it might be one of the first symbols ever derived by the human mind (I wish I had Jung on hand, I'm almost certain he said something about this). 

source detail

Often trees symbolize both life and death. According to Alice Turner's History of Hell, in many epochs, hell is an actual landscape that can be mapped, it includes bodies of water (5 rivers of Hades)**, mountains, and trees (the nightmarish Tree of Zaqqum). The bridge between the tree and hell, is the idea that trees symbolize knowledge as well. Medieval (and later ones based on those) hell paintings and desciprions also have demons, or at least creatures other than humans. Demons evolved from being colorful and decadently endowed with fantastical body parts (Bosch), to dark humanoids (Goya's He-Goat), to helpless shadows (Von Stuck's Lucifer). One can observe them fading thought the ages. Musco's images include only humans. This is significant because it's the modern view overriding the idea that something or someone else is responsible for human suffering (wonderfully Atheistic). Now we understand that there is no one else to blame, hell is of our own making***.
Hell was supposed to be very hot, very red, and full of pugnacious demons. Educated people do not believe in it an more. It is curious how ignorant educated people have become. Hell is an actual plane, less vivid than was formerly imagined, not hot but cold, grey rather than red, but amply provided with demons, with the devils of self-accusation, with the fiends of insoluble queries. Very real and very actual, it is surprising how many educated people are there. The oddity of that is increased by the fact that they regard it as a private establishment. They regard their hell as unique. Perhaps the idea flatters them. Yet sooner or later everybody enters it. Hell may seem private. It is universal. -Edgar Saltus, The Paliser Case
It's nice that he mentions educated people, since the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil is what propelled the first humans out of Eden in the first place. It might be anachronistic to imply that this metaphor might mean that there is some kind of a trade off between knowledge and happiness and ignorance and suffering (id est "Ignorance is bliss"), but I'm going to suggest it anyway. Furthermore, the trade off humanity has chosen, in part, explains our "suffering".

    source detail

 Another notable thing in the evolution of hell drawings is a gradual departure from Hell-fires that are meant to be terrifying. They look kitch to the modern eye. John Martin's Paradise Lost****  engravings illustrate the point. The hell depicted in those engravings is hauntingly beautiful, romantic even. Never the less, it is mostly private. Musco's images can hardly even be referred to as images of hell because these are celebratory of beauty and unity (if in suffering), in fact he doesn't refer to them in this way at all (he might even find it appalling that I do). They represent "hell" only in that all of the symbolism empyled is also often used in other images of hell, it's a bit roundabout really. Certainly, there is barely any allusion to the medieval hell of Catholicism.

Obviously, hell is where people go when they die (not surprising that suffering and death are connected) but the link between knowledge and death is the most elusive connection that serve as a foundation for my extrapolations here (besides the postulates of equality). All symbols are connected and relate to each other and the relation ship between death and knowledge is one of the most complex and least explored.

My grandmother told me all the typical things about what happens after you die but the most intriguing thing she said was that once you die, all knowledge is open to you regardless of your destination. A curtain is lifted, there is a sort of disclosure like that which takes place after a psychology experiment, all is illuminated. I don't know  how many people believe in it. I am sure this idea isn't in the bible. Even if it is, it's really odd, there is something almost nirvana-like about the idea, experiencing greater awareness, enlightmenmt. Anyway, the conclusion of the anecdote: I wanted to die ever since.

source detail

Unity with the Brahman, is possible while one is still alive but I suppose the connection between death and knowledge is a product of the intersection between many other ideas. The supreme being almost always represents nature personified. Therefore unity with the supreme being, is unity with nature, and the next logical step is that if each individual is tied (or will be in death or in enlightenment) to nature, we are all tied to each other.  (anytime one attempts to explain anything about Buddhism or Hinduism, using language, it gets confusing).

We suffer together, all the other things we do, we do together. I am not talking about collectivism. Both individuality and collectivism are concepts that are very limited in explaining how people interact and how individuals see themselves with respect to the rest of those around them because, relying on the strict definitions of the two words, all people are both, at the same time. Dualistic thinking only serves to confuse. Identifying with one, reduces the identification with the other, resulting in a gap, a blind spot, in one's understanding of oneself (or the subject at hand). Musco's work is quite monistic.

source Phloem (whole)

source (detail)

 I think that Musco might be aiming at something of this order; a unity of humankind, in a way that strains the mind to think about because the exact words, the perfect words to describe this, are lost or unknown, even though many have attempted to pin it down. One of the greatest ideals of the modern person is to go back to the "roots" (pardon pun), and reunite with nature.
He called it a Return to Nature, but what he meant, I always felt, was back to a sense of kinship with the Universe which men, through worshiping the intellect alone, had lost.-Algernon Blackwood, The Centaur
Odd that the intellect has been mentioned again but unsurprising since "god" is nature personified, and the fall from grace resulted from knowledge, or I suppose "the intellect". I mentioned before that there is not such thing as "unnatural". The two halves, natural and unnatural, are one, according to monistic logic. I guess the reason I am writing so much about this is because it is very much in line with my own view of the world (I doubt I'm alone).

source Tehom (Whole) 48x 12 ft.

source Detail

As mentioned before, Hell included all the features of our own landscape, including bodies of water. Tehom reminds me of these, there is something of Hades in it, but also something more. In one of videos about Musco's work, he mentions that water is an essential part of life, including the lives of trees. The theme of interconnectedness, connects all his work. At least, that's what my interpretation is.  I often hear that we are out of touch with nature now, and out of touch with each other. I don't believe it. Certainly we have more distractions, but the threads that connect us run through just the same. Evasive concepts like this are why we need art. "CONCEPTION", a documentary about Musco's work will debut October 14, 2013 at New York's Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center. I recommend at least looking at his other works, my favorite is actually Aranea.

source Detail

* There are many things wrongly categorized as phallic symbols that really belong in the tree category, the cross is an example. Links have been established between the two because they both represent vitality. More often the phallus is compared to the tree (not the other way around). 
**Water often also symbolizes both life and death, it is another "primal" symbol, that is present in both heaven and hell.
***There is still nature which causes illnesses and pain but one can't "blame" nature because ills are only a small part of everything.
****One of my most prized possessions is a late 1800's (I don't have it on hand to check the exact date) Russian edition of Paradise Lost with the engravings. It was also one of my first books. That might explain a lot.

During the time I had been working on this post I actually had a dream that I was at a wedding and there was a giant three tier cake. It was made of Musco's people all the way through (they were made of sugar).

1 comment:

  1. What makes these images unsettling to me is the apparent lack of emotion on anyone's face, no looks of horror, it is as if they are fine with being where they are now. These images also at first made me think of what some type of hell would be, where there would be no goofy looking demons prodding people with spears, extravagant ways in which people are tortured according to their sins, or the gnashing of teeth. But instead consist of immense space where there are thousands of people all crowded together, possibly even attached to each other just living out the rest of eternity with each other. But then I realized that is what our world is, a bunch of people crowded together, attached to each other (not literally) in an immense space. Maybe we are all in hell now, but if that's the case I am fine with that because if this is supposed to be some type of punishment I can only imagine what it must be like in heaven or where ever we all originated before we were thrown down into the fiery pit.


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