Ahead of the Bauhaus centenary in 2019, Empty your Lungs as Much as Possible and Repeat the Exercise draws overlapping connections between Modernism, esoteric traditions and body postures and questions the impact of Modernism in relation to contemporary forms of mysticism, through a selection of works by John Finneran, Shana Moulton, Ruth Proctor, Leonor Serrano Rivas, Marijke De Roover and Ian Whittlesea.
If the advent of Modernism marked a renewed commitment to simple geometries, as well as a denial of the potential for corporeal transcendence, it also generated contradictions, through the use of common features borrowed from mystical thought. Simple forms such as squares, triangles and circles are known to carry a rich history of symbolic meaning and the white interior touted by Le Corbusier is often described as the emblematic purification to initiate the modern age. Furthermore, examples such as Johannes Itten’s devotion for Mazdaznan or Wassily Kandinsky’s spiritual approach to art, denote Modernism’s complex relationship to cabalistic traditions.
Mixing references to new age philosophy, yoga, Bauhaus, folklore and fortune telling, the show aims to present a mishmash of associations; or, as William Harmless puts it, “a catch-all for religious weirdness”, mirroring the magical eclecticism that today’s mysticism brings with itself. Syncretism is thus approached as being representative of the kaleidoscopic strangeness and fluidity that characterises modern life.
Madame Sosostris, famous clairvoyante,
Had a bad cold, nevertheless
Is known to be the wisest woman in Europe,
With a wicked pack of cards. Here, said she,
Is your card, the drowned Phoenician Sailor,
(Those are pearls that were his eyes. Look!)
Here is Belladonna, the Lady of the Rocks,
The lady of situations.
Here is the man with three staves, and here the Wheel,
And here is the one-eyed merchant, and this card,
Which is blank, is something he carries on his back,
Which I am forbidden to see. I do not find
The Hanged Man. Fear death by water.
I see crowds of people, walking round in a ring.
Thank you. If you see dear Mrs. Equitone,
Tell her I bring the horoscope myself:
One must be so careful these days.
T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land