℞eForm Introduction

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This dissertation together with the artworks documented in it is the result of an investigation across multiple media over a seven-year period of the cultural, artistic and spiritual legacy of the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century
   Cover Page The handle http://hdl.handle.net/1887/36549 holds various files of this Leiden University dissertation   Author : Noorda, Ruchama Title :   ℞ eForm Issue Date : 2015-12-09     Ŕ  e   F  o  r  m   1   6    I  n  t  r  o   d  u  c  t   i  o  n Fig. 0.0. Private Prophesy, No Excess , aluminium sign post installation/photo, 180 × 45 cm, California, Ruchama Noorda, 2015     Ŕ  e   F  o  r  m   1   8   I  n  t  r  o   d  u  c  t   i  o  n ŔeForm   Introduction ‘Ŕ: symbol for medical prescription, abbreviation of Latin recipe, imperative form of reciper  e, “to take” or “take thus”. Medieval prescriptions typically instructed the patient to “take” certain materials and to com-pound them in particular ways. Folk beliefs note similarities between the Ŕ icon, the Eye of Horus and the ancient symbol for Zeus or Jupiter.’ 1 ‘Having read several of your books, I wonder if you could nd the time to read my brochure “Le Neo-Plasticisme”, which I am enclosing. I believe that Neo-Plasticism is the art of the foreseeable future for all true Anthroposophists and Theosophists. Neoplasticism creates harmony through the equiva-lence of the two extremes: the universal and the individual. The former by “revelation”, the latter by “deduction”… …It is impossible to bring about an equilibrium of relationships other than by destroy-ing the “form”, and replacing it by a new ‘universal’ expressive means.’ 2  In 2008, I was invited by De Lakenhal, a museum in Leiden with a historic collection of works by De Stijl movement, to make an exhibition. Leiden had played an important role in the formation and promotion of the movement’s ideals from 1917 onwards. 3  At De Lakenhal, I installed Statisch Vooruitgangsmonument  (‘Static Progress Monument’) in which I combined selected works from the Museum’s De Stijl 1 Wikipedia entry, ‘Medical Prescription’, <14 April 2015>2 Piet Mondriaan, letter to Rudolf Steiner (circa. 1921– 1923) quoted in Michel Seuphor (ed.),  Abstract Painting  , New York: Dell Publishing Co, 1964, p. 83–85.3 Theo van Doesburg founded the inuential De Stijl   maga-zine (1917–32) in Leiden.     2   0   Ŕ  e   F  o  r  m   I  n  t  r  o   d  u  c  t   i  o  n collection with my own designed ceramic pieces, a Eurythmy dance video and items from my personal collection of Anthroposophical artefacts. The exhibition juxtaposed ideas of progress-through-design against occult elements within early 20th century modernist movements, to produce a space in which the desire for an all-encompassing ideology of transformation was materialized within a subjective historical framework. The exhibition, installed at the beginning of this doctoral project, set the tone and the direction of all of my subsequent research, which is rooted in the fusion around site-specic objects and materials of personal and impersonal histories. I was born and grew up in Leiden and I knew the collection of de Lakenhal by heart, not only through frequent visits to the museum in my childhood and adolescence, but also through my experience as a security guard in the museum in the late 1990’s. I had already developed an interest in the connection between de Stijl’s austere-looking straight lines and squares, and the more uid, liquid gural forms associated with anthroposophy. I had encountered Rudolf Steiner’s Anthroposophy in my early childhood and had been trained in its artistic style as a child educated at de Mareland Waldorf school in Leiden.In the process of researching these two contemporane-ous movements — Neoplasticism (a Dutch abstract art movement also known as De Stijl) and Anthroposophy — I became fascinated by the occult underpinnings of the sup-posedly ultra-rationalist De Stijl movement. Aesthetically these movements could not appear more different; hazy ‘numinous’ wet-on-wet water colours versus ‘hyper-rationalist’ rectangular blocks, primary colours and straight lines, ooded dream scenarios versus hard edge diagrams of a progressive future. Now that I was invited to make a work so close to home in every sense, I felt I wanted to investigate the common ground between these two early 20th century movements which had inuenced my formation as a person and an artist. I thus settled on the Lebensreform movement as a research topic that would draw De Stijl and Steinerism together. In addition I wanted to nd connections between my artwork and personal value system, and the spiritual-religious framework I had internalized through my upbringing in both the Waldorf school and the Reformed Church. My parents were open to syncretic 1960’s New Age thinking and were strongly committed both to Anthroposophy and Reform Church ideals and beliefs (my maternal grandfather was a promi-nent Protestant Reformed Church theologian). My work is concerned with processing, analysing and digging into that dual legacy — exploring the terrain of a specically northern European (post-)Christian spiritual and aesthetic legacy through its passage back and forth between the New World and Europe. I investigate the occult roots of the Anthroposophic and Reform traditions while examining their impact on 20th century avantgardes and consider how aspirations for self- and social transformation were articu-lated within them. My practice continues to evolve from a fundamental sense of solidarity with, and desire for a worldview in which art functions as a practical, spiritual and social Gesamtkunstwerk . In the various projects described in the following chapters, I set out to revisit what I believe to be the spiritual, political and aesthetic questions posed in the work of avant-garde Lebensreform-inuenced artists like Piet Mondriaan and Wassily Kandinsky. At the same time, I am aware of the historical-cultural gap that separates me, my time and my Europe from them and theirs. My engagement with these gures is partly undertaken as an excavation, or séance — an attempt on my part to recon-nect directly with the practices, materials, and organizing ideologies and beliefs that, despite the distance separat-ing us in time, links us in a common lineage. At the same time, I am interested in testing the relevance of aesthetic-spiritual lifestyle experiments as pioneered in the early part of the 20th century, and seeing how those experi-ments have been reworked since the 1960’s and 1970’s by American and European artists, and counter-culturalists in today’s globalized capitalist conditions. In the research process I revisited questions of genealogy, following in the footsteps of a growing number of historians and     Ŕ  e   F  o  r  m   2   2   I  n  t  r  o   d  u  c  t   i  o  n curators who have sought in recent decades to uncover the occult underpinnings of those avant-garde movements including the Symbolists, De Stijl and Der Blaue Reiter, strongly inuenced by Theosophy, Anthroposophy and the Lebensreform movement. 4 In this context, I was surprised to come across Mondriaan’s letter to Steiner, which I quoted at the beginning of this Introduction. After spending fourteen years as a pupil in the Waldorf school system, the idea of any kind of natural t between Anthroposophy and Neoplasticism seemed far-fetched. It directly contradicted my own understanding of Steiner’s aesthetic principles (and the fact that Mondriaan’s letter went unanswered probably tells us something about Steiner’s response to his idea). The hazy spiritualist style of water colour painting that Steiner and his followers pro-duced, and which remained the artistic standard in Waldorf schools when I was being educated, stood in stark contrast to the rectilinear grids and saturated blocks of colour that make Mondriaan’s later abstractions so distinct. As I pur-sued my research, I learned that Mondriaan was deeply inuenced by the strands of esoteric thought represented by Steiner and ‘Madame’ Blavatsky. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1831–1891) is regarded as the founding architect of Theosophical cosmology. Despite the fact that Mondriaan’s engagement with theosophy is well known in art historical circles, I believe that the larger implications of the impact of occult and esoteric thinking, not just on Mondriaan but on modernism in general, have yet to be fully appreciated and understood. By tracing Steiner’s commitment to Theosophy, 4 See for instance, Maurice Tuchman (ed,), The Spiritual in Art: Abstract Painting 1890–1985 (catalogue: Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art and Haags Gemeentemuseum, 1986); Veit Loers (ed.), Occultismus und Avantgarde: von Munch bis 1900–1915  (catalogue: Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt, 1995); Jean de Loisy & Angela Lampe (eds,), Traces du Sacre (catalogue: Centre Pompidou, Paris, 2008); Serge Fauchereau & Joëlle Pijaudier Cabo (eds.), L’Europe des esprits ou la fascination de l’occulte, 1750–1950 , (catalogue: Musée d’Art moderne et contemporain, Strasbourg, 2011). as well as Blavatsky and Annie Besant’s 5  ideas of world his-tory as a process of spiritual evolution, I ended up immersing myself in the rich history of the Lebensreform movement. Lebensreform has its roots in earlier European occultism and nds its inspirational sources in both Indian religious and mystical practice, and the hermetic/alchemical traditions of medieval Europe. At its height, between 1880 and the early 1930’s, Lebensreform found expression through the Rational Dress movement of clothing reform, health food (veg-etarianism and organic farming), natural medicine, educa-tional reform, nudism, and new spiritual movements like Theosophy and the new Christian-Hindu hybrid embod-ied in Anthroposophy. In addition, the importance of the Lebensreform movement for the European art world, and society as a whole, is most intensely highlighted in the ex-perimental art and lifestyle work undertaken at the Monte Verità colony at Ascona in Locarno, Switzerland. Operating between 1900 and 1940, this residency, retreat, art centre and sanatorium attracted a range of inuential European artists and intellectuals including Hans Arp, Hugo Ball, Carl  Jung, El Lissitzky, Wassily Kandinsky, Hermann Hesse, Paul Klee, Vladimir Lenin, Leon Trotsky, Frederik van Eeden, Ferdinand Domela Nieuwenhuis (co-founder of the Dutch socialist movement), Mary Wigman and Rudolf von Laban. For more than fty years, Monte Verità served as a vital hub of interdisciplinary exchange and as a dynamic incubator for cultural and artistic innovation, new ideas and practices geared toward the development of communitarian ideals, physical, mental, spiritual health and social transformation.In the light of the central position that the Hill of Truth (Monte Verità) has come to occupy in my personal mythol-ogy as a 21st-century anarcho-mystic, I have chosen to call my research ‘ŔeForm’, in order to reference simultaneously the social-political aspirations of the Lebensreform move-ment, the Reformation of the 16th century, and the literal 5 Annie Besant (1847–1933) was a British Theosophist, Socialist and Women’s Right activist.
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