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Artist as Mystic

Article by:

Elise Bonato, sophia/obmutescence, 2015, digital video production still, courtesy of the artist

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The overarching Mother,
the Soul-light
descending as the source,
a pneumatic entity
mutable and laden
with (un)knowing;  
endeavouring to

preserve; raise to the
Realm/State of

pervade; corporeity
with Sophic enchantment  
viscera of
sublime unrest

And dwell,
soft and silent,
(up)on a New mythos,  
a Mystic ontology.

We are constantly in a state of war; either with ourselves, with each other and/or with the environment wherein we reside. Platonic in nature though that statement may be, it is no surprise that in this aeon of social, political and cultural unrest, mysticism diffuses into the foreground of work by artists, writers and creative thinkers, alike. Albert Einstein himself once professed, “the most beautiful and profound emotion we can experience is the sensation of the mystical... To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty...” He was no stranger to the concept and the antidote it proved to be in an era of conflict.

The shift towards the extraordinary, the otherworldly and the supranatural—that which transcends the base nature of our corporeal domain, proves definitively a magical one. As civilisation deigns to suffer its wounds, it intrigues us to witness the rise of mysticism and its relative concepts. Addressing the topic within contemporary art discourse is furthermore an endeavour rife with as much anxiety as it has potential. To pronounce and confront its place in contemporary arts practice, whether through critical or fictional dialogue is a perpetual challenge, for the risk of misjudgement lingers. Yet this alone determines, as artists and creatives, the criticality to address mysticism for contemporary contexts, particularly when immersed in an age of technology that is overwhelming in and of itself. Henceforth, the artist transforms for the populace as Mystic, as Augur and as an oracle for society, to provide a balm - however sharp - against the (dis)order of the everyday.

Despite the unrest - be it societal, political or otherwise - the visceral pull towards the inexplainable becomes a means to make peace/anarchy with the irrational. The artist should, against the vein, beckon this fascination forth and facilitate the (limitless) unknowns through their work. By acknowledging consciously that which we tend to leave to the subconscious, for fear of misconception, we depose of the stigma associated with exploring mysticism.

Elements of the mystical are ever-present in the life of any artist. Artistic practice has the quality of ritual, where we create and manifest iconographies, by manufacturing a language using semiotics of our own conception. We engage with space, transform our identities and reimagine them for an unnamed witness—the viewer. We subvert order to orchestrate new and alternative (un)realities that may criticise or will towards the constructs of ordinary human existence. Mysticism buries itself into these ideas with ardent fervour while simultaneously providing a firmament in which the artist, and their audience by default, may escape unto. Is this to thwart commercialism and condemn the taint of the mundane? Possibly, however, often it is to give purchase to our subconscious, when one’s conscious existence is uneasy and the overt proves dissatisfactory.

From the discontent of our earthly selves and the suffering of the psyche, the artist - as Mystic - beckons forth the peripheral yearning to acquire a higher position of thought, of presence and of perception. Moreover, to pervade (un)realities, explore the extraordinary and subvert the familiar, as a means to ascend/transcend towards possible truths with an ardency likened to that of philosophers. As artists, we are diviners to the inner machinations—the horrors and pleasures of human existence. Thus, in tellurian strife, our fascination with the esoteric intensifies and we are made compelled to illustrate and present it in our work; by orchestrating perspectives that cannot be categorised as conventional and situates according to an “other”. While societal, political, cultural and earthly constructs cripple in this contemporary age, the artist-Mystic emerges and pervades forth.