Welcome to the XXL – Art Magazine
 

The Daedalus Principle

Josef Rainer

ON PIAZZA SANTISSIMA ANNUNZIATA SQUARE IN FLORENCE, TOURISTS WHILE THE HOURS AWAY BY COUNTING THE NUMBER OF BEES BUZZING AROUND THE SOCLE OF THE EQUESTRIAN STATUE OF FERDINANDO I DE’ MEDICI. THE BRONZE SLAB DEPICTS A MAXIM BY THE GRAND DUKE: BELOW MAIESTATE TANTUM (BY MAJESTY ALONE) A SWARM OF BEES CIRCLES THE QUEEN BEE IN FIVE CONCENTRIC CIRCLES. THE ARTISTIC ASYMMETRICAL ORDER OF THE BEES CREATES A SHIMMERING EFFECT AND IMPAIRS COUNTING: ONLOOKERS TEND TO LOSE THEIR POINT OF REFERENCE AND HAVE TO START FROM SCRATCH. WE’LL SWOOP IN RIGHT NOW AND GIVE THEM A HELPING HAND: THERE ARE NINETY BEES AND ONE QUEEN BEE. THE LATTER CERTAINLY SYMBOLISES THE KIND RULER WHO RULES OVER THE CITY BY MEANS OF HIS NATURAL GRANDEUR.

Bees have always flitted in works of art as symbolic vessels: swarms were used as an example to represent a society’s structure, and individual bees were considered laborious and just. Their commitment to work for the common good was exemplary and their honeycombs were proof of their organised and orderly, if somewhat geometrical, mind. However, the insects were also linked to outbursts of anger and contentiousness. The abovementioned traits were all transposed, symbolically of course, from human beings onto animals – they were considered hybrids. Hybrids because when shifting human traits onto animals, or vice versa, we enter a symbolic domain ruled by mixing, crossing, and uniting the human and animal kingdoms. These limbos knew how to stir the interest of people and beguile their creativity throughout the ages, and even influenced the Mannerism movement. Take the speaking witnesses represented in the four-volume picture manuscript by Joris Hoefnagel depicting animals. Volume I is the Animalia Rationalia et Insecta, where animals and insects are gifted with reason and assigned to the elemental force of fire; the tome reveals a representation of Petrus Gonsalvus, a ‘Haarmenschen’ (a particularly hirsute man) and his wife. Gonsalvus suffered from hypertrichosis (also called Ambras syndrome), and was ‘welcomed’ to the French Court of Henry II as an ‘ape man’. He was schooled, brought up, and married to the daughter of a Court worker. With his animal-like looks stuffed into court livery, he walks the line between the human and animal kingdom. Back then he would have been considered a member of both worlds, therefore a hybrid. However, Daedalus himself was a master of hybrids. The mythological artist and inventor whose sculptures were considered constructs imbued with a soul, which could walk and see, created an artificial cow for the wife of King Minos: she used the vessel to beget the son of a bull. ‘And by means of the ingenuity of Daedalus Pasiphaê had intercourse with the bull and gave birth to the Minotaur, famed in the myth. This creature, they say, was of double form […]’ recounts Diodor.

Daedalus’ construct was used to overcome nature: thanks to his creation, the bull considered the king’s wife as one of its own. The result of this deception was the creation of a hybrid. When Theseus killed the creature, Daedalus had to turn into a hybrid: he had been banned by the incensed King Minos to the Labyrinth, as the inventor had given Ariadne a wool spool which helped Theseus escape from the maze. To flee from his prison, Daedalus created wings for his son and himself with which both – now half man, half bird – soared into the skies. As we all know, his son Icarus plunged into the ocean, while Daedalus made it to Sicily where he created another hybrid for the goddess of love, Aphrodite: a golden honey comb, which was so similar to a real one that it was filled with honey by bees. However, it only became an actual hybrid through the aforementioned task. Daedalus created different types of hybridisation thanks to his art: his sculpting breathed life into inanimate objects, although this didn’t automatically make them hybrids.

His imitation of nature as well as his tampering created mixed beings, and he turned himself and his son into a hybrid, and the bees transformed his golden honeycomb into a hybrid. This balancing act on the cusp between man and nature with occasional preference from one side to the other is what we could call the Daedalus principle. Josef Rainer exploits this principle, yet he turns it on its head: art doesn’t improve, swap or overcome nature, rather nature refines his art. In his Bienen-Arbeiten he has found a kindred soul in these animals, for they complement his work. Just like Daedalus, he’s created a golden honeycomb which was recognised by a swarm of bees as an ideal storage unit. However, at first, the bees busied themselves by smoothing out irregularities in the metal mould; small irregularities and errors when the mould was cast were improved diligently with wax until the storage unit could be occupied to give birth to the larvae. Before, Josef Rainer had created a small-sized version of a bronze skull which was modified in the same way by the bee swarm. The insects became sculptors, covering the metal skeleton with wax muscles and skin. Modifying existing forms all started with a project of a whole, glass brain, where the bees – that was the main aim of the artist in the first place – should have built their own honeycomb; their task would have been to turn the inner structure of the human brain into a hexagon, the only shape they could imagine. The natura naturans of bees didn’t touch the interior of the brain, rather modified it with stable honeycombs, thus becoming a protective cover for the skull. This is where the creative nature of the uniform working swarm came to light, as the artist gave them the space and opportunity to do so. He’s a mere observer of the act of creation.

He elevates himself into a sphere which differs from that of an active creator, shifting into a world where he becomes a fire starter, a person causing the first spark. Goethe’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice fits in that same narrative: a person who fell prey to the intoxication of power due to his hubris and couldn’t rid himself any longer of his ghosts. The ghosts of Josef Rainer possess another nature. They’re not changed by magic like the mops of the apprentice, rather they remain unchanged and are merely invited by the artist to complete his work. And, from time to time, they do so in a way that make computer animated architecture seem old-fashioned (take the deconstructed completed painting of structure no.1). The bees unite the existing honeycomb tracks by using a morphing process, by building passages between these tracks. The material they build is once again set in a limbo between art and nature, reminiscent of many a cabinet of curiosity from Mannerism. Be it the coral branch covered in gold, where nature and art go hand in hand, the silver cicada or any of the folios from Hoefnagel’s abovementioned books, where two dragonflies are built using glued together insect wings and illusory bodies, what matters is that all these are hybrid works between nature and the work of man. The hybrids by Josef Rainer also belong to this group, even though his metamorphoses occur in other ways: the starting point is human art, which is not only refined by nature, but also completed by it. Ultimately, even this creation is a creature of the Daedalus principle.

Share Post
Written by

<p>Geboren 1972 in Brixen/ Südtirol geboren. Studium der Kunstgeschichte in Innsbruck und Wien; Kurator in der Kunstkammer und Schatzkammer des Kunsthistorischen Museums Wien.</p>

0

Your Cart