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Kabbala and Hermetic Art

Interview with Elias Rubenstein

Your art­work addres­ses the sym­bols of Kab­ba­la and Her­me­ti­cism. What do you mean by Kab­ba­la and Hermeticism?

Sin­ce time imme­mo­ri­al, man has stri­ven to com­pre­hend the essence of God and crea­ti­on. Kab­ba­la is an anci­ent tra­di­ti­on han­ded down from genera­ti­on to genera­ti­on from “mouth to ear.” It con­si­ders fun­da­men­tal ques­ti­ons such as the ori­gin of man and the mea­ning of life as well as the rela­ti­ons­hip of man to crea­ti­on and the Creator. The term „Her­me­tic“ has its roots in Greek mytho­lo­gy and refers to “Her­mes,” the mes­sen­ger of the gods. Her­mes is a media­tor bet­ween mind and mat­ter. The art­work, which refe­ren­ces the sym­bols of Kab­ba­la and Her­me­ti­cism, is inten­ded to open an unknown and hig­her per­spec­ti­ve of rea­li­ty and life to the viewer.

Your art­work also illus­tra­tes bibli­cal motifs such as the sto­ry of crea­ti­on. What role does the Bible play for you?

The Bible is a gui­de­post that, as long as its con­tent is cor­rect­ly inter­pre­ted, can reve­al deep wis­dom. A few years ago, I initia­ted pro­jects who­se pur­po­se it has been to make his­to­ri­cal and mys­ti­cal wri­tings – such as the ent­i­re Zohar – avail­ab­le in Ger­man. While doing so, it tur­ned out that the cur­r­ent­ly avail­ab­le Ger­man ver­si­ons of the Bible are unfor­tu­n­a­te­ly extre­me­ly fla­wed trans­la­ti­ons. The ori­gi­nal con­tent of the Bible is com­pa­ra­ble to a spi­ri­tu­al seed which, when sown in a fer­ti­le field, pro­du­ces fruits that can satisfy the spi­ri­tu­al hun­ger of man. Sto­ries and alle­go­ries take shape as images in our con­scious­ness. It is exact­ly this upon which the power of the Bible is based.

Black, white and shades of gray are domi­nant in your work. Why do you focus on achro­ma­tic hues?

This sub­t­le inter­play of oppo­si­tes and their gra­dati­ons are akin to an unsolva­ble ridd­le that chal­len­ges the view­er to “cut the Gor­di­an knot.” The grea­test chal­len­ge in con­cep­tu­al illus­tra­ti­on is the deli­be­ra­te reduc­tion to the essen­ti­al or abso­lu­te. Black por­trays the absence of visi­ble light, while white depicts the reflec­tion of light. Their gra­dati­ons or nuan­ces are por­tray­ed as gray. Black and white indi­ca­te the ori­gi­nal pola­ri­ty. Gray can be inter­pre­ted as a media­ting ele­ment bet­ween the­se two unfet­te­red oppo­si­tes. Gray also ari­ses from com­bi­ning two com­ple­men­ta­ry colors. Gray epi­to­mi­zes the uni­on of dua­li­ty and the­re­fo­re rela­ti­ve har­mo­ny. As a con­trast, white is a meta­phor for the hig­hest imma­te­ri­al mat­ter and black for the deepest mate­ri­al matter.

Eli­as Rubenstein

For his out­stan­ding per­for­man­ces and superb achie­ve­ments, he has been awar­ded the uni­ver­si­ty tit­le of an hono­ra­ry Doc­to­ra­te and the aca­de­mic acco­la­de of the hono­ra­ry senate. 

What do you intend to achie­ve through your work?

Arche­ty­pes and sym­bols con­sti­tu­te the back­bone of Kab­ba­la and Her­me­tic art. They can reve­al a yet unknown view of rea­li­ty through tra­di­tio­nal con­cepts by using lan­guage, wri­ting or sym­bols. An work of art is not essen­ti­al to human sur­vi­val; howe­ver, it dis­tin­guis­hes man from the ani­mal king­dom. Man has the abi­li­ty to pon­der on and con­tem­pla­te art, open hims­elf to it and exchan­ge ide­as with other peop­le about his impressions.

You are entre­pre­neur, aut­hor and lec­tu­rer. How does this rela­te to your work as a visu­al artist?

In the same breath, tit­les are men­tio­ned such as men­tor, coach, blog­ger, enligh­te­ner, social cri­tic, tea­cher or mys­tic, etc. Ama­zin­gly enough, it is com­mon in our socie­ty to iden­ti­fy a per­son with a pre­de­fi­ned uni­form occup­a­tio­nal pro­fi­le. In my opi­ni­on, the­se clas­si­fi­ca­ti­ons are super­fi­cial, becau­se each per­son is uni­que and ful­fills a uni­que mis­si­on. It is of secon­da­ry signi­fi­can­ce what kind of occup­a­ti­on the per­son may pur­sue in order to ans­wer his inner call. Pro­vi­ded that the occup­a­ti­on is not pur­sued only for sel­fi­sh rea­sons, but with the inten­ti­on to con­tri­bu­te some­thing con­struc­ti­ve to his fel­low human bein­gs, a long-term bene­fit for socie­ty can result.

How do your works of art come into being?

First, the work matures over weeks and occa­sio­nal­ly mon­ths through medi­ta­ti­on and con­tem­pla­ti­on. Then, it is digi­tal­ly imple­men­ted and prin­ted in limi­ted quan­ti­ties. Thus, each illus­tra­ti­on por­trays an aspect of indi­vi­du­al self-knowledge.

Where do you see the future of art?

In order to under­stand the future, it is occa­sio­nal­ly use­ful to con­si­der the past. The begin­nings of art ori­gi­na­te in spi­ri­tua­li­ty, reli­gio­si­ty and cult. The pain­tings found in Stone Age caves, in Egyp­ti­an pyra­mids or in sac­red pla­ces of wor­s­hip address a kind of spi­ri­tua­li­ty. Nume­rous his­to­ri­cal rulers, who con­si­de­red them­sel­ves lea­ders of a cult, saw artis­tic crea­ti­on as a wel­co­me tool to erect memo­ri­als in honor of them and of their respec­ti­ve cults. Only in recent histo­ry has an appa­rent secu­la­riz­a­ti­on of art taken place. Alt­hough this dis­con­nec­tion ope­ned up a new per­spec­ti­ve for the arts indus­try, it often lacks ori­en­ta­ti­on or mea­ning­ful­ness. Many modern artists pri­de them­sel­ves upon dest­ruc­ti­ve, taboo-brea­king or repul­si­ve works of art. The cur­rent trend encou­ra­ges art move­ments that use art as an instru­ment to make state­ments of social cri­ti­cism or to come to terms with the past or pre­sent, as a the­ra­py, for examp­le. It is up to the artist’s com­pre­hen­si­on to con­si­der rea­li­ty eit­her pro­ble­ma­tic or solu­ti­on-ori­en­ted. Nevertheless, art is capa­ble of con­vey­ing a dimen­si­on that would other­wi­se be dif­fi­cult for humans to expe­ri­ence. The­r­ein, in my opi­ni­on, lies the gre­at poten­ti­al of art.

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