25 June – 20 July 2014
Wotan, erwache!1 is an exhibition of new paintings presenting the first instalment of an ongoing project, a re-staging of Wagner’s epic cycle of music-dramas, Der Ring des Nibelungen,2 in selected parts. Responding to the dramatic-musical text in a purely pictorial form, this collection of paintings represents a comprehensive re-imagining, in which most key symbols are visible but nothing else is business as usual.
The exhibition’s title refers to the character who is arguably the protagonist of the cycle, Wotan, the head of the old gods. Following a line of thought that reads the narrative as an allegory of broader social evolution, Wotan represents the personified force of humanity’s collective, historical transcendental impulse, and specifically acting as an agent of authority stemming from transcendental ideals (the law). It is in their relation to this principle that all the other figures in the narrative are defined. The story of the Ring cycle follows a trajectory of increasing dissolution brought about by a primordial fracture of innocence that has caused truth to become incommensurable with virtue and love, ending with a total collapse of the world and the beginning of a new order. Although it was conceived a century-and-a-half ago, it draws from ancient sources, and the excellence of Wagner’s synthesis is that it remains relevant and apt for reinterpretation in every age.
In relation to the paintings, Wagner’s Ring acts as a substructure, a linear series of episodic configurations of motifs that have been recontextualised into new visual compositions within a matrix of contemporary themes, whilst retaining a reflection of the original work’s mythological kernel through the archetypal images of the narrative’s key symbols. The exhibition’s title echoes the first lines of the libretto to be sung by the gods in Das Rheingold (the first part of the cycle), as Fricka calls to her husband Wotan to awaken from “dream’s delightful deceit.”3 The works of this exhibition extend the premise of that moment of transcendent authority’s ‘sleep of reason’ into a neo-capitalist cybernetic dream-world: a fictitious future, an endless metropolis of steel and glass envelopes; and within, a harem of packages, seams and signs. Role-playing upon this resplendent commercial stage are virtual idols heralding the “the first sound from the future,”4 paradigms of feminitude and youthitude.5 The actors’ homogeneity stems from a thematic binary: in diametric opposition to the ideal of the law is the passive ideal of the young-girl figure.
In accordance with Wagner’s ambition to materialise a universal master myth, Wotan here blurs into Mercurius, the ancient god of speech, currency and thresholds, and who for the alchemists was the universal solvent required to complete the magnum opus. By the end of the cycle, the epoch is redeemed by an act of world denial, which points towards art as the transfiguring passage to the next, higher world. It is to honour the spirit of this renewal that I have sought to conjure up this phantasmal structure of visual motifs, which are subordinated to an erotic order in which the object of desire is the systematising aspect of fiction itself.
Samuel Quinteros, June 2014
1 Translation: Wotan, awaken!
2 The music-dramas are based loosely on characters from the Norse sagas and the Nibelungenlied. The first performance as a cycle opened the first Bayreuth Festival in 1876.
3 R. Wagner, Das Rheingold, ii.7-8.
4 The suggested meaning of 初音ミク, name of a singing synthesiser application’s pre-eminent persona.
5 See: Tiqqun, Raw Materials for a Theory of the Young-Girl. Initially published as ‘Premiers Matériaux pour une Théorie de la Jeune-Fille’ in Tiqqun 1, 1999.