The four elements
In the great puzzle of life – representing the world – we are trying to find out the meaning of the whole by putting amorphous parts, fragments of forms and motifs, with trembling hands, side by side to match each other. The quality of information, the message, the fragment conveys, depends on the position where it comes from: whether it is from the edge or from the centre of the information field.
Arts have been ousted onto the periphery for some time, but they used to have the distinguished central position and they used to be in the centre of the intellectual world web woven by the myths and reality of the given time.
The fragments of motifs and bigger forms, supposed to appear on the mosaic pieces, even in the historical times were not enough to guide people in the world. If you take the image of a room from the Middle Ages and put it into a scene from the Bible it will give you an authentic expression of modern feelings about modern life. And it is the same with rolling hexameters that inform you about the ideas and thoughts of the 9th century B.C., the time of great invasions. The universe is concealed in particularities and the separate pieces reflect the general only in fragments.
The title of this puzzle is ‘The Four Elements’: Air, Fire, Water and Earth. The meaning of these motifs has been blurred; it is neither general enough nor concrete enough to describe our present situation in the universe. It is similar to the systems of ideas and various religious thoughts developed throughout the human history: they all set a net too loose to catch the general meaning of life. So the knots of the net have to be re-woven every time it is needed. The entirety, they enjoyed in the Ancient Times and in the Middle Ages, could be understood and explained only by using ancient scientific concepts. It is the same for the six days of the biblical Creation being compared to the geological eras.
That is why I have decided to forget the rich mould of myths and archaic thoughts which have inspired and made fruitful so many artists of the twentieth century. I decided to be deaf to the slight interferences of ancient and modern times, to turn a blind eye to the inspiring analogies, to forget the soft details and to concentrate only on the delicate structures – the fossil shells – that have survived the thousands years of human history. (Figures 1–2)
In the terms of logic: I will narrow the meaning of the concept and I will preclude all the possible associations in order to enlarge the context and raise it into a higher conceptual class, in addition, to direct it towards the end of the twentieth century by considering it in the abstract.
What can be more distinct and abstract than numbers?
Number One is Being-on-its-Own. It has no relations, it is the pure Interruptedness.
Number Two is Co-ordination. A tight balance, it is like a drawn-up bow, never to be shoot. But it has had a significant course of success: from Socrate and Plato’s Dialogues to computers. On the basis of the concept that 1 and 0 can be identical as well as non-identical with each other, everything can be divided into two parts, and this division can be rolled on only by divine intervention. The glittering of dialectics has faded away in the case of non-scientific way of thinking because it lacks the dynamic hints, shades and features which are also true for the characters of romantic novels and novels of ‘production’.
Number Three is a sacred number, the sacred Perfection. It is present everywhere: in tales and religions, in ordinary and in philosophical way of thinking, because it is the most suitable number to describe and measure the complicated spheres of life, faith and spirit. It can separate space and time and put concepts and things into their right place on the basis of their real value. The human work of art is given its perfect shape in the trinity of beauty, good and truth.
The key positioned number of our puzzle is number Four. It is a number of experience, though it has some religious and transcendental aspects and relations. It marks the continuity in space and time. It exceeds number Two and number Three: it is exactly twice as much as number Two and it equals the total of the relations of number Three. It also accumulates the hidden meanings conveyed by the above mentioned numbers and opens new roads of understanding relations in life which lead from logic to metaphysics, from the mystery of numbers to natural philosophy.
And now let me present the four number-based ‘distilled’ concepts:
Co-ordination – Subordination
Continuity – Discontinuity,
the pure skeleton of the flesh of the four numbers; the weaving concept and strategy of the world web.
In the case of ancient people Air, Earth, Water and Fire represented the key elements, they worked like a pattern for thinking delicately enriched with empirical and intellectual contents, consequently they were the means of describing the universe known so far. It was e.g. the Ptolemaian cosmology that meant a kind of pattern of thinking for Greek seamen. It is actually a two-pole system, the contrast between heavenly and earthly, male and female. When small societies had to fight against the savage forces of Nature, personified in wild animals and snow-covered mountain tops, their lives were defined by the principles of Earth and Water, i.e. by EROS. And the higher, immortal type of existence, characterized by Fire and Air, was expressed in MYTHS.
Since that time wild animals have become endangered and protected species, the mountain tops have been conquered by tourists and all Greek gods have been tamed to be heroes of human tales.
Human society has extended its borders into the great and the tiny, both infinite in size; and it is trying to define and find its new borders, on the one hand, in the COSMOS, on the other hand, in the infernal depth of human psyche – best expressed by the Greek HYPNOS.
Cosmos means Nature without human beings; according to the latest scientific studies it is only energy and elementary particles swirling in the space without a cause, identity, and it is a worthless continuity in time and subordination in space. Man has distinguished himself from other beings, named, evaluated and grouped things surrounding him and finally, he has become the consciousness of the Universe.
Man socialized EROS, his biological self and his natural environment; lifted MYTHS into his own history; built up the crystal palace of his ideas and released the dark forces of his psyche. He has opened the doors of the Empire of HYPNOS, set free human unconsciousness which had been in chains for a long time, and let out both creative and deadly energies, the messengers of the times before Eros and Myths.
In the course of this short summary I have come to four concepts, based on the four elements, which underpins a kind of loose, speculative roof and creates the magic Twelve, the symbol of the universe.
Earth, Water, Fire and Air meet Eros, Hypnos, Myths and Cosmos, they get related in order to reach the level of the ethereal abstraction of Continuity, Co-ordination, Discontinuity and Subordination.
The concepts, by giving up their linear characteristics, lie down on the two-dimensional surface, reveal their various relations and outline a twelve-angle Mandala radiating from inside and symbolizing wholeness. It is the intellectual arabesque of lonely Gamblers in life, and for people with meditative character it represents the enchantment and call of the empirical and transcendental worlds.
This Mandala is a broken mosaic piece interwoven by lines of different meanings; it is the first piece, the starting point among the fragments in the great Puzzle of life, meant to shine into every corner of the world-model puzzle and to melt them into a whole by its individual values.
In addition, as a reflection of the intellectual world resting upon the foundation-stone of the four elements, you can see a magic number in a dim light; figure Twelve stands here as the symbol of the arts-games-world model.
The motif-ruled quartet of Signal, Index, Idol and Icon completes and decorates the conceptual house ‘on stilts’ made up by Myths, Cosmos, Eros and Hypnos, and then the notions of Texture, Factor, Structure and Picture in the language of elemental forms communicate with the generalised concepts ‘distilled’ from the numbers.
And now we have arrived to the gates of the third dimension, to the perfect Platonic body, the virtual reality of the icosahedron; the logical link connecting fine arts, sculpture included, and the wholeness of the world.
And it is time for a new game.
(The Four Principal Elements. Symposium of the 4th International Sculptural Drawing Symposium, 29 March 1996, pp. 78–85)