Embarking for Syntopia
or How Beauty Masters Infinite Regress
by Alexandra v. Stosch
Peter Pan is the eternal inhabitant of a mysterious island where children rule: Neverland. If you have ever watched children play, you get the idea that Neverland is by no means paradise. It is just a place where a “higher order” has no say. Where there are no limits to playful, impulsive action and childish egoism. Like any utopia since Thomas Morus or even Platon’s Atlantis, it can be a scary place. The absence of adult life leads to totalitarian order and reflects a rule that philosophers like Augustinus and then later Husserl have defined in terms of their consideration of ‘time’: That closed systems must ultimately lead to infinite regress. The “endless regression” that Peter Pan stands for is a symbol for that process.
Cyril de Commarque’s latest works stand in line with these observations: By designing an “Ever-Neverland”, where ultimately children become aggressive against themselves and destroy what they really love, he draws an eerie picture – not of a gloomy future, but in fact of our present societies. Once you think of it, it is so obvious: The growing dependency on technical devices, which govern our daily life, become our instructors, masters, controllers increasingly hold us in a state of immaturity. Has anyone thought of Larry Page as Captain Cook?
For the last five years I have made it an exercise to reread Kant’s famous answer to the question of “What is Enlightenment?” twice a year, which he wrote in 1784, exactly 230 years ago: Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use one’s understanding without guidance from another. This immaturity is self-imposed when its cause lies not in lack of understanding, but in lack of resolve and courage to use it without guidance from another. Sapere Aude! And I must admit, I am far from being able to happily stop that habit: Growing up is quite a process! Kant is pleading for more “light”, to for a better view and for the advancement of society – just five years before the French Revolution, of which he was quite wary, apprehending a simple overturning of rulers, not the rules. Yet, in his SAMIA, Cyril de Commarque creates a subtle, consciously fading monument to blindness – a paradox. On the one hand he is evoking the increasing blindness in society to the current problems: The most obvious being the refugee situation at the frontiers of Europe, and the reaction of shutting down the borders, of closing our eyes before the humanitarian disaster right at our doorsteps; just one example that builds a bridge to another series of works by Commarque, the Frontiers. The other aspect of dealing with blindness is an invitation to change: To change how you do your things, to sharpen your ears, to become more attentive towards your environment, towards the other – in short, to focus.
Commarque’s works each vary so much in media and scale that one feels tempted to call him a “Renaissance Man”, weaving diachronic and synchronic distances and intellectual and material fields in a lightheaded and -handed way. The red herring and the motor of his relentless energy is the desire to materialize and transport a highly reflective, sociopolitical scope, to question the shaping of the self within its past and current framework. Commarque has no fear to think and work in major perspectives, his artistic material being time itself, history, present and future. Over the years he has practiced an impressive skill of never seen drawing techniques, developing his own tools, inventing machines and installations that confront organic mechanisms with technical achievements. Visiting his studio is like entering a 21st century alchemist laboratory, albeit in an extremely elegant design setting.
The perfect balance of content and perfection in shape is an art, in which Commarque excels. When you look at the fetish-like polished metal surface of the Frontiers, outlines of political borders of countries before and after military aggression of their neighbors (ultimately in order to expand their territory), the result is strikingly the opposite: they have become smaller – proving again the thesis of ‘infinite regress’. In their precious embodiments, these frontiers also symbolize a time, when wars were actually fought over territories for more “Lebensraum”. Commarque’s hybrid objects, oscillating between sculpture and relief, make us think of a paradigm shift in war-craft that almost no longer deals with the old-fashioned direct expansion of territories (unless there are resources involved, or strategic ports, as in the Ukraine), but rather of a sovereignty of thinking, acting, of our free will. Here, the frontiers become less palpable. It is more a guerilla-like spread, that can be fought directly in your neighborhood – and simultaneously at the other end of the world – for the exact same reasons (and it feels strange to cite on the same line ‘surveillance’/NSA and ISIS and other terror groups, they all being phenomena of a frontier-less age). As a consequence, national borders actually lose impact, a somehow spooky thing to consider when you are a politician – which might explain the hectic fencing in against the refugees. But as Ron Garran, the Soyus astronaut, just recently put it in his new book The Orbital Perspective, the challenges increasingly become global and we are all sitting in the same boat.
Commarque’s answer to that growing Neverland-Island syndrome in the Western world could be defined as “Syntopia”, an offer to discuss together where our values are, approach humanitarian issues on a practical side and get to action, not waiting for new legislature (even though he would never say that directly). A symbol for that can be found in his latest work: The polyeder with the barbed wire might reflect as well the globe as a whole, as Dürer’s famous Melencolia I, realized in 1514. The mysterious geometric object in that engraving has ever since been subject to manifold interpretations, mostly leading to the celebration of a certain melancholy as being a central basis of artistic achievements. One could underline that the suffering in the world, and the geopolitical situation in particular did have a strong effect on Commarque’s artistic sensitivity. Still it is a grand, a bold approach to shape that legendary polyeder form with barbed wire, making the fence obsolete where it should be spread out, when seen on a microcosmic level – and showing how much the whole earth is governed by the stubborn and old-fashioned fencing idea, when the reality becomes so globally challenging.
The term “Syntopia” was coined by the neurologist Ernst Pöppel, his wife, Eva Ruhnau, mathematical physicist, and the artist Igor Sacharow during a conference on “Arts&Science” almost ten years ago. Of course, it reflects a wishful thinking of a better way of dealing with things simultaneously from various perspectives, just like Cyril de Commarque’s approach. But it also implies a “here and now”, mixing “synchronic” with “Utopia” – and therefore, it is an invitation to start a dialogue.
Sculpture exhibited at MACRO Museo d’Arte Contemporanea di Roma
from 26 November 2015 to 15 March 2015