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– RW

On crystals and post #2

“an infinite pyramid with a mirrored interior and a granite exterior”

Robert Smithson, ‎Jack D. Flam (1996) ‎Ultramoderne, Robert Smithson: The Collected Writings.

Reading the essay Michaela gave me by Rosemarie Haag Bletter made me think of other writing and imagery relating to crystal structures. Robert Smithson’s quote above describes the Manhattan skyline of the 1930s as a decadence of ‘tarnished reflections’. Smithson describes the city with imagery of solidity, transience and the eternal.

In the Louvre on a visit in 2012 I came across the lid to the sarcophagus of Dioscorides which captures some of the spirit of what Smithson was writing about. Dioscorides was a Greek civil servant buried in the Egyptian style during the 2nd century BC. The inside of the half-ton graywacke stone lid is delicately carved with the figure of the sky goddess Nut against a starlit sky. It’s a beautiful metaphor of weight and transience. The sensuous and protective image of Nut would have pressed against the mummified body of Dioscorides and his spirit would need to pass through the body of Nut to reach the afterlife. The art of the tomb looks inward – the focus is on the body entombed. There is a parallel with Smithson’s infinite pyramid, which holds and refracts light inward.

‘Then, God’s great Heavenly Space city will descend from above and God Himself will dwell with us right here on Earth. The Great Space City is 1,500 miles long by 1,500 miles wide and 1,500 miles high. The greatest space vehicle ever created, the most wonderful Spaceship ever conceived, Built by the Lord on its way down to earth now. The entire city is pure gold, like unto clear glass, so that you’ll be a able to see out of the City through those transparent walls out onto a beautiful recreated New Earth,’

Richard Grayson’s film ‘The Golden Space City of God’ is a choral piece sung by a Texas choir and based on the visionary writings of a 1960s US Evangelical sect known as ‘The Children of God’. I saw Grayson’s film at Matt’s Gallery in London in 2009. The sung narrative describes a shining crystal vision of heaven, and the apocalypse. It returns to the Old Testament writing about Solomon’s Temple referred to in Bletter’s essay and gives it a contemporary twist: an ancient science fiction.

The National Gallery in London has a painting by the artist Bartolome Bermejo entitled ‘Saint Michael triumphs over the devil’ 1468. A reflection in St Michael’s breastplate of the kingdom of heaven is depicted as a series of golden crystal spires over water, rather like the heavenly spaceship in Grayson’s film.

The painting plays a type of tromp l’oeil game by suggesting that the kingdom of heaven is just behind the viewer. While standing in front of the painting I feel that if I turn around fast enough I might catch a glimpse of this crystalline heaven. This game with reflection is balanced by St Michael’s shield, which faces down towards the devil. The shield is the most mysterious object in the picture. It appears to be made from a crystal ball and unlike the shining breastplate it is ominously opaque with just a hint of dim light. Perhaps there are no reflections in hell.

The whole painting is a playful game of shadows and reflections, crystals and lenses, and the many hallucinatory eyes of the devil are echoed in the opening of a poppy flower.