Critical Trilogy

a critic's millennial journey

BLOOMING: YULIYA LANINA’S “JOURNEY TO THE HIEROS GAMOS”

"Seven Steps" hung on the studio wall of artist Yuliya Lanina

Twin stars that mutual circle in the heaven

Two parts for spiritual concord given,

Twin Sabbaths that inlock the Sacred Seven

February 19.  The three Paperwhite bulbs planted at the Winter Solstice have started blooming!  I am experiencing absolute joy as I, under the Taurus Moon, sit down to analyze Yuliya Lanina’s seven new paintings through the lens of Margaret Fuller’s quest.  Here we have a “woman of the nineteenth century” transforming the mythology which gave birth to the American canon, becoming a warrior/lover/mother and equal partner in a romantic quest to overthrow the  imbalanced icon Catholic divinity  — the pope — with the 21st century icon — the sacred marriage.

In fact, Lanina’s seven extraordinary images capture the life journey of Margaret Fuller concentrated in the sixth stanza (above) of her poem,  “The Sacred Marriage,” which closes her book, Woman of the Nineteenth Century.

Of course, Yuliya was not consciously aware of Fuller’s life when she created this work; she confessed to having a personal history imbedded in them.  But this is the magic surrounding Fuller.  Her nineteenth century genius permeates the air of our current Zeitgeist.

In the close of Women of the Nineteenth Century, Fuller offers the poem as a concentrated vision of the hieros gamos — a nineteenth century ideal whose manifestation in form would come at a steep price — her life.  Below is Fuller’s entire The Sacred Marriage poem, rendered her in the ascending hues of the chakras:

And has another’s life as large a scope?

It may give due fulfillment to thy hope,

And every portal to the unknown may ope,

If, near this other life, thy inmost feeling

Trembles with fateful prescience of revealing

The future Deity, time still concealing.

If thou feel thy whole force drawn more and more

To launch that other bark on seas without a shore;

And no still secret must be kept in store;

If meannesses that dim each temporal deed,

The dull decay that mars the fleshly weed,

And flower of love that seems to fall and leave no seed –

Hide never the full presence from thy sight

Of mutual aims and tasks, ideals bright,

Which feed their roots to-day on all this seeming blight.

Twin stars that mutual circle in the heaven,

Two parts for spiritual concord given,

Twin Sabbaths that inlock the Sacred Seven;

Still looking to the centre for the cause,

Mutual light giving to draw out the powers,

And learning all the other groups by cognizance of one another’s laws:

The parent love the wedded love includes,

The one permits the two their mutual moods,

The two each other know mid myriad multitudes;

With child-like intellect, discerning love,

And mutual action energizing love,

In myriad forms affiliating love.

A world whose seasons bloom from pole to pole,

A force which knows both starting-point and goal,

A Home in Heaven, — the Union in the Soul,

As an independent woman intellectual and activist born at the initiation of a defining American century, Margaret Fuller had no role models to look up to.  In her evolutionary struggle to forge a path into authentic womanhood, she was completely on her own, a lone pioneer of the American intellectual frontier who was attempting to reconcile the ancient thought structures with the mythology of the New World and its interconnection to nature.  She was to absorbed into Emerson’s Transcendentalist movement but soon saw the limitations — in both Emerson’s character and his philosophy of self-reliance — that would fail to satisfy her romantic cravings.

While the western frontier was just being opened up, this prodigy’s coming of age bumped up against the prevailing notion of “perfect womanhood” which viewed women as pure and necessarily confined to the home.   Yet, the rigorous intellectual training of her father instilled her with a hard core discipline which expanded her horizons from the learning of multiple languages — Latin and Greek, in addition to French, Italian and German — as well as astronomy!   When she was a teenager, her father decided to leave Cambridge and try to farm in Groton where she was confined to domestic duties and the female role of teacher.   Her solution to her physical confinement  was to go inward and seek the inner balance of masculine and feminine — the gender opposites determined for her not by her culture but her reading and translation of German metaphysical writers like Goetre.  Out of this inner quest for the “sacred marriage” she was to connect with the female archetypes that she would embody in what was to become a celebrated public life  —  Seeker,  Friend, Muse, Dark Lady Writer, Lover, Mother and Guardian.  Along the way, she became the Mother of the American canon.

Here we see Lanina’s powerful images as the stages of Margaret’s journal as an archetypal template for the blooming of female genius.  Lanina reveals this genius as she visually unfolds Margaret Fuller’s alchemical language crystalized by “Twin Sabbaths that inlock the Sacred Seven.”   I will proceed to interpret both words and image through the lens of the 21st century icon, the hieros gamos.

1.  Birth (Quest)

And has another’s life as large a scope?

It may give due fulfillment to thy hope,

And every portal to the unknown may ope,

I hate glare, thou knowest, and have hitherto successfully screened my virtues therefrom…So well have I palyed my part, that in the self-same night I was styled by two several persons’ a sprightly young lady’ and “a Syrnen!!” Oh rapturous sound!  I have reached the goal of my ambition: Earth has nothing fairer or brighter to offer.”
–Margaret Fuller

"Duality (Quest)" by Yuliya Lanina

The “portal to the unknown” is that of the mouth, Margaret’s gilded gift of gab.  Margaret’s early writings reveal a life quest that involved using her gift for communication to straddle the border between public and private.  She had virtually no role models for this. Her underground alchemical writings sought to reconcile the opposites which dominated her highly strung, spirited nature.  The Gemini duality which made her such a gifted conversationalist is brilliantly captured by Lanina above.  From an early age, she understood that reconciling these opposites meant smashing the containers confining women and men into rigid gender roles.

Lanina reveals the specter of the dark feminine, the Kundalini, behind the open mouth, representing both Fuller’s gift and her desire for life experience that meant battling the opposing forces of fate and free will.  The two would merge when she focused the arsenal of her talents and her courage as reporter on the scene of the Italian Republican Revolution of 1848.  Yet, this butterfly would only emerge after a long underground preparation period marked by a struggle to integrate inner and outer worlds.  How was a nineteenth century woman to achieve this when they weren’t permitted an outer life beyond the conventions of teacher or mother?


2.  Vision (Temptation)


If, near this other life, thy inmost feeling

Trembles with fateful prescience of revealing

The future Deity, time still concealing.

If thou feel thy whole force drawn more and more

To launch that other bark on seas without a shore;

And no still secret must be kept in store;

“Vision (Temptation)” by Yuliya Lanina

I feel the power of industry growing every day, and besides, the all-powerful motive of ambition, and a new stimulus lately given through a friend.  I have learned to believe that nothing, no! not perfection is unattainable.  I am determined on distinction, which formerly I thought to win at an easy rate…

The only way Fuller could tackle this thorny paradox was directly.  “The future Deity, time still concealing” was both the struggle and the process named through her many forms of writing: the sacred marriage.  Through her 20s, as Margaret struggled with her internal dualities.

The gender opposites envisioned by Lanina as dual aspirations (winged creatures), the royal (crown) quest for the inner coniunctio (visualized by the alchemists as the marriage of King and Queen) launched by desire (the apple).  Far too complex of a being to seek a simple, conventional solution in marriage, Margaret focused her energies on learning an alchemical, archetypal language developed in her poetry.

3.  Cultivation (Comrade)


If meannesses that dim each temporal deed,

The dull decay that mars the fleshly weed,

And flower of love that seems to fall and leave no seed –

"Cultivation (Comrade)" by Yuliya Lanina

…but now I see that long years of labor must be given to secure even the “suces de societe, — which, however, shall never content me…I know the obstacles in my way…Yet all such hindrances may be overcome by an ardent spirit.  If I fail, my consolation shall be found in active employment.

‘If meannesses that dim each temporal deed.”  Margaret is referring to Saturn, the planet of Karma which, in her youth, cast a shadow on her social relations (Saturn opposing her Sun, Mercury, Venus and Mars in Gemini).  Through powerful inner resources and conscious insight into her obstacles, she sought to overcome her sensitivity regarding the effect of her strong personality and powerful spirit, as well as the disappointment of unfulfilled expectations (“the decay that mars the fleshly weed”) and unequal exchange (“flower of love that seems to fall and leave no seed”) that, like a garden unattended, could mar her personal evolution.

The message here, in the third stage, is the necessity of grounding and confronting the Shadow.  Fuller had the gift of penetrating through the persona to uncover the archetypal Shadow so the authentic self could be revealed; that was her condition for manifesting her ideal spiritual friendship, known in later generations as “the Boston Marriage.”  Holding the energy for the romantic aspirations of her tight circle of women friends, the daughters of the Boston elite, she paved the way for the external manifestation of the “sacred marriage” in prototypal marriages embracing the mythology surrounding the birth of the American canon, notably that of Sophia Peabody and Nathaniel Hawthorne.

4.  Dark Lady (Muse)

Hide never the full presence from thy sight

Of mutual aims and tasks, ideals bright,

Which feed their roots to-day on all this seeming blight.

Twin stars that mutual circle in the heaven,

Two parts for spiritual concord given,

Twin Sabbaths that inlock the Sacred Seven;

“Dark Lady (Muse)” by Yuliya Lanina

Circumstances have decided that I must not go to Europe, and shut upon me the door, as I think, forever, to the scenes I could have lvoed.  Let me now try to forget myself, and act for others’ sakes.  what I can do with my pen,  know not.  At present, I feel no confidence or hope.  The expectations so many have been led to cherish by my conversational powers, I am disposed to deem ill-founded…I do not think I can produce a valuable work: I do not feel in my bosom that confidence necessary to sustain me in such undertakings, — the confidence of genius.

–Margaret Fuller on her 26th birthday, 23 May 1836

“Of mutual aims and tasks, ideals bright.”  At this crucial turning point, the Saturn return at the age of 28-30, Margaret concocted an experiment for a a mutually beneficial exchange that would eradicate her feelings of being thwarted by her bodily fate — never being able to find mutual beneficially relationships that lived up to her ideals.

“Two parts for spiritual concord given.”  From this struggle to reconcile her deep inner duality symbolized by her astrological sign of Gemini symbol of the twins, Margaret embodied a new identity — centerpiece of a series of “Conversations” in Boston that brought her a steady income and local renown.  Here she put her surrender to the Muse into good practice, as we see in this March 22, 1841 account by Elizabeth Peabody:  “On Saturday morning, Mrs. L. E. and Mrs. E. H. were present, and begged Margaret to repeat the statement concerning life, which which she closed the last conversation.  Margaret said she had forgotten every word she said.  She must have been inspired by a good genius, to have so satisfied everybody, –but the good genius had left her.  She would try, however, to say what she thought, and trusted it would resemble what she had said already. She then went into the matter, and, true enough, she did not use a single words she used before. (Memoirs, I., 345-47)

“Twin Sabbaths that inlock the Sacred Seven” refers to the Sun and Moon, whose rotations instill the marriage of day (conscious) and night (unconscious) to unlock the powers of the seven planets known at the time: Mercury, Earth, Venus, Mars, Saturn, Jupiter and Saturn.  The “confidence of genius” would enable her to trust in her alignment with this cosmic forces.

This experiment was a highly successful as an externalization of interior monologues Fuller had carried on through her unpublished writing.  They kept her socially engaged, self-supporting and were an ideal vehicle for her knowledge of the archetypes, mythology and the ideals of the “sacred marriage” to  be transmitted through her circle, thereby elevating her friendships via the injection of this spirit.

In this image, Lanina inverts the traditional roles of masculine and feminine in the persona of the Dark Lady (Muse).  Here the feminine is spouting a holistic language through her mouth while the masculine/androgyne is whispering in her ear.  We recognize this feminine archetype in the late 20th century as Susan Sontag — who integrated these two archetypes with her marriage of dark persona and highly structured form in her writing.

Margaret Fuller escaped the trap of being identified as the token Dark Lady Writer whose elevated position alienated her from the very ideals she held so dear — the sacred marriage.

5.  Secret (Guardian)

Still looking to the centre for the cause,

Mutual light giving to draw out the powers,

And learning all the other groups by cognizance of one another’s laws:

“Secret (Guardian)” by Yuliya Lanina

“Still looking to the centre for the cause.”  The greatest irony of Margaret Fuller’s life is that by the choice she made to have an Italian lover, resulting in an out of wedlock pregnancy that she shielded, along with her subsequent marriage, from friends and family, she was actually place on the path of the quest: to manifest her ideal (the sacred marriage) in her daily life.  This could only have transpired through the underground journey.

“Mutual light giving to draw out the powers.”  She is referring here to universal law:  the Sun as the “mutual light giving” to “draw out the powers” released by planetary rotation and the interaction of the heavenly bodies.  “And learning all the other groups by cognizance of one another’s laws” is how groups of bodies on earth and in space  function through a deeply imbedded consciousness of these laws of motion — time and space unified through the circular motion of the solar system.

Lanina reveals the crucial importance of being able to keep a secret, to hold the energy of the new birth through the gestation period.  The quest gives birth to spiritual children, whose wholeness relies on the measure of mascuiine balanced with the feminine in their art.

What artists are faced with today is this: what is the language for this art form?  What is the form itself?  What does a holistic work of art look like?  One that is  contained in the opposites of inner/outer, masculine/feminine, conscious/unconscious?

Paradoxically, Fuller seemed to satisfy the need to consciously go underground with her adventure of having to keep a pregnancy secret as a very public person.

6.  Drowning (Acceptance)

Still looking to the centre for the cause,

Mutual light giving to draw out the powers,

And learning all the other groups by cognizance of one another’s laws:

The parent love the wedded love includes,

The one permits the two their mutual moods,

The two each other know mid myriad multitudes

“Drowning (Acceptance)” by Yuliya Lanina

Fuller’s deep understanding of the dynamics of fate and freewill at work in her death are revealed in “cognizance of one another’s laws.”  Her writings revealed she knew her Promethean quest would require bodily sacrifice, yet she bore her challenge to reconcile fate and free will with great courage.

She wrote:  “Fate is la lawand the man that discovereth the law that rules him and follows it shall be firm when other things shake.  It si like the presiding star astrologers feigned. It shall lead you to dangers and through them.  Believe the stars, the transpersonal and personal forces, foretold of fate.”

Fuller wrote of ominous signs before embarking on her ship, the Elizabeth, that would perish in a shipwreck on a sandbar off Fire Island.  “It was an odd combination – I had inteded if I went by way of France to take the packet ship “Argo” from Havre; I had just written to Mrs. Story that I should not do so, and at the same time request ed her to find Miss Fitton, who had my muff, etc.: having closed the letter II took up Galignani’s Messenter and my eye feel on these words – Died 4th April at No. 10 Rue Ville l’everque MissFitton – turning the leaf I read of the wreck of the Argo returning from America to France!  There were also notices of the wreck of the “Royal Adelaide,,” a fine English Steamer, and of the John Skiddy, one of the fine Ameircan packets.”

Margaret Fuller’s understanding of archetypal astrology placed her far ahead of her times; in fact, archetypal astrology is only now emerging as a 21st century discipline; seemed to view herself as a victim of fate contemporaries saw the end of her life as a tragedy, recent scholarship views her as an American reomantic who surrendered to her fate, as if knowing she would live on as a myth in the collective consciousness.  Perhaps it was, in fact, this idea about her which actually KEPT her myth underground, until being revived by feminists in the 1970s.

Charles Capper’s monumental biography, Margaret Fuller, An American Romantic, recasts Fuller as an American Romantic holding the tension between the fatalism of her belief in universal law and providence of divine intervention. He writes of her as happily fatalistic (“Thus it seems safety is not to be found in the wisest calculation.  I shall embark more composedly on my merchant ship.”)  yet shunting aside Fate in favor of Providence, “Praying, indeed fervaently , that it may not be my lot to lose my baby at sea, either by unsolaced sickness, or amid the howling waves.”  Capper winds up this tension with her anguished prophecy: “Torn between Providence and Fate, she blurted out again her tragic wish: ‘Oh, that if I should, it may be brief anguish, and Ossoli he and I go together.'”

He concludes in the book’s closing pages, “In short, hers was not an end of classical tragedy but ironic Romantic pathos: not a character flaw but the same self-generated revolutionary hope that fatefully cast her into turbulent waters, shunned by most of her contemporaries, governed the darkened fates and absurd accidents of her end.  It was a consoling myth that Fuller, attuned to the fateful cast of her choice, would have recognized.” (p. 518)

7.  Renewal (Hieros Gamos)

With child-like intellect, discerning love,

And mutual action energizing love,

In myriad forms affiliating love.

A world whose seasons bloom from pole to pole,

A force which knows both starting-point and goal,

A Home in Heaven, — the Union in the Soul.

“Renewal (Hieros Gamos)” by Yuliya Lanina

Joy to those born on this day: In America is open to them the easy chance of a nobel, peaceful growth, in Europe of a combat grand in its motives, and in its extent beyond what the world ever before so much as dreamed.  Joy to them; and joy to those their heralds, who, if their path was desert, their work unfinished, and their heads in the power of a prostituted civilization, to throw as toys at the feet of flushed, triumphant wickedness, yet holy-hearted in masking love, great and entire in their devotion, fall or fade, happy in the thought that these come after them grater than themselves, who may at last string the harp of the world to full concord, in glory to God in the highest, for peace and love from man to man become the bond of life.

Margaret Fuller’s final Tribune posting from Italy,  13 Feb, 1950

The new female archetype is born of this vision of mutual action and co-creation with the universe.  The feminine no longer identified with the patriarchy as passive and submissive, but identified with a galactic law of cosmic cycles — “a world whose seasons bloom from pole to pole” — interactive, dynamic and revolving/evolving with nature.

Lanina envisions this holistic state as the erotically contained  (the red purse) duality of the gendered twins now merged into an androgynous Aquarian youth guarded by “a force which knows both starting point and goal” — the spirit of the Kundalini, the dark feminine contained in a holistic sphere and controlled by the stewardship of the Self while protected by the Guardian (the Shadow made conscious represented here by the Shark).

At last, we have arrived at our destination, the embodiment of the New Paradigm incorporating “A Home in Heaven, the Union in the Soul.”  The overriding expression of Lanina’s final composition is one that Margaret Fuller knew intimately  — joy!

Why was Fuller repressed for so long?  Clearly, she was born with the gift of liberation and universal love for her fellow earthlings; it would take another 200 years for individuals to learn that freedom comes with responsibility!

ABOUT THE ARTIST:

Yuliya Lanina is a Russian-born American artist based in New York City.

Lanina has exhibited extensively both nationally and internationally. Her work has been displayed at the SIGGRAPH Asia 2009, Beijing Biennial 2009, Yeosu/Seoul Biennial 2008, Seoul Art Museum, Russian Contemporary Art Museum, Ludwig Museum (Cologne), Trinity College Science Gallery (Dublin) and other venues.

Lanina has been a recipient of Full Hunter College Studio scholarship, SIGGRAPH Travel Grant, the Award of Excellence in the Manhattan Arts International Competition, Spencer Scholarship, WCC Scholarship for Outstanding Achievements in Academic Area, NESIYA Fellowship, HIAS Scholarship and others.

To see more of her works visit www.yuliyalanina.com


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February 19, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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