» Hector Servadac «
March 22 — April 21, 2019
Opening: March 21, 2019, 7 pm
Lily Robert Gallery moves to a new location and is pleased to re-start its exhibition program with a solo show by Moscow-based artist Ilya Smirnov.
The exhibition, titled after Jules Verne's novel Hector Servadac, groups a series of recent drawings and installations, specifically conceived by the artist for the new space, offering a significant overview of the artist's practice and interests.
Ilya Smirnov’s background lies in Classical Philology with additional studies of Biblical Hebrew, Classical Arabic and Sanskrit. His current research supplies him with a set of conceptual and visual motifs from mythology, astronomy, archaeology and religious studies. The artist’s main focus is on writing systems and the general study of symbolic representation.
Jules Verne started working on Hector Servadac around 1860, releasing the novel only in 1877 after multiple alterations forced upon the author by his publisher. In its original concept, the plot revolves around a gargantuan golden comet threatening the earth with inevitable collision, subsequent devaluation of gold and total economic collapse. The protagonist’s uncommon last name is, in fact, a mirror word for Cadavres, “corpses”.
As Robert S. Mclvor states in his paper, the comet associated with Caesar and the star associated with Augustus were not fictitious. Astronomy can explain numismatic artwork of the eagle standing on the globe of the Earth as the constellation-figure of Aquila. Indeed, multiple Roman coins contain an image of a comet/star accompanied by an eagle. I guess every global political change, especially the one leading to its monumentalization in the design of currency, was strongly connected or even brought about by a cometary event. There’s a 185 BC Chinese Atlas of Comets where each cometary shape is associated with different effects like war, hunger or a change of Emperor. A universal state symbol such as the eagle is a reference to the specific constellation that marked the celestial position of the state-installing comet in relation to Earth.
Religious iconography is also not immune to cometary effects. There are certain groups of Byzantine icons with two symmetrical sky objects in the background that supposedly register a closely passing comet in a parallax view from Earth when cometary dust and ion tails appear to point in opposite directions. The main icon of Mithraism in all of its variations contains a similar repeating element, torch-bearers Cautes and Cautopates. Cautes holds his burning torch raised up, while Cautopates holds his torch pointing down.
Diagnosed with dementia praecox, Emma Hauck was incarcerated in Heidelberg's psychiatric clinic on her thirtieth birthday in 1909. There, she wrote the letters consisting of obsessive repetitions of a simple imperative—komm (come), Herzensschatzi komm (sweetheart come). In 1909/10 Earth was passing through the tail of Halley’s comet. There is speculation that Emma’s letters were actually addressed to the comet, pleading it to come closer to earth. Emma's text is linear and overlapping. Maybe she'd had better luck if she used spiral-like writing, which is characteristic for Middle Eastern incantation bowls from late antiquity. These were little plates designed to attract and capture demons among other things. Less than two thousand traps are discovered at a given time, among which fewer than five hundred are described.