Until March 24, 2018, the Parisian gallery La joaillerie par Mazlo, a leading avant-garde venue for contemporary jewellery, offers with the exhibition The Alchemical Egg a surprising and highly relevant look at the notion of transformation of matter that is at the basis of Alchemy.
End of the road(Rubedo) Brooch. 2017. Silver, pure gold, niello patina. Courtesy of Gigi Mariani
This discipline – defined as oculistic as early as the Middle Ages – aimed to understand what the Greek philosopher Anaxagoras had formulated around 450 BC.C“Τὸ δὲ γίνεσθαι καὶ ἀπόλλυσθαι οὐκ ὀρθῶς νομίζουσιν οἱ Ἕλληνες- οὐδὲν γὰρ χρῆμα γίνεται οὐδὲ ἀπόλλυται, ἀλλ’ ἀπὸ ἐόντων χρημάτων συμμίσγεταί τε καὶ διακρίνεται. Καὶ οὕτως ἂν ὀρθῶς καλοῖεν τό τε γίνεσθαι συμμίσγεσθαι καὶ τὸ ἀπόλλυσθαι διακρίνεσθαι” This sentence is often translated by the maxim“Nothing is born and nothing perishes, but things that already exist combine and then separate again“, which Lavoisier, the father of modern chemistry, would echo with his famous phrase“In nature,nothing is lost, nothing is created, everything is transformed“. But for many, alchemy is simply the search for the philosopher’s stone that could transmute matter into gold. It is much more than that!
Weather storm(Nigredo). Brooch. 2017. Silver, 750 yellow gold, niello patina. Courtesy of Gigi Mariani
But before the understanding of the chemical and physical phenomena that modify matter, this discipline was associated above all with witchcraft, the ideal accusation for driving opponents of the ruling power and the clergy to the stake. Its parallel with jewellery seemed inevitable, since it is a profession in which the transformation of materials is the very basis of its practice. It is also worth remembering that for many years, the Nicolas Flamel high school was the major Parisian technical school dedicated to jewellery…
Nigredo. Brooch. 2017. Enamel, copper, silver, glass. Courtesy of Wendy McAllister
1- Translating Alchemy into jewellery
This is the principle of this event, conceived by curator and art historian Nichka Marobin. Created in partnership with the Hannah Gallery, it was first presented at the Joya fair in October 2017 in Barcelona. It brings together four artists with very different backgrounds and inspirations: Aurélie Guillaume (Canada), Gigi Mariani (Italy), Tore Svensson (Sweden) and Wendy McAllister (USA). Her objective is to compare the alchemical and artistic paths – sometimes comparable to wanderings, as the creative process can sometimes be difficult or even painful – and to fix them in time.
Red. Brooch. 2017. MDF (wood), silver, paint. Courtesy of Tore Svensson
The starting point for this reflection is a painting by Jerome Bosh to which the title of the exhibition refers. His work, often considered hermetic, is filled with symbols related to the knowledge of matter, life after death, the transformation of bodies or souls.
Rubedo: The Sun. Brooch. 2017. Enamel on copper, silver, sterling silver, pure gold, stainless steel, powder coating. Courtesy of Aurelie Guillaume
2- The three stages of alchemical knowledge
These are the three states (sometimes even four) that lead to rebirth. These different principles are described in the realisation of the Great Work found in fragments of writings by the Egyptian alchemist Zozimus of Panopolis (3rd century AD). Thus, the understanding of the transformation of matter goes through :
Albedo. Pendant / Pendant. 2017. Enamel, copper, silver, 24 carat gold leaf. Courtesy of Wendy McAllister
Nigredo, the work of the black, represents the beginning. It is about crushing the elements, mixing them, melting them, firing them. Often symbolised by the raven or the planet Saturn, this stage is the counterpart of the destruction (death) that precedes reconstruction.
TheAlbedo, the work of the white, the purification. From black to white… The previous material is washed, purified to return to a state conducive to its transformation. Often symbolised by a swan or the moon, this stage is in reality an instant zero of the matter. This moment when everything is possible. Birth, the first stone of a becoming.
Citrinitas, the work of the yellow, symbolising the appearance of heat. The firing that allows the recombination of elements towards its final state. It is often the planet Venus that illustrates this new state. One thinks of the painting of the birth of Venus coming out of a shell in the famous painting by Botticelli.
Finally, the Rubedo, the work of the red, representing the furnace, the ultimate heat, the hour of transformation, sometimes compared to the orgasm. It is about being reborn in a new form and starting a new life. Comparable to enlightenment, this is the highest level of knowledge, Gnosis. This state is symbolised by the sun or the phoenix.
This magical moment(Albedo). Brooch. 2017. Silver, niello patina. Courtesy of Gigi Mariani
As you can see, these principles can be found in jewellery. From the initial melting pot to the forge where the metal glows and then transforms and bends to the wishes of the jeweller – here considered a connoisseur. For here, more than anywhere else, the control of temperature is based on inalienable principles in the mastery of the arts of metallurgy. Go and see this exhibition, which is exciting in many respects and unique in the philosophical view it takes of the message that a piece of jewellery delivers. I think you won’t be disappointed!
Jewellery by Mazlo
31 rue Guénégaud, Paris 6
Saturday: 11am-1pm and 2-7pm
See you soon!