I, Tree of the edges
It is not hard to imagine a neutral space, unbelievably white, occupied by a single artificial tree. Not a synthetic tree or a Christmas tree; a totemic structure that embodies the symbolic and archetypal qualities of a tree. Philosophically speaking though, it would not aspire to the idea of a tree in that it would be clad in the substance of typical artefacts, amongst other things; it would also embody the artistic virtue, the status of a work of art created in response to a fundamental aesthetic value.
To perceive the substance of a composition designed to imitate nature and at the same time evade it, becomes the enigma of this composition that is destined to lead a life of derailment, slippery ambiguity and departure from the history of art. Historiography has always recognised antagonism between the formal and the informal, but in this case we should speak rather of the "deformal." It is no coincidence that topology should be the branch of science that studies deformations; it's like an inverted form of mathematics, a revolutionary and subversive taste for Euclidean geometry, a revolution of the lexical sexuality of surfaces in which a coiled edge is preferred over the established line that runs from top to bottom. And this edge-margin finds new positions, as if thrown on a bed with tossed sheets; twisting, arching, curling up, hiding in its lewd inverted posture, delighting in the catapult of its curves in an infinite "panformation." How should we describe the pansexuality of these tangles, of these fractal, anti-geometric orgies fleeing from order, to the hitherto applied rules - the rigid canons of what constitutes a solid?
Giancarlo Flati’s tree - the living form in the middle of a neutral space - is made of young branches. Leaves are disdained and fruit is renounced; it bears only Möbius strips folded like paper serpents Medusa-style, alchemical ouroboros not with their tails in their mouths but rather their heads up their buttocks, because Flati has extensive powers of reinvention that laugh in the face of past tradition and vomit on the legionary academic consensus of artists in the statutory line and established procedure.
Flati’s tree could even be a natural tree, having grown perhaps from a eunuch seed that penetrated the foolish woodland topsoil of a humid, wet tundra; sprouted to the battering of the melodic fluting wind, belching its tempered lullabies from the sharp peaks of ice mountains; creted and matured under the dim rays on the steppe, or better still in Giudecca, the land of traitors - because Flati does betray geometry and order - like the last hole in that Dante-esque intestinal inferno, likewise folded in a divine, visceral Möbius structure. Incongruous but continuing all the way down, down to the rectum: the freezing Giudecca, the final landing place of Dante’s inferno, upended in its descent and principle of elevation.
Here it stands firm and mature in a natural wilderness, its roots embedded in the glebe; motionless and totally unfazed by existential earthquakes.
This tree could exist in nature, but no one would be able to see it because human consciousness has not yet reached the stage where it can grasp meaning of it; no one would know its name or classification.
What farmer would understand the bounty of its fruitful fecundity; what famished black carrion crow would settle on the branches of a totem - and for birds there is no difference between a totem and a scarecrow; what winged creature would understand the intrinsic difference between a CD and a motherboard, when farmers are now in the habit of hanging glittering disks on branches to scare the birds off? Nature itself would not understand this tree, let alone humans. It would be classed as a "mistake", and this would be a fair definition in a topological and deformatory sense.
Concerning the specific relationship between the plant world, which Flati represents with an archetype, and the realm of art, we observe a close affinity with the feelings of certain Alpine communities dedicated to the study of nature and its associated laws, to male worship of the sun and female worship of Mother Earth - Gaia.
The tree is therefore a margin between the cosmological matriarchy of the Earth and the opposing solar patriarchy.
The meeting between these two realms lies in Nature, in this case the tree; many other margins are also embedded in it, consisting of incense and mistletoe.
Having mentioned the connection between computer motherboards and buds, both guardians of memory, let us now turn to the relationship between incense and mistletoe.
Incense has always possessed religious powers, and lately medicinal powers too, with the advent of aromatherapy which when burned produces an olfactory process used to treat depression, infections of the airways and anxiety. Along with gold and myrrh, incense was one of the gifts that the Wise Men brought for baby Jesus as a sign of his divinity. Flati has included a natural sculpture in polyurethane foam at the centre of his Tree to represent incense, which over decades has turned yellowish or off-white. This incense-polyurethane, however, could also represent mistletoe, a hemiparasite that grows on a number of plants - the margin between parasite and host.
Mistletoe grows on broad-leaved and coniferous trees and absorbs nitrogen from them; it produces berries that birds then carry away and deposit on other host plants. According to Steiner and many other types of alternative medicine, mistletoe has anticarcinogenic and immunostimulant properties that can diminish or even cure serious diseases of our time. The positioning of the polyurethane in this precise spot, however, could suggest a transplant - the human intervention of placing a berry in cavity in order to generate a new plant.
When Rudolf Steiner and Ita Wegman were formulating their so-called anthroposophical medicine, they were not denying that scientific methods can produce cures; they were simply trying to broaden the field, since human minds and souls require cures as well as their physical bodies.
According to Steiner, tumours only form in consequence of a deficiency in the links between component parts of a human. When the balance between man's vital body (vegetative) and physical body (mineral and biochemical) is broken and no longer in connection with man's higher relationship of mind and soul, this is what endangers the health.
According to Steiner, Mistletoe is the remedy for this imbalance as it germinates and grows surrounded by air and light, away from the cold earth with its hardening, cancer-inducing processes. Mistletoe clearly belongs to the group of alternative therapies that support conventional medicine, offering complementary support rather than a scientific cure, but it is not without a certain value.
This brief discussion of the topic serves to introduce another aspect of Flati's character - his previous profession as a surgeon and his scientific attitude that also acknowledges the soul.
Flati investigates science with a spiritual outlook in the way that anthroposophy does, albeit in reverse since supporters of Steiner explore the soul from a scientific point of view.
In spite of of these symbols and allegories, Flati presents an artistic creation that by its very gesture belongs to natura naturans; faithful to the earth, the sun and the elements. This can also be observed in Goethe's theories on plants - the so-called "metamorphosis" according to which flora originated from a single plant type. The "I, Tree of the edges" could metaphorically be this plant type to which Goethe was referring, ie the indefinable and intangible quid that can be defined as the "idea of the tree".
Regarding its metaphorical and in some respects emblematic significance, the tree also bears some symbolic secrets such as the salamander and dragon silhouettes. The Salamander, as I have previously mentioned, is a symbol of power against fire; it is one of the elemental beings, implied by a physical, etheric, astral and non-spiritual body, but only outlined in an egoic manner. The creature was also extremely important in heraldry; Francis I of France used it as the emblem on his coat of arms, with the motto "nurisco et extinguo" signifying the salamander's ability to feed good fire and extinguish bad fire.
Fire then is the link between this elemental being and the volcano, which also appears in Flati's tree, at the centre of the structure. In tales passed down in the oral tradition, salamanders were spoken of as living inside volcanoes, since the salamander is a fire elemental. With regard to elementals, Madame Blavatsky maintained: "(they) live in the ether and can manipulate and control etheric matter to produce physical effects as easily as man can compress air with a pneumatic device”. Steiner also spoke of plants whose growth was conditioned by elementals working in conjunction: earth with the roots, air with the light, water with rain and sap, and fire transmitted as heat and power. In Flati's tree there are two representations of the fire elemental - the dragon and the salamander, which together with the volcano/bud/memory represent the motor-power of natural life.
Evoking Goethe, Steiner also said: "It is a grave error to think that the female element of the plant is in the bud. The bud is actually the male element, extracted from the universe with the help of the spirits of fire. The female element is in the cambium that extends between the bark and the wood, and is descended from an ideal form", confirming the archetypal theory of the idea of the tree as previously mentioned.
Note also that the Bern Physiologus manuscript contains an illustration of a salamander that resembles a dragon in every respect, as do many works depicting St. George and the Dragon, although the latter is often replaced by a serpent; strangely enough, this is also the name by which Paracelsus referred to salamanders.
Beside the tree, almost like a seedling of the main plant, Flati felt it necessary to include what could be described as the artistic life of his philosophical thought in magma form: the artist's book. The binding is woody, arboreal, made from thick protective bark, while inside the pages give way to extraordinarily powerful evocative works, images heavy with margins, explosions of profound sensitivity, the continued search for other dimensions beyond known spaces. With this book and the “I,Tree of the Edges”, Flati is declaring his faith in contemporary hermeneutics; he is a quiet, hard-working artist unlike avant guard or postmodern narcissism, a faithful member of the elected community founded on the scientific-but-natural consideration of spirituality.