THE ROAD TO ELEFSINA
SEVEN TOP JEWELRY ARTISTS CHOSE AN OBJECT TO HIGHLIGHT ASPECTS OF THE ELEUSINIAN MYSTERIES.
By SMCK Magazine
The bridge of Eleusinian Kifissos. Photo: Chr. Ziegler.
For 2,000 years, a farming community close to Athens was the spiritual center of the ancient world. Pilgrims from all over came to Eleusis (modern-day Elefsina) to be initiated to the mysteries – secret ceremonies befriending them with death. Men, women, free people, and slaves, Greeks, and foreigners watched the myth of Persephone staged and revived at the sacred site of Eleusis, witnessing the young goddess returning from Hades.
Sacred rituals including recitation, performance, and presentation of sacred objects taught initiates the secret of immortal bliss. Had it not been one of the most important religious ceremonies of the ancient world, it could have been one of the most glamorous art events of all times.
In 2023, Elefsina was one of three cities holding the title European Cultural Capital. As the year ends, we invited artists to interpret eternity, immortality, promise, revelation, fraternity, or bliss through their work.
Title. Photo: Chr. Ziegler.
How important these elements might have been can be inferred from the fact that the advanced degree of initiation, the epopteia, was attained solely by the inspection – followed by contemplation – of the Eleusinian sacra, exhibited to the initiates by the hierophant in a striking manner. As a matter of fact, the title of that high dignitary of Eleusis, hierophant, means “he who displays the sacra, the sacred objects.”
…The importance of the deiknymena (the shown objects) and the legomena (the spoken words) may further be inferred from the ritual acts, exhibits, and doctrines we find in the Greek Orthodox and the Roman Catholic churches of our day. (Indeed, it is highly possible that ritual acts and exhibits, like the elevation of the sacred host of the Christian mysteries, were borrowed directly from the Eleusinian rites.)
…For two thousand years, civilized humanity was sustained by those rites. Then we shall be able to appreciate the meaning and the importance of Eleusis and of the cult of Demeter in the pre-Christian era. When Christianity conquered the Mediterranean world, the rites of Demeter having perhaps fulfilled their mission to humanity, came to an end…The doctrine which inspired the world for so long was gradually forgotten, and its secrets were buried with its last hierophant. After all, this seems to be the eternal law: one source succeeds another, and a doctrine must die so that another may be born. Yet the story of Demeter and her cult at Eleusis will live forever in the memories of man because it belongs to the cycle of popular myths that can never die.”
Excerpted from “Eleusis and the Eleusinian Mysteries” by George E. Mylonas, published in The Classical Journal, volume 43, number 3, December 1947.
Bernhard Schobinger, "Rotating Square" - bangle, 2020, Brass, lapislazuli pigment paint. Photo: B. Schobinger.
SECRET NO. 1 - LIFT THE VEIL!
"I have delved into the subject of your research and think I have found a good analogy with a work. The object Rotating Square (2020) from four antique door handles definitely has a metaphysical background. The symbol of the sun is also emphasized by the golden color of brass. The rotation without beginning and end. The doorknobs that reach out to each other. The reference to the human function as door opener and door closer."
Sigurd Bronger, "Carrying device for a pine cone" - brooch, 2020. Photo: S. Bronger.
SECRET NO. 2 - DEIKNYMENON
Fabrizio Tridenti, "Untitled" - Ku series, ring, 2018. Brass, paint. Photo: F. Tridenti
SECRET NO. 3 - PERSEPHONE ASCENDING
Emptiness is not other than form;
form is also not other than emptiness.
"Artworks are the result of visions emerging from nothing. What we see lives only in an illusory reality.
All forms are essentially empty, what appears as form is therefore pure illusion.
We attribute to forms a multitude of meanings created by our minds.
Our mind is composed of experiential stratifications upon which we form our creative identity.
The apparent identity is the result of the collective creativity perceived by us as ours.
Objects are the witness of the self-generative process of Existence.
Man is an empty being, timeless and aimless in which the universe appears.
The void is indefinite, undifferentiated and, therefore, offers unlimited possibilities of transformation.
What triggers my creativity is not the result of the process in a piece, but what comes first, that is, the feeling of living an emotional experience that allows me to forget for a moment that I am existing and that allows me to absorb that silence where everything seems to happen."
Christoph Ziegler, "Love + Hate" - necklace, 2022. Olive wood, varnish, rubber cord, engraving. Photo: Chr. Ziegler.
SECRET NO. 4 - CHTHONIC
"The necklace Love + Hate is made of olive wood. Olive trees live for hundreds of years, and their trunk reminds us of ageing humans, or more precisely of ageing women.
In my narrative, this necklace stands for the grief Demeter feels, when she loses her daughter, and for her decision to bring Persephone back to life. The material of the necklace stands for the temporary death of nature. But nature will be reborn, according to the myth, if Demeter reaches a compromise with Hades, and Kore will always resurrect in spring.
The question is what will happen if Demeter accepts that her daughter is lost for ever, and nature does not resurrect?"
Kira Fritsch, "Spoons: Devices for your hand" - Ongoing series, 2016-23. Metal, wood, recycled plastic. Photo: K. Fritsch.
SECRET NO. 5 - I DRANK THE CYCEON
"This usually inconspicuous piece of cutlery plays a major role in cultural history. The spoon could be one of the most important personal possessions that you always carry with you, tucked into your belt."
Veronika Fabian, "Love Machine" - necklace, 2021. Parts coffe machine. Photo: V. Fabian.
SECRET NO. 6 - BLISS
"The Love machine necklace is a transformed coffee machine. It is part of the series “You, me, and your stuff” in which I make jewelry by reconstructing everyday objects identified as being important in people’s lives.
I transformed objects that are often associated with shared moments, having a coffee with friends or enjoying a glass of wine in the evening. I consider these social gatherings to be sacred rituals that play an important role in building and nurturing social relations. In a world where personal connections are increasingly converting into a scarce alternative, I believe these everyday objects can symbolize luxury."
Isabelle Azaïs, "Crips" - necklace 2023. Photo: I. Azaïs.
SECRET NO. 7 - ADYTON
"My jewels are offerings to a godless modernity, ephemeral ornaments celebrating our carefree era of petrochemicals.
I never forget how toxic the material I make art with is; it poisons me in my workshop, it poisons our environment. And yet its venomous beauty fascinates me. The skulls on the plastic package warning do not scare me.
Art events are today's mass. Balloons let loose make them look more glamorous. The religious ceremonies of the ancient world are replaced by orgies performed under a dome made by LED screens. Let's celebrate plastic, let’s eat plastic, let’s wear plastic clothes, let’s wear plastic shoes. And we will parade on the Parisian Champs Elysées, the eternal residence of the blessed and blissful who have forgotten their Greek origins."