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The Language of the Divine - Gian Ruggero Manzoni

Many years ago the great psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Jung wrote about the loss of spirituality in the Western world and the consequential tragic condition of social alienation: “All the clients who came to me from all over Europe suffered in their religious approach to life, their relation to the holy and the transcendent. In fact, many became ill for the loss of the communion which religion and metaphysical philosophies used to provide. No one really recovered without a new spiritual view of life, which also facilitated personal relationships”. Jung believed that the rediscovery of the sacred, the world of symbols and the universal could heal the “mal de vivre” and regain the relationship with our interiority. The transformation had nothing to do with religious denominations but only with the absolute as a guide and support. Also Neumann, a student of Jung, pointed out that the numinous, (i.e. the contact with the irrational, the wholly other), must not be related to the belief in deities, but to the human imaginative capacity to elevate to a transcendent reality, as different forms of mysticism can prove. With regard to this, writing has always been considered as a sacred means because it joins men to the absolute and to one another. Writing is also the personal expression of an existential journey. Therefore, it is the sincere mirror of man’s condition as an individual as well as a member of a group, of his memories and aspirations, his tragedies and dreams. Besides, no writing is like another and our graphic sign becomes our signature and identity, which changes according to our evolution, faithfully recording the important moments and any subtle shades of the writer’s silent emotional dialogues. How we express ourselves through a graphic sign is an important unintentional choice that cannot be renounced in favour of standardized techniques. These preliminary remarks introduce and help to analyse the new works by Daniele Cantoni which enrich his previous production with a powerful aesthetic insight. His previous cycles, already analysed by critic Aldo Savini, have extremely meaningful titles: “Nails”, “Walls”, ”Collages”, ”Nets”, ”Abstract Landscapes”, “Cities” and so on. They represent the stages of a passionate and coherent pictorial research with the technique of oils on plaster. They give shape to the arstist’s several journeys abroad with a language of personal pictogrammes which aims at a global message and expression. The pictographic script, which belongs to ideographic writings, consists of characters which can represent an object as well as an abstract idea ( i.e. the ideogram, for instance the drawing of an ear can be used to refer to hearing). Pictographic writing uses simple pictograms such as a plant, an animal, a natural object, a man, and combines them in order to form a more complex pictograph, namely a compound pictograph. The Nakhi people, a Chinese minority group, are repository of the only living pictographic writing, whose name “dongba” comes from a shamanic religious tradition. Most of their manuscripts are devoted to ritual cerimonies. Aware of these implications, Daniele Cantoni took up this artistic adventure by contextualizing his personal code and making it the poetic meeting place for different cultures. Undoubtedly, his pictographic writing is not comprehensible at first sight. Initially, its enigmatic meaning allows everybody to interpret it freely. However, as we recognize objects and settings, our comprehension of his complex chromatic mosaics overcomes individual differences and becomes more universal. The universal meaning of pictographs is testified by their being widely used today in places such as airports, stations, touristic resorts and sports events because they are unambiguously understood. So far, only another artist has used this technique, Luigi Serafini. In his well-known Codex Seraphinianus, published by Franco Maria Ricci in 1981, he used a totally invented alphabet, something like the Voynich manuscript (not yet decoded after six centuries) or to the short story Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius by Jorge Luis Borges or to Flatlandia by Edwin Abbott Abbott (a British writer, theologian and pedagogue who lived between the 19th and the 20th centuries). The difference between Serafini and Cantoni lies mainly in their codes (extremely learned in Serafini, archaic and primitive in Cantoni) and in their referents (Serafini’s is a sort of encyclopedia about an imaginary people, whereas Cantoni’s panels, as already suggested, are created to communicate with the absolute and the divine and as a means of union with all peoples and cultures). Moreover, Daniele Cantoni has explored traditions very distant from our cultural identity and he knows that all transcendent forms share the intensity of the psychological event, the dynamic and revolutionary experience which throws the Ego out of consciousness, since in any numinous experience the Ego and the Self come closer. The mystical contact with the sacred is present in the Uroboric stage (the early stage of original unity of consciousness and unconsciousness) with the symbol of the serpent eating its own tail. This phase contains all the opposites (male and female, subject and object, one and many, etc.) which give harmony to the whole. In this ancestral stage, the mystic element was defined by Claude Levy Strauss (the great structural anthropologist who died recently) as partecipation mystique. In this phase, where man and the world, man and the group, conscious and unconscious are One, the mystic element is the participation in Wholeness. It is the original cosmic feeling, reality for primeval man, where the soul and the body coincide. Unfortunately, we have nearly lost this dimension, since evolving sadly implies perverting, an endemic evil in Western societies. Daniele Cantoni artistically reacts to the inexorable loss of primeval grace by relying on the concept of the Selbst (introduced by Freud), which refers to the inner place of Wholeness, the union of the particular and the universal. It is the regulative principle of personality, the mandala: “what lives in man without recognizable boundaries, as deep as the foundations of the earth and as spacious as the immensity of the sky” as Jung defined it. The Selbst is the place and the time where the dialogue between collective consciousness and individual unconsciousness becomes real. Now, one cannot ignore the concept of Well-being, the state of ecstasy, prosperity, relationship to nature and the other living beings that in philosophy, anthropology, psychoanalysis and mystique characterizes the shaman, that is a medium, a visionary, a spokesman of the spirits whose world he enters at the moment of initiation. In his dreams he can tell the future, perform healings and divination by transferring his soul into the depth of the cosmos or into the “realm of the shadows”. And Daniele Cantoni is a shaman. I saw him dance while giving life to his pictographic works. I heard the music thundering loud in his study while he, abandoning himself to it, drew signs and filled in the surfaces, wishing to reach the level of knowledge that only a few can reach, because only a few can love what they do and above all, what they are. And from the shaman to the storyteller is just a short step. In the beginning was the oral tradition, the word narrated, sung and danced. In the beginning was the word and only the word. Next, the word became memory handed down first by griots, the wandering prophets of historic memory, and then by wandering travellers. The storytellers learned to use gestures and signs to enrich their stories with details, they learned to take nothing for granted or permanent and to use a word for the images its sound can evoke. Yet, we cannot separate oral tradition from writing, the oral sign prom the painted surface. And Daniele Cantoni knows it, and he proceeds in this direction. A pioneer of the rediscovery of sciamanisn in the contemporary world was the American anthropologist Michael Harner. In his book The Way of the Sciaman he tells how he was initiated to these practices, studying and living in close contact with tribe sciamans in various parts of the world. Harner found out that the common characteristic of all sciamans is a spiritual journey into a reality beyond the everyday world, a journey of the soul into a nonordinary reality. In this reality, which is invisible to us, the sciamans come in contact with energetic entities called allies, mostly in the form of animals (the so called Animal Guides) and Spiritual Teachers (ancestors, mythological figures, wise people). The Allies give the shaman power and knowledge to help themselves, the others and the world. However, anybody can make a journey into the nonordinary reality, and this is the other important discovery of the American anthropologist, since we do not need any intermediaries to exploit the wisdom and the healing powers of the universe. Spirituality is an inborn ability in the human being. Therefore we do not need complex rituals, but only surfaces, pigments, predisposition to draw signs and will of estrangement, all elements that Daniele Cantoni possesses.