Tears of Iblis

After all, there is nothing in creation that is not ultimately destined to be lost: not only the part of each and every moment that must be lost and forgotten – the daily squandering of tiny gestures, of minute sensations, of that which passes through the mind in a flash, of trite and wasted words, all of which exceed by great measure the mercy of memory and the archive of redemption – but also the works of art and ingenuity, the fruits of a long and patient labour that, sooner or later, are condemned to disappear. It is over this immemorial mass, over the unformed and immense chaos of what must be lost that, according to the Islamic tradition, Iblis, the angel that has eyes only for the work of creation, cries incessantly. He cries because he does not know that what one loses actually belongs to God, that when all the work of creation has been forgotten, when all signs and words have become illegible, only the work of salvation will remain indelible.

Giorgio Agamben


Tears of Iblis is an exhibition cycle curated by Michal Martychowiec with his own art. This body of work explores cultural development in the modernist West and similarly in the post-Cultural Revolution China, and through breaking from historical narrative and tradition of the symbolic language, its result in creating a certain cultural emptiness in the contemporary societies.

The modernist language abandoned the iconographic tradition, with Malevich and the Black Square introducing, literally, a new iconography, which have consequently become the new tradition.
This new vision of the abstract art, but also figurative art which was no longer grounded in history and classical considerations, but in the newly changing world (paradoxically, this ‘newly’ changed world begun half a century earlier with the industrial revolution), and so utilising every day, common, mass-produced object, like in the case of the readymade, was deeply rooted in the newly born materialist philosophy. It was well illustrated by Walter Benjamin, who distinguished two forms of violence: mythical and divine. Mythical violence leaves traces and gives birth to the new. Divine violence produces destruction which leaves nothing behind. If god created the world from nothingness he can turn it back to nothingness. However, in the framework of the then new materialist philosophy, since god was dead, the divine destruction could no longer be possible and became material destruction which on the contrary leaves traces, like ruins, etc. It is in this sense, that Malevich created the Black Square, his ‘destruction of the icon’ (and so destruction of god, the holy, history, etc.). To him, ‘the image that survives the work of destruction is the image of destruction’.

However, the clear historical struggle to be followed is once that the paradigm is replaced with the image of its demise, what is left to us?

Tears of Iblis is constructed with works, that in several instances represent the image of emptiness of the modernist tradition. Malevich’s gesture of destruction had a value because at the time it created a transition into a new (materialist) ‘metaphysics’. But breaking from tradition, as history teaches, simply creates a new tradition, in the same way that abandoning aesthetic (like in the case of minimalism) simply creates new aesthetics. And so in the contemporary context the meaning of the Black Square on the ground on which it was meant to function, has been lost, because at this point, it can only be understood in the context of history (from which Malevich tried to break or which he rather tried to destroy). And so later, modern and post-modern art followed this new narrative and consequently, became repetition of a repertoire of the very same ideas, which being deprived of the actual social context eventually became, no wonder, empty.

Iblis ‘cries because he does not know that what one loses actually belongs to God’, however as much as divine destruction is no longer possible within the materialist framework, whatever is lost, in the same sense, has nowhere to return to and so still remains under the cover of this emptiness. All the works in the Tears of Iblis formally utilise achievements of modernity through which they express contemporary cultural emptiness born with the establishment of the modernist tradition. However, under the image of such emptiness, what remains are hidden symbols, history and myths. These works do not (once again) destroy the ‘icon’ as Malevich did, but rather look for a new icon (the holy) in the image of what has been lost and destroyed.

In such way, this work aestheticises the modernist language; it does so on the surface, while in reality it subtly destroys what was not destructible within the modernist materialist framework – it destroys the image of destruction by turning it into an image which is once again ‘destroyable’, which can return to ‘god’ (for this reason Tears Iblis is preceded with another exhibition cycle – What remains the poets provide).

Of course, by god here, what is understood is a solid paradigm, which is not based on ever-changing achievements of science, technology, etc. And so to destroy the image of destruction one has to resurrect the myth so that the ‘divine violence’ (destruction) can again be possible. This destruction which leaves no trace is simply cancelling out the destruction of modernity, allowing for new symbols and other non-materialist figures to be born through attachment to the myth, to old symbols, to history. After all, what, eventually and always remain indelible of the work of (artistic) creation, are – the concepts (poetry) and symbols. In other words, the work of salvation, the mythology.

Michal Martychowiec, 2017