V.I.T.R.I.O.L. – An Alchemical Artwork by Mireille Robbe

Schermafbeelding 2014-04-29 om 12.32.20

Recently, the library received an artwork by the Belgian artist Mireille Robbe called V.I.T.R.I.O.L. The acronym refers to the famous alchemical motto ‘Visita Interiora Terrae Rectificando Invenies Occultum Lapidem‘ meaning: ‘Visit the Interior Parts of the Earth; by Rectification Thou Shalt Find the Hidden Stone‘. The words may also be taken to refer to a Grail-like quest for one’s own hidden gold and thus for one’s own sense of ‘Self’. V.I.T.R.I.O.L consist of 17 plates with photographs of installations and paintings. In a sense it is a living artwork, which shapes itself throughout time in constantly surprising ways. Like an organism in continuous and regenerative motion: a serpent devouring its own tail. Timeless moments of the journey of ‘the subject’ have become crystallized in objects, brought together by the artist in a three-fold order.

Koffiedikkijken (2012): photomontage - print on Steinbach - 133 x 140 cm.

Koffiedikkijken (2012): photomontage – print on Steinbach – 133 x 140 cm.

The first part of the artwork is called Koffiedikkijken (Reading Coffee Grounds), a series of painted canvases with a nod to Dadaism. While looking at Reading Coffee Grounds, an interaction takes place between the reader and the subject that is being ‘read’. Gazing in these dark dregs could be considered a helpless cry for a way out of life’s muddle. There are two forces at play here, an active and a passive one. The passive one, the subject, is ‘silent in the Word’, though present through an energy that is unconscious of itself and captured in the coffee ground. It is only the active force, the reader, who speaks aloud the message that is hidden in the dregs. Koffiedikkijken is a series of photographs of cups with dark brown coffee dregs, with an ‘Eye’, an Oracle, watching in the centre. The Eye is familiar, trusting and close to the subject. It perceives what is not known and verbalizes that what cannot be decoded by its creator. Yet. To the artist, the Eye is intimate as it is the right-eye of her son. One day Mireille glanced at a coffee cup standing on her desk. It invited her to unveil the deeper meaning hidden behind its ordinary appearance.

R.I.2: Révélations Intimes (2011): paper, ink, oil & pigment - 65 x 60 cm (Series of 4).

R.I.2: Révélations Intimes (2011): paper, ink, oil & pigment – 65 x 60 cm (Series of 4).

In the second part, called Révélations Intimes or Variations on Rorschach-spots, bluish smudges made by Chinese ink and matt oil with pigment, that has been partly absorbed, mark the next station of the subject’s journey. He or she has now passed the stage of one-sided interaction with its ‘Self’, as was the case in the first part, Koffiedikkijken. Having been initiated in the realm of communication, corresponding to the ‘blue’ vibrational field of the throat chakra, the subject is now marked by a developing consciousness, which allows it to observe the manifestations of its ‘unconscious’. This part of the Quest for ‘Self’ is expressed by means of blue Rorschach spots that invite feedback from the observer. The spots as it were cry out to be signified in keywords that can be unravelled from their oceanic depth. However, in this second series, consciousness is not yet fully developed. Although keywords can be extracted from the spots by the subject, they cannot be interpreted. This still lies in the hands of an outsider, a (in this case) therapist.

Mireille Robbe II

Sépulcre I (2013): pages from old book (Nieuw testament/ New Testament – September 1700), gold leaf, vowels, laboratory equipment, beeswax, écoline, gold powder – 30 x 30 cm.

The third and final part of the ‘artistic’ Quest undertaken by the subject is visualized in a series of installations and photos revolving around an edition of The New Testament dating from 1700. Mireille has been called a ‘biblio-serial-killer’. With almost surgical precision she removed all vowels from a number of old tomes. The vowels are carefully captured in laboratory tubes hermetically sealed with scarlet beeswax in vowel shapes. The artist loves books and the messages that are hidden in their contents. Her way of cutting out the vowels destroys the story and signifies the death of the text.

 ‘Vowels are the life blood of a text…’

This third part of the journey of the subject continues with a thorough examination of its unconscious existence. In its own laboratory, such as depicted in Dr. Heinrich Khunrath’s Amphitheatrum Sapientiae Aeternae or ‘The Amphitheatre of Eternal Wisdom’ (originally published in 1595), the subject questions everything it perceives and touches. Here, the wayfarer begins to realize that it is his nature to wander by putting his life under a looking glass. A life, that mirrors the depth of its inner nature and invites the protagonist to explore his or her own history in an almost manic-obsessive manner. Without fear he enters the deep chaos that is present within himself. And out of this wrathful nigredo, the blackening state of the unconscious, a purification process is evolving, the albedo or white stage of the ‘Magnus Opum’, in which the subject is awake and conscious of the movement of its inner life. From the black and white, the golden stage or ‘citrinitas’ evolves, in which the subject becomes an embodied being uniting him self with his Self by which his Lifeblood becomes rejuvenated initiating the final red stage. This is the stage in which the ‘Infans Solaris’ is born, the ‘Child of the Sun’ marking the alchemical ‘rubedo’. It presents the beginning and end of the journey, in which the traveller experiences a rebirth of himself as a filius or filia macrocosmi, a conscious, crowned ‘Child of the Universe’, whose life is dedicated to the service of humankind.

Le premier venu sera le premier servi (2014): pages from old book (Nieuw testament/ New Testament Septembe1700), gold leaf, écoline - 84 x 84 cm.

Le premier venu sera le premier servi (2014): pages from old book (Nieuw testament/ New Testament Septembe1700),
gold leaf, écoline – 84 x 84 cm.

As the three artistic parts of V.I.T.R.I.O.L. already show, the artwork represents the alchemical Quest of the Artist towards the ‘Self’, a Quest deeply inspired by the teachings and reveries of the Swiss psychologist Carl Gustav Jung and the alchemical philosophers. Mireille started on her artwork in March 2012. It was around this period that she came across Khunrath’s above-mentioned Amphitheatrum Sapientiae Aeternae and became inspired by his emblem of the oratory-laboratory. Already before she became familiar with the alchemical stages of the nigredo, albedo, citrinitas and rubedo, Mireille worked with the colours black, white, yellow (gold) and red. It was this colour code that guided her to the alchemist’s laboratory and inspired her to work with materials such as beeswax and gold leaf. As she formulates, the depth of the unconscious contains so many historical treasures and they are all waiting to be excavated… Willy VVD, a good friend and mentor, who moved to Bali donated his library to her. This present offered her the key to unlock the realm of symbolical language as preserved in the works of philosophers, alchemists and other Adepts on their Quest. To name but a few of these works which inspired Mireille:

  • L’Alchimie by Serge Hutin
  • Mysterium Coniunctionis Part I & II by Carl Gustav Jung, as well as his Psychologie et Alchimie
  • L’Alchimie – Histoire/Technique/ Pratique by Pierre Belfond
  • Le Mythe de L’Alchimie by Mircea Eliade
  • Les Grands Initiés (Rama, Krishna, Hermès, Moïse, Orphée, Pythagore, Platon, Jésus) by Edouard Schuré
  • Le Mystère des Cathédrales by Fulcanelli


à Faire Classer (2014): old book (Nieuw testament/ New Testament - September 1700), beeswax - 58 x 45 cm.

à Faire Classer (2014): old book (Nieuw testament/ New Testament – September 1700), beeswax – 58 x 45 cm.

To Mireille, alchemy mostly represents a philosophy that was already latent in her unconscious. A philosophy which is nevertheless aware of its physical dimensions that deepens and grounds our existence. According to the artist, alchemy allows one to think about one’s (sense of) ‘Self’ hence one’s existence in the universe. In a micro particle, the secret of the cosmos can be found…

At the moment Mireille is working on an artwork, which has to do with dewdrops that demonstrates her fascination with the element of water and the lunar cycle. In her garden, canvases are placed which catch the first drops of the new day, the tears of the moon as it says farewell to the night. The dewdrops are caught in April and May mornings, the months of spring in which life is blossoming and the mystical life waters are in full motion. A collaboration with a glass blower will result in two bulbs, a large and little one representing the macrocosmos and microcosmos of which latter will preserve the dewdrops. In the spring of 2015, Mireille will have a solo exhibition in Leuven (Belgium) with all works that are part of  V.I.T.R.I.O.L. The exhibition is co-organized by ‘Culture Leuven’ and ‘Museum M for Ancient and Contemporary Arts’. She aims to offer a ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’ which speaks to all senses, affording visitors an experience that is rich, subtle and at the same time alienating, hereby inviting them to question, explore, integrate, that what they perceive…

For more information about Mireille Robbe and her artworks, have a look to her website. For more information about the mentioned Dr. Heinrich Khunrath, have a look to the first webinar of Dr. P. J. Forshaw sharing his knowledge on Heinrich Khunrath’s Amphitheatrum Sapientiae Aeternae.

Leave a comment