The concept of individuals withdrawing from society in the philosophical and spiritual pursuit of further understanding has been a mainstay of many cultural and religious customs throughout the history of humankind. The visibility afforded these individuals has always been foreshadowed on merit of their gender, class, race and physical ability. Here, history has netted a complex prism reflecting a somewhat didactic plane of principles. The beauty of this approach though is that the infrastructure generated by this passtime allows us to continuously rethink, re-imagine and re-represent the structures we all inherit.
With this in mind the discovery that a twelfth century female mystic named Hildegard von Bingen invented her own language during a 39 year period spent in a Disibodenberg Monastery in Germany does not come as a complete surprise. The fact that people of her merit on a scientific, mathematical and spiritual plane are vastly relegated out of our vision of learning also comes as little to no surprise.
Here Sriwhana Spong’s exquisite solo show works to not only unveil and realise the historical potency of von Bingen but also draws a line in the sand of how little is known in society of the major achievements – theoretical or philosophical – that are only afforded to a select few characters copiously quoted and re-quoted. This is an ode to the illusion of knowledge gained yet a blow to vast swathes of existence reduced to a whisper.
Unpicking this silence through a lack of representation is Spong’s film ‘a hook but no fish’ (2017), which layers sound and visuals in a bid to revisit the story of von Bingen’s life. Set in the landscape of Disibodenberg, the product is an intense quasi-ASMR / Sci-Fi thriller which see’s von Bingen encased in a holographic poly, glitches of ochre filters transforming the landscape into a deeply visceral space of connection, growth and progression. The natural ooze of life in part gestures to a timeline but in truth we are no less in the past through this reimaging as we might locate von Bingen as a conductor of our future dialectic.
The result of this quaking rift comes to the fore in Spong’s work ‘Oirclamisil’ and ‘Lou’ (2017). Spong’s cracked sculptural works of paraffin wax and clay respond to the room’s atmosphere resisting one another, coming together, pulling apart. Here von Bingen’s requirement to represent the value of human connectivity by the creation of her own language questions the foundations we have built in the structure of our linguistic relationship. By restructuring language von Bingen clarifies that we do not need to accept structural norms as doctrine.
Spong reiterates this position by unearthing locally sourced plants in the creation of ‘Instrument C (Claire)’ (2017). This DIY mentality to re-appropriate your most reachable resources is a human trait of grass root collectives and listening circles throughout history. Online von Bingen is said to have created her language to ‘increase solidarity amongst her nuns’. Spong’s ability to mine von Bingen’s contribution not only climatises von Bingen to a 21st century audience but it positions language as a space of activism, which we can use to not only rethink our physical environment but our entire understanding of humanity.