Updated: Jan 23, 2019
The project “Five” is based on the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas and his five proofs of God existence. The sculpture and the video in the project research medieval philosophy by means of contemporary art.
Inspired by the scientific method of Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas creates a medieval philosophy that is characterised by the use of logical rules and methods. The key element is the cognition of discrete material things that are integrated into abstract notions by reason. Aristotle used the approach to learn about the material world and its laws, while Aquinas used the approach to сognize God.
Using the scientific method, Thomas Aquinas forms a philosophic foundation for finding God through reason and logic. The rationalization of studying God leads Aquins to the formulation of the five ways to prove that God exists. These ways are the basis of the metaphysics of the developed teaching called thomism.
The ways to prove God existence are presented as follows:
1. Argument from motion. Whatever is in motion is put in motion by another, and that by another again. Therefore, something had to be at the beginning of all motions, being the origin of motion, and God has to be that origin.
2. Argument from efficient cause. Everything in the world is caused by another, and that by another again. However, everything had to be caused by something that had no efficient cause which is God.
3. Argument from necessity. All things that exist are need by some other things. Thus, a tool is created because a man needs it. However, the sequence of necessities comes to an entity having itself in its own necessity and not receiving it from another. This entity is God.
4. Argument from gradation of being. All things in the world have degrees of perfection, but this gradation requires a standard, an ideal relative to which we estimate the degree of beauty. Thomas Aquinas contends that the gradation can be drawn only in reference to the uttermost case, the absolute, and that God is the highest degree of perfection.
5. Argument from purpose. All creatures strain after the good for themselves, and, therefore, after the good in general. There must an entity that puts the good as the highest goal for a personality, and this entity is God.
The approach to learning about God, developed by Thomas Aquinas, affected medieval art. The project “Five” uses a symbolic method of medieval art, encoding the ideas of Thomas Aquinas and other elements shaping the spiritual world of a person. Sculptures have a direct connection with painting from the Vatican collection. They reconstruct the works from the collection in a more abstract manner, preserving the meaning of the Christian teaching.
The sculpture “Christmas” exemplifies the use of symbols of Christian iconography. To illustrate the scene of Christ birth two symbols are used: a ball and a flower. The ball symbolizes the Christ child who will be bring light into this world. In Christian iconography, Mother of God is represented by lilies and roses, which can be seen in “Christmas” by Mariotto di Nardo. The project uses the image of a flower, the symbol of the mother love, to portray Mary leaning over Christ.
In the sculpture “The Triumph of Faith”, a column symbolizing the triumph grows out of lines that form its foundation. The column is comprised of several parts resembling the stairs which a person surmounts on the way to God. The sculpture creates these symbols, appealing to the same-name painting by Gaetano Gandolfi. He depicts a female figure dressed in white, which rises above a darker part of the painting, thus symbolizing the triumph of faith and truth over lies.
The symbol of the Absolute, whose existence is proved by Aquinas, is the ball. This element appears in many sculptures of the project. The choice of the this image is validated by the fact that in Christianity a ball signifies the God rule over the world, the sphere of immaterial powers that guides people. The sculpture “Sfera con sfera” by Arnaldo Pomodoro, located in Vatican, depicts a material sphere (Earth) within the sphere of Heavenly powers. The importance of the symbol is underlined by the fact that one of the Vatican regalia, the Papal tiara worn by popes of the Catholic church from the 8th century to the mid-20th, on top of it has a golden ball with a cross denoting the centrality of God power over the world. The sphere is associated with the God knowledge. That is why Pinturicchio who decorated the ceiling of the chapel of the Blessed Sacrament puts prophets, people who are able to understand God’s design and foresee the future, inside a golden circle.
The main symbol of the Absolute, a ball, is present in almost all sculptures of the project. Golden spheres appear in the places of the saints, angels and God. For instance, the female image of “History” in “Allegory of History” by Anton Raphael Mengs is presented as a golden ball in the sculpture. It emphasizes the significance of succession and conservation of traditions, while Chronos, the god of time and oblivion, is represented by a formless mass trying to devour the ball. A sign of infinity is attached to the top of the ball, showing the eternity of Christian ideas and impossibility of oblivion.
The golden color of sculptures symbolizing immortality and God’s purpose that is often found in many paintings of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. For example, “The birth of Christ” by Mariotto di Nardo has a golden background which is the symbol of eternity of God’s creation and the heavenly light. Vitale da Bologna appeals to the same atmosphere, depicting Madonna with Christ in her arms. Thomas Aquinas in his treatises on alchemy recognizes gold as the perfect metal of all, identifying it with the Sun and the eternal God power.
The sculpture in the project “Five” speaks about the immortality of Christian ideas by using the gold color. It can be seen in the sculpture called “Transfiguration”. The figure is based on the cognominal work by Raphael Santi and is divided into three parts сorresponding to the painting’s composition. The lower part shows the earth and the fallibility of human nature underlined by deep scratches on the surface of the foundation. The upper part, symbolizing Christ, is presented in the form of a golden ball with smooth surface, the sun of the God Absolute. The ball and the lower part of the sculpture are not detached from one another, but are connected, attesting to the connection between the divine world and the earthly one.
The geometry of figures reproduces the composition of paintings from the Pinacoteca collection. The lower part of the “Descent of the Holy Spirit” reminds palms put together in prayer, attesting to the gesture of the Virgin Mary in the painting by Guido Reni. The Holy Spirit descends on the praying. In Christian iconography, it is depicted either as a dove or as flame. The sculpture uses the body of flame to underline the power and the warmth bestowed by the Holy Spirit.
The sculpture “Christ Resurrection” also alludes to the flame image. In the painting by Pieter van der Borcht, Jesus rises from the tomb, being surrounded by flame whose burning sinners can not bear. The flame symbolizes the victory of Christ over the spiritual death of a human, for his sacrifice atones the sins of humanity, allowing to escape the darkness of vice and strive to the heavenly light.
The sculptures embody the five proofs of God’s existence by Thomas Aquinas. The changing forms of golden foundations symbolize the argument from movement. The foundation on which the spheres are placed take clear-cut geometrical forms in some sculptures and transfigure into amorphous masses in others, symbolizing the endless movement at the centre of which is the Absolute that is the moving cause of the universal dynamics. The ball is the symbol of the Good which the residual parts of the sculpture are directed at. The smooth surface of the ball acts as the ideal contrasted with the foundation whose ridged surface symbolizes different levels of being.
The search of the Absolute in the video project “Five” is carried out through visual presentation of Thomas Aquinas ideas. His first proof, the argument from movement, takes the form of a never-ending sinusoidal line. Every particle in the Universe finds the presence of God in itself and moves in accordance with God’s will. To capture this hidden movement, an device called oscillograph was used. It allows to register with a sensor the changes in the electric field. Receiving signals from the surrounding environment, the oscillograph produces sinusoidal oscillations. It visualizes the idea of oscillation and the infinite movement of the world that exists between the sinful and the Heavenly. The idea of oscillation between polarities refers to a contemporary philosophical paradigm, the metamodernism. Metamodernism sees oscillations as a new method of enquiry leading to the understanding of the Absolute. According to the principles of metamodernism, a combination of polarities inside a personality allows to exist in constant movement and to dispense with inertia. However, this movement and development of a human begins from God’s love that induces us to develop and create and, thus, conform unto God and his design. A similar meaning was put by Michelangelo in his fresco “The creation of Adam”. A gripping hand of God, full of creation energy, is striving to pass it to the first human in order to make the world move, to make it oscillate. The sine curve transforms into other symbols too: the circle and the sign of infinity. A white light circle is a transduced halo illustrating the infinite holiness of the movement source, its deific nature.
To illustrate the argument from efficient cause an image of bobbling water penetrated by a bright light. Water and light are the intrinsic elements of being; life can not be imagined without them. In the first book of Genesis, water and light are created by God in the first two days, for these factors are necessary for life, nourishing plants, animals and a human so that they engender their like. Scientifically, water is recognized as the place in which life appeared. First, small water bodies enabled organic substances to reach high degrees of concentration, following which appeared conditions that allowed the first organism to emerge. The flows of water and its popple make reference to the prehistoric times when life just began; this endless flow symbolizes God who made water the cradle of life. Light gives energy needed by living creatures. Plants assimilate the energy of the Sun with the help of molecular mechanisms in their cells. It is used to synthesize organic substances, such as sugar, that are consumed by animals. This way God gives us the opportunity to be born and grow through two elements: water and light. So humans live upon the energy coming from God. Michelangelo assigns to God this expressive energy, painting the separation of terra firma from water, and light from darkness, in the Sistine Chapel fresco. The image of water has been chosen because it is related to the Sacrament of Baptism, and one of the symbols of Christ is a brook. In the New Testament it is said: “But whoever drinks water I give will never thirst”. Water is the symbol of vivification, metanoia, without which a person can not attain the truth.
The third proof is that all the needed existing things have a cause for need, while God is a need in itself. To relay this idea, the project alludes to the image of tools which have been created by humans for production and which are irreplaceable in the modern conditions of industrialization. The technological progress and human will to upgrade instruments of production are the consequence of the God’s will to instill this necessity in humans. Therefore, machines are the symbol of a human who is the instrument of God. A human is needed and was created to perceive, fix and enhance the world. Many famous scientists were Christians (Copernicus, Newton, Ampere). They advanced in science to learn the God’s laws of the universe, which represents a perfectly adjusted machine, whose every gear is tailored by God’s hand to make better conditions for humanity. The call of the nightingale, which symbolized romantic feeling in the medieval times, speaks about God’s love embedded in human’s wish to create. However, it must be remembered that development should be made for the sake of God not human. The prideful humanity which has forgotten about God risks repeating the experience of the Babylon tower builders who erected it not in the service of God but to make the name for themselves.
In the fourth work devoted to the fourth argument, the project uses frames taken from the other four videos to visualize the argument from gradation of being. The differences between things are acknowledged only in comparison. If all arguments are put together, there can be created a scale that defines the ideal. Despite the inability of human’s mind to learn the Godly Absolute, the juxtaposition of ideas catalyzes continuous growth and movement towards the truth. Just as material perfection is perceived, so too the concepts of good and evil. The project uses its own material to emphasize the postulate of metamodernism that suggest that personality resort to the search of inner differences, to acknowledge the good and the bad inside oneself. Looking inward, a human approaches to own part of the Absolute that is created by God. Like the fresco “The Last Judgement” on the wall of the Sistine Chapel that shows the distinction between sin and sanсtity, our inner world reveals both pleasant and disgusting things. Comparisons and search of ideal allows a human to make the main choice - between good and bad. To understand the ideal worth pursuing to acquire immortality, a human needs God and wisdom to understand His plan.
Plants have numerous meanings in Christian symbolism, however, almost always the highest, сonnected with God. The tree of knowledge that growth in the Garden of Eden showed the truth of good and evil to the first humans. Having broken the covenant of God, Adam and Eve were exiled, but the discovered knowledge may enable people to bring the Heaven back. Thus, the video depicting the last argument, the argument from purpose, alludes to the vegetative images. All of the vegetative forms grow upwards, toward the light. The inner mechanism of vegetative cells is built to search the source of light and adjust the position accordingly. The Sun has always been associated with the Godly light. Hence, plants symbolize human souls looking for the highest good. A similar sense can be found in the work by Mimmo Paladino in the Collection of Contemporary Art in Vatican. A tree growths out of the head on the icon, demonstrating the potential hidden in the human’s soul. Matching one’s development with God, a human is able to grow like a tree and nourish others. If a person disengages oneself from the good, he or she deprives oneself from the sun’s warmth and dies. Deep inside, every human knows that the good exists and what way the development should be directed. This goal, like a seed, is sown in human’s soul by God and opens the way to the ideal.
The number “five” in the project’s name not only alludes to the five arguments of Thomas Aquinas but also symbolizes a human, a personality, for “the five” has been associated since the Aristotle times with the five senses of perception (sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch). With the help of these tools, a human perceives the primary images and explores the world created by God. The five material sense become the foundation to cognition of the five arguments, paving the way to conscious knowledge of the Ideal. Therefore, the five arguments by Thomas Aquinas are the five steps that reason passes on the journey to the Absolute. However, an exploring personality not only can use natural and rational tools but also invocate the irrational and artistic search.
Thus, the project becomes the interlink joining the rational message with sensual visual perception. This link should become another step on the way to the truth.