A Meditation on Venus

A text by Simon Withers

Verzutti’s sculptures are as layered as any archaeological dig; they are imbrued with fertile possibilities in allegory and chronicle. As I attempt to decipher them I remain aware that I am fraught with error (1).

As I contemplate the work of Erika Verzutti I draw upon my knowledge gained from my art education and equally an interest in mythology and esotericism. I have on occasions previously explored Venus in various artworks (2) and Verzutti’s Venus references are an appropriate lure. At times her sculptures are surreal. In the sculpture, ‘Swan with Work” a swan raises its head o'er bubbling waters. Venus is in her ascendency and brandishing a sledgehammer, this is Verzutti’s Aphrodite-Venus reborn, she is Gaia manifest, she is the hammer and the sickle (3) and resolutely (as is her nature) she castrates Ouranos for the second time. In an additional work, ‘Porco’ she gifts an offering that is to be feasted upon in the temple dedicated to Venus-Aphrodite (4).

Verzutti is a chief trickster (5), her work is experimental and playful… she mixes things up. Through her work Verzutti reconfigures Aphrodite-Venus to meet the desires of our times. Venus is the goddess of divine love, beauty, spirituality, fertility, monogamous sexuality, lust, immorality and guide. Throughout history she has been both deified and vilified. The Venus figurine has been represented in innumerable works of art, most famously as the ‘Aphrodite de Milo’ (6) and in Botticelli’s painting, ‘Birth of Venus’. In contemporary terms, female recording artists such as Kylie Minogue, Katy Perry and Lady Gaga have referenced Venus in pop culture, whilst in the market place Venus spray tan solutions, leg and body products are aids for women to attain Louis Guyon’s Venus tryphe-like perfection. (7)

It is important to acknowledge that the female statuettes often referred to as Venus figurines predate the deity Venus by thousands of years. It is perfectly possible the slippage between these two stations shall remain an enigma. In a paper published by the American Anthropology Journal, co authors Catherine Hodge McCoid and Leroy D. McDermott proposed a radical and captivating hypothesis as to the creators of the Willendorf Venus (8).

There is little accord as to why or for what purpose the Willendorf Venus served and our current condition offers us few (if any) traces into the conscious mind of our forbearers. Through my own cultural veils I admit my own interpretation will be distorted and the subtle realm shall remain hidden. If the figure is connected with origin, then I find it seductive to explore this conduit herewith.

The Willendorf Venus is fashioned out of Oolitic limestone and the stones inherent properties could allegorically speaking be blended in a syncretic manner. Ooliths are born out of an absorbing process (9) and they develop in wave agitated waters, I am compelled to conjure in my minds eye the newly born goddess Venus emerging from the sea standing in a giant scallop shell (10). The transmutability of the egg-like Oolite is transcendent; from the feminine form of the Venus figurine through representation in innumerable works of art (11) to architectural facings in civic and academic buildings (12), the Oolites vibrations ripple through time.

The three totemic Venus psychopomps hold domination over galley four; two stand erect whilst the third is in languid repose. Resembling Gaudi spires (13) Venus of Cream and Venus Carnaval thrust towards the celestial heavens (14); all remind me of Brancusi’s Bird in Space (15), Venus is the creator of the cosmos she is Gaia. Each of the triarchy resembles a giant seedpod; she is the fertility of the world. Above a painted frieze of the brightest yellow…pollination has taken place.

The Multimammary ‘Venus of Cream’ coexists as an Ephesian Artemis (16). Akin to votive offerings these three figurines reflect the three excavated Ephesian statues on display in the Hall of Artemis (17). Increasingly Verzutti has turned away from the casting of existing objects and towards the handcrafting her own forms. The artist has introduced softer sustainable materials, less the fire and the furnace Verzutti extinguishes Vulcans cauldron (18). All are in states of transformation, they are abundant and fertile…a unifying trioecy hermaphrodite…the future is in eggs! (19).

Erika Verzutti’s Venus is united to feminism and challenges misogynistic stereotypes, gendered typecasting and androcentrism. The work implicitly places the feminine point of view at the centre of worldview culture. No more will women be marginalised and underrepresented, the work is a re calibration of art, archaeology and anthropology.

Notes

1. I am reminded of the film sequence in the original 1968 film, Planet of the Apes’ in which Dr Zaius, Cornelius, Zira and Taylor are in a cave. Taylor has described to the others what the various relics would have been used for. Dr Zaius pointed responds, ‘I can give an alternative description for everyone of those objects that’s equally as inventive as yours…’

2. Considering Venus 2006/07 - ‘The Rokeby Venus’ by Velazquez.

3. Verzutti’s reimagining of the 1922 Soviet emblem perhaps…a complimentary form of struggle.

4. Paphos (also the son of Pygmalion – see Ovid - Metamorphoses – Book 10) is a costal city in southwest Cyprus (the island was given to Cleopatra as a love token by Mark Antony) it considered to be Aphrodite-Venus’s place of birth and the cult of Aphrodite.

Porco’s hindquarters have already been sliced!

*Gaia the great primordial mother of all creation and joined with Ouranos. Her husband imprisons several of their offspring within her womb; she is left permanently pregnant, and Gaia rebels’.

5. In mythology a trickster is a god, goddess or a spirit manifest in human form that unveils intellect and secret knowledge…the trickster defies conventional behaviour.

6. The Knidian Aphrodite is a lost work by Greek sculptor Praxiteles, a Roman copy of which resides in the National Museum, Rome. Contemporary accounts expose that a great deal of veiling has taken place around the Venus de Milo…and defilement upon the Parian marble* of the Knidian Aphrodite.

* Parian marble is a fine-grained semi translucent pure-white and entirely flawless marble quarried during the classical era on the Greek island of Paros.

7. Louis Guyon (1527) The Mirror of Beauty and Body Health (1643) In a series of books Guyon considers how women can transform the aesthetic body for the gaze and the approval of Paris! (See Judgement of Paris – Museo Del Prado version by Peter Paul Rubens).

8. The Willendorf Venus is an 11.1 centimetre tall figurine estimated to have been created during the Upper Palaeolithic (circa 27,000-21.000 B.C.). Toward Decolonizing Gender (Central State University) 1997. I shall refrain from writing about this paper herewith, suffice to say, if you are able to find your way to it then it is an intriguing read.

9. The name Oolite means egg stone. Formed out of an accumulation of calcium carbonate layers these Oolites are created around a nucleus that may be a sand grain, a shell fragment or a particle of faecal debris.

10. Birth of Venus- ca.1485 – Sandro Botticelli. “The goddess is standing on a giant scallop shell, as pure and as perfect as a pearl”. (Uffizi Gallery)…Pearls form by an irritant working its way into an oyster!

11. The depiction Venus as pulcritud subject that deserves significant attention (see the male gaze/scopophilia). See example paintings by Giorgione, ‘Sleeping Venus’ 1510 / ‘Rokaby Venus’ by Valazquez 1651 /‘La Maja Disnuda’ Goya – 1797 / ‘Olympia’ Manet 1863. It is has been claimed that Botticelli even consigned some of his own work into the bonfires of the vanities (1497).

12. Newton Building (Nottingham Trent University) and the Council House (Old Market Square. (Building Stones of Nottingham –Albert Horton & Graham Lott, Mercian Geologist. Vol.16 Pt. 2 August 2005 – East Midlands Geological Society).

13. See the spires of Basílica de la Sagrada Família by Architect Antoni Gaudí.

*As a footnote it is worth noting that Artemis is the twin of Apollo and NASA rockets that have taken/will take humans to the moon have assigned to each the twins! Artemis displaced Titan as the goddess of the moon. It would be quite something if the first astronaut in this new epoch to set foot on the moon is a woman.

14. Verzutti features the swan in a number of works and I wonder if within the three Venus works there are connections to the mythology of swans and in particular the narrative Leda and the Swan and in cosmological terms Cygnus (‘Swan’) is a large northern constellation and marks the beginning of what is known as the Great Rift, Dark Rift or Dark River…a further subject to unpack!

* The Roman Venus in Greek was Aphrodite and her birth resonates with the creation of Oolites!

15. (1923) there are 15 versions in marble and bronze and a number of plaster casts exist.

16. Artemis has been identified as ‘the goddess with three forms’, as Selene in the sky, Artemis on earth and Hecate both as above and as below. Artemis has suffered more than her fair share of herostratic retribution down through the ages…demonized as Lilith; she is swathed in darkness. Characteristics on the Ephesian Artemis are the distinctive breast-like forms. Some scholars have proposed additional hypotheses, suggesting they are eggs of bees or bull scroti, whilst others propose they are influenced on amber gourd-shape drops. The Ephesian figurines characteristically taper towards the base in which the feet protrude this resonates the tapering of the Willendorf figurine.

17. Ephesus Archaeological Museum in Selçuk, Turkey.

18. Venus was the wife of Vulcan, the God of fire and the forge! As a footnote as to the possible material changes Verzutti has made in her work, I wonder if the artist intends to produce fewer works in bronze. Brazil, the country of her origin is the 14th largest producer of Copper, the primary alloy for producing bronze. To strengthen bronze additional materials are added including arsenic, phosphorus or silicon. Between 2005-2015 It has been suggested that 10% of the Brazilian Amazon was effected by mining activity.

19. The Future is in Eggs. Eugene Ionesco 1957

Glossary of Terms

Androcentrismcentred on emphasising or dominated by males and masculine interests and world-views. Implicit bias Male-dominated history, archaeology and anthropology and the suppression of the indigenous.

Herostratic – Seeking infamy after arsonist Herostratus who sought fame by burning down the Temple of Artemis. The Ephesians forbade anyone mentioning his name.

Psychopomp – meaning guide of souls in Greek, they have responsibility for escort souls from the Earth into the afterlife. Depicted in art as anthropomorphic entities through avian psychopomp (crows or swans) and human attributes through mental intentionality.

Pulcritud – Providing pleasure to the senses.

Scopophilia – Aesthetic please drawn from looking at an object or person.

Syncretic – Alliance, the idea of coalition, merging or assimilation.

Trioecy – A rare and coexistent reproductive system.

Tryphe – Aphrodite-Venus brought into service as a role model through her sex and beauty. She sands for an ideology for the ‘good life’ a prosperous paradise (Aphrodite and Dionysus: Greek Role Models for Roman Homes? – Shelley Hales, University of Michigan Press – 2008)

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