In 2005 the Royal Society of Arts in London held a symposium “Ecology and Artistic Practice” to ask whether and how artists should respond to ecological problems. Links In his keynote address to the conference, Sir Nicholas Serota emphasised the need for time, both for artists to make considered responses to the problems they and societies face; and for their themes and messages to seep into public consciousness. Artists, he said, might not be instruments of change themselves but catalysts to change public opinion. He gave the example of Anselm Kiefer’s “Lilith”, a dramatic view of the condition of Sao Paulo, and urged everyone to see the work at Tate Modern.
Taking up the invitation, and having no idea of its purpose or scale, seeing it for the first time, the representation of unleashed anger at the devastation wrought by urban expansion was all but overwhelming. The date of the work was recorded as 1997, the year in which the first painting in the present cycle was completed. The Eyes of Lilith might depict the moment before the eruption. Was a zeitgeist at work?
This is a story about power. How were myths created to control societal behaviour and how can they be turned around to better purpose? Where once a mythic figure was wholly negative, designed to keep both men and women in their places through fear, now she is appreciated as a way of healing our innermost suffering and pain as individuals. She clears out unwanted aspects of our lives, emphasises immanent experience and reminds us of our bond to the Earth. Antonia Langsdorf outlines the mythology of Lilith and shows in detail its psychological, spiritual and political significances. Links The Moon also represents the Earth, as a fragment that split off millions of years ago and the other, so-called Black Moon, represented by Lilith, is “something from the female elemental force that's hidden in the shadow”. The mysteries associated with the owl and the menstrual cycle (Lunacy) belong here too: one transformed from the monstrous medieval screech owl who roamed at night into a magical power animal; the other for its insight to instinctive sexuality.
As one ancient society sought to identify itself as separate from its neighbours, in custom and belief, with stories of foundation, it retold the myths of those neighbours, changing positive characters to negative, making deities appear weak or insignificant so as to supersede or dismiss them. Those that couldn’t be assimilated were rejected with force. Now Lilith asserts herself as the other, without as woman outcast or within as anima; champion of liberty and equality.