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February 03, 2004
A brief fragment of a thought about Altars as entry points into the understanding of their worshippers...

When in Kraków, make sure to be in the Basilica of the Virgin Mary here shortly before noon. Sit still inside of the main ship of the church and wait for the muted distant trumpet sounds (the Hejnau Mariacki) from the tower of the very building to announce that it is indeed 12pm.
Two nuns will enter, and they will open the Altar, a Wit Stwosz (Veit Stoss) pentaptic, gothic masterpiece.
Even now, more than 500 years after its creation, the glow of the altar is a powerful one. The contrast between the two states of the artwork is stunning.

I wonder why I had to think about the panels of the Veit Stoss altar, when visiting the control room of one of the giant signs on Times Square the contemporary open air cathedral of commerce…
How dare I to compare a carved wooden masterpiece that took 12 years to become reality and cost as much as the entire annual budget of the city of Kraków, to a giant, ever re-animated 13-custom-screen-assemblage of pixels on the outside of a building representing the power of News Media?
What made me be silly enough to somehow connect a carved and painted masterpiece portraying the “Assumption of the Virgin” (Once a virgin, always a virgin, Mary?) to one of the largest information displays in the world, busy pumping information animated to look as if it were descending from the skies into the main ship of Times Square?
Could both of these altars be possible entry points into the understanding of the perception of reality by those who were contemporaries of Veit Stoss, at the verge of the renaissance… and us, now, here, in this post …(and I just do not know a good term here) world?…
What is it really that we trust most, and celebrate most and believe in most? How important are the old symbols and their meaning compared to the last minute information, the breaking news, the real time data, flowing straight from the bottoms of our screens into our perception of what we call now?
How relevant is it to us what happened 1000 years ago, compared to what happened 100 years ago, compared to 10 years ago, compared to 1 year ago, compared to an hour ago, compared to 20, 10 minutes ago, compared to now, compared to the predictions of what will happen this year, the next year, and…

How will we be looked at by those who will come after us… …or wait… will they really care, or even know?… ; )

(Hmm… looks like I am sitting in front of my own little altar right now… and there… look… somebody already bit the little fruit… now what does that all mean?)…


Christendom is finished. The old symbols no longer resonate with the meaning they once had. I do not look for answers anymore, I follow the example of King Lear and "take upon the mystery of things" as if we were gods spies.

Posted by: Rocko"T" on February 3, 2004 03:27 PM

hm... the entry was not necessarily about Christian symbols, of course... and even these symbols are not really original...
I guess I wanted to start some thinking about altars themselves and the speed at which we develop new symbols...

Posted by: Witold Riedel on February 3, 2004 03:34 PM

.....that reminds me of the kölner dom somehow..

Posted by: wladimir on February 3, 2004 05:23 PM

haha, the Kölner Dom... 600 years in the making... a super high density piece of man made mountain..
: )

Posted by: Witold Riedel on February 3, 2004 05:29 PM


Posted by: Emily on February 3, 2004 11:48 PM

i like them too, and I think everybody has them at home...
and sometimes at work or in their studio as well...

Posted by: Witold Riedel on February 3, 2004 11:51 PM

i like altars too. Mine is a bit messy and somehow fits into the wiccan cult. it has some symbols that have been used over various centuries, both good and bad, but to me they mean good. I think much of life is not about how we want to be remembered in the future, but about how we feel about the world and people now. And somehow we take symbols to remember that onto our altars. Uncertain as i am, i always carry around other people s negative feelings about me in my heart, and need a symbol or a picture to feel again the positive feelings.

About the past: i dont think i care that much about certain individuals, although i do admire some artists, politicians, musicians. But as general symbols, i like the ones that are connected to a positive feeling. If i say i like gaudí, i not only like him because i love, understand or admire his work, but also because he meant so much for many as an artist.

(hope i didnt comment too long. thought you made an interesting point)

Posted by: yanne on February 5, 2004 06:10 PM

Yanne, this is a beautiful comment... and yes, I think we should probably all have our own little altars that would help us regain some positive energy. Too many places use television as their only main altar...
I have a place in my living room that has three groups of objects.
One is an old typewriter and it has two computer cards in it.
The center group are three Japanese notebooks. They are empty. On top of them is an ink stone as well as ink...
Next to this is an old lacquer tray with two lacquer cups and two lacquer soup dishes.
I also have an incent stone there...
I like this arrangement as a little side altar... hmm...

thank you again for your comment...

Posted by: Witold Riedel on February 5, 2004 10:57 PM

the past is extremely important to me. Ummmm, am I the only one associating ancestors with alters?

Posted by: Emily on February 6, 2004 03:33 AM
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