critical review from  ARS LUMENS a monography about Silviu Oravitzan ( 2005)


I never saw a moor, I never saw the sea;

Yet I know how the heather looks,

And what a wave must be.

I never spoke with God, Nor visited in heaven;

Yet certain am I of the spot As if the chart were given.

oceanum quem credidi: E. Dickinson


Graciously tendered to our intellection, the inclusion of Silviu Oravitzan in a monumental art

show [1] is a contenting event, not only for a visual artist, but for a philosopher or poetic mind as

well. This happens mostly because of the beautifully blended nature of Oravitan’s artistic

message and imagery. In his own words, Oravitzan is approaching the man’s challenge of

transcending his earthly perspective, and see things from a divine point of view. [2] He does that,

by using basic symbols as the Cross, the Center and the Light, inviting the viewer to forge an

exploration in the elusive and mystifying realm of Paradisiacal Memory.


Even though I am not obstinately concerned with salvation, I never relinquished my innocent

temptation to probe the congruities ingrained in our apprehension of mind, soul and memory.

The subject is highly debated in the studies of human consciousness, mostly because each

discovery seems to add more mystery than it solves. The mandarin style of this literature is

highly metaphoric and persuasive. Oravitzan’s theoretical circumambulation seems to be an

exercise fused in the same lineage.


“When science has answered all its last questions- and solved all its problems - life will still be

unexplained.” said Wittgenstein. His words fell on us deadweight. Still, the art world never felt

threatened by inadequacy towards objective reality or historical truth. Even though, in the art

world Oravitzan may look like an anchorite, he never invokes the authority of the Scriptures. His

exercise is abstracted with primeval archetypes. The Paradise is one of them. The Hindus

referred to it as the Krita Yuba, the Hebrews as Eden, the Sumerians as Dilmun, and the Greeks

as the Golden Age. It was observed by the Native Americans as the Time of the First People, by

Chinese as the Age of Perfect Virtue. It surfaced in so many cultures, that today became plausible

to believe that the myth has a historical content and, sometimes in the primeval past, some sort of

grandiose drama impressed on the memory of the first people on Earth. [3]


Oravitzan’s genuine idea is that transcending reality is a matter of identification and transposition

of symbols. Sacre and Profane are like a piece of stone broken in two. One part of it is in us and

the other part was kept by God. Transcendence and illumination are attained by solving the

puzzle of putting these pieces together. A wonderful metaphor, repeated obsessively by the artist.

Paradisiacal memory is embedded in the mystery of transcendental symbols. The Center, The

Cross, The Light, embody in their simplicity, instructions to structure an ideal world. In one of

his interviews, Oravitzan associates this process to a DNA code, probably in reference to a

description made in 1988 by Richard Heinberg [3]:


“Perhaps the memory of Paradise can be compared to a metaphysical DNA code — a pattern that

is built into our psyche, just as the physical DNA code is built into our cellular structure - whose

purpose is to guide the enfoldment of human culture. In this view, Paradise is simply the natural

way things are supposed to be, the way we were designed to live together and in relationship

with Nature and Cosmos. In ignoring or short-circuiting that code of unfoldment, we trigger

another part of that code - the warning system - which appears as the fear and expectation of

apocalypse or purification.


The new pattern into which the chaotic mass will be drawn cannot come from the old structures

of human culture. The only pattern strong enough to draw the disparate elements of human lives

into meaning and order is the pattern already present at the core of the collective unconscious -

the paradisal memory of the natural state of being. “


The obvious, naive question, which comes to mind, metamentalizing on the top of these thoughts

is whether we really can have a glimpse of the Paradise, the way a scientist is doing

interpretations of the DNA code.


Locating the patterns already present in our memory has an entire history. In the past, it was

achieved through meditation aided by props like a mandala or an icon. In his interview with

Deborah Howkins [2] Oravitzan claims that:


“Time can be viewed as two continuums; historical time and extra-historical time - time out of

history, or time before history, when the man was in paradise. In a way, the man “fell” into

history when he was banished from paradise. Since we have been operating on historical time,

man has been confronted with the events of daily life, with seasons, with love, births, deaths, or

work. Yet, even while absorbed in these things, man has been obsessed with ideas that were not

from his daily existence. Why? The answer for this, I believe, is that these signs were coming

from his paradisiacal memory. Man has stored experiences in his memory that occurred before

he became part of history, before he was banished from paradise. From this, we can explain the

power of these symbols all over the world, before technology. Man has retained his memory of

paradise and the light he experienced there. Seeing these symbols help people recover or retrieve

their memories of paradise and in doing so, makes them feel closer to God. These symbols

inspire beatitude, peace - they help a person feel at peace with himself. They also foster feelings

of liberation from suffering and evil. “


This brings us to the question, whether an icon is “recovered” through mental imagery from the

abyss of a memory which exists there without experience, or is constructed through associations

with the visual world.


In “The Craft of Thought, Meditation, rhetoric, and the making of images, 400-1200 “,

(Cambridge University Press, 1998) Mary Carruthers adduces a famous applology written to

Abbot William of St. Thierry by the ascetic master Bernard of Clairvaux (d. 1153), in which he

excoriates lazy monks who rely on other peoples images, instead of concentrating on aspectus

and affectus, forms of memory training as concentrated inner seeing for a full recreation of

“things”. Meditation is the interior reading of the book of one’s memory and the stylistic

ornament plays an important role in this process. Figuration prevents the meditators from inward

seeing, and in Mary Carruthers words, “to perfect their own mental machines”, or to “create

meditational compositions entirely within the mind, relying on images already in place”.

Are there images already in place? In common monastic idiom, argues Marry Caruthers, one

“remembers” Heaven or Hell, by making a mental vision or “seeing” of invisible things from the

matters in his memory. She gives an example in the work of a rhetoric professor at Bolognia,

Boncompagno da Signa (1235), who included in his discussion of rhetorical memoria, sections

as “De memoria paradisi” or “De memoria inferni”, and even gave us clues for understanding

how we may “remember future things”, through their likeness to past things .


According to Tony Birch , a philosopher and scholar of philosophical imagism, “Aristotle

describes recollection as a searching for an ‘image’ in a corporeal substrate (On Memory and

Reminiscence, 453a5). These references to mental images or pictures as if they were separate

entities in the mind that could be literally seen have had many unfortunate consequences in the

history of philosophy, especially after Descartes. As a result, Aristotle is usually blamed for

being the originator of the “picture in the head” view of mental images.” [5]


Birch is referring to the Homunculus Argument, a highly debated theory of consciousness in the

philosophy of mind. In order for an image to exist in our mind it has to be an observer like a

little man in our head or a homunculus to perceive it. But then, who is watching this observer?

It’s like observing an image between the mirrors of a barber shop. The homunculus argument is a

phenomenon which shows us how absurd is to imply that the act of self-observation is mediated

by a separate observer. The perception is not a just a mot -a -mot transfer of data from here there

and the visual world. It is rather believed that images are “processed in much the same way that

food is processed - broken down into its constituent parts and then built back up using a different

substrate, scaffold or template. The new template includes the viewer. So on one ’side’ we have

‘the world’, on the other side we have the world+the viewer.” [6]


Even though it is undeniable that we have mental images, their validity was contested by

scientific scrutiny and only in the past decades their study emerged from the battle with the rigid

positivism of the Behaviorism [7]


In his book, Tony Birch concentrates on differentiating imagery types by degree of conscious

control and apparent location in space. Of special interest are the memory and imagination


Memory images are defined as those deriving directly from previous personal experience and

differ from imagination images primarily simply in that” while memory images are held to be

accountable to previous experience, imagination images are not.” [5], Moreover, imagination

images are images of things impossible to experience and sometimes, continues Birch

“imagination images have a degree of autonomy, and we ’see’ or imagine things we did not

actively anticipate. This can occur in active fantasy, or as Chambers and Reisberg point out, in

the surprising conjuncture of imagined elements.”


So, what kind of images experienced Boncompagno da Signa or Silviu Oravitzan, when they

talked about” Memoria Paradisi”? The obvious response is - imagination images- since Paradise

does not seem to be a part of their earthly experience. According to Silviu Oravitzan , his art is

not a result of a creative process, but is extracted through revelation and is not conditioned by

ordinary, but by spiritual perception. This seems to open a new sub-classification in the

morphology of mental images; of images, which could produce an effect on us, validating their

own existence. Acording to this idea, the act of perception reveals to us the external world, being

at the same time a parcel of the self. Therefore, our experience is centered in ourselves and not

generated by the external world.


With these puzzling thoughts in mind, I looked one more time to the luminous and wonderful

images created by Silviu, and I had the “revelation image” of a child who makes for the first time

a drawing. It is a circle with two dots , a line for the nose and a curve for the mouth. If you go to

Alaska , the South Pole , to New York, Iceland or Egypt or anywhere on Earth , you will find

invariable a child who will start drawing what psychologists called a “cellular man”. An icon

which isn’t dependent by what they see outside, by culture , environment, similar experiences in

thought or language, but dependent by what they carry and “see” inside, from a memory known

only to them.


copyright 2006 Adrian Ionita

[1] “Cosmic Christianity”, the National Museum of Catholic Art and History, 2002-2003, New


[2] A conversation with Silviu Oravitzan. Interview by Deborah Howkins

[3] author Richard Heinberg on April 28, 1988. The event was sponsored by The Association for

Responsible Communication.

[4] The Craft of Thought, Meditation, rethoric, and the making of images, 400-1200″,

(Cambridge University Press, 1998)

[5] The Nature of Visual Mental Images . 2005 Excerpts of the book under printing can be found


[6] Robert Karl Stonjek:

from a debate with Dr. Alex Green at:

See also Dr. Alex Green’s book “The Science and Philosophy of Consciousness” (2003) at:

[7] One of the most important steps to draw out mental imagery from its historical

inconsideration was done by Harvard scientist Stephen Kosslyn. In 1980 he wrote “Image and

Mind” (Harvard University Press), a landmark in the research of mental imagery.

Vizualizări: 242

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Pentru a putea adăuga comentarii trebuie să fii membru în reţeaua literară / la red literaria !

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Comentariu publicat de Adrian Grauenfels pe August 11, 2013 la 5:57pm

“When science has answered all its last questions- and solved all its problems - life will still be

unexplained.” said Wittgenstein.- Aici Witti a dat in bara ignorand  pe Heisenberg - The Uncertainty principle . altfel zis : Viata nu trebuie explicata ci traita. 

Comentariu publicat de Benoni Todica pe August 11, 2013 la 1:13pm

Imi place cand cineva isi aduce aminte de cate un Oravitean.

Am trecut odata sau de doua ori pe lnga el decand e celebru in rest am fost doar trecatori.


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