Cave drawings are as simple in their composition as they are complex in their presentation. The images of animals, hunters and weapons are child-like but astonishingly effective in what they convey:
movement, the anxiety and exhilaration of the hunt, the fear and fury of the hunted, and the rush, smell and sound of the moment all come vividly to the observer, as effectively as any modern-day National Geographic photograph.
To this day these drawings and what they represent remain with us. As mark-making became more prolific the symbols became known and recognised for what they conveyed as a communal understanding of their meaning and became accepted as signs, not unlike the signs we recognise today as the 26 “marks” that make up the modern, western alphabet.
Symbolism and the memory of DNA
Some scholars believe that these signs have become so entrenched over time that the memory of them persist in mankind’s very DNA – a communal memory, so to speak. Throughout history the prehistoric marks were transferred from rock to stone, to wood, to clay, to wood pulp, to paper and, very recently, to computer screens.
But they represent something we all understand at the crudest level. Compare, for instance, the skull as a sign: small (western) children understand at a deeper, primordial level that it represents danger and, as they grow older and become socialised, death.
Where does this memory come from? Julia Kristeva, a contemporary French philosopher wrote about this at length, embracing Plato’s idea of the chora, a deep seated primordial “womb of memory” that is a reservoir of all of mankind’s memories, passed on through all the generations and surviving in our DNA.
A remarkable intellectual, Kristeva took the idea of the existence of prehistoric signs and symbols in our memory to another level when she introduced the concept of the otherness of signs, arguing that they represent something different, often unexpected, in art and poetry.
She wasn’t the first (the Russian Formalists referred to the same literary phenomenon as ostranenie, making it strange) but Kristeva believed that artists tap into the chora, enabling them to channel the memories, fears, exhilaration, pain and even the dreams of our ancestors and expressing that source of memory and experience in their creative work.
Communication through signs is timeless
Artists throughout history have often been misunderstood or simply not understood at all. The art of the alchemist, claiming an ability to create gold from other metals, remains a mystery to this day. Many artists were denied any acknowledgement in their lifetime, only to be revered long after their deaths.
Perhaps the creative process in Kristeva’s terms is too much for “normal” people to grasp, the ideas too strange, the message too confronting to be understood or appreciated.
Communication through signs, however, live on and remain as relevant today as it was to our ancestors.
Pierre Cronjé and the alchemy of wood
Mark-making is a core concept in art, poetry and writing to this day. We considered this in depth when we were introduced to the master artisan Pierre Cronjé, who seeks to transcend sameness in conceptualising, crafting and creating individually honed, luxury wooden furniture.
We were impressed by his philosophy to pursue a different, unexpected creative outcomes through wisdom and compelling truth. Since Pierre’s medium is wood, we returned to wood and, specifically, the deeply-ingrained memory of wood to be guided in our creative approach as the wood “spoke” to us through the markers contained in its annual growth rings.
Aged wood is a rare natural resource. No two trees are identical. Each is unique in its splendour; the memory of its own journey captured in its grain. Truly unique, wood is a
living thing that is transformed into something new and something of beauty through a creative process. Through this process, the wood is guided and shaped to truly reveal its final purpose and goal.
With the wisdom, insight and guiding care of Pierre, wood reveals a transformed and valuable form – a new form created from the memories and wisdom of the medium and the artist. If alchemy aims to purify, mature, and perfect objects, one could deduce an “alchemy of wood” from Pierre’s work, where wood equates to history, transformation, wisdom and actualisation.
Interpreting the wisdom, memory and history of wood we explored how we could represent Pierre’s unique brand through signs – marks and symbols that represent the artist’s unusual approach and philosophy – while at the same time resonating with the outstanding quality of his work that appeals to serious furniture collectors and art buyers.
Our interpretation drew on the memories of wood and the symbiotic wisdom of wood and mankind; the true potential of wood can be released in the same way as the true potential of people can be unleashed, as is so beautifully demonstrated in every piece created by Pierre. We worked with those perfectly crafted pieces and represented them as signs, marking the memory of the wood from recent times to the far reaches of the tree’s memory.