Anthropocosmic Mould consists of two sculptural constructions that rest inside a shallow hinged box. Each sculpture represents a generalised human figure made up of individual hollow cell-like blocks. The figures are attached to separate wooden grid-like structures of horizontal and vertical wooden laths. On the left the figure is shown from the front; each of the cells making up this character are painted white on the interior. The figure on the right is depicted in profile.
‘Anthropocosmos’ is a neologism invented by French anthropologist Gilbert Durand (born 1921) combining the Greek words for man and universe. He used the term to denote an androgenous figure, the ‘traditional man’, who has a primal connection to and understanding of the universe. Durand wrote, ‘The knowledge of traditional man is a unity. His consciousness is systematised, whereas the knowledge of Western culture is torn apart by extraversion. Unity of Knowledge has always been a problem to Western consciousness, fragmented by its focus upon a world of diverse objects and by its cult of objective facts ... Traditional knowledge, to the contrary, already has its primary vision in a unitary experience of Cosmos, such as we find in alchemy’ (quoted in Kent, p.8).
The unified knowledge of Durand’s anthropocosmos exists in distinct, systematised blocks. Neagu illustrates this seeming paradox in the cell-like structures that became typical of his sculptural practice in the early 1970s. Each part is separate yet together they constitute a whole. The grid-like structure of Neagu’s work provides a visual analogy for the unconscious process of compartmentalising sensory or intellectual information. The cells also function as a metaphor for interrelated parts of the human body and by extension parts of society and the natural world which remain separate yet linked. Neagu’s philosophy, informed by Durand’s symbolic anthropology, stressed the simultaneous distinctness and interconnectedness of everything, from the molecular level to the universal.
The anthropocosmos first appeared in Neagu’s work in a 1968 drawing. The artist made several versions of his anthropocosmic figure in works on paper and in three-dimensional installations. Edible anthropocosmic sculptures made of waffles were used in interactive performances called Blind Bites that Neagu began staging in 1971. Members of the public were invited to eat portions of figures constructed from waffles, chocolate and honey. In later versions of this performance Neagu insisted that those taking part be blindfolded to de-emphasise the visual aspect of the work and focus participants’ experience on their sense of taste.
The figures in Anthropocosmic Mould are ambiguous. If the cells are removed from their grids the figures disintegrate into abstract patterns. The grid-like structures that support the figures also imprison them, suggesting the strictures of entrenched patterns of thought or the confines of the body. As if to reinforce the latter interpretation, the box in which the figures are placed evokes a coffin.
Sarah Kent, Paul Neagu: Sculpture, exhibition catalogue, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, 1979.
Christian Simionescu, A Derridean Tornado: Paul Neagu 1965-2000, London, 2000, reproduced p.65 in colour.
Generative Art Group, exhibition catalogue, Museum of Modern Art, Oxford, 1975.