Images by Sebastián Tedesco
Text by Julián
RICHKER: A video installation
project by Sebastián Tedesco, is a series of videos produced from a
Java/Processing application that creates random permutations of images taken
from an engraving of the Tower of Babel by Athanasius Krcher. The work attempts
to harmonize the images into unity through a process of visual spagyrics.
If (as affirms the Greek in the Cratylus)
the name is archetype of the thing,
in the letters of “rose” is the rose,
and all the Nile flows through the word “Nile”.
Made of consonants and vowels,
there is a terrible Name,
that in its essence encodes God’s all
power, guarded in letters, in hidden syllables.
(Jorge Luis Borges, “The Golem”)
I have nothing to say
and I am saying it and that is poetry (John Cage)
I have to say poetry
and is that nothing and am I saying it
I am and I have poetry to say and is that nothing saying it
I am nothing and I have poetry to say and that is saying it
I that am saying poetry have nothing and it is I and to say
And I say that I am to have poetry and saying it is nothing
I am poetry and nothing and saying it is to say that I have
To have nothing is poetry and I am saying that and I say it
Poetry is saying I have nothing and I am to say that and it
Saying nothing I am poetry and I have to say that and it is
It is and I am and I have poetry saying say that to nothing
It is saying poetry to nothing and I say I have and am that
Poetry is saying I have it and I am nothing and to say that
And that nothing is poetry I am saying and I have to say it
Saying poetry is nothing and to that I say I am and have it
(Edwin Morgan, “Opening the Cage: 14 Variations on 14
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was
with God, and the Word was God. The birth of the Christian era brought a new
enthusiasm with the word, the divine Logos, that was made flesh to dwell among
us. The word became the Arcanum, the enigma that deserved to be deciphered and
transcended; the prima materia that
the new artists were transmuting in the search of its inner gold.
This gave birth to a new interest in
palindromes, anagrams, the search for a divine symmetry in language that wanted
to find its perfection. Various examples of the famous Sator Squares with the
palindrome “Sator Arepo Tenet Opera Rotas” were found in the ruins of Pompeii;
in the same way that several Gnostic talismans were engraved with the Greek
/ “Ablanathanalba” (which was, probably, a transliteration from the Hebrew
phrase “אב לן את”
/ “Thou are our Father”, turned into a palindrome).
Different philosophical branches of the early
neo-platonism, around the second century of our age, were not foreign to this
enthusiasm with the word and, following procedures of deconstruction, they
started to investigate how to expand the interpretation of the letters, words
and sentences by the means of maths and combinations. The idea that knowledge
involved a symbolic, metaphoric, use of language was certainly not a novelty;
Plato had already provided a study of the nature of the language in his Cratylus, whilst his Timaeus was already creating the uterus
of a theory of correspondences by associating the letter Chi with the Anima Mundi, whilst the myth of the
Secret name of the God Ra, only known by Isis, was older than any ancient Greek
philosopher. It was, however, the duty of the philosophers of the new era of
the word to develop other techniques like a complex use of tools such as
gematria, temurah, notariqon and tzeruf, but also the theory of correspondences
between individual letters and ideas; besides from an increasing interest in
what Fulcanelli end up calling a “phonetic cabala”.
The word became the new flesh; the letters,
it’s organs; and the anatomy of the word was born. The Gnostic Marcus, a disciple of Valentinus, created a
system in which he paired the 24 letters of the Greek alphabet in 12 groups of
2 letters, and explained how Aletheia (Truth, the fourth Aeon of Valentinus’
system), representing the Tetrad of the first four Aeons, placed these 12
pairs of letters in the 12 parts
of the body of the Heavenly Man (the Aeon “Anthropos”). Alpha and Omega for the
neck; Beta and Psi for the shoulders, arms and hands; Gamma and Chi for the
breasts, etc. This correspondence
between the parts of the body and the letters had a very deep meaning for
Marcus, since the result of this combination was: “the element Anthropos (Man,
the seventh Aeon of Valentinus), who is the fountain of all speech, and the
beginning of all sound, and the expression of all that is unspeakable (Depth,
the unspeakable, the first Aeon), and the mouth of the silent Sige (Silence,
the second Aeon)”.
Marcus’ system attached the letters
to the essence of man and made him become the expression of the most higher
syzygy, the unspeakable depth and the silence.
Even if correspondences between Greek letters
and numbers were far from been a novelty, it was Marcus the one who developed a
complex system of gematria that was focused both on the numerical value of each
letter (i.e, Alpha = 1, Betta = 2, Gamma = 3, etc) and in the amount of letters
that each word has.
Using this second system of gematria, he
explained how the Tetrad of the first four Aeons contained 24 letters: ἄῤῥητος
(Depth), σειγή (Silence), πατήρ
(Father), ἀλήθεια (Truth) and thus the body of Man
was also created with 24 letters that gave him the image and likeness of God.
It should be pointed out that the ancient Greek aphorism “Know thyself”
involved for Marcus that the mysteries behind the letters had to be considered,
since there was a Logos (reason, word, order, sense) behind them; a Logos that
unites God and man. Far from being just phonetic symbols, the letters were
considered a true divine essence.
Marcus points out that if we take a single
letter, Δ (Delta), and write its name at full length,
δέλτα, we get five letters; but we may write again the
names of these at full length and get a number of letters more, and so on ad infinitum. This procedure was used to
explain that behind each letter there was an infinite mystery. Abulafia used
this same theory in his technique of permutations several centuries later, but
first we have to go to the origins of Kabbalah.
The Sepher Yetzirah is considered to be the
first text of its tradition. The
book suggested that its origins were ancient, but this was a typical procedure
for many second century neo-platonic books of different sources (i.e, the
Chaldean Oracles, the texts by Hermes Trismegistus, etc); probably under the
idea that an older antiquity added a bigger importance.
Whilst it is clear that the Sepher Yetzirah
received an important Gnostic influence in many of its ideas (i.e, it is known
that the theory of the Sephiroth were an adaptation of the Gnostic Aeons), it
remains unknown if its theory of language and letters was influenced by Marcus
or if it happened the other way, that Marcus was influenced by its ideas when
he developed his own theory of language. It is, however, certain, that both of them received the influence of
Philo of Alexandria and his ways of explaining the Genesis by the means of a
neo-pythagorean theory (this is specially true for Marcus and his theory of the
number 6 as the being the number that defines the creation, an idea taken from
Philo, an idea that several centuries later was not unknown to Pasqually).
Both Marcus and the Sepher Yetzirah developed a threefold division of the
alphabet that depended on the sound of the letters (9 mutes, 8 semivowels, 7
vowels in Greek for Markus; 3 mothers, 7 simples and 12 doubles in Hebrew for
the Sepher Yetzirah), and in both systems each of these three groups of letters
received a set of attributions that related each letter of a group with a
similar idea that was corresponded to the other letters of its group. For both
systems the letters were the spiritual bricks that erected the Temple of the
archetypal world, which was understood as the result of a permutation of
letters following a Logos.
Yetzirah explains how the universe was created with three “books” (סְפָרִים / Sepharim): Sepher (סְפָר), Sephar (סֵפֶר) and Sippur (סִפוּר), but that these three books in God are “one and the same”. There are
very different translations of these three expressions, I’m bringing the
translation by Kaplan, Kalisch and Westcott:
Sepher: Text (Kaplan) / Number, Calculus, Ideas (Kalisch) / Number (Westcott)
Sephar: Number (Kaplan) / Word (Kalisch) / Writing (Westcott)
Sippur: Comunication (Kaplan) / Written form of the Word (Kalisch) / Speech (Westcott)
Mentioning these three “Sepharim” (books) was a
play on words, since “Sepharim” is the plural form of “Sepher”, but it also
suggested the idea that the universe was the result of these three words that
contained three similar letters (samekh, peh and resh). The three “books” that
became one in God, meant that deciphering the connections and unions between
letters, sense and maths, would lead to an understanding of God (an idea that
returned several centuries later in the Rosicrucian manifesto Fama Fraternitatis, in which three
symbolical books containing all the wisdom are mentioned: “Book M”, “Book H”
and “Book I”).
What is interesting for us, is that
some of the earliest examples of the practice of permutations can be found in
the Sepher Yetzirah, even in its short version.
When the book explains how the dimensions were
created, it is done by permutations: the above was sealed with יהו, the below with היו, the east with ויה, the west with והי, the south with יוה, the north with הוי.
As it happened in Markus’ system, the Sepher
Yetzirah also explains how the body of man was created with letters, in this
case, with the three mother/elemental letters.
ש (fire) created the head.
א (air) created the breast
ם (water) created the belly
The sexual differentiation between males and
females is explained by a difference in the permutation of these letters. The
males have the permutation שםא in the chest, whilst females have םשא.
Something identical happened with the genitalia, for male genitalia was formed
with שאם, whilst the female’s with אםש.
The author of the Sepher Yetzirah conceived an
archetypal world created in Hebrew, whilst Markus thought about it as been
organized by Greek letters.
God and man, a cipher to decode by the means of
sounds, letters, numbers, words, silence and insight.
It was during the XIII century that Abulafia
developed his own peculiar ways of understanding Kabbalah, his views were rejected and taken as heresy by his
more conservative peers because of his extreme syncretism. Abulafia’s Kabbalah
embraced every language he had at hand, Hebrew, Latin, Greek, Basque, Arabic,
Italian, Tatar. His idiosyncratic views and his acceptance of Christian
students lead him to become a persona non
grata until some centuries later his ideas arrived to the versatile hands
of Pico della Mirandolla, who found an inspiration in his ways.
Abulafia’s Kabbalah was strongly focused on
mystic ecstasy and visionary prophecy. He perceived the archetypal world and
the human psyche as a combination of sounds and letters, and permutations
became for him the main way of letting the human soul ascend from the mundane
reality, the most basic rational thought, to a stream of divine consciousness.
“Begin then to
interchange a number of letters [of a Divine name]. You can do this to a few or
to many. Transpose them and interchange them quickly, until your heart is
warmed as a result of these permutations, their movements and what follows. As
a result of these permutations, your heart will become extremely hot. Through
the permutations, you will gain new knowledge that you would never have learned
by human traditions or intellectual analysis. When you experience it, then you
are prepared to receive an Influx of Divine Light. The Influx will be conferred
on you. It will come to you as many words, one after another. Prepare then your
inner thoughts to reveal the Name and the highest Angels. Think of them as
being in your heart, like human beings sitting or standing around you. You are
among them as an apostle to whom the kingdom and its Servants want to entrust a
mission. (…)Your whole body starts to shake until you think you are going to
die. This is because your soul separates from your body as a result of the
Great Joy that you experience when you perceive and acknowledge these things.
In your mind, you choose death rather than life. Because death only involves
the body and as a result, the soul lives forever when it is resurrected. You
know when you've reached a level where you get the Divine Influx.” [Abulafia, Life of the World to Come]
The ecstasy of Abulafia chanting his permutations, often recited
performing dance-like movements was probably not too different than the ecstasy
that Kurt Schwitters found several centuries later whilst chanting his Ursonate
(literally, “Original/Primordial Sonata”) by the time that Surrealism was being
shaped. Procedures to bypass the conscious mind and try to reach a higher and
Other practices of
Abulafia involved finding the right vibration of the letters, specially the
Alef, a letter in which he saw the secret of the divine unity. To do so, he
matched the Alef with 25 vowel sounds in two kameas containing all the possible
combinations and permutations that had to be recited as a chant. His theory was
that God had created an alphabet with no vowels, but gave man the gift of the
vowels to give life to the letters in space and time.
Inspired by the ideas of Abulafia, Jorge Luis Borges wrote a short
tale, The Library of Babel. Borges
described the universe as an infinite library containing infinite books, but
all of them filled with permutations, books that in most cases do not seem to
make any kind of sense and contain expressions such as “dhcmrlchtdj”. He explains that
pilgrims often visit the library, some of them are true searchers; others are
inquisitors; others formed a sect that claims that the search among those books
should cease and that
all men should juggle letters and symbols until they constructed, by an
improbable gift of chance, canonical books; others read the books with the
intention of finding an offensive word somewhere and destroy the book that
contains it, another group of people decided to follow the idea that it is
fundamental to eliminate the books that they consider useless, whilst others simply find a random book
and defend it with fanaticism.
Borges also explains that among the dwellers of the infinite library
of Babel there is a myth about the Man of the Book, the only human that among
all the books found the “Book A” with the permutations that explain all the
other possible books and gives them a sense. The book is analogous to God.
Borges finally concludes stating: “The Library is
unlimited and cyclical. If an eternal traveller were to cross it in any direction, after
centuries he would see that the same volumes were repeated in the same disorder
(which, thus repeated, would be an order: the Order). My solitude is gladdened
by this elegant hope.”
Ramón Llull and Abulafia were contemporaries; whilst Abulafia was
investigating his endless permutations, Llull was concerned with philosophy,
chivalry and logic applied to theology. Even if he devoted his life to a wide
diversity of studies, the main work of his life was developing his Ars Magna
(Ars Generalis Ultima).
What Llull did in his Ars Magna was creating a theosophical tool of
permutations that could arrive to essential truths about God following a
logical path. He lived in a context of theological debate, both within the
three monotheistic religions and also within different branches of
To accomplish such task,
he developed his own alphabet of correspondences:
B. stands for goodness, difference, whether? God, justice, avarice
C. stands for greatness,
concordance, what? angels, prudence, gluttony
D. stands for duration, contrariety,
of what? heaven, fortitude, lust
E. stands for power, beginning, why?
man, temperance, conceit
F. stands for wisdom, middle, how
much? imagination, faith, accidy
G. stands for will, end, what
quality? senses, hope, envy
H. stands for virtue, majority,
when? vegetation, charity, wrath
I. stands for truth, equality,
where? elements, patience, lies
K. stands for glory, minority, how
and with what? instruments, compassion, inconstancy
And then four figures, the first one related the
letters in proximity and distance, creating compatibilities and
incompatibilities. The second figure involved three triangles that created
logical rules to relate the letters. The third figure was a system of 36
chambers (quite similar to the 231 gates of the Sepher Yetzirah, except that
for 9 letters instead of 22) that related all the possible pairs of
The fourth figure was the wheel of
permutations. It contained three rotating discs, each one of them containing
Llull’s 9 letters. Following a simple set of logical rules, these three discs
created correspondences between the three previous figures in all the possible
permutations always arriving to a logical and true result.
This fourth figure, besides from being an
engraving in the book, existed as an object. Llull believed that by rotating
the discs and creating the right permutation it was possible to answer any
theosophical question about God and man.
Llull held the belief that if we begin with a
set of essential truths, then all the possible combinations and permutations
will develop new and true ways of understanding them if a logical procedure is
involved and that such permutations would be able to answer any essential
question that any man could ask.
Llull’s Ars Magna became an inspiration for
Leibniz, who created his own version of a system of logical combinations (Ars
Combinatoria) to arrive to essential truths.
It is, however, even more interesting that
Leibniz began planning his magnum opus after combining the ideas of Llull with
ideas taken from three books by his pen pal and friend Athanasius Kircher:
A) Oedipus Aegyptiacus: where Kircher
had given his own explanation of the Egyptian hieroglyphs and tried to decipher
the Table of Isis (Bembine Tablet). It is nowadays known that Kircher’s
explanation of the hieroglyphs was quite far from being accurate; then again,
nobody had been able to give an accurate translation before the discovery of
the Rosetta Stone. The book was meaningful for Leibniz because it provided a
good example of a visual language.
B) Polygraphia nova et
universalis, ex combinatoria arte detecta: an ambitious work by Kircher, which consisted
of 6 dictionaries. The first five dictionaries contained words in Latin,
Italian, French, German and Spanish respectively (written in alphabetical
order) and each word was given a number (the synonyms of each language received
the same number). The sixth
dictionary contained the words in these five languages ordered by the number
they have been given. Kircher’s Polygraphia had the intention of creating a Lingua Franca made of numbers; a text written
in any of those languages could be translated to numbers and these numbers
could be translated to any of those languages. In the same way, a sequence of
numbers could be written and then any person would be able to translate it to
his own language by following the sixth dictionary. Both Kircher and Leibniz understood that this “instant
Esperanto” had been a failed experiment and that its results were far from
being satisfactory, and yet Leibniz was still very enthusiast about Kircher’s
attempt to create an universal language.
Magna Sciendi sive Combinatoria: an exhaustive study and explanation of
Ramon Llull’s Ars Generalis Ultima in
which Kircher explained all the possible permutations of Llull’s combination
system and then translated Llull’s nine letters to a “New Alphabet”.
Using this “New Alphabet”, in a chapter titled
“transmutation of the arguments in universal and particular sigils”, Kircher
translated several syllogisms to a visual formula using Llull’s spinning discs
fell in love with this idea and thought about translating his own system of
logical combinations to a purely visual formula too.
ideas inspired Leibniz to create an Universal Alphabet of Human Thought.
the dream of rebuilding the universal language of Adam, the universal language
that was spoken before the confusion of the languages at the Tower of Babel.
The letters of the Universal
Language of Leibniz were meant to be pictograms or hieroglyphs that would be
easily understood by any human without caring his native language. The grammar
of the language was going to be the logical ways of combining ideas that
Leibniz had designed. The intention was to create a visual language that, in a
similar fashion to Kircher’s sequences of numbers, could be easily translated
into any known language.
Leibniz sadly, never completed the project
during his lifetime.
It was during the XX century that the avant-garde
artists William Burroughs and Brion Gysin met for the first time. Burroughs was
a writer and an occasional visual artist. Gysin was a poet, an inventor, a
mystic and a visual artist.
It was under the influence of the surrealist
practice of the exquisite corpses that Gysin started to experiment with his
cut-up technique. The first cup-ups were collages in which Gysin mixed his own
paintings with random images taken from magazines and newspapers creating what
Lautréamont immortalized with the phrase “beautiful as the chance meeting on a dissecting-table of a sewing-machine and an umbrella”. The intention of Gysin was to transcend the limits of the conscious
mind, but also developing a system that could go further than the surrealist
practice of unconscious automatism by creating juxtapositions of texts and
images that were producing new unexpected meanings.
Burroughs fell in love
with the idea of Gysin’s cut-ups and decided to apply it to literature
(specially in his “Nova Trilogy” –The Soft Machine, The Ticket that
Exploded and Nova Express).
[Cut-Up collage by Brion Gysin & William Burroughs]
Both Gysin and Burroughs were convinced that what we say, what we
think and what we write always contains unconscious messages that have to be
discovered by manipulating the words. It was a usual practice for both of them to take a text they have
written, cut it in pieces and then uniting it again in different permutations
that were offering new meanings and new ideas. They also did the same
experiment with tape recordings, by cutting the tape in several sections and
then uniting them in a different order with scotch tape. What they expected
from their cut-ups was not really far from what Abulafia expected from his
endless permutations: revelations, new ways of understanding a given message,
new ways of perceiving the world that surrounds us.
[Breathe in the Words,
permutation poem by Brion Gysin]
Another idea that Gysin held was that the true and complete meaning of
any given phrase was going be found by writing or pronouncing all its possible
permutations. Following this simple procedure he wrote extensive collections of
Some weeks ago, my friend Sebastián Tedesco told me he had
finished a new work. Being himself the marvellous painter that he is, I
expected to see a new painting by him. Two of his paintings hang on the walls
of my living room, whilst a collage by him decorates my hall. No need to say that I admire him the
most as a painter and artist.
… But what he showed me was an image of Kircher’s engraving of the Tower of Babel that was
constantly moving and evolving in different permutations. I was puzzled and
probably even more confused than Poussin and Porbus whilst looking at
Frenhofer’s Unknown Masterpiece in
the famous tale by Balzac.
Tedesco probably noticed my confusion and tried to clear my mind by
explaining: “the title is Richker, a
permutation of Kircher” and then he added: “would you like to write a short
commentary or review of this work?”.
I had to spend a long time watching these endless permutations to
understand what Tedesco was doing. The first time I saw them, I felt as lost
as the pilgrims that visit Borges’ Library of Babel just to find a chaos of
infinite combinations that does not seem to make any kind of sense.
I finally remembered the words by Poussin in Balzac’s tale: “He is
even more of a poet than a painter”.
Being used to seeing paintings by Tedesco, I was trying to find the
painting behind that ever-changing image… until I found the poem and fell in
love with it.
The myth of the collapse of the Tower of Babel mirrors the myth of the
fall of Man.
We are born as incomplete beings with a divine spark within us that
allows us to remember that there was a time in which God and Man spoke the same
language and the Logos was perfectly clear.
RICHKER is a visual poem
about the Logos.
RICHKER has the wheel of
RICHKER is knowledge and
RICHKER is the letters of
the rose becoming roses.
RICHKER is Marcus
dreaming about an archetypal body made of letters.
RICHKER is the Sepher
Yetzirah trying to find a hidden sense behind the alphabet.
RICHKER is Abulafia
looking for a revelation in its endless permutations.
RICHKER is Ramon Llull
cutting discs of paper to rotate them and find the truth.
RICHKER is Kircher
looking for a universal language.
RICHKER is Leibniz
sketching a universal alphabet of human thought.
RICHKER is Hildegard von
Bingen speaking the Lingua Ignota.
RICHKER is John Dee and
Edward Kelly deciphering tablets.
RICHKER has undone many a
great man in fortune, honor, blessing and prosperity.
RICHKER is the genius and
the madness of Frenhofer.
RICHKER is the map of an
RICHKER is Brion Gysin
expanding the meaning of each phrase we say and cutting-up our conscious
reality to bring new visions.
RICHKER is an alphabet
that doesn’t need letters and contains every possible letter.
RICHKER is a visual poem
about the history of a being that living in an ocean of errors will never give
up in his search for the truth.
23rd December 2013