“The Birth of Artificial Intelligence” (2016).
Mariusz Lewandowski (ML) has become quite the breakout artist in the surreal/metal album art/post-Beksinski art scene often found on the margins of the art world, occupied by visionary artists, Neo-hippie outsider art, psychedelia, comic and tattoos conventions, etc. What I would estimate to be the “darker side” of the visionary art phenomenon that has grown in popularity from the mid 90s to the mid 2000s, especially now in the internet age (instead of Grey and Venosa, think H.R. Giger). ML has always captivated me, being a fan of Beksinski’s work since i was very young and discovering those haunting, ghastly, somber and surreal images on the internet. ML has really taken the mantle of being the foremost successor to Zdzislaw’s artistic vision in the Polish art scene, being featured in some pretty prominent album art (Bell Witch’s famed album “Mirror reaper” and the recent Psycroptic album “As the Kingdom Drowns” come to mind, both technical masterpieces in their respective sub-genres of doom and tech-death metal).
Despite what the critics say, ML does indeed have a distinctive style with several different themes that overlap and contort into each other, and is not merely a “Beksinski-clone”. For instance, a lot of ML’s image-themes have a clear distinction, with accompanying titles that match each theme, often dealing with apocalyptic visions, inversion of Christian symbolism, Gnosis, etc. Whereas Beksinski almost never titled works, claimed to be working from pure ideation and visionary/dream-like potency alone, whereas ML often chooses to have a more direct and clear panacea of images, utilizing theological, philosophic and alchemical themes instead of the purist obscure surrealism of his master Zdzislaw. One theme ML keeps hitting upon over and over again is that ominous, faceless hooded image, often denoting the cosmic father, time, God, the coming of the end, a keeper of secrets and revelation, etc. “Absolute Authority” (2017).
One persistent theme found in many of ML’s works is that of the “cube” the platonic form, the Kubrickean “monolith” that is a harbinger of apocalyptic change and evolution. In the first piece “Atomic Emptiness”, we see the cube as a container for one of the most singular transformative events of the modern age, the birth of Atomic energy and nuclear weaponry; The monolith cube entity is the bringer of a kind of death-drive, a civilization-erasing entity, one that provides energy and a key to extinction of life on earth. Either the monolith brings about radical change/shifts in life itself, or it brings about the end, the in toto being-towards-death for life itself, those very limits of which we can image of earth “post-Anthropocene” that speculative realism is at pains to imagine.
In the essay “Meditations On the Atom and Time” by Dennis Stillings (from the book “Apocalypse Culture”, the infamous compilation of odd-ball and fringe ideas by Adam Parfrey) it is posited that the “age of the atom” is not merely something to be viewed from the lens of cold scientific utility alone. Rather, the nuclear reality is a radical transformation in the fabric of existence itself. With it comes the Promethean gift, the promise of the snake in the garden, mankind putting itself on to the feet of the heavens in our ability to self-annihilate all of life on this planet. We can now fully enframe all of life, and make nature bend the knee to our whims (or so we think). Stillings sees this not merely as scientific advancement, but a modern mythopoetics of domination, and possibly, mass destruction, similar to the “war in heaven” brought down to earthly life. The liberal individual self now finally reigns supreme over all the limitations of culture and nature, but this is a hellish vision, contained within the monolith of our own techno-futurist progress is the key to our very own obliteration. Hence we see a similar image in “The Birth of Artificial Intelligence”, the AI cube, the bringer of great cataclysmic change is represented in a uniquely mythological way by ML…Above the primitive tools and steel workings rises again the hooded figure, this time with a scyth, the reaper, the bringer of both death and change. Unless you are Nick Land, the ascent of this new techno-AI reality that can supplicate (and potentially obliterate) the human reality of this world is brought about by death. It is interesting to not that the reaper here has both the same generative and nihilitive functions.
This brings us finally to what Stillings points out about atomic energy (which is equally applicable in some ways to AI running amok), that of which Orthodox Christianity terms the “Apocatastasis”. This is a concept found in many world religions, that of a great restoration after an upheaval, a collapse back into traditional or sacred form, a quiting of disorder with an order that is much more primordial and in keeping with that of the Devine’s wishes for humanity. The stoics formulated that it was a great return to an alignment of the celestial bodies, and the Greek Orthodox theorize that it is the future state where all beings will be saved and in harmony with God once a restoration of order happens. Here is a more catastrophic version of this great restorative equilibrium, after the dance of cosmic destruction comes reconciliation and salvation with the lord. The tools of man are thrown back on ourselves, and through the overthrow of man through nuclear black-sun apocalypse, or through trans-human AI, will come about this restoration of God, Man and Nature, hence the mythic imagery of ML that sets him apart as an artist from other painters that deal with themes of technology and futurism.