MIR | Bon Voyage

What would the modern world population look like today if we had created different role models and power structures? In which world and social order do we then live? How did we interact with each other and with the flora and fauna?

MIR and Hieronymus Bosch, two stylistically different artists provide us with their pictures of people who shock us and make us dream and raise exciting questions.

In Bosch's more mature works such as the triptych illustrated Garden of Delights, which belongs to one of his main works, the artist develops a unique and sometimes macabre pictorial language with strong symbolic content and full of allusions. Religious and iconological traditions of the most diverse origins flow together in this complex picture. But the artist also takes up supernatural and esoteric themes.

Hieronymus Bosch, Garden of Delights, triptych, middle panel: Paradise, 220 x 195 cm, left panel: Garden of Eden and right panel: musical hell, both 220 x 97 cm, around 1490-1505, oil on panel, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid
The middle panel shows a magnificently blooming, evergreen and mature garden inhabited by many naked people of different skin colors. They dance, bathe, ride in circles, relax and perform acrobatic movements. The delicate and doll-like figures, more childlike than erotic, are fed by oversized birds and perch or crawl out of bizarre shapes. We see a humanity that we do not know and that seems utopian. Birds live in water, fish in the air and on land. In this fictional nature, all creatures differ from the terrestrial and refer to another world. The left side of the panel shows the colorful paradise with the creation of Eve. Adam looks over at God and her with interest. In the middle of the picture, the snake that will later lead to the Fall of Man winds around a tree. On the right side you can see the horrible hell with intrusive creepy beings. People are tortured and abused. The symbolism of the instruments in this painting is particularly ambiguous, because the otherwise positively charged stringed instruments here stand for the diabolical. For example, the harp becomes a torture device for the human trapped in its strings, while the figure tied to the lute is subjected to the attacks of a monster coiled around the instrument's neck. The music is mocked and ridiculed here. It doesn't fulfill its actual purpose. But even this somber-looking side of the panel is bathed in a blaze of color that even lends the repulsive figures an aesthetic of the ugly.

Bosch's staged painting showcases a Renaissance-era penchant for original concepts and complex, encoded content, the full meaning of which could only be revealed to a restricted audience. But even those who were able to view his works had trouble fully deciphering the artist's images. And they still pose a mystery to art historians today.

The morals and statements in Bosch's works are often ambiguous. But human flaws such as anger, foolishness, greed, lust, gluttony, and others play a significant role. When interpreting works of art, it is often helpful to look at the time in which the work was created. In the case of Bosch, it is an age when people believed in the reality of the devil and hell. They were convinced that Satan would appear and that the Last Judgment would follow him with absolute certainty in the near or distant future. The drama of human sin and folly could only be understood by Bosch and his contemporaries as an expression of Lucifer and his henchmen, who were constantly trying to deceive humanity. Some authors reported that the prophecies of the apocalypse would soon be fulfilled in the world, with plagues, floods and other natural disasters coming.

In his pictures, Bosch also takes an interest in everyday human life. He expresses his disapproval of special estates and classes, criticizes swindlers (The juggler), vicious monks and nuns (The Garden of Delights), quacks and their gullible victims (The stone cutter) or the well-to-do man for whom his wealth is more important than his soul (Death of a curmudgeon). These are all topics that can be found in sermons of the time, proverbs and songs with a moral and didactic focus, as well as in satirical writings. The salvation of the Christian believer should not take place outside the world, but within it through honest living and honest work.

The picture becha (German: spring) from MIR from his old exhibition Bon Voyage (German: Bon Voyage), as well as other pictures from his current exhibition Fasten your seat belt compares two components that, similar to Bosch, have a contrary effect. On the one hand, the bright, colorful colors that, like the title of the picture, evoke positive associations. On the other hand the mask, which is at the center of the work and evokes thoughts of threat, protection and shielding. The need to protect themselves from a hazard often has the side effect of isolating people. In the picture Hello a similar method of the artist can be recognized. You can see a person who is in the final stages of dressing and adjusting his collar. Below you can see a gas cooker, a pistol and poison, among other things. What is the character preparing for? Is she going to fight? She seems to be prepared for many eventualities, but where and how will her path end? The title of the picture in turn means in German: “Good day”. These two words tend to be associated with beautiful things. The two pictures from MIR and also the painting Garden of Delights from Bosch seem like dark prophecies for the future of mankind. It seems they haven't learned much from their history. Epidemics, wars and natural disasters have not only happened, but are ubiquitously “poisoning” the world. Are unreasonableness and brutality the very essence of human behavior, as the two artists graphically show us? Is the apocalypse imminent? Is it the world we want to continue to live in in the future? Is an all-encompassing change of course and a symbiosis of man and nature even possible, or is it a utopian idea to believe that? With the Paradise Bosch showed more than 500 years ago what a harmonious existence of humans in nature could look like. Even if the picture is imaginatively designed, it raises the question of whether it might not show an option that could still materialize. And also MIR, whose stage name means “peace” in German and who understands the life of every individual as an important journey, wishes everyone a “bon voyage”.
Walter Bosing: Bosch. Complete Works, Cologne 2012.
Mario Bussagli: Bosch, Cologne 2017.