“Black holes raise as many questions as any God”
Interview with Erik Odijk, by Lotte Delissen and Alex Wissink
The visions of 12th-century writer , botanist and mystic Hildegard von Bingen are an important starting point for Ridisegno, a nearly four-meter-wide, highly detailed drawing by artist Erik Odijk. Radboud students Alex Wissink (Historical, Literary and Cultural Studies) and Lotte Delissen (Art History) question him about this work and the knowable and unknowable of the cosmos.
Lotte: Your work Ridisegno speaks of visions, spirituality and the divine. How do you and your art view the divine?
My art is completely indifferent to the divine, and so am I actually. I was critical of faith from a fairly young age. That doesn’t mean that because of my whole upbringing, the Christian culture we live in, and especially getting older, I don’t have all kinds of questions. Questions about mysterious things surrounding the phenomenon of God or in this case the cosmos. Nature is incredible and in many places even dangerous, vast, sublime, unfathomable. You can call that divine. When you get into nature, something happens to you. That gives me inspiration.
Alex: Did you also incorporate those divine places in nature in Ridisegno?
First in a very playful way, then purely from what is known about Hildegard von Bingen. Surely, as a mystic, as a woman and as a church princess with power, she had a position that was transgressive. I do think that belongs to divinity. In one of her visions, she also depicts the Greek doctrine of the elements. The Bible completely ignores it. I don’t think many male colleagues were happy that Hildegard was bringing in all things pagan.
Hildegard’s vision of the Golden Egg struck me immensely. I thought: that would make a nice garden design. I started designing a contemporary garden based on her image. By now we have mapped how the planets move, we have even been to the moon, and we are totally focused on Mars, we want to go there….So I wanted to depict the cosmos , our solar system in this case, more concretely than it does.At the same time, I wanted to make a link to the garden of paradise.In the place of the sun is an apple tree, venus is a cherry tree.I replaced the God Star with that great mystery, the black hole.
Lotte: Do you have a particular interest in black holes?
Black holes bring me back into that religious cramp. Black holes raise as many questions as any God. Is it a hole in an imaginary wall? What is on the other side, a white hole? I understood that we can never see on the other side.Well, then the mystery is complete. Somehow the total destruction of a black hole fits our image of the punishing God, but I reject that.This is just how the cosmos works.
Lotte: Is mystery necessary for humanity and is mystery God slowly being replaced by a black hole?
In these times, when secularity is gaining a foothold, you see that many people have problems because they lack a foothold.They can no longer name the dark in themselves.You can’t give it a place, relate it to a deity or something existing.Actually, we are not supposed to feel the dark.Because of the way science has developed, everything that is different and unexplainable, and therefore part of the dark side of man, has been increasingly eliminated. What cannot be explained is often a form of criticism of that which can be explained. Without that criticism, dogmas arise. Science has drifted away from that subjective and obscure, and that is a mistake.That is now being rectified in many sciences. New forms of science, such as cosmology, should continue to attract those very things.
Alex: Connection of all life in the universe and the connection between microcosm and macrocosm is an important theme in Hildegard von Bingen’s work. She emphasizes a personal and emotional connection to the cosmos. Does that also play a role in your work?
The work has been very intensive. There was a lot going on around Covid that created a parallel stream of thoughts. About myself, about people, about emotions, about what could no longer be done.The shutters of nature only opened further for me. All these thoughts projected themselves onto that hortus conclusus, that walled garden I was drawing. Is that garden closed? Safe? Is there also an outside? I spent almost a year and a half concretely drawing that garden.The style is very small and miniature, there is no corporeal energy in it at all. You get stuck in neatness and tidiness. I needed to become more free again.So that world outside the walls had to become a wilderness. In the past I have hiked in all kinds of places and experienced “spiritual” moments in nature. When I started looking back at all those photos, all kinds of personal memories came up. Sublime moments that I incorporated into that world outside that garden.
Lotte: Illuminated manuscripts like Von Bingen’s visions are examples of so-called ‘monk’s work.’ Ridisegno is actually also monk’s work. Is this way of working mindful?
Mindful means thoughtful, that you float above it and look at things a little more neutrally. In drawing, you also float above it. Eventually the drawing takes over the work. It dictates how to do it, you actually become an assistant to that work. Something only changes in the process, because the process is labor; The work must dominate me, my moment is for later, when I master the work.
Then there is room for my ego for a while because after that comes the emotion of loss….
Alex: Do you think we need to move more in the direction of Hildegard’s cosmology and the place that the indistinct then occupied?
Yes, only how is that going to happen? Surely our society will have to change, we will have to reduce.The danger of dealing with the cosmos is that you get two kinds of people. People like Elon Musk, who are already in the process of leaving the earth, not even from the idea that the earth will soon be unlivable. It’s the out-of-Earth mentality.Instead, the terrestrials are trying to save what can be saved.The problem in this is actually man himself. As long as they don’t change their lives, the future is a bit dark.