Researching the origins of human expression through carved objects and relics made during the Aurignacian1 I was fascinated to discover the Red Venus of Mauern. This 72mm tall anthropomorphic figure (dating from 27000 year ago) depicts a stylised female shape with prominent buttocks. When viewed from a different angle it represents a scrotum and phallus. What prompted the maker to join woman and man, visually combining two parts of a whole?
In his book, Prehistoric European Art (1968), Walter Tobrügge discusses this specific Palaeolithic sculpture, suggesting: “If the work was, indeed, intended so to combine two motifs in a single object, like a puzzle picture, then it supplies evidence that the purpose of most early art was magical.”
He continues that the “ strangeness is better accounted for as reflecting the peculiar bipolarity of primitive modes of thought, ever prone to find similarities in seeming opposites and to represent them as identical. ”
Carving & polishing
Prehistoric relics fascinate me. As a carver of glass I consider a kinship to the origins of man. Sure, glass is a refined material and engineered electrical tools are used in my processes, but it is the act of creating something, of imbuing a narrative and human will, onto and into an inanimate material or object, that links me to the past.
In his paper The Materiality of Obsidian & The Practice of Obsidian Use in the Neolithic near East Osamu Maeda explains:
“As Chris Tilley puts it, ‘through the (material) thing we can understand ourselves and others, not because they are externalisations of ourselves or others, reflecting something prior or more basic in our consciousness or social relations, but because these things are the very medium through which we make and know ourselves.”
I have found meaning in my practice by delving into these theories and always believed there is an archaic primal thread linking us, here, in 2021, to the past.
My current work is attempting to harness the primal fires kindled by our ancestors, prompting me to revisit a form of the magical.
Interpreting the Red Venus of Mauern’s story some 27000 years after its creation inspired me to sculpt a contemporary relic which combines imagery of both woman and man, to represent two parts of a whole.
I leave it up to the viewer to be the archeologist, to interpret the story for themselves… to find the magic that’s within us all.
- archeological tradition of the upper Palaeolithic associated with European early modern humans lasting from 43,000 to 26,000 years ago.
Part of the first anatomically modern humans to have spread from Africa through the Near East into Palaeolithic Europe. ↩