THE DOCTRINE OF SIGNATURES (2015) - Robert Leib

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According to the medieval Swiss physician Paracelsus, signatures are those invisible marks placed upon all things by astral bodies, like painters who discreetly signs their works. Signatures can thus be understood as a grammar of nature and reveal the order of things to those who can learn to perceive them.

As Michel Foucault (1966) tells us:

"Because of the movement and the dispersion created by its laws, the sovereignty of the sympathy-antipathy pair gives rise to all the forms of resemblance. The first three similitudes are thus all resumed and explained by it. The whole volume of the world, all the adjacencies of 'convenience', all the echoes of emulation, all the linkages of analogy, are supported, maintained, and doubled by this space governed by sympathy and antipathy, which are ceaselessly drawing things together and holding them apart. By means of this interplay, the world remains identical; resemblances continue to be what they are, and to resemble one another. The same remains the same, riveted onto itself.

And yet the system is not closed. One aperture remains: and through it the whole interplay of resemblances would be in danger of escaping from itself, or of remaining hidden in darkness, if there were not a further form of similitude to close the circle - to render it at once perfect and manifest. Convenioitia, aemulntio, analogy, and sympathy tell us how the world must fold in upon itself, duplicate itself, reflect itself, or form a chain with itself so that things can resemble one another. They tell us what the paths of similitude are and the directions they take; but not where it is, how one sees it, or by what mark it may be recognized. Now there is a possibility that we might make our way through all this marvellous teeming abundance of resemblances without even suspecting that it has long been prepared by the order of the world, for our greater benefit. In order that we may know that aconite will cure our eye disease, or that ground walnut mixed with spirits of wine will case a headache, there must of course be some mark that will make us aware of these things: otherwise, the secret would remain indefinitely dormant. Would we ever know that there is a relation of twinship or rivalry between a man and his planet, if there were no sign upon his body or among the wrinkles on his face that he is an emulator of Mars or akin to Saturn? These buried similitudes must be indicated on the surface of things; there must be visible marks for the invisible analogies. Is not any resemblance, after all, both the most obvious and the most hidden of things? Because it is not made up of juxtaposed fragments, some identical and others different, it is all of a piece, a similitude that can be seen and yet not seen. It would thus lack any criterion if it did not have within it - or above it or beside it - a decisive clement to transform its uncertain glimmer into bright certainty.

There are no resemblances without signatures."

In a society that seems to be characterized by ‘deep’ scientific and technological advancement on the one hand, and by ‘shallow’ fashion and consumerism (or anarchic anti-consumerism) on the other, is there yet any space to think and observe these sympathetic relationships, which seem to be somewhere in the middle? Can we still encounter the sympathetic connections between all things, between their surface and their depth, that was once taken to be the paradigm of worldly wisdom? Or, are they now silent?

The exhibit consists of six photographic panels, 9 digitally unaltered photographs in each, sized between 24" x 42" and 33" x 60", each panel is paired with text. All photos by Robert Leib (2015). 

See the Events page for Exhibit Photos

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Panel I

"THE DOCTRINE OF SIGNATURES, known by only a few from the earliest ages, is often associated with the teachings of Paracelsus, for it runs like a thread through his writings. In brief, it means that inner or invisible ever presses it character, or stamps its signatures, upon the outer or visible.

The word 'signature' is derived from the Latin signare, which means to sign. The word 'doctrine' is derived from the Latin docere, to teach. The doctrine of signatures, therefore, is that which is taught concerning the marks placed upon all creatures and things by stellar influences. Just as the phrenologist can diagnose a man's character from the shape of his head, the identity of all things can be recognized by the mark placed, or signature impressed on them, by invisible things."

W.P. Swainson, Three Famous Alchemists, Chapter IV 

(1937)


Panel II

"When a man writes a letter he signs his name at the end so that his identity may be known. So also, though this is by no means evident to everyone, all external or visible things have impressed upon them the stamp of their origin in the invisible world. Their relationship with other forms of manifestation is thereby revealed. Although a man who can neither read nor write may be unable to decipher the autograph attached to a letter, his inability to recognize the signature does not invalidate it; it simply reveals the ignorance of the man. Just so, an inability to recognize the marks impressed on things by stellar influences does not affect the truth of the doctrine of Signatures; it only shows a lack of knowledge on our part concerning them."

W.P. Swainson, Three Famous Alchemists, Chapter IV

(1937)


Panel III

“So great is the extent, power, and efficacy of the celestial bodies, that not only natural things, but also artificial ones, succumb to those potent agents, and obtain a wonderful life. The magicians affirm, that not only the mixture and application of natural things, but also the creation of images, seals, rings, glasses, and other instruments, being appropriately framed under a certain constellation, take on some celestial illustration, and some wonderful thing may be received; for the beams of the celestial bodies being animated, living, sensual, and—bringing not only admirable gifts, but also a most violent power—do, all in a moment and at the first touch, imprint wonderful powers in the images.

For such an image that is properly prepared to receive the operations of celestial powers, it instantly receives the heavenly gift into itself, and begins working upon other things, which thus yield obedience to it.”

Francis Barrett, The Magus, Book II.34

(1800)


Panel IV

"The stars and planets influence man by means of their common magnetism. According to the laws of sympathy, they impress their character, or stamp their signature, upon all things and persons. 

Every being belongs to one or another of the seven planetary families--either that of the Sun, the Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, or Saturn. The inner nature of every being corresponds to a very large extent to the attributes of that planet's spiritual vortex under which it was first born. For instance, a soul belonging to the Martian family will manifest and attitude of aggressive, impetuous leadership, while one belonging to the Saturnian family will be of a cold, calculating nature." 

W.P. Swainson, Three Famous Alchemists, Chapter IV

(1937)


Panel V

“Magicians, students, and observers of the operations of Nature know how to effect many uncommon and wonderful things that seem strange, and above Nature, by gathering together this and that thing beneficial to the effect which we desire and applying the proper forms to the proper matter; however, it is evident that all the powers and virtues given to earthly bodies do not exist together in any one thing, but are dispersed among the endless number of things around us. Wherefore, it is necessary, if there be a hundred virtues of the sun dispersed through many animals, plants, metals, and stones, we must undertake to gather them all together, and bring them into one form, where we can see all those said virtues, united and contained.”

Francis Barrett, The Magus, Book I.9

(1800)


Panel VI

"The doctrine of Signatures affects everything throughout nature, from the highest to the lowest. All things possess attractive and repulsive qualities. Every species, genus, race, family, and kingdom has its group signature, just as every man has his individual signature. The universe is composed of an infinite number of entities and groups of entities, all interacting and interdependent. Everything has an influence, either slight or great, upon every other thing. 

All things are constantly sending out vibrations which bring them in contact with the human organism, and every human organism has a special complex vibration peculiar to itself, which is determined by its individual signature. Man is not only influenced by the stars; everything by which he is surrounded is ceaselessly sending him vibrations, and so adding to his harmony or discord. The deacons of the sky are thus ever leaving their impress, stamping their signature upon him, by means of these vibrations."

W.P. Swainson, Three Famous Alchemists, Chapter IV

(1937)

All Photographs copyright Robert Leib (2015).

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