The works of Polish visual artist Malgorzata Koscielak (1962) are inspired by principles of constructivism and conceptual art: dealing with human nature and its historically, biologically and technically complex relations.
In her attempt to discover the continuous contact of history and myth with the collective unconscious, Koscielak uses a plethora of archetypical references. The Gate of Light for King Minos (1993) alludes to the Lion Gate of Mycenae, as well as to the mythology of Crete.
Contrasting solid materials, such as rock and wood, to the fluidity of water, the artist attaches significance to light, the invisible substance that gives meaning to her work and defines what cannot be described in a material way. In this way, she highlights the historical continuity of mankind and the durability of ideas and values, despite the alterations of the material entity that conveys them.
Lion Gate is the popular modern name for the main entrance of the Bronze Age citadel of Mycenae in southern Greece. It was erected around 1250 BC, in the northwestern side of the acropolis. In modern times, it was named after the relief sculpture of two lionesses in a heraldic pose, standing above the entrance.
The gate is the sole surviving monumental piece of Mycenaean sculpture, as well as the largest surviving sculpture in the prehistoric Aegean; and is the only monument of Bronze Age Greece to bear an iconographic motif that survived without being buried underground.
Knocking On Knossos
This Minoan Palace of Knossos is a place of history and legends, and is Crete’s most extensive and important archaeological site. It was inhabited for several thousand years and was abandoned after its destruction in 1375 BC – marking the end of the Minoan civilisation. This is believed to have been caused by natural disasters. The earthquake that sank half of Santorini in 1450 BC seems to have destroyed most of the buildings in Crete.
Serving as the ceremonial and political centre of the Minoan Civilisation during the Bronze Age, tools like clay or stone incised spools and whorls point to a cloth-making industry, and curvaceous female figurines indicate the rituals of mother goddesses.
According to Greek mythology, the architect Daedalus designed the Minoan palace with such complexity that none of those who entered could find the way out. The Labyrinth in Minoan Crete, the thread of Ariadne, the wooden cow of Pasiphae, the harpoon of Ariadne, the bow of the ships of that time, and the flying with wings of wax were all inventions of Daedalus.
The Minoan palace is believed by some to be the site of the Minotaur story. According to legend, Theseus, a prince from Athens, sailed to Crete, where he was forced to fight a terrible creature called Minotaur. The Minotaur as described by Roman poet Ovid, was part man and part bull, and was kept in the Labyrinthine maze by King Minos, ruler of Crete, who lived in the palace of Knossos. In Crete, the Minotaur was known by the name Asterion.
The king’s daughter, Ariadne, fell in love with Theseus. When he entered the Labyrinth to fight the Minotaur, Ariadne gave him a ball of thread which he unwound so that he could find his way back. Theseus killed the Minotaur, and then he and Ariadne fled from Crete.
‘Minotaur’ was originally a proper noun in reference to this mythical figure. That is, there was only the one Minotaur. In contrast, the use of ‘minotaur’ as a common noun to refer to members of a generic ‘species’ of bull-headed creatures developed much later, in 20th century fantasy genre fiction.
Ethos Pithos Logos
On a pithos from Knossos, is a recurring image of a goddess flanked by two animals. Many other pieces of Mycenaean artwork share the same basic motif of two opposed animals separated by a vertical divider, such as two lambs facing a column and two sphinxes facing a sacred tree representing a deity; a double blessing.
The high technical knowledge of the Minoans is confirmed by original architectural and construction inventions, such as skylights and multi-doors, the use of beams to strengthen the masonry, as well as the complex sewerage and water supply network.
It is not certain what people lived here from the depths of prehistory. The Achaeans invaded in the 15th century BC, and their culture brought the Minoan civilisation to its peak. They spoke Greek, had Greek gods and used Knossos as a centre. They also used the so-called Linear B script, which has been found on clay tablets.
While the ruins of Minos’ palace at Knossos were discovered, the Labyrinth never was. The multiplicity of rooms, staircases and corridors in the palace has led some archaeologists to suggest that the palace itself was the source of the Labyrinth myth, with over 1300 maze-like compartments; an idea that is now generally discredited.
Homer, describing the shield of Achilles, remarked that Daedalus had constructed a ceremonial dancing ground for Ariadne, but does not associate this with the term labyrinth. Some 19th century mythologists proposed that the Minotaur was a personification of the sun and a Minoan adaptation of the Baal-Moloch of the Phoenicians. The slaying of the Minotaur by Theseus in that case, could be interpreted as a memory of Athens breaking tributary relations with Minoan Crete.
Hungarian Scholar Karl Kerenyi viewed the Minotaur, or Asterios, as a god associated with stars, comparable to Dionysus. Coins minted at Cnossus from the fifth century showed labyrinth patterns encircling a goddess’ head crowned with a wreath of grain, a bull’s head, or a star. Kerenyi argued that the star in the Labyrinth was in fact Asterios, making the Minotaur a “luminous” deity in Crete, associated with a goddess known as the Mistress of the Labyrinth.
A geological interpretation also exists. Citing early descriptions of the minotaur by Callimachus as being entirely focused on the “cruel bellowing” it made from its underground labyrinth, and the extensive tectonic activity in the region. Science journalist Matt Kaplan has theorised that the myth may well stem from geology.
The Minotaur (infamia di Creti, Italian for ‘infamy of Crete’), appears briefly in Dante’s Inferno, where Dante and his guide Virgil find themselves picking their way among boulders dislodged on the slope and preparing to enter into the seventh circle of hell.
Dante and Virgil encounter the beast first among the “men of blood”: those damned for their violent natures. Some commentators believe that Dante, in a reversal of classical tradition, bestowed the beast with a man’s head upon a bull’s body, though this representation had already appeared in the Middle Ages.
Gosia Koscielak graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Europe, and from the School of The Art Institute of Chicago. She is a visual artist, designer, and an art curator who has had numerous solo and group exhibitions at galleries and museums in Poland, Italy, Greece, Germany, and the US.
Her works are in private and public collections worldwide, she enjoys working with light and was also a lighting designer for The Field Museum in Chicago. Gosia continues to create her ‘light art’ and multimedia projects, and is an associate member of the Art Research Center Group.