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An alternative world view

Exploring the meaning of life through the world of the arts.

Words by Rebecca Hawkey

The Oxford English Dictionary sources ‘Anima Mundi’ from Latin origins. Meaning ‘soul of the world’; ‘a vital force or principle conceived of as permeating the world.’ It seems apt then that Anima Mundi founder, Joseph Clarke, recently explored his own reasoning for starting the gallery, via the means of a personal manifesto. In his own words: “It is a response to a growing sense of isolation within the contemporary media obsessed art world of limited characters.” He goes on to say that the words are a response to “living and working for the past 25 years at the far corner of our island in search for an inner wildness within the modern world.” Perhaps finding his own ‘soul of the world’ in a society so frantic and constricted.

I had the chance to speak with Joseph about all things Anima Mundi, his life and where he envisages his future in the art space to be.

What is the founding ethos of Anima Mundi?

It’s often difficult to formulate answers when you spend your life focussing on questions! That is the arena of art I think. Enlightenment was about finding answers or proof. The problem is that if you can’t prove ‘it’, then there is potential to believe that ‘it’ doesn’t exist. The counter to Enlightenment was Romanticism, which has for a long time been dismissed as ‘hokey’ and largely irrelevant in pervasive circles. I dispute this. It is a vital language of the arts and whilst largely abandoned by the contemporary art world, has simmered under the surface, providing an alternative world view.

In some ways I think that Anima Mundi is a vicarious project for me, in that through the messages of others, I am able to say something about myself which in turn may happen to be universal.

As a 20th century western male human being, born in the 70s in the south east of England, I think it is fair to say that I represent peak anthropocene. However, simultaneously I think this always made me feel a little bit ‘outside’ of the flow. I have always had a sense of something being not quite right, of something missing in how I, or we, do things. When I discovered the art that moved me, it gave me an amplified sense of that – that there were others who recognised that too.

Could you explain the meaning behind Anima Mundi in more detail?

Plato once wrote: “This world is indeed a living being endowed with a soul and intelligence. A single visible living entity containing all other living entities, which by their nature are all related.” Our logo contains Metatrons Cube, a piece of sacred geometry which starts with the Fruit of Life shape, and connects all 13 circles with straight lines. It includes all five Platonic Solids hidden inside, symbolising the underlying geometric patterns found throughout our universe, the connection between all things. Simultaneously, our logo also shows the moment of original sin resulting in expulsion from Eden. I think this dichotomy is key to our situation as human beings, the connection between all things, and the disconnect which has occurred between us and everything else.

Carl Jung made the following statement: “The development of Western philosophy during the last two centuries has succeeded in isolating the mind in its own sphere and in severing it from its primordial oneness with the universe. Man himself has ceased to be the microcosm and eidolon of the cosmos, and his ‘anima’ is no longer the consubstantial scintilla, spark of the Anima Mundi.”

We see small glimpses of an awakening which moves us beyond our stagnant anthropocentric worldview – ideas of quantum science and the growing field of ecology are showing us, with some proof, that all life is interconnected and that much of nature remains very unknown to us; that perhaps intelligence exists that is greater and more magical than our own in isolation. I have long believed that, through the arts, we have the potential to envision and explore. They provide us with other ways of communicating, of seeing, and of feeling, and can cause ripples in the fabric of our reality.

Do you feel like the work displayed at the gallery encompasses what you envisage? Is it a place where conversation and thought can flow freely?

Rainer Maria Rilke once said: “Everything is gestation and bringing forth. To let each impression and each germ of feeling come to completion wholly in itself, in the dark, in the inexpressible, the unconscious, beyond the reach of one’s own intelligence, and await with deep humility and patience the birth-hour of a new clarity.” I think that is appropriate this time of year, where things begin to grow underground and in the dark. I think that is how you work if you are creative, largely in the dark, in the arena of unknowing. So when you say “what you envisage”, I’m never certain what that actually is. It sounds like a destination, and we are still on a journey. I think that is where conversation and thought flow most freely. Picasso famously once said that “Art is a lie that reminds us of the truth”. I think that is a good basis for conversation to begin, with the truth. In a world of ‘fake news’ or, as we traditionally called it, ‘lies’, it has to be of some value to have alternative platforms which represent an alternative form of dialogue in a non-superficial way. I’m proud to be part of a collective voice and to have created a platform in which that voice can be heard. Whispers in the wind can become an echoing crescendo if amplified.

What drew you to relocate to Cornwall, and does it influence your exhibitions?

People often talk about escaping to Cornwall. When we came here it felt like moving towards something else. People used to talk about the quality of light, but I was drawn by the dark too. An inspirational sense of balance of elemental extremes. The proliferation of ancient heritage, something flowing through the rock of the place. It felt mythical and otherly, here at the furthest reaches of Europe, at the very tip of this ‘horn of foreigners’… As with elsewhere it seems these timeless qualities can become threatened as the supermarkets and homestores crowd each and every roundabout and the queues start forming for every ubiquitous drive through. The beautiful, complex and fragile ecology is threatened when each patch of land becomes a place to build and make a few quid and a garage is worth more than a starter home elsewhere. Protection from Conservation status, Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty status, Green Belt status, World Heritage status, doesn’t offer any protection from building site status if someone can make some cash out of it, which seems to be a way of the world from which Cornwall is not exempt. In terms of artistic purpose, all things offer inspiration, whether bathing in aspirations towards the mythic, immersion in nature or kicking against more prosaic realities and concerns. Cornwall has it all.

What does the future hold for Anima Mundi?

The future, I’m not sure any of us know what it looks like, but hope, that vital human ingredient, remains key, and we must all hope for a lot. In terms of Anima Mundi, I hope there is continued resonance with what we are doing for artists and audiences, and it would be really nice if that resonance continued beyond our own timeframe. I think I have already alluded to the fact that I can’t really see a destination, instead one foot is compelled to continue in front of the other. None of us know what’s around the corner, but it’s usually bright lights which cast long shadows and we have to live with both, which as ever feeds the work into being.

You can read Joseph’s manifesto in full on the Anima Mundi website. The gallery can be found at Street-an-Pol, St Ives, TR26 2DS.


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