From magical promise to mystical process. Hanakam & Schuller’s ongoing series of heralds and flags unveils the trickery of delusion and masters its obscure secrets with alchemistic methods. Transforming the systematic ordering of social and power relations in coats of arms, the Coat of Miracles is an aesthetic technique that proposes a semiology of post-capitalist psychology and critically reflects its artistry of illusions.

During a residency and artistic research in the region of Istria in 2017, the artist duo Hanakam & Schuller had developed a set of abstract figures and colouring systems that would later form the base for a systematic body of emblems and escutcheons. Its pictorial vocabulary references the artists’ archive of everyday fetishes found in product design and consumer items. Emphasising their significance by appropriation into a system of artificial symbols, gestures and signs from previous video and photographic series that took place in various cultural environments (Japan, Sri Lanka, Yakutia), as well as templates for role play and board games, their introduction to heraldry progresses the artists’ attempt in articulating a full semiological opus. Now, the analysis of meaning and effect of forms—both in cultural and art historical contexts—have solidified in a mystical semantic of plastic sorcery.

Exhibition catalogue Hanakam & Schuller, COAT OF MIRACLES, Novigrad-Cittanova: Muzej – Museo Lapidarium, 2019.

Openly referring to the literature of C. G. Jung on Psychology and Alchemy (1944) the artistic practice of Hanakam & Schuller allows analogies to alchemistic practices as culture-technological method. This occult and gnostic system constructs a nomenclature for actual psychic transformations of reality that obscure the cognitive undercurrents. Whereas enlightened and pragmatic analysis gives a proper understanding of the laws of nature, the mystical and archaic substrata still cast their shadows on the limits of these insights. In order to shatter and control this haunted hall of mirrors, mystics have developed practices that deliberately obscure actual reality to unveil the factual virtualities.

Rather than following the hocus-pocus of making gold, the sincere alchemist, in fact, aims at becoming the ruler of these illusions, making the impenetrable darkness of substances, through which humanity has ever since been stumbling through, conceivable by tackling manifested preconceptions. Alchemy is a simulation of transformational processes and its symbolism should be viewed as simulacrum of obscured experience and causality, rather than framed by logic. By constructing an edifice of individual ideas and self-imposed treatises, the alchemist, as Jung terms it, amplifies its obfuscating shadows (c.f. C.G. Jung 1953, 277). Repeated series of experiments, termed operatio, aim at establishing not order, but potential by bringing matter, meanings and their effect into a flow, thus establishing a riddled blueprint for an analogy-making matrix. Its base, as system of symbols and relations, is the alchemist’s opus. Incantations, magic spells and elixirs shall take possession of the dark and alter its shadows. This practice is, however, less an exercise in belief, but in disbelief, as it shatters delusional pretence.

The opus of Hanakam & Schuller acts similarly, yet not on the base of ancient mnemotechnic in mythological symbols or the personification of substances, but with the remains and synesthetic impressions of consumer culture. The Coat of Miracles framed in this book of emblems is a twofold play of artistic reflection on the practice of pseudo-symbolical structures and the construction of customers’ desires: Whilst the artists’ manipulation of enhancing trivial plastic parts reveals product placement’s tricks as fundamentally based in simulated stimulation. It equally points to a far back techno-historical genealogy. Virtual proto-techniques of this sort, have already been conducted, for example, by Renaissance theorists, such as Emanuele Tesauro (1592–1675), who developed a system of colour codes to synthesize and play with meaning.

Prosthetic avatars have ever since populated battlegrounds and bloodlines in medieval blazonry. Here, military standards and crests are the placeholders for territorial claims. This links to a noteworthy reflection of critical sort: The battlefield is a site for illusionists on the chessboard of powers.

With the return of the heraldic tool-kit, in the Coat of Miracles, to Istria and the Museo Lapidario in Novigrad – Cittanova (KR), Hanakam & Schuller’s opus is now displayed in a region of strong geo-political fluctuations. The small city located on the Croatian coastline has always been on the ridge—either attributed to the Western or Eastern side of the Adriatic coast, Orient and Occident. This historical context reveals the conflict laden paradigms, but also the fruitful nucleus in Pan-European cultures. With the independence of the former Socialist Republic of Croatia, a period of peace has dawned over the region. However, the tossing and turning of peoples and regiments left the area covered in a patchwork of heraldic symbols. 

Since the aesthetic agenda in Cythera, as book of escutcheons, involves everyday things of everyday people—throw-away items charged with the overpotential of consumerist, not communist, desires—it recontextualises and relates both the history and contemporary of Istria. Framed in graphic environments of highly abstracted form, its symbolization is void of any representational meaning. The Coat of Miracles articulates itself as system of possible unconsummated symbols. It is an empty magic semiology that might serve as a remedy for a fragmented world, symbolically remixing the fragmented region.

Whether as sequin oracle of shifting shapes or in neo-blazonry and role play, the works of Hanakam & Schuller reach below to the alleged truths burnt into the substrata of memory and mental processes. Their trick is to make us heretics of fakery.

© Lona Gaikis 2019

Gaikis, Lona. “Coat of Miracles.” In Heralds & Emblems, edited by Roswitha Schuller and Markus Hanakam. English, Croatian. Novigrad-Cittanova: Muzej – Museo Lapidarium, 2019. pp. 20–24. ISBN 978-953-7608-27-9

The exhibition and the book have been made possible through the support of the Austrian Cultural Forum Zagreb, Land Kärnten Kultur, Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Croatia and Town of Novigrad-Cittanova.