Giovanni Bellini's painting 'Allegoria Sacra' ('Sacred Allegory') hangs in the Uffizi Gallery collection in Florence. The subject of this picture is enigmatic – diverse personages from Christian and classical mythology or history are gathered together on a terrace with balustrade overlooking a lake or broad river, surrounded by hills where rural dwellings and a palazzo can be seen in the distance. St. Sebastian, the Madonna, a Centaur, small children playing round a tree in the center, a Saracen Moslem, a man with a sword who is reminiscent of the Apostle Paul, a peasant with a mule in the background, two ladies of refinement, one of which can be likened to St. Catherine, and a half-naked old man resembling Job – moreover, that is by no means all the famous characters that Bellini brought together in this picture.
(3rd part of Liminal Space Trilogy)
3-channel seamless HD video installation
One theory widely acknowledged by experts is that Bellini was depicting Purgatory on the banks of the river Styx (the river of death) or Lethe (the river of forgetfulness), where the souls of the righteous, virtuous heathens and infants that die before christening await the supreme judgment that determines if they will be go to heaven or hell.
This painting always intrigued us. So when we started thinking about the third project, after 'Last Riot' and 'The Feast of Trimalchio', we decided that the project entitled Allegoria Sacra would be part of a trilogy about the modern world (Hell – Heaven – Purgatory). We saw Bellini's heroes in passengers that meet by chance as they wait for flights in an international airport.
The airport is Purgatory. The combination of the incompatible, in this version at an airport, questions the values of our civilization. A crowd of Moslem migrants and a skinhead with a baseball bat, disconnected 'western' passengers and almost military solidarity between Asiatic people, the adopted children of well-heeled homosexual couples and poor Moslem children with their families – Allegoria Sacra refrains from discussing recipes for happiness in different cultures and instead demonstrates the impossibility of solving this question.
The images of the passengers are woven into a new mythological reality in which the centaur appears amid a romantic battle in the desert, the Superliner Dragon lands on a snow-covered landing strip, cannibals in jungles dance with ladies, and it is quite possible for the old man Job to transform into a mutant baby with the aid of angel stewardesses (homage to Stanley Kubrick's film 2001: A Space Odyssey). The metaphor of modern-day civilization with its relative values appears from a surreal mixture of the images of new and ancient religions, mass media stereotypes, comics and fantasy movies. The dreams of one set of passengers flow into the dreams of others, and all this is completed by the river carrying airplanes, mythological monsters and interplanetary stations away to the horizon…