1944: Marko Pogačnik was born in Kranj, Slovenia.
1967: Pogačnik earned his degree in sculpture at the Academy of Fine Arts in Ljubljana, Slovenia (part of Socialist Yugoslavia at that time). In the1960s, he was one of the founders of the Slovenian conceptual art group OHO.
1970: The OHO group gained international recognition by participating in the exhibition Information, one of the most influential presentations of conceptual art, organized at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). At the same time, the new esoteric phase of “transcendental conceptualism” in their art began.
1971 (April): Pogačnik, his family, and friends from the OHO group founded the Šempas Family, a commune inspired by the famous New Age commune of Findhorn, Scotland. Pogačnik visited the Findhorn commune and attended lectures by one of its leading figures, David Spangler.
1978 (February 19-28): Together, the Findhorn and Šempas communes organized in Florence the first “New Age World Congress.” The Šempas Family represented Yugoslavia at the Venice Biennale. Later in this year, however, the Šempas Family ended its activities, and Pogačnik started devoting himself to teaching the method of “Earth healing” he called “lithopuncture.”
1990: One of Pogačnik’s many “Earth healing” projects was organized at the Museum of Modern Art in Ljubljana.
1991: Pogačnik designed the official coat of arms of the newly constituted Republic of Slovenia (after its separation from Yugoslavia).
1998: Pogačnik and his daughter Ana Pogačnik, who reportedly was communicating with the angelic realms, founded the “Lifenet” organization, which gathered individuals and groups involved in “Earth healing.” Pogačnik acted as the spiritual leader of Lifenet, whose members practiced his “Gaia Touch” exercises and monthly meditations.
2016: Pogačnik was designated as UNESCO Artist for Peace for 2016. He installed his “geopuncture circles” near Bosnian “pyramids” to help the ongoing evolution of Planet Earth and humanity.
Marko Pogačnik (b. 1944) [Image at right] is a Slovenian artist, well known as one of the pioneers of conceptual art in the 1960s. He is also a New Age author and teacher of “Earth healing.” In the 1960s, Pogačnik was one of the founders of a Slovenian conceptual art group called OHO, which strongly influenced many young artists in Slovenia and Yugoslavia in general, and also gained international recognition. At the beginning of the 1970s, members of the OHO group experimented with telepathy and showed a considerable interest in esotericism. In 1971, Pogačnik and other members of the OHO group decided to withdraw from the art scene and move to Šempas village in Slovenia, where they founded a commune called Šempas Family, inspired by the famous New Age commune of Findhorn, Scotland. Since 1978, after the Šempas Family ceased to exist, Pogačnik consecrated himself to teaching “Earth healing.” In numerous workshops around Europe, he teaches his own esoteric method of “Earth healing” through art, called “lithopuncture.” It includes the placing of stone blocks with chiseled esoteric symbols, which he calls “cosmograms,” on “acupuncture points” of our planet. Pogačnik has written several books on “Earth healing,” published in English by Findhorn Press. Together with his daughter, Ana Pogačnik, he founded the Lifenet organization, and acts as its spiritual leader.
Pogačnik was born in Kranj, Slovenia, on August 11, 1944. He earned his degree in sculpture at the Academy of Fine Arts in Ljubljana in 1967. In 1960s, he was one of the founders of the Slovenian conceptual art group OHO, whose other members were Milenko Matanović (b. 1947), David Nez (b. 1949) and Andraž Šalamun (b. 1947). This OHO group of artists was part of a larger OHO movement which included artists, poets, intellectuals, and philosophers, such as Slavoj Žižek (b. 1949). The OHO group had an immense influence on the development of conceptual art and other forms of “new art practice” in Socialist Yugoslavia, of which Slovenia was part at that time.
In 1970, the OHO group gained international recognition when Pogačnik and his colleagues exhibited at Information, one of the most influential global presentations of conceptual art, organized at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Although there are many definitions of conceptual art, a simple way to describe it would be that it is a form of art in which the idea, or the “concept,” is more important than the final work in its material form. The work of art may be reduced to photo documentation, diagram, written text, action, and so on. American critics Lucy R. Lippard and John Chandler suggested in 1968 the expression “dematerialization of the art object” as an alternative term to “conceptual art.” The word “dematerialization” referred to the new tendency in which the final work of art in its traditional form (painting, sculpture, etc.) was losing its importance. Some conceptual artists also understood “dematerialization” in esoteric terms: transcending not only the materiality of an art object, but the material world altogether, by means of telepathy, meditation, or magic.
Pogačnik and other members of the OHO group belonged to those conceptual artists who searched for transcendence of the material world both in their work and their life. The years 1970 and 1971 were of great importance for them. In this period, it became evident that the OHO group was developing a strong interest in different forms of Western esotericism, particularly the New Age. However, art historians in the 1970s still clung to the dominant idea of the secularization of modern art, i.e. the idea that modern art cannot, or rather must not, be religious. This was probably the reason why Slovenian art historian Tomaž Brejc, while writing about the period between 1970 and 1971 in the art of the OHO group, described their work as a “difficult one for the critic and historian alike.” Brejc informed his readers that the members of the OHO group were not becoming “religious,” only sensitive “to all the phenomena in the area of spiritual production and its history” (Brejc 1978:17). In his attempt to avoid describing the art of the OHO group in this period as “religious” or “spiritual,” Brejc opted for the more philosophical term “transcendental,” and described this new orientation of the OHO group as “transcendental conceptualism” (Brejc 1978:17).
Brejc was not the only art historian of that time who wrestled with terminology when confronted with works of modern artists in which religious or spiritual elements appeared. His Italian colleague, art historian Renato Barilli, introduced the notion of a “mystical conceptual art.” American conceptual artist Sol Lewitt (1928-2007) declared in his famous Paragraphs on Conceptual Art (1967) that conceptual artists were “mystics rather than rationalists.” Lewitt rejected traditional, “formal art” as “essentially rational” (Lewitt 1967). It seems that the conceptual artists in the late 1960s and early 1970s, or at least those “mystical” and “transcendental” among them, shared with their contemporaries who were part of the New Age movement the same rejection of what they perceived as the dominant rationalism in the Western culture.
One of the first important works of the OHO group in the field of “transcendental conceptualism” was produced in February 1970. Two members of the OHO group, Milenko Matanović and David Nez (an American studying in Slovenia), travelled to New York to prepare the presentation at the Information exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, while the other two members, Marko Pogačnik and Andraž Šalamun, remained in Slovenia. The four artists then used this condition of separation between themselves to conduct a series of telepathic experiments. In one of these experiments, they agreed simultaneously, on two different continents and at a given time, to chose and write down one among a number of possiblecombinations of lines crossing a square. This experiment was then presented in a typical conceptual art manner, through Pogačnik’s diagram titled Intercontinental Group Project America-Europe (1970). [Image at right] After finishing their preparation for the presentation of the OHO group at the Information exhibition in New York, Matanović and Nez returned to Slovenia with “a load of books on spirituality.” Through these books Pogačnik was introduced to the teachings of the Russian mathematician and esotericist Peter D. Ouspensky (1878-1947), as well as to “Celtic spirituality” (Žerovc 2013). Nez reports being fascinated with Ouspensky and Armenian esotericist George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff (1866?-1949), and that he was also reading Alan Watts (1915-1973) on Zen, the book by Aldous Huxley (1894-1963) Doors of Perception, Gershom Scholem (1897-1982) on Kabbalah, and others (Žerovc 2011). Nez and Matanović were also fascinated by Indian philosophy and Tarot (Brejc 1978:17). As Pogačnik stated in an interview, after discovering “many fascinating concepts of the nature of existence,” the OHO group immediately set out exploring “spiritual issues,” and translating them into its art practice (Žerovc 2013).
These explorations of “spiritual issues” were taking place in the Slovenian countryside, where members of the OHO group often retreated during the 1970s. They kept photographic and written documentation of their actions and exhibited this material in art spaces. In Spring 1970, the OHO group started working in the Zarica Valley (Slovenia) on different art projects, described by Pogačnik as a form of “spiritual schooling” (Žerovc 2013). The artworks they produced revealed their interest in Western esotericism, especially the New Age. For example, David Nez produced the conceptual work Time-Space Structures, inspired by Ouspensky and his idea of a “fourth dimension.” He used time-lapse photography to record different shapes produced by the movement of a light source in the dark. Milenko Matanović made several conceptual works in Zarica inspired by astrology, such as the descriptively titled Relation Sun-Zarica Valley-the Star Venus, or The constellation of candles in the field corresponds to the constellation of stars in the sky. Another conceptual artwork, titled Locations of the Recent OHO Projects in Relation to Historical Locations (May 1970), represented a map of the OHO projects completed in the Zarica Valley, superimposed over ancient and historic sites from that area, such as Neolithic settlements, Celtic and Slavic burial locations, and medieval churches. As art critic Tomaž Brejc described it, the theme of the OHO group at that time was the “spiritual communication with the past, the cosmos, the rhythm of nature…” (Brejc 1978:17). The OHO group wanted to establish a kind of esoteric continuity between their “spiritual schooling” and the evolution of humanity, reflected in the archeological heritage of the Zarica Valley. They considered the nature in Zarica as a “sacred space” (Žerovc 2013), and probably saw themselves as its “prophets.” In one action from 1970, they walked twenty-five km from Zarica to the Slovenian capital Ljubljana, where they held an exhibition. As Pogačnik described it, by doing so they wanted to establish a “telepathic connection” between “the sacred space of nature and the profane space of a gallery,” using their bodies as “channel[s] of communication” (Žerovc 2013).
In the Summer of 1970, the OHO group spent another week of “spiritual schooling,” this time in the small Slovenian settlement of Čezsoča. According to Pogačnik, they conducted “various forms of creative meditation” and searched for “a way to continue working both with the body and with spiritual dimensions.” Their idea was to develop an art form “that would enable people to come to know themselves and experience the deepest dimensions of space” (Žerovc 2013). The members of the OHO group were obviously “working on themselves,” which was one of the main preoccupations of New Agers in general. As the journal of the OHO’s “spiritual schooling” in Čezsoča reveals, they were practicing yoga and were also trying to invent their own rituals.
It seems that the curriculum of their “spiritual schooling” also included the use of psychoactive substances. One page from their Čezsoča journal describes a ritual where four artists connected their hands to form a cross, i.e. a “touch sign — spontaneously derived while stoned” [Image 3 at right] Although in the 1970s Pogačnik denied that the OHO group was using psychoactive substances (which was understandable, considering the stigmatization of “junkies” in socialist Yugoslavia), he later confirmed in one of his interviews that they had been experimenting with LSD at that time (Fowkes 2015:105-06). The use of psychoactive substances to gain various forms of esoteric insights has been often explored by scholars of Western esotericism (Hanegraaff 2013; Partridge 2005:82-134). Until the recent exhibition, High Times: Reflections of Psychedelia in Socialist Yugoslavia, 1966-1976, organized in 2011/2012 at the Škuc Gallery in Ljubljana, little was known about the influence of psychoactive substances on the OHO group. As confirmed by Pogačnik, in an interview given on the occasion of the High Times exhibition, it was during one session on LSD that he and other members of OHO decided to stop working as an art group and start living in a commune (Fowkes 2015:105). Their idea was to escape the art system and dedicate themselves to “life.”
On April 11, 1971, Pogačnik, Matanović, Nez, Šalamun, and few of their family members and friends moved to Šempas village in Slovenia and formed the artistic commune they called Šempas Family. Matanović, Nez and Šalamun, however, soon left the commune, and started searching for their “life” elsewhere. For most of the time, the Šempas Family consisted of Pogačnik, his wife, and their three daughters as permanent inhabitants, with a number of other people occasionally joining them. The initial idea of the OHO group to withdraw from the art system was interpreted by some critics through political lenses, i.e. in terms of artists creating their “micro-political” situations, opposed to the “grey, everyday life of socialism” (see Moderna Galerija 2013). Such interpretations seem, however, to be insufficient. Yugoslav art critic Ješa Denegri defined the “withdrawal” of the OHO group more accurately as choosing “the aesthetics of silence,” referring to the title of an essay by Susan Sontag (1933-2004), i. e. an act in which the artist “frees himself from servile bondage to the world” (as quoted in Fowkes 2015:107). This interpretation is relevant insofar as it refers to Sontag’s suggestion that modern artists who chose the “aesthetic of silence” are in fact the descendants of important figures in the Western and Eastern “mystical tradition.” These include the pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite (fifth-sixth century), Jakob Boehme (1575-1624), Meister Eckhart (ca. 1260-1328), the anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing (fourteenth century), as well as Zen, Taoist, and Sufi masters (Sontag 2002 :22).
The “tradition” in which the members of the Šempas Family immersed themselves was indeed “mystical.” In forming his commune, Pogačnik was inspired by the famous New Age commune of Findhorn, Scotland. The Findhorn commune was well-known for its surprisingly successful vegetable garden, grown on the infertile soil according to instructions allegedly channeled through communication the founders received from “elemental beings” or “nature spirits.” The old esoteric idea of the existence of nature spirits who may help the growth of plants was developed in twentieth century by Anthroposophist Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), who lectured repeatedly on this subject, and whose teachings significantly influenced the New Age movement in its initial phase in the early 1970s. When Pogačnik visited Findhorn in 1971, he was fascinated with its garden, created (as he writes in one of his books) “through cooperation between all three kingdoms: the world of angels, the world of humans, and the world of elementals” (Pogačnik 2001:37). According to his own account, Pogačnik was also influenced by what he had learned during the lectures on the Christ principle and “the role of Lucifer in human evolution,” given in Findhorn by David Spangler (b. 1945), one of the crucial figures of the commune and an influential New Age author (Pogačnik 1998:218). Pogačnik returned to Findhorn in several occasions, claiming he was trying to “interconnect the global movements involved in the new holistic spirituality and in an alternative attitude to Earth and nature” (Žerovc 2013).
Findhorn and Šempas seem to have organized together the first New Age World Congress, held in Florence, February 19-28, 1978, at the Forte Belvedere (Žerovc 2013), which also featured a lecture by Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983), a futuristic engineer and one of the cult figures for the New Age. [Image at right] As one print account of this event confirms, the Šempas Family designed the abstract “congress symbol” (n.a. 1978:266), which was very similar to Pogačnik’s later “cosmograms” (see below). The Findhorn commune also attracted Pogačnik’s colleagues form the OHO group, Matanović and Nez, who only spent a short time in the Šempas Family, and then left to travel around the world in a quest for spirituality, which eventually brought them to Findhorn (Fowkes 2015:108). Pogačnik keeps a connection with Findhorn to this day and he lectures and leads seminars on “Earth healing” there (Pogačnik 2000:25). Findhorn Press is the publisher of Pogačnik’s books in English.
The members of the Šempas Family lived in a typical hippie commune lifestyle. [Image at right] They grew vegetables (and were vegetarians); collected herbs, and prepared natural remedies; lived without electricity, newspapers, or radio; and did not use money (Fowkes 2015:103). They produced artworks made from forged iron, carved wood, burnt clay, and woven fabrics, following designs, or “thought patterns,” devised by Pogačnik. What they aimed for was a “harmonious spiritual symbiosis” and a “spiritual metamorphosis of the humans and the world in which they live” (Brejc 1978a:19). It is in the Šempas Family that the “Earth healing” rituals first started to take place (Brejc 1978a:19). They would later become Pogačnik’s main preoccupation. The Šempas family as an art collective showed its work at the Trigon exhibition in Graz in 1977, and represented Yugoslavia at the Venice Biennale of 1978, whose theme was the relationship between art and nature.
Since the commune in Šempas ceased to exist in 1978, Pogačnik worked to develop and teach his own method of geomancy, or “Earth healing,” called “lithopuncture.” He erected stone blocks on the “Earth acupuncture points” in order to stimulate “ecological healing” of the locations. In these stone blocks, he chiseled mostly abstract, sometimes floral esoteric symbols that he called “cosmograms.” [Image at right] Pogačnik defined the “cosmogram” in esoteric terms, as a symbol “which attracts the archetypal or spiritual-soul dimensions of a location into the healing process” (Pogačnik 1998:198). Sometimes, when “Earth acupuncture points” in a specific area were not accessible, Pogačnik created a corresponding system of “substitute acupuncture points” in another location, where he then performed his “Earth healing.” One such project was performed in 1990 at the Museum of Modern Art in Ljubljana, the purpose of which was to heal nine places in the city of Ljubljana that were unaccessible to the artists. On this occasion, Pogačnik created “substitute acupuncture points” in the hall of the museum, where he placed his stones with the “cosmograms.” He explained this method as use of “the principle of correspondence between micro-and macrocosm” (Pogačnik 1998:163). The doctrine of correspondence had been identified by scholars as one of the fundamental elements of Western esotericism (Faivre 1994:10).
The method Pogačnik uses to make a “diagnosis” of a certain place is based on the esoteric idea about the existence of occult “energies” or “vibrations,” which can be detected if the esotericist is (self-)initiated in the necessary secret knowledge and techniques. The initiate may also use his or her own intuition to “tune” into these invisible realities. For example, Pogačnik examines the state of health of a specific area simply by letting himself be guided by the “sensitivity” of his hands (Pogačnik 1998:162). He also claims to receive instructions from an elemental being called Julius, whom he calls “the old sage” and of whom he also made a portrait drawing (Pogačnik 2000:33). Pogačnik’s daughters Ajra and Ana allegedly communicate with the angelic realm, which helps them in the “Earth healing” practice. Ajra channels Angel Master Christopher Tragius, and Ana is in communication with the “Angel of Earth healing” called Devos (Pogačnik 1998:20).
In 1991, Pogačnik designed the official coat of arms of the newly constituted Republic of Slovenia. [Image at right] According to Pogačnik, the Slovenian coat of arms is another “cosmogram,” which magically protects the country by appearing everywhere: on official papers and stamps, on the national flag, and so on (Pogačnik 1998:166). The Slovene coat of arms depicts river, mountain and stars, symbols of Slovenian landscape, but it also depicts the “balance between the masculine and feminine principles” (Ljudmila 2017). In the year 2006, Pogačnik became the vice-president of the “Movement for Justice and Development,” a non-political society for “raising human consciousness” led by Janez Drnovšek (1950-2008), the unusual “New Age President” of Slovenia (from 2002 to 2007), who promoted “positive thinking” and styled himself as a spiritual leader (Črnič 2008).
In the last two decades, Pogačnik has emerged as the leading figure in a global network of “Earth healing” groups. He lectures in different venues, and organizes workshops of “Earth healing” in which participants are engaged both artistically and spiritually by creating and chiseling their own “cosmograms “in “lithopuncture” stones. Since the end of the twentieth century, the basic idea behind Pogačnik’s “Earth healing” practice has been the vision of a co-evolution of the humanity and Earth, or Gaia. In the New Age movement, the name “Gaia,” or the “Goddess,” stands for the Planet Earth as a conscious, living being. According to Pogačnik, Gaia is going through significant changes since the beginning of the twenty-first century. Its material structure is becoming more subtle, “so that the finer dimensions of its existence can manifest through it.” Humans need to attune to this change and learn to communicate with Gaia through the “language of cosmograms,” in order to help the transformation of the Earth and humanity. If they fail to do so, all will “end in havoc and turmoil” (Pogačnik 2017).
In 1998, together with his daughter Ana, Pogačnik founded the “Lifenet” organization to “provide a platform for people who have the heartfelt wish to be in in dialogue with the consciousness of the Earth” (Lifenet 2017). Groups and individuals who are members of Lifenet organize “Earth healing” projects, retreats, and workshops in various places throughout the world. [Image at right] Since 2008, Lifenet has organized biennial international gatherings in Slovenia, Germany, UK, Sweden, and Croatia. These are typical New Age eco-spiritual gatherings with the standard repertoire: group dancing in circles, celebrations of the summer solstice, meditating and performing different ceremonies and exercises to communicate with Gaia and its “web of life” (Gea Viva 2016).
For his Lifenet followers, Pogačnik has devised special “Gaia Touch” exercises. These exercises are presented as a kind of “yoga, dedicated to cooperation with Gaia and her consciousness,” and are designed to help human beings “attune better to the multidimensional nature of our home planet and its beings belonging to different levels of reality” (Earth Energy Network 2017). [Image at right] Pogačnik also leads Lifenet members in monthly meditations, for the same purpose of connecting with Gaia and helping its imminent transformation. In 2016, Pogačnik was designated as a world UNESCO Artist for Peace for that year. One of the most recent esoteric activist art projects of Pogačnik was a “geopuncture circle”: a group of twenty-four “lithopuncture” stone blocks with “cosmograms,” realized by him and a group of international artists in the small town of Visoko, near Sarajevo, Bosnia.
In the 1990s, Bosnia became the symbol of the civil war between different ethnic and religious groups that plagued former Yugoslavia. In Pogačnik’s project, Bosnia is the emerging place of the future spiritual transformation of the whole planet. Visoko is very popular in contemporary New Age circles as a site of the so called Bosnian “pyramids,” which allegedly predated those in Egypt and surpassed them in size. According to Pogačnik, the purpose of the central group of ten “lithopuncture” stones [Image at right] erected in Visoko is “to awake the diverse units of the Visoko pyramids system so that they may become active in the present moment of Earth’s evolution” (Pogačnik 2017a).
Image #1: Photograph of Marko Pogačnik.
Image #2: Pogačnik’s diagram Intercontinental Group Project America-Europe (1970).
Image #3: A page from the OHO group’s journal of their “spiritual schooling” in the Slovenian nature, which describes their ritual of making a “touch sign” in the form of a cross, under the influence of psychoactive substances (1970).
Image #4: Buckminster Fuller lectures in front of the symbol designed by Pogačnik and the Šempas Family, at the first New Age World Congress in Florence (1978).
Image #5: Pogačnik’s artistic New Age commune Šempas Family, in Šempas village, Slovenia (1977). Photograph: Bojan Brecelj.
Image #6: Pogačnik with one of his “lithopuncture” stones with a chiseled “cosmogram” on it.
Image #7: The official Slovenian coat of arms, which Pogačnik created in 1991, as a “cosmogram” of his home country.
Image #8: Fifth international gathering of Pogačnik’s Lifenet organization, Brač Island, Croatia. People dance inside a stone circle installation inspired by Pogačnik’s “lithopuncture” work (2016).
Image #9: Illustration of one of the “Gaia Touch” exercises invented by Pogačnik.
Image #10: Pogačnik’s “lithopuncture” project realized in the vicinity of the famous Bosnian “pyramids” (2016).
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