Athens and Oraibi/Assaf Evron

From Manifest, Journal for American Architecture


“It is the lesson from the old book: the kinship of Athens and Oraibi.” These are the words with which Aby Warburg, rephrasing a sentence from Faust, opens his famous 1923 lecture on the Pueblo Indians. This kinship implies that while Warburg was in Arizona at the very end of the nineteenth century he was at the same time in Athens of more than 2000 years earlier. This simultaneity transcends mere imagination and can perhaps be better described as a kind of synchronic being. This approach characterizes Warbug’s way of looking at images in his Mnemosyne Atlas, a transhistorical web of interrelations based on the phenomenology of artistic objects.

Warburg accompanied the 1923 lecture with his own photographs, illustrations, and notes, as if it was a report presented upon returning from a research trip. But in fact two decades separate this lecture from the actual trip, and the somber context was that Warburg presented it in an attempt to prove his sanity to his doctor in Kreuzlingen sanitarium, where he was hospitalized. Thus another trajectory is set, connecting classical Greece, Germany, and the American Southwest.

The artistic object for Warburg has the potential power to transport us along and across the history of human culture. A quasi-mystical spiritual journey between modernity and pagan antiquity, and between contemporary pueblo religion and renaissance art. A journey that ends chronologically with a photograph of a man in a suit and cylinder hat, walking in the streets of San Francisco with electric power lines behind him. This Modern man, that Warburg titles a westerner ‘Uncle Sam’, complete the cycle by his ability to capture lightening, a main subject of the Pueblo religion and iconography, domesticate it, and channel it to run in copper lines.

This series of photographs follows Warburg’s own photographs, sketches, and notes, produced in the process of investigating Pueblo cult objects and ornaments, From these materials emerges an iconography that speak the language of abstraction, yet function as representation of snakes, lightning, frogs, and rain.

In this case, the simultaneity begins with a contemporary architectural vernacular – painted home depot stair stringers that are painted in designs that speak the language of Native American objects while also traveling between early modernist designs such Sonja Delauney ‘s simultaneous fabrics, and later American minimalism. The photographs are then mounted on various desert landscape wallpapers from the Middle East, thus completing a journey, or perhaps just making an addition to an ever-expanding kinship.


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