UT FRINGILLA (2021)
prints, pine wood, plywood, glass, artist's book
“Darwin’s finches” are usually depicted as fourteen bird profiles, arranged in a circle, with similar heads but strikingly different beaks, suggestive of the core evolutionary concept of adaptive radiation. Darwin’s finches are not considered finches anymore. Worse: they never actually played a major part in Darwin’s thought.
Just as scientific facts may need a myth to carry them, myths may need some grounding in science. How can one reconcile the Bible with the advances of palaeontology? This question deeply worried young Benedictine monk, Jácint Leitzinger in the 1830s. He occupied himself with studies in natural and social sciences at the Pannonhalma Archabbey. The monastery was known for its affinity for science but a painting in its baroque refectory is also suggestive of
the limits: a small bird in a cage with a large one circling in the sky, captioned “claustrum facit esse securum” – bars provide safety. With the revolution of 1848, he Hungarianized his surname to Rónay, fly off the cage and joined the struggle as an army chaplain. Condemned to death after the fall, he escaped to England, joined the émigré circles, grew a beard and likely met Marx. He also wrote a strange book in 1858. Titled The Fire-worshipping Sage on the Remnants of
Ur-Worlds, the book combines a Hungarian-Farsi-Zoroastrian origin myth with early evolutionary theories and paleontological plates. “There may come new facts to speak before these very words will have passed my lips”, the titulary Sage finishes his teaching and indeed: the next year Darwin publishes The Origin of Species. Rónay, now a member of the major British science societies goes along and writes a new book, among the firsts outside Britain to summarize
the ideas of Darwin and Huxley. 1867 brings along the Great Compromise between Austria an Hungary, even “major offenders” may now return to the homeland, provided they show some repentance. Rónay makes his compromise and returns to Hungary, shaves off his beard, re-enters the Benedictine order and becomes a member of the Academy of Sciences and a tutor of the royal household. His thoughts on evolution seem to be more and more cautious, which is adaption at work.
“Ut fringilla” is Latin for “like a finch” or “mint a pinty” in Hungarian (where this is also a phrase meaning “easy as a pie”). Ut fringilla, first exhibited at the Pannonhalma Archabbey is composed of two parts: thirteen profiles of goldfinches – that is “real” finches showing an imaginary adaptation –and a book, an apocrypha of the goldfinch, a bird traditionally associated with monkhood and the Passion. The pages contain texts from Rónay and from religious and scientific authors, while the illustrations on the hidden, fold-out pages enhance or counterpoint the message in the vein of the Baroque symbol books.