Chatting With Andrea Aste
I am very blessed to have been able to follow Italian philosopher/artist Andrea Aste’s extraordinary project “The Lost Code of the Tarot” from it’s inception. Andrea has agreed to talk to us about his project – where it is, and where it is going!
I want to give a big thank you to Andrea for sharing these wonderful photos with us! And to his friend Steven Bright for the lovely photos that he allowed Andrea to share with us. Love that London bus – that is an incredible pic! Very “Harry Potter”!
BC: Andrea, I understand that this project started out as an exhibition only. In a way, you became The Alchemist, as you had ideas come to you in the form of visions, which evolved into short stories, and then a mockumentary. How did this all happen?
AA: When I started the project my ideas were simple: I wanted to create a tarot deck for an exhibition about alchemy and magic, exploring the way our fantasy can shape our own reality. Tarot has been part of my life from the beginning. My mother was a tarot collector and reader, I recall when she used her deck to scatter sparkles of magic all around our life; “The tarot is telling me that it is time for you to go to bed”… “I see in the cards that your day will be really special”… and she made our days special indeed. I wanted to evoke that feeling of wonder and magic that she was able to create. However, the project took soon a life on its own. The Origin of Tarot
While creating the deck I had a very detailed vision of a magical world in which tarot cards were powerful magic portals created by an Alchemist. Every card began to tell me a little piece of the story, capturing me and taking me on a journey of discovery of remote lands where mythical beasts live free. I saw amazing cities whose gilded domes rose in the desert like glittering flowers. I was driven by the richness details of the vision, and I decided to make it a reality. The Book Of Shadows – The Beginning
Inspired by the Voynich manuscript and the beautiful Da Vinci’s codes, I began to create the Alchemist’s manuscript, The Book of Shadows. It is an enchanted journal protected by an obscure cypher in which the Alchemist described his experiments and discoveries, explaining how he created the first tarot cards. The pages are covered with strange drawings, spells, magic seals and alchemical formulas. The manuscript is like an enchanted mirror, every time I looked at its pages my imagination went to another plane of reality and other strange stories came into my mind. One night I started to write them down, pretending they were the work of deciphering made by Ebenezar Everard Prescott, professor of Western Esotericism and Philosophy at the prestigious Balthazar Alfaraby Center for Anthropological Studies in Oxford (ever been there? It’s a nice building in the middle of the countryside). To make a long story short, I connected the different parts of the vision creating a mockumentary. Without knowing it, I plunged down into the Rabbit hole. In this way, after three years of ‘alchemical’ non-stop-working, the Steampunk Renaissance World came to life. Magic Is In the Air
BC: At what point in the mockumentary did you begin looking for collaborators? I have to say, it was/is great fun to see people that I know participate! It was like I was there!
AA: The starting idea for the project was to create an exhibition where real historical finds can be mixed up with the objects I have created. Fiction and reality have to communicate in order to entertain the audience while at the same time making visitors think about the role of fantasy and myth in the representation and understanding of our very own world and life. It would be a magical experience, people will be able to interact with the parallel world and be part of it with interviews, creative workshops, etc. The purpose would be to take advantage of the same mechanism used by Orson Welles in his famous radio broadcast of the Martian invasion (Mercury Theatre on the Air, 1938). (Photo on the left from Mr. Steven Bright.)
Thus, when I started to work on the documentary, I decided to fuse animations and real action film, mingling reality with fiction. I selected a few experts in their fields, professors working with BBC in the realization of amazing documentaries, as Prof. Roger Scruton and Prof. Casely-Hayford and international experts of tarot, like Mary Greer. A super duper VIP is part of the project too: Arturo Brachetti, a famous Italian quick change performer, actor and director. He is the voice over of the animation and a very special character in the film. It was very amazing to work with all of them. The Code of the Tarot
BC: At one point in this process you had a very hard choice to make. For many reasons, you were looking at giving up the project, or doing everything alone. You chose to keep going, and do everything alone. How did this impact your life, then and now?
AA: This project marks the turning point in my artistic and personal life. It is the first project so much articulated and deeply rooted in my passions and philosophical background. It was the first time I created an animation as well as a film. I asked for help, looking for collaborators, experts and professionals … but no one here in Italy believes in dreams anymore. They don’t invest any more in art or culture. Thus I had two roads lying in front of me: give up or doing everything alone. I chose the second path. It was “monstrously” difficult.
I took care of every detail of the project working day and night. My friends became actors, one of them, Giorgio Boffa, composed the splendid soundtrack. Seeing the situation in my country, I decided to open my creativity to the world and I began to work in English. The price was high, I was secluded in my studio for three long years and I exhausted myself. But I had a goal: I wanted to make the vision real with creating a parallel world so magical to be able to make people dream.
We live in a difficult moment in our history, we need to learn to dream again, to fight for our happiness. We have lost the habit to ask ourselves what we would like to be and do. We do and are what the society tells us to do and be. Quentin Crisp, an English writer, years ago asked his audience: “What would you be like if there was nobody else in the world? Who would you be if the only opinion that mattered was yours? Because if you want to be truly happy you must be that person.” My project is an artistic way of formulating the same question, and what better way than a project about tarot, magic and alchemy to bring back our inner child? When we are children we know how to fly with the magic carpet of our fantasy. I fully re-discovered mine inner child thanks to this project. I shaped the Parallel World, and while creating it, the Parallel World shaped me.
BC: There were many firsts for you in this project: first animation, first movie, first project that was so complex and articulated – all in a language that was not your own! (Remember, Andrea has presented all of this in English, which is a second language to him.) How did you manage to make it through this time? (Out of necessity, you were secluded in your studio. That had to be difficult!)
AA: Yes, Bonnie, it was very difficult. I used to work from 8:30 am to 2 or 3 in the morning of the day after, every single day, every months. Creating a film all alone is not easy. I had to study and experiment while working on it, all at the same time! …and the film is just one of the many parts of the projects. But I knew I had to follow my path.
Then, while I was recording the interviews with real experts, my mom had a horrible stroke. I spent the last two years going to and fro the hospital, fighting for her recovery that never came. She was paralyzed, unable to read and communicate in any way… it was a living hell. She was my manager, a friend and a great supporter. She passed away a few days before my coming to your country, February of this year… she never saw the completed project.
For all that time I was clinging to my vision not to despair. I put all my soul into it. She taught me to live for my dreams, I did it with this project more than ever, and now I can share a fictional world in which dreams and magic really matter. I have never told before this part of the story, it’s too recent, too painful.
BC: This is a fictional world, a lovely parallel world that belongs to an ancient Alchemist, his Book of Shadows, and his magic. What can you tell us about this world?
AA: The Parallel World is a sort of Davy Jones’ locker of our conscience where odd and apparently incoherent things gather: treasure chests full of dreams, decaying shipwrecks of unfinished thoughts, galleons made of visions lost in the maze of our mind. Everything amasses here, giving creation to an ideal place constructed of mysterious pieces of the past and fragments of memories and legends, a magical place where eccentric and strange creatures live walking along narrow roads whose lamps are lit by fireflies. You can meet an enchanting siren pedaling her bicycle to and fro while carrying a gramophone singing old charlestons. There’s the weary prophet solitarily playing poker and a pegged-legged pirate with his pompous parrot stuttering Shakespeare. Just around the corner a deep sea diver with his diving suit filled with slowly swimming water coloured butterflies… In the Alchemist’s World impossible is just a colored tattoo on the arm of a cursed captain …
BC: You studied the Marseilles and Visconti-Sforza Tarot decks as a basis for your deck. What is the reason for this?
AA: The premises of the project are that a mysterious Alchemist (Johannes Athanasius Prometheisus) invented the tarot. Thus, if I wanted to create something that looks like the first tarot I had to study the most ancient cards ever found, that’s to say the Visconti Sforza decks. They were the source of my inspiration along with the tarot of Marseille, another set of very important old cards and one of the most known and used for centuries. I like both, they have symbols and images rich in details that stir my imagination. I created a deck of tarot that can be like their ancestor, the one from which every other deck originated.
BC: Can you describe for how you developed the card backs?
AA: For the back of my cards I wanted something special, something that could be able to represent the concept of the deck and the Alchemist’s inventiveness in the style of the Renaissance Steampunk World I created. While I was researching and studying the matter I stumbled in an interesting tome. It was a compendium of geography, a very beautiful renaissance book coming from the Islamic world. It captured my imagination. I saw an amazing representation of the Holy City of Mecca, drawn in a very peculiar way, with no perspective and so rich of details. I found it very interesting. Immediately something clicked: I decided to represent the main plaza of Sapientia in the same style. In my Parallel World, Sapientia is deeply connected with the Alchemist and it’s the city governed by men of knowledge and philosophers. It is the city of science where strange devises and inventions are created.
The back of my tarot shows the main piazza, called The Sea of Dreams. In its centre there is a rectangular pool filled with a mystical and magical water where stars, moons and planets are slowly floating. It represents the sea of knowledge, it shows everything that was, that is and that will be.
The pool is guarded by two statues of Cyndre Mapa, the cosmic Elephant carrying the World (in traditional cosmology of the Parallel World). It is, by the way, the symbol of the city and of the Alchemist himself: is it a coincidence? I don’t think so. I need to do more research. Next springtime I am going to lead a new archaeological expedition. We will look for the lost city of Sapientia. But I cannot say more, not right now. All around the piazza, magnificent palaces rise with their gilded domes, turrets and spikes, hanging porticoes and shady colonnades, and beautiful luxurious gardens on the top of the buildings.
BC: The Majors stick closely to traditional Tarot imagery. What style did you use for the images, and for what reason?
AA: I elaborated the Visconti Sforza and the Marseille decks in my own style, but limiting my palette to only two colours: red and black. All the Alchemist’s works, manuscripts and blue prints of his whimsical inventions are made in those two colours. A peculiar choice that according to Prof. Lewis Madison Hatter, director of the laboratory of the Royal Museum of the History of Science in London, can be explained by the subtitle of the Alchemist’s manuscript: “Dissolve the Black of the Unknown in the Red of Passion”. The Black refers to mystery, the unknown, the darkness to combat with the light of reason, evil seen as ignorance. Instead Red is the symbol of the power of man’s intellect, his passion and investigative curiosity, the Truth. Well… according to Professor Lewis Madison Hatter. His theory seems sound, doesn’t it? What do you think Bonnie?
BC: Andrea, I have to agree with the good professor – mystery, intellect, and passion come together to form our world.
BC: You have changed the suit of Pentacles/Coins to the suit of Ouroboris. I find that fascinating! What was your reasoning?
AA: Yes, instead of the coins we have the Uroboros. The word derives from ancient Greek οὐροβόρος ὄφις (ouroboros ophis) and it means ‘the snake who devours its tail’. In the Middle Ages and Renaissance it became an alchemical symbol. I decided to use it because its circular shape reminded me of a coin, and, above all, for its meaning. The Uroboros symbolizes the never ending cyclicality, something constantly re-creating itself, the eternal return. For the Ancient Greeks it represented the perfect form of the infinite. It is a concept I am deeply interested in. Even the very sound of the word has something “ancestral” and mysterious. I love ancient Greek. It is my favorite language, very poetical and rich in images. I studied it during high school. Here and there in The Book of Shadows there are some fictional names that are ancient Greek words, if you get the meaning you understand the jokes: it is a sort of meta-language. I love playing with words.
BC: I love that the book that accompanies your deck is a Book of Shadows, and not a book of card meanings. How did this come about?
AA: Actually I wanted to create a book with both sections: the card meanings and the short stories, but it was impossible. It would have been too thick and it would have found no space inside its box. One should keep in mind that when I was working on the project I was thinking about Kickstarter, a crowd funding platform, I didn’t know that the project would had to have been sponsored by a major publishing house, so I had many limits. Thus, being forced to make a choice, I preferred to focus on the story telling aspect of the project, the most important for me because it is the one connected to my vision, the one where all magic lies.
So I decided to give space to the Parallel World and the story of the mysterious Alchemist, with his tarot and manuscript and his ancestral struggle against the evil secret society Umbra. The book became the enchanted door to my world. I recreated fictional documents and places, I gave life to characters that I present as real, such as Aar Adesten, a famous Elizabethan explorer or Madame Werefkin, a quite dark tarot reader. I love her, she is my version of the famous Madame Blavatsky. Everywhere in the book I mixed my fantasy with real historical facts and figures in such a way that many people wrote telling me that they had fun in discovering the line dividing them, or even adding new details. I had a professor of chemistry who sent me an email explaining that a peculiar short story I wrote, in this reality, had a scientific base, and demonstrated it with some charts… I was flabbergasted. My own world is taking its ‘revenge’ over me: everything I invented is getting real! This is witchcraft!
(Photo on the left from Mr. Steven Bright.)
BC: What is the next chapter for The Book of Shadows?
AA: There are several aspects I would like to see realized: first of all the exhibitions where my art and the props I’ve created for the film are fused with ancient books and artifacts, in order to “confuse” reality and fantasy. Exhibitions set up in such a way that we could ask ourselves if we are a dream in the mind of the Alchemist or each of us is a separate dreamer, evoking his own reality.
Then there is the film, of course. I would like to see it distributed. I would like to know what people think about the two levels of reality: our (fictional) present where The Book of Shadows is discovered, and the animation: the world of magic where fantastic creatures and the Alchemist live. I scattered the film with references to my works, jokes, other films, books, quotes and riddles. I think people can have fun in discovering all the little secrets of the mockumentary.
From now on, my life will be dedicated to expanding and enriching my parallel world with other decks, animations, multimedia projects and books. Books that would mix graphic novels and creative writing. Books not only to read, but also to look at and play with. I would like to involve people in a different way, with more interactive and new media. The Tea Party
BC: What would you like people to take from this project?
AA: I would be very happy if I managed to create a world where people can find it pleasant to travel and wander around, a place to take shelter from everyday routine, to be free to dream. I would be very happy if every traveler could find in my parallel world something precious, whatever it may be: friends, ideas, inspiration, emotions … something to bring back to reality to make it a better and happier place. Then I would have achieved my goal, and
If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber’d here
While these visions did appear.
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend:
if you pardon, we will mend …
BC: Do you have any last words for our readers?
AA: We are what we dream! Our dreams shape our lives. This is the reason why I concentrated the last three years of my life on a project revolving around tarot; because a tarot card is like a door leading to infinite parallel worlds waiting to be discovered, it is up to us to open this door with our imagination and cross the threshold …
As you can see, Andrea Aste has been a very busy person! To see more about what he is up to, visit his site.
© October 2016 Bonnie Cehovet
Reproduction prohibited without written permission of the author.