Northampton, MA: Dan Kelm, 1994 . Limited Edition. The creation of Templum Elementorum (Sanctuary of the Elements) was initiated by an invitation in 1995 to produce a book for the Smithsonian Institution Library exhibition Science and the Artist’s Book. Inspired by Biringuccio’s De la pirotechnia (On working with fire), first published in 1540, Templum Elementorum is a stylized version of the alchemical furnace known as the Tower of Athanor, as pictured in Biringuccio’s book. “Athanor” refers to the “undying” fire which is achieved by the use of the self-feeding fuel hopper at the center of the furnace.
Kelm created a book sculpture comprised of four glass cylinders and metal bindings — one for each of the elements. Together they represent a furnace within which the four alchemical elements are operating — earth bath, water bath, air furnace, and fire box. Colors, symbols, words, and metals contained on the cylinders and in the bindings all correspond to the four elements: Earth, Water, Air, and Fire. The metal bindings open to reveal a pop-up decorated with the symbol for the element to which it corresponds, and contain text panels that carry the “voice” of the alchemical element, for example, “I am Earth. . . .” The metal bindings slide into their glass cylinders and are displayed upright.
The various pieces of the sculpture are housed in a wooden crate and wrapped in cloth the color of which designates its particular element. The four borosilicate glass cylinders sit on a circular eld twenty-two inches in diameter (placed either on a black felt circle or a lit base). The twelve- inch-tall cylinder represents the main fire box, so is located at the center. Surrounding it are the three short cylinders representing (clockwise and evenly spaced) the air bath, water bath, and earth bath. The cylinders contain their corresponding books.
The text is largely based on The Cipher of the Elements by Taz Sibley (used with permission), compiled by Greta Sibley with additional material from Kelm.
The pair of pages revealed on opening one of the books refers to the materials and processes used in fabricating the book sculpture. The alchemical symbols on the left correspond to the English words on the right. earth/terra book: “Sand, Earth, Flux, Borax, Fire” refer to materials and the process used in the making of borosilicate glass — the glass cylinders. The production of the glass is paired with the Earth/Terra book because it is solid in nature, reflecting the character of Earth.
water /aqua book: “Spirit of Copper, Water, Wood, Brass, Copper Splints” refer to the process of patinating the brass covers. Patination is featured in the Water/Aqua book because it is a liquid process.
air/aerbook: “Glass, Aqua Regia, Earth, Pulverize, Air” refer to ways to etch glass (in this case, sand blasting). Sand blasting is paired with the Air/Aer book because it involves propelling solid particles with gaseous Air.
fire/ignisbook: “Tin, Antimony, Fire, Flux, Copper” refer to soldering the copper and brass structure formed around the glass cylinders. Soldering is featured in the Fire/Ignis book because it is a heat process. The elements act through the substance of our bodies and of material existence. The planets shape our psyches and choreograph the universal dance of transformation. —Taz Sibley [Artist statement]
Created by Daniel E. Kelm with the assistance of Greta D. Sibley, Taz Sibley, Lynn Latimer, D. Christopher Lenaerts, Erin Clay Nelson, Amy Borezo, and other mechanics at the Wide Awake Garage. Text printed letterpress by Art Larson, Horton Tank Graphics, from photopolymer plates made by Boxcar Press. Fine in Fine Case. Bright and unmarred. Complex structure: glass cylinders, six-inch diameter by six and twelve inches high; base, twenty-two-inch diameter materials: paper and paper board; stainless steel wire; brass sheet, channel, and tubing; thread; lead; copper sheet and foil; tin; iron; borosilicate glass; wood; acrylic paint; solder; felt; gold leaf; patina solution; LED light panels; latex saturated felt; acrylic sheet production methods: wire edge binding; sandblasting; patination; stenciling; painting; spattering; gilding; soldering; letterpress and laser printing; laser etching and cutting. np. Illus. Edition of five book sculptures. Item #9530