VIRTUS ET POTESTAS by jean pronovost
Encountering this warrior riding a giant toad will no doubt leave you wondering if you have walked into a dark fairytale or are stuck in a surreal nightmare. Something so scary and so strange couldn’t be of this world, and yet every aspect of it is inspired by the world we live in. A stranger thing for the scary times we live in!
The first element you cannot help but notice is the medieval armored warrior. His battle axe is aggressively extended outward, and it’s in your face ready to cut you to shreds if you should cross his path. His armor is a melting pot of styles meant to represent the long, bloody legacy of human warfare and conquest. Armor is the protective shell we wear when we seek to engage violently with things outside ourselves – land, people, culture. It is a suit that symbolizes the character of our spirit of conquest: it does not say we come to deliver a message— peace or compassion, but rather, like folklore monsters, that we are here to invade, destroy, and devour. He wears a 12th century helmet, German in style, that feels menacing and coldly impersonal – all is black where his eyes should be! While this armor is medieval, it reminds us that war is our living story. Our history is resplendent with wars – physical and psychological. Humans display a greater penchant and skill for unleashing warfare than for being compassionate and empathetic. Armor not only protects but de-personalizes and de-humanizes us; it conceals who we are. When you try to look this beastly monger in the eye, you see nothing beyond an empty, black void. Then you notice a Latin phrase engraved across the visor of the helmet: Virtus et Potestas – Virtue and Power. This motto gives you a hint of what this warrior and his giant toad symbolize. Virtue is here a weapon to strike with rather than a beacon of guiding light. Beware – it is sharp!
Virtue and Power is the ideology that accompanies all of our conquests and imperialist ventures: we believe that we have wisdom, rationality and the highest of virtues, and that we MUST share them by civilizing any barbarians we encounter. We are THE educated, THE moral authorities, and OUR God loves us SO very much – we are better than these disgusting animals! We must save them! In the process of saving these natives, we exercise our “natural” right to steal their land and exploit its every natural resource in the most reckless way, and feel entitled to enslave or even murder them. This bloody journey always begins with good, noble intentions, but ultimately we spread a death worse than the plague – we are afflicted with hubris and bloodlust (and there are no meds for that!). We fail to see that most cultures we conquer and destroy have their own virtues, morals, education and traditions, because we are so utterly suffused by the notion of our own excellence and the desire for power to rule over others and the natural world. This is why the warrior’s suit of armor is corroded – power corrupts and destroys any trace of virtue. War involves the destruction of your world and theirs. That blackened space where his eyes should be tells us his virtue is gone; it isn’t even a ghost which haunts that fortress of steel, but rather it has been drowned in a bath of blood and tyranny.
If there is any possible mixed message or confusion about this soldier of doom, all delusions about him are erased when you get to his backside – his darkest side. Here you find what looks like the remnants of a skeleton – on the back of the helmet you see the front aspect of a skull, and down the back you see vertebrae sticking out of the body armor. Just as with the sculpture The Lord and Lady of Duality, this figure has two aspects –metal and bones. Now there can be no doubt that what accompanies and underlies the warrior’s motives, what has rotted his human soul, is something very dark and dastardly: deceit, enslavement, pestilence, destruction and death. The corroded shell helps to veil his absolute mendacity. The lower your eyes trail down his back, the more you are confronted with the truth about him. Below his spine is an exhaust pipe, inspired by a WWII Tank – a machine of death like himself! In fact, it is a shared exhaust for both the toad and the warrior, it is their connective arsehole and allows them to evacuate their oppressive systems and foul ideas. The populations staggering in the path of his fumes inhale them, and this fuels their demise. This exhaust in the rear in combination with the weapon he brandishes in front reveal his deadly duality: the sharp weapon slaughters, stabs and beheads you, and the exhaust spreads destruction that suffocates and chokes you. Death is guaranteed … but not before taxes are paid!
Now let’s turn to the monstrous, ugly toad with the nefarious eyes on which this soldier rides into the world. In Chinese folklore, toads symbolize prosperity and the flow of money. The Inca depict the toad as having a mouth filled with gold, which they felt compelled to shut. The toad also connects with symbols for fertility, the moon, and rain. Here, the toad represents a grander idea of prosperity – one that is absolutely systematic and as hyper inflated in size! Humans are never satisfied – they seek to have more, better and faster. There’s nothing wrong with prosperity: it’s natural to want to live better and be more comfortable – but when that breeds out of control and links up with power, turning into greed, it turns very ominous and obliterating. The toad is frighteningly overinflated with the “virtue” of desiring greater prosperity: more money, more land, more resources … more, more, endlessly more. Endless prosperity IS the new Virtue! We have taken that notion and contorted it like a golden pretzel into the mad drive for amassing insatiable wealth, possessions, and control. Our economy, our prosperity – this toad – is so out of balance with nature, that it becomes unnatural … supranatural! This reveals the link between this toad and the ugly one depicted in the painting The Cult of Nothingness which sits atop a big pile of money. And here too, when we look beneath the arse of the toad, we see it excretes gold bars and Canadian coins! It’s so overflowed with riches that it wastes rather than shares. The use of Canadian currency and gold bars should also remind us of the Sphynx sculpture – another work of art emblematic of a dark allegory about our modern ways and aspirations.
VIRTUS ET POTESTAS - THE PROCESS
The last detail to notice is that the armored warrior grips a bridle to control and steer the toad like a horse. This gruesome pair are part of the same being, but one is clearly manipulating the other. They parody how humans manipulate the economy, driving it to the left or the right. In the case of the exhaust connecting the toad and the warrior, prosperity and the quest for power drive things downward instead of upward, creating misery. Their onward march calls to mind the dark forces of imperialism arriving in the new world, taking control of the beliefs of the people, and bending them to its own agenda. These two horrible monsters, the warrior and the toad, reveal the dangers of the dark communion of virtue and power, and they offer up a reflection we need to perceive before we are too far consumed.