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Herophilus, 2007, Gary Hallman

"When health is absent, wisdom cannot reveal itself, art cannot manifest, strength cannot fight, wealth becomes useless, and intelligence cannot be applied." Herophilus of Chalcedon c.335–c.280 BC


In 2007 I was invited by the Boynton Health Service Art Committee to propose a piece for the entrance of the building on the University of Minnesota campus. The quote above by Herophilus was offered as a starting point for the project. Two 78 x 33 inch panels of face mounted aluminum composite pigmented ink prints that trace an evolution of the empirical method using imagery from ancient Greece to the Cassini – Huygens space probe were installed in the fall of 2007.

Boynton 1
Boynton 2

Herophilus, 2007, Gary Hallman

Essay by Gary Christenson, MD
Director, Mental Health Clinic
Boynton Health Service
University of Minnesota

"When health is absent, wisdom cannot reveal itself, art cannot manifest, strength cannot fight, wealth becomes useless, and intelligence cannot be applied." Herophilus of Chalcedon c.335–c.280 BC

Herophilus, the Greek physician and co-founder of the great medical school of Alexandria, was an early advocate of the scientific method. In researching Herophilus, Hallman was impressed by Herophilus’ empiricism and choose his life, thought, and era as a starting point to reflect upon models that scholars have proposed to explain the structure of both the human experience and the physical Universe.

The work flows from right to left in the direction one enters Boynton Health Service. The waters of Minnehaha Creek serve as the backdrop suggesting both the healing aspects of water as well as the flow of time. Ancient Greece is depicted by selections from Etrurian vases, a rendering of the Ptolemy’s geocentric view of the universe, and a 19th century painting of the Acropolis by Joachim Blauel. Moving further left one encounters philosophical models drawn by the English physicist, astrologer, and physician Robert Fludd as well as an orb from the German Romantic painter P. O. Runge’s mystical color system in which he organized all conceivable colors according to hue, brightness, and saturation. Rising from the lower margin is a ladder, used throughout the ages as a symbol of ascendancy, and also representing the mystical link between mortals and their gods.

Hallman was impressed with both the writings and beautiful drawings of Fludd, and again incorporates another of his images in the left panel, this time a depiction of the processes of the mind, which connects with the right panel. Overlaid is one-half of a sketch from Fludd’s “Utriusque Cosmi” (1620) of a memory training system that, with many modifications, is still as useful today. Above, sliced by the left edge of the panel, another Fludd drawing creates a parallel between the levels of the Ptolemaic cosmos and that of the mystical cabala. On the right edge of the left panel Fludd’s cosmos is replaced by a sample of the colors of contemporary academic disciplines. Two fading copies of drawings of the ancient port of Athens float over the new model suggesting the continuing but challenged influence of older lines of thought on current theory. Below the remaining half of Fludd’s “Oculus Imaginationis” links the two panels with his imaginative rays. In contrast to these older theories, sections of code derived from the Cassini – Huygens robotic spacecraft mission underlies much of the left panel. A photographic image of Saturn derived from this code appears in the far left along with an artists rendition of the plasma flow of Saturn below.

Contemporary thought is represented by sections of text within the outlines of debating figures. Here Hallman chose to photograph at an angle to highlight specific texts that suggest dialog and discussion. The result is more sensuous and beautiful than simple flat scanned text. Figures are central to Hallman’s work and in most work the figures are of Hallman himself. In this work, he departs from this tradition, instead incorporating figures from Boynton Health Services Art committee. However, Hallman still appears in the discussion as the third participant from the left. In one figure a pointed reference is made to the inadequacy of older models of reality (Ptolemy, a reference back to the right panel) that have been replaced by more elegant ones (the heliocentric universe of Copernicus, represented in this work by the planet Saturn). The figure matrix above the lower group is offered as a kind of collective memory of earlier, obsolete or discarded models of knowledge. They include selections from the drawings of Athanasius Kircher, Robert Fludd, Jacob Bohme, and Rene Descartes. With these figures Hallman returns to his own tradition; the silhouettes are all of the artist.

Hallman intentionally avoided using the key elements of Herophilus’ famous quote to produce obvious references to health, wisdom, art, strength, wealth and intelligence. Instead he chose to take Herophilus’ conceptualization of the world as a harbinger of other great ideas to come. Yet, as one explores the richness of this work, one finds all of these elements present, whether it is healing waters, the wisdom of philosophers, the beauty of drawings and photographs, the strength of a Greek athlete, or the wealth and intelligence that propels rockets into space.