55. Bacon’s Bits of Broken Knowledge (with Ornamenta Rationalia)

Edition of 22 copies
6”  x  2” diameter jar
1.5”  x  3”  (maximum) plastic bits
Bologna, Italy and Skowhegan, Maine 2007

This work is an attempt to encapsulate a bit of knowledge about Sir Francis Bacon (1561– 1626) in a spice jar. I became curious about Bacon when I learned that he had windowpanes in his study with symbols on them to help him remember things, which relates to a project I am doing on memory. Then in Peter Ackroyd’s book Albion I discovered Bacon’s concept of “broken knowledge,” which is adapted from the term “broken music,” referring to the many parts for different musical instruments in English music. Months later I spied an old book of Bacon’s Essays in my grandmother’s parlor, which contained Bacon’s aphorisms, officially known as Ornamenta Rationalia.

A few of Bacon’s sayings are printed with letterpress text onto fake bacon bits in the shape of the continents. Bacon was one of the first to notice that the continents fit together. The term scientist was not in use, so Bacon was known as a “natural philosopher” and the label boasts “Natural Philosophy!” The spice jar label also claims, “New Atlantis and New Organum.” These are two famous works by Bacon which underline his unconventional approach to the Platonic and Aristotelian schools of thought. Aristotle wrote a work called Organum and Plato created the mythical Atlantis in Timaeus and Critias, two of Plato’s dialogues, which Bacon reacted against. Bacon’s New Atlantis is a utopia which became the model for one of the first scientific institutes, The Royal Society(1666), forty years after his death. It was actually Sir Thomas More who invented the term Utopia, the title of one of his books, and popularized the utopia genre of writing. Bacon wrote about More, and both occupied the highest appointment of the King, Lord Chancellor. Both plummeted suddenly from power and went to prison. But Bacon, accused of taking outlandish bribes, paid a fine and was soon released and pardoned by James I.

Bacon is most famous for his Essays, which are listed on the back of the label. He is considered the father of essay in English, rivalled only by Montaigne, and can be credited with popularizing the genre. Some consider Bacon a pioneer in science as well, advocating scientific method, as opposed to relying on the theories of Aristotle. He asserted the need to begin an investigation by collecting as much data as possible, upon which theories might be formed, so that science may be built upon facts obtained through experiments. Bacon is also respected for stating that there was much knowledge still to be discovered.

The lens in the top of the jar pays homage to Bacon’s call for experiments. The navigational compass attached to the bottom of the jar references Bacon’s statement about three innovations or technologies which transformed Europe: the compass, printing and gunpowder. Gunpowder is represented symbolically in the number of the edition, 22, which relates to bullets and the weapons that shoot them. All of these technologies were spread to Europe from China during the Mongol Empire. The lid of the former barbeque spice jar has a spoon on it. Spoons have been used to recreate ancient Chinese “wet” compasses of magnetized metal, sometimes in the shape of fish, floating in a bowl of water.

Faux bacon bits of plastic modelling clay baked in an oven. Before baking, the bits were printed with raised text on a polymer plate, created through Wolfe Editions, Portland, Maine. Label designed with the photographic and digital expertise of artist Bennett Morris, and laser printed on acid-free paper. Bacon bit text formatted by artist Dwayne Moser.

This work is dedicated to Keith Lorenz(1890-1952), the grandfather I never met, but whom I got to know a little through an old volume of Bacon’s Essays which belonged to him. Inside the book I discovered a yellowed clipping, a letter to the editor of The New York Times. The letter, written by my grandfather, corrected a quote attributed to Teddy Roosevelt instead of Francis Bacon. It was taped in the book and presented to my grandfather by a great-great aunt as a gift. Only then did I learn from my father that his father and uncles were always frequenting antique bookshops for old poetry books after work, and often writing letters to newspaper editors such as this.


North America:
Pain makes even the innocent man a liar.

South America:
He conquers twice who restrains himself in victory.

They think ill, who think to live forever.

In desire, swiftness itself is delay.

Nothing is pleasant which is not spiced with variety.

In revenge, haste is criminal.

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