Executed on an imposing scale, Anselm Kiefer’s Lilith presents a powerful allegory of fall and redemption, told in the mystical, esoteric motifs which permeate the artist’s oeuvre. On a bare, deserted landscape of undulating hills, coloured the ashy grey of fading memory, the artist inscribes, in childish cursive, the name ‘Lilith’. With this, Kiefer summons the spirit of the dark temptress of Babylonian mythology and Kabbalistic legend. Lilith – the first wife of Adam, who dared to rebel his rule and escaped to live in exile upon the shores of the Red Sea – stalks these gloomy, striated hills. Forever condemned by God to snatch new-borns and spawn demonic succubi, Lilith is the fusion of female sexuality and calculating evil, haunting the collective subconscious of a monotheistic, patriarchal world. Here, she is represented by the ghostly garment, devoid of human presence, floating and flapping on an otherworldly wind. As if in response to this malevolent presence, the shadowy landscape of Kiefer’s Lorelei begins to flicker and fade, dissolving into rivulets of oil and emulsion, acrylic and shellac.
Kiefer conjures the motif of Lilith over and over in his oeuvre, making the she-demon a part of the cyclical, reflective iconography with which he mirrors his understanding of history and life. She features in a work in the collection of the Tate, London, also titled Lilith, 1987-9, in which she presides over an apocalyptic vision of São Paulo. Yet for Kiefer, Lilith has always been a shifting allegory, entangling the duality of destruction and creation. In the teaching of the Kabbalah, a school of thought which finds a counterpart in Kiefer’s aesthetic in its emphasis on mystic symbols of migrating meaning, Lilith is both the bearer of darkness and ‘a ladder on which one can ascend to the rungs of prophecy’ (R. Patai, The Hebrew Goddess, Detroit 1967, p. 247). In the present work, the artist complicates Lilith’s demonic aspect by the inclusion of a pair of rusted forceps, a medical apparatus which alludes to the promise of new life. In the pairing of these two signifiers, gown and instrument, Kiefer sets up a narrative of redemption for the primordial condemned woman, allowing Lilith to be reborn, to rise again from the ashes of her past. ‘[T]he spiritual realm is a spiral going up and down… the spiritual realm is moving and twisting,’ Kiefer stated, explaining the structure of his visual allegories. ‘This is important to the way I organise my pictures. I work with the concept that nothing is fixed in place and that symbols move in all directions. They change hierarchies depending on context’ (A. Kiefer, quoted in Anselm Kiefer: Heaven and Earth, exh. cat., Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Fort Worth, 2005, p. 172)