Discovering the Garden of Earthly Delights: What is Pandaemonium?

by Will Creed

In 1495, the Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch began work on his magnum opus, The Creation of the World. The oil on panel triptych would feature bright, surreal forms and a complex symbolism that would continue to baffle scholars and art critics for centuries. It’s central panel The Garden of Earthly Delights features, amongst others; a Mermaid riding a Shark through the clouds, a procession of people riding giant cats, gryphons, and unicorns, and a collection of giant garden birds feeding people giant berries. There are people everywhere. They are all naked, they emerge from flowers and disappear into eggs, they insert bouquets of flowers into each others’ anuses, they stand on their heads in groups and wear berries and birds and boats on their heads. Even to a modern viewer the plethora of surreal details is shocking and overwhelming, to the people of the renaissance it must have represented a supernatural, otherworldly achievement – a depiction of the chaos of the human condition. Even today, no one is truly sure of its precise meaning, why it was made, or what inspired its production. However, the power of Bosch’s imagery and frenetic composition, from The Creation of the World onwards, would inspire the work of Peter Brueghel the Elder, Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Salvador Dali and Andre Breton. 1495 was also the year that King’s College Aberdeen, soon to be called the University of Aberdeen, opened it’s doors and today a new collective from the student body aim to take up Bosch’s aesthetics of curated chaos: Pandaemonium. 


 Three members of the group would appear on Re-Analogue’s final ever event, the livestream “De-Analogue”, in a section of their own which was named after the collective. Jordan Stead, Jodie Cumming, and Sara Young have all been featured here on Leopard Arts before, and to hear that they would be in the business of forming a collective together, in retrospect, doesn’t seem all that surprising. Their work often consists of similar Boschian tropes, saturated with a complex and eclectic symbolism with images that are sometimes grouped, sometimes paired and resolved and sometimes just left to hang. But the Pandaemonium collective is larger than just these three poets: Graeme Sutherland, Aedan Brennan, and Emily Gevers bring an emphasis on prose and the visual arts respectively. As individuals, and in smaller groups, the six of them have been involved in just about every spoken word night in Aberdeen, as well as contributing to the University’s English Literature Society and hosting a regular radio show on ASR.

The group all met on their English Literature course at the University and have been brought together by their shared interest in the surreal and chaotic arts, and have varied enough interests amongst themselves to keep it sustainable. It is this breadth of scope that gives them a grasp on everything within their reach. In their own words, taken from their manifesto: “Pandæmonium isn’t just going to be about the spoken and written word. Our project is also going to give members and other artists the opportunity to showcase other art forms, primarily the visual arts (painting, photography etc.)” Like the group that (in)formally announced their arrival, Pandaemonium’s holistic approach aims to grow them out of the soft loamy bed of Aberdeen’s Spoken Words nights and into their own unique identity. However, even at the moment of their announcement to the wider world they have been burdened with somewhat haughty expectations.


 It is not every day that a collective names another as their ‘successor’, but it seems as if the ever inventive hosts of Re-Analogue were destined to surprise the public until the end by crowning Pandaemonium as their heirs. However, it already appears that Pandaemonium are looking for something different than the jaunty, avant-gardist theatrics of Re-Analogue. Both share a penchant for curated chaos, the surreal, the innovative. However, Pandaemonium’s self-confessed fascination with Bosch and their use of supernatural, biblical, and mythological imagery smacks of something, for better or worse, more grounded and considered than the tech-infused dam-busting that was done by Re-Analogue. 


 As the new University term rolls around, and the Covid lock-down ebbs ever away, this collective is hoping to start engaging with the public in much more explicit terms. Their ambitions of monthly spoken word nights, e-zines and physical publications abound across their manifesto and a successful transition away from social distancing could allow them to find prominence. One hopes that their credentials, spirit and unique vision could pave the way for success – and they achieve the genesis of a new garden of earthly delights.