Occult Humanities Conference 2017


I headed down to the city on a day that started out dark but became rather lovely. I saw the lovely Katja and her kitties: she’s the hostess with the mostest. We had a lovely dinner at Veselka, too. I saw a couple of the Ai Weiwei installations too. There are always sights to see in NYC including the 777 exhibit by Jen DeNike & Damien Echols and of course there was the third Occult Humanities Conference, which proved most inspirational in all kinds of ways. More photos on the ‘book — I’m thinking of trying Instagram: pros or cons you care to offer?

Make note: next April the 100th anniversary celebration of Leonora Carrington in Mexico City. I may need to get to that. Road trip, anyone? I’ve not been there before. Only along the border.

I forgot to take pictures of the lovely exhibit by Tin Can Forest, but you can see a lot of their art online. They did the fabulous What is a Witch with conference co-host Pam Grossman.

Tomorrow I’m talking on medieval charms at ISATMA. Free and open, including the concerts honouring the late Pauline Oliveros.

Salem: It’s Alive

I finally joined my gals’ annual Salem jaunt. A tough time of year for me to get away, but I promised them this year I would go. We had a lot of fun and good eats, and there was a fantastic exhibit on at the Peabody. More pics on the ‘book.

Witches: September Gallery

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September Gallery via their Facebook page

Sometimes living in hipsterville has its benefits: September Gallery is definitely one of them. They only opened last year but they’ve already won a fan in me with this show. Witches brings together a variety of powerful works by women. Marjorie Cameron‘s name drew me in, but there were other pleasures to enjoy. It was wonderful to see her drawings up close and marvel at her fine lines and free compositions. Stunning and powerful.

Her work was surrounded by contemporary artists animated by the same questing spirit. Laurel Sparks describes her work a kind of sigil magic, overlaying a dizzying array of colours, textures and materials in her Magic Square series. They sparked some ideas in me. Rosy Keyser’s work likewise mixes materials and colour but in a more abstract way. I loved her Terrestial Mime which hangs materials on a wooden grid with wild layers of paint. It feels like the work behind a painting made visible, a sort of swirl of anarchic energy summoned.

Marianne Vitale’s Very Fine Gander has a whimsical charm, like toys made giant — but charred, too. So there’s also a feeling of something horrible gone wrong. There’s a great description of it in the exhibit essay by Susan Aberth (who wrote that fabulous book on Leonora Carrington — but argh! ‘The Burning Times’ and the Middle Ages are not synonymous. The height of the witch hunts was the 16th-17th centuries: the Early MODERN era).

I was absolutely bowled over by Anna Betbeze’s untitled sculpture of burnt objects on a rug. It felt like an artefact from the past, like a fire that consumed the witch who summoned it or what was left of the village after a curse. Like her piece Howl the literalisation of burning anger feels great.

“Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host. But anger is like fire. It burns it all clean.” ― Maya Angelou 

Best of all, the show culminated in a performance night last Saturday. I arrived to find the place in darkness as it had already begun (so much for being fashionably late). Melinda Kiefer led the audience in an opening ritual “to create [a] sacred yet wacky” atmosphere. Then the fabulous Pam Grossman (who probably alerted me to this show via her blog Phantasmaphile) gave a short version of her talk on the image of the witch in art. She was the organising genius behind the Occult Humanities Conference and exhibit last year that’s still resonating loudly in my head. I was glad we had a chance to chat afterward.

Shanekia McIntosh gave a wonderful performance with amazing code switching in a story about her family and the power of premonitions. There was an interesting Sonic Sigil piece, an invocation and prayer to Hecate by Sarah Falkner, Rebecca Wolff and Jonathan Osofsky (I liked the use of flags). The band Dust Bowl Faeries performed and wow! I was sharing pictures from their show with the Folk Horror Revival group because I knew people would dig it:

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They’re playing Helsinki Hudson on the 7th of May. Be there!

Laurel Sparks wrapped up the evening with a performance that had us back in the dark while she paced a circle around us, reading from huge slabs and then painting herself in dayglo colours with a kind of ritual precision that managed to be both humorous and compelling without ever giving in to the over-seriousness that performance pieces can fall prey to. All in all a fantastic evening.

Viktor Wynd’s Wunderkabinett

The last time I was at the Last Tuesday Society it was to attend a night featuring tales of ghost trains and the music of Sarah Angliss. I got to play her theremin, which was enough of a thrill that I finally did have to get my own theremin. I also wrote down the phrase ‘luminiferous ether’ which led to my writing White Rabbit (in concert with a lot of other strange head explosions).

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I had not visited the Viktor Wynd museum, however. Drawn by the occult theme of the week, I decided I really needed to see its ‘largest collection’ of Austin Osman Spare works on public display. The south London artist has long occupied that strange niche between occult and art, cultish devotion and imperious neglect, which makes it difficult to see more than isolated pieces at any one time (cf. the Language of Birds exhibit).

Crowded into the back room of the establishment are indeed several works by the artist which are difficult to get a good look at both due to the lighting and the profusion of other curiosities about (thus the poor pictures here). It would be great to have a proper exhibit that allowed better access, of course. Yet I’m grateful nonetheless for the opportunity to see these. Handily, they had copies of Phil Baker’s bio of the artist for sale so I picked one up.

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The museum itself is a mad jumble of nigh-on Victorian gloom, down a vertigo-inducing spiral stair, full of beasts, freaks, monsters, dandies, dead things, a little occult & magic, and some pulps. The dandies include not only Stephen Tennant‘s ephemera but also Sebastian Horsley‘s red sequined Savile Row suit. There are lots of skulls and bones, fossilised things, an ‘alchemists toolkit’ and all manner of weird and interesting curiosities crammed into a very tiny couple of rooms. It’s all a bit overwhelming. You can’t possibly take it all in in just one visit. So if you’re in Hackney or need an excuse to be, you should drop by.

Courtauld: Georgiana Houghton

Some days I’m very efficient: I hit the Tate Modern, the Tate Britain and the Courtauld in the same day to catch the Georgiana Houghton Spirit Drawings exhibit. If you’ve not been, the Courtauld is a small gallery but has some interesting medieval pieces as well as more modern works. Here’s the description of the Houghton pieces:

Georgiana Houghton (1814-1884) was a Spiritualist medium who, in the 1860s and 70s, produced an astonishing series of abstract watercolours. Detailed explanations on the back of the works declare that her hand was guided by various spirits, including several Renaissance artists, as well as higher angelic beings. In this exhibition The Courtauld Galley explores this astounding series of largely abstract Victorian watercolours and offers visitors a unique opportunity to view remarkable works which have not been shown in the UK for nearly 150 years.

I haven’t quite decided how I feel about this show, so here’s some pictures!

You can see more photos here.

John Dee in London

2016-06-20 14.58.32Last Monday I headed down to London to catch a few exhibits. My first stop after dropping things at my hotel was to drop by the Royal College of Physicians to see John Dee’s Library. The RCP gave me strong sense of dejá vu for my Harvard Med years, where the rich and powerful men sat around dark paneled rooms making rules and plans. This is the Censors Room where decisions were made about who was allowed to practice medicine.

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It was difficult to take much in the way of pictures, what with the low light and no flash allowed. Most of the cases were covered my light-obscuring cloths to protect the books. It was interesting to see what Dee had collected, but mostly how he had annotated the volumes with his own thoughts (click to embiggen). Familiar items from the British Museum were there, too, including his scrying mirror and its case.

 

I had to have a tag to identify me as a visitor. They had several conferences going on at the same time. I didn’t quite manage to slip into the tea and cakes that were out for one of them.

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There’s a wonderful series of gardens, too. They had a Shakespeare theme going on in the foliage, highlighting plants that appeared in the plays (oddly enough the Bard became a theme for my week).

More to come of course —

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