Kenneth Anger, Leo Bensemann, Yin-Ju Chen, Eleanor Cooper, Aleister Crowley, Simon Cuming, Mikala Dwyer, FULGUR, Henry Fuseli, Jason Greig, Dane Mitchell, Rosaleen Norton, Tony Oursler, Fiona Pardington, Lorene Taurerewa, Thomson & Craighead, Brendon Wilkinson.
Occulture: The Dark Arts
12 August – 19 November 2017
City Gallery Wellington
All art is Magick.
Art and the occult have always been intertwined. They draw powers, rituals and symbols from each other in their efforts to re-enchant the world and redefine human experience.
Throughout history, occult practices have been shunned, banned, and driven underground. Yet, certain moments have been open to their alternative possibilities. According to academic Christopher Partridge we are witnessing the emergence of a shared ‘Occulture’. Esoteric and occult ideas have permeated wider consciousness and reshaped the spirit of our age.
This show explores contemporary art’s role in the process of occultation (a term first used by Andre Breton in his 1930 Surrealist Manifesto). It brings together New Zealand and international artists who push the symbolic, formal and material languages of esoteric or occult traditions into new forms. Australian artist Mikala Dwyer casts a spell in the form of a wall painting. Dane Mitchell’s silk banners are printed with hand gestures that activate magical thinking and open up possibilities for astral perception. The charcoal Liquidation Maps of Taiwanese artist Yin-Ju Chen link atrocities in Asia to specific astrological permutations. Fiona Pardington presents an altar in both photographic and sculptural form, while Kenneth Anger’s Lucifer Rising screens in the auditorium. These artists all invoke magical thinking and ritual to charge the gallery space with invisible energies and forces.
These and other contemporary artists—working across drawing, painting, sculpture, book making, film, sound, printmaking, photography —are brought into conversation with key historical figures of the occult tradition. At the heart of the exhibition is a suite of ‘nightmare paintings’ by English occultist, ceremonial magician and poet Aleister Crowley. His paintings were made in Sicily in the early 1920s, as he was establishing his Abbey of Thelema. They were part of his attempt to integrate art into his magical theory. Crowley’s connected belief in the book as a ‘talismanic object’ was the spur for FULGUR to start publishing contemporary esoteric books—a selection of which are included in the exhibition. The trance-induced work of Crowley’s Antipodean devotee Rosaleen Norton also features prominently. Born ‘during a thunderstorm’ in Dunedin in 1917, she moved to Sydney, where she became known as ‘the Witch of Kings Cross’ and was persecuted for her transgressive behaviour and for her mystical art works summoning pagan entities. This is the first time either Crowley or Norton have been exhibited in New Zealand.
The show’s public programme brings in other practitioners of occulture from music, performance and film.
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