It’s 7 p.m., not quite witching hour, but Melissa Madara is intently melting the side of a dark blue spell candle so that it can fit into the mouth of an empty whiskey bottle. “I’m being the most boring witch ever,” she says.
For now, the glowing orange portholes carved out of the walls at the Rubin Museum are only sparsely occupied with curious objects: a panda bear figurine clutching a heart-shaped thing, a crinkled-up clip-on ID card. As part of the namesake installation at Genesis Breyer P-Orridge’s freshly opened show, “Try to Altar Everything,” these tiny viewing cubbies, resembling Japanese micro-hotelrooms for ants, serve as temporary homes for individual “offerings,” which the artist started accepting on Friday.
There might be no other artist breathing today who lives their art as deeply and consistently as Genesis Breyer P-Orridge. The renowned occultist and “wrecker of civilization” has repeatedly taken a spiky club to the larger culture, even to h/er own body, as a means of dismembering ingrained mores. S/he did this first as a founding member of Throbbing Gristle– a band whose embrace of bristling, harsh sounds and antagonistic politics sought to dishevel the status quo, and sparked the inception of industrial music– and subsequently with Psychic TV. With h/er new exhibition, Try to Altar Everything (opening March 11), P-Orridge will transform the Rubin Museum into a participatory “shamanic space,” inspired by h/er travels to the Kathmandu Valley of Nepal. “We’re developing this bouncing conversation between the mundane and the sacred,” Genesis explained. “Everything can be sacred, and if you start to look for the sacred, you will find it.”
In conjunction with the ongoing exhibition (through Saturday February 13) Language of the Birds: Occult & Art the show’s curator Pam Grossman (who’s manned the esoterica blog Phantasmaphile for the last 10 years) will host a panel discussion featuring Professor Susan L. Aberth (author of Surrealism, Alchemy, and Art), Jesse Bransford (Chair of the Art Dep’t at NYU, Grossman described him as “an unbelievable occult artist” and his work is featured in the show), and William Breeze of the band Coil.
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Last weekend marked a victory for goths, Tarot freaks, and magic nerds everywhere as the second annual Occult Humanities Conference convened at NYU for a sold-out marathon of lectures with names like “Blues Magic,” “Bohemian Occult Subculture in Britain’s 1890s,” and “The Cut in Ritual Psychoanalysis and Art.” And while, yes, in many ways this was an academic-ish conference, organized by Pam Grossman (founder of the esoterica blog Phantasmaphile) and Jesse Bransford (Chair of the Art & Art Professions Department at NYU), the convening of occultists and occult obsessives still managed to keep it real.
“Ordinary morality is only for ordinary people,” Aleister Crowley once said. That maxim echoes inside the walls of a new exhibit at 80WSE, Language of the Birds: Occult and Art. Even now, when dabbling in the occult has become morally ambiguous rather than universally derided, the work shown at NYU Steinhardt’s gallery is far from ordinary. Spanning the beginning of the last century to the present day, its authors range from avant-garde filmmakers (Kenneth Anger), to spiritual philosophers (Aleister Crowley), to industrial music makers (Genesis Breyer P-Orridge), and “just” plain artists (Kiki Smith). Somehow these varied participants share a similar worldview, which they’ve communicated (at various points in time) through symbols and talismans that have remained fairly static throughout.
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With so many wild parties going on tonight, it’s easy to forget that Halloween originates from the ancient festival of Samhain, celebrated by the Celts 2,000 years ago. Before their new year on November 1, they thought the boundary between the living and dead would deteriorate and ghosts could appear on Earth. So, how do today’s pagans and occultists view the holiday as it’s celebrated today? We asked some of them to find out.
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“Can I have some of your hair?”
Phillip English isn’t kidding. So, after hesitating a beat, I pluck a strand of hair from my head. He gingerly places the hair in a small baggie, seals it shut, and writes my name on it with a Sharpie.
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