JJ Brine, founder of the Lower East Side’s only Satanic art gallery, is not your typical interview subject. Straightforward questions simply do not work on the curator and artist-in-residence of “the Official Art Gallery of SATAN.” There were several times during our talk when Brine stared back at me — amidst imagery of Charles Manson and Baphomet the Sabbatic Goat — as if to say, “What the hell are you talking about?”
“Where are you from originally?”
“Well, that I don’t remember,” JJ responded.
In fact, the word “typical” cannot be applied to JJ in any sense of the word. For one, he’s not a typical artiste. He denies his own agency, to a degree, in whatever is taking place at Vector. “Satan is in complete control of it,” he explained. A shiny placard bearing the letter C fell to the floor. “See, these things are not being restrained, they rearrange themselves,” JJ pointed out. “It’s like suggestions. I appreciate it. It’s a form of communication that is quite fulfilling.”
This is all despite the fact the gallery is filled entirely with his own work at the moment. And JJ describes the space as intrinsically connected to his mind: “I’ve put my brain on display, or my brain has put itself on display.”
If you haven’t already guessed that something’s up, JJ is a Satanist, or more accurately, a Vectorian. “Well, I’m kind of leading myself from another time, so I’m kind of like a puppet,” he explained. “I’m responding as I’m being triggered, and I’m responding as I’m receiving my lines.”
But JJ isn’t your cookie-cutter Satanist. For one, he does not prescribe to the tenants of the Satanic Temple, an organization that is mainly defined by its atheism and adeptness at trolling religious fanatics. “This is its own faith, and it certainly doesn’t enshrine atheism,” JJ said. “I believe in all things. The devil is the lord and the lord is the devil. So I don’t know what people mean when they talk about a difference between something that’s literal or real, but certainly I would not say that this or that thing is not real.”
In fact, Brine, who also answers to President of the Satanic State of Vector, says he is the founder of Vectorism, a new religion. “But you could also say that I’m an instrument of the devil,” he clarified.
JJ invited me to have a look around his gallery in anticipation of next week’s official opening night of Vector Gallery (2.0). Vector has relocated to a space on East Broadway in the Lower East Side after having its lease swept out from under it at its Clinton Street location.
On Wednesday evening I walked into the storefront. I looked around and JJ was nowhere to be found. The lights were on, though a big dim. At first I was a little disoriented, as red, blue, and fluorescent lights flickered around the rectangular front room, bouncing off the reflective foil-covered walls, the mirrors, and the cacophony of objects covered in silver spray paint. The place seemed enormous as first.
“Hello?” I made my way to the back room. The door was partially ajar. I looked in and called out for JJ. No answer. I was about to creep in further when I spun around to find JJ coming through the front door. He wore a black t-shirt with geometrical designs, black pants and platform shoes, his hair was a powdery bluish-green, adorned with a crown made of delicate branches spotted with blossoms.
The front section of Vector is flanked with portraits of Charles Manson, his forehead swastika swapped out for the vector symbol (JJ has dubbed him the “Supreme Leader” of the sovereign state of Vector), fake flowers and grass patches, and one notable portrait of a four-headed hellhoundish Condoleezza Rice– “embodying the intelligence that animates all life,” JJ explained.
In many ways, Vector is not simply a gallery. JJ and the 15 or so other “ministers” he says are involved in the effort understand it as a “sovereign nation,” complete with its own time zone, its own culture, mythology, symbology, religion, placement on the evolutionary spectrum (post-human), and even its own enemies. Back in 2013, when Vector was first founded, it declared it was seceding from the United States to wage a “psychic war” against the nation, and announced it was advancing to the year 2020 (it is now the year 2021).
JJ said that weapons and violence are not tools in waging this war, rather it’s more about ideas. “If in terms of what you’re killing is an established thought with a new thought, then how does one fight an ideology with guns?” he wondered aloud.
Suddenly I realized just how easily I’d adjusted to speaking with JJ on his own terms. I had stopped even asking “normal” questions. But I had grown severely curious, how does JJ communicate with others? How does he move through this city?
“Do you, as a sovereign state, find it productive to engage with the outside world? Do you still have relations?”
“Diplomatic ones,” he replied.
I wondered if JJ had ever experienced any opposition from the outside world, maybe even harassment. After all, Vector is “always open,” JJ said. Plenty of visitors have stopped by uninvited, unannounced. “People are drawn here.”
Generally, JJ said, hate was not a popular reaction. However there is one exception. JJ told me a story of how “an entire congregation” had gathered outside once with signs that said “We Love Jesus, We Hate this Gallery.” Though unfortunately the details are hazy.
Vector Gallery photographs well, but speaking with JJ is essential to the full experience. The setting only acquires complexity when the master is present. For instance, that door to the backroom seemed totally inconsequential until he explained it.
“You can create as many versions of yourself as you need, it can be manufactured,” JJ told me. This might sound familiar, and in a way JJ does ascribe to some aspects of that Warholian, seamless-fusion-between-art-and-life shtick, but there’s something a bit different going on here. JJ didn’t like to talk about himself, at least in the first-person singular sense of the word, unless pushed to do so. But if visitors allow themselves to be immersed in the Vector Gallery (i.e. the Vectorian) experience (as what seems to be the point of an outsider stopping by such a place anyway) and concede to JJ’s claims that he is nothing more than a conduit of the devil, then JJ himself matters little.
“Specificity is such a vice,” JJ explained. “It’s when you lose focus, really, when you zoom in. Unless you zoom in so far that you can’t see any of the details because the details are the big picture.”
To JJ, there isn’t even a graspable expanse of time that existed before Vector Gallery:
“What was happening before the gallery existed?” I asked.
“It’s the Anti-Christ, and the Anti-Christ is Jesus Christ. I don’t even know, I’m not even sure this is the same entity. It would be like remarking on someone else’s life. I was doing whatever I was doing, I’m pretty sure it must have led me to this place. I must have been collaborating with myself in various dimensions. Everything aspires to breathe, so maybe I gave it a respirator.”
Vector will open its doors for its innaugural event on Friday, August 1. JJ promises there will be music and rituals. “It’s always quite chaotic, and sublime, and diabolical,” he said. Though JJ says most of his time will be spent in the back room: “And as you can see, the cost of entering [it] is your soul. Anyone who goes back there has forfeited their immortal soul forever.”