The results of the election have churned up a tsunami of cultural backlash aimed at the incoming Trump administration’s rhetoric of hatred and intolerance (or, in at least one case, in support of it). There’s a lot of doom and gloom right now– hate crimes are on the rise as our new political era continues to take shape with increasingly horrifying cabinet appointments, from a conspiracy theory-touting Islamophobe as Secretary of Defense to a Department of Energy head who once called for the agency’s abolishment– even so, artists and cultural figures have banded together to express their dismay.
Some, like the Instagram campaign and public protest #DearIvanka, have infused political action with artsy weirdness, while others have just continued making the art they always have, the only difference being that the injustices they’re concerned with– the patriarchy, white supremacy, xenophobia– have seen something of a comeback as some Americans are once again proud to wear their prejudices on their sleeves (or Twitter feeds).
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.
A canvasser gets a bite on Washington Place (Photo: Michael Garofalo)
Do you have one minute to stand up for human rights?
No, no—wait! Don’t click away from this page! I’m not one of those clipboard toting canvassers that you see half a block away and cross the street to avoid talking to. They’re part of the city’s ambient-level background noise, like Sbarro storefronts or subway etiquette ads. But when I saw three Amnesty International canvassers standing on St. Marks Place yesterday morning, I found myself wondering what it must feel like to stare denial in the face all day long.
At left, Indigo. Right, a man who, when asked, said “I think you know already.” (Photo: Nicole Disser)
As one might expect, the 5th annual WitchsFest USA, which unfurled its freak flag over Astor Place on Saturday, was a hotbed for crazies. Oh, we’re not talking about the usual chatty theologians, fantasy-contact-wearing druid bachelors, springy sprites, and cute pagan moms wearing their fishnet best and proudly pushing faerie-winged kiddies through the packed street fest. No, you could hardly accuse these pagan faithful of being antisocial– instead, it was the Christian protest element, out in full force on Saturday afternoon, that earned the watchful eye of the police and the ire of a doting crust punk tribe.
Tarot cards, crystals, and witchery are all the rage these days– case in point: NYU hosted the first-ever (and sold-out) Occult Humanities Conference earlier this year. Now, more than ever before, it seems so not crazy to bring up the rift between a friend’s astrological rising sign and their actual sign in order to explain why they’re not exactly the most self-aware person, and the chances that you’ll be taken seriously if you suggest that a pal with back probz head to the acupuncturist are pretty, pretty high.
Meanwhile (and somewhat counterintuitively) old-fashioned psychics are seeing something of an inquisition– whether it’s a justified one or not, is hard to say.
A few years back, if you were cool enough to have Ben Sargent’s digits in your phone, then chances are you were among the enviable few who could call to get handmade lobster rolls crafted by the chef/handyman extraordinaire, and delivered to your doorstep by his gangster alter ego, Dr. Klaw. The shellfish sammies, prepared inside Sargent’s Greenpoint basement apartment, were held in such high esteem that he garnered not just a cult following, but a media frenzy, and subsequently a Health Department party poop.
Yep, this is actually a thing (Photo: Nicole Disser)
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.
“I was very logical for my whole adolescence until I got a little older and I moved to LA. I started to reintroduce myself to these aspects of the metaphysical world,” explained Vanessa Cuccia, the founder of Chakrubs— a company that makes “sex toys made from 100 percent pure crystal.”
She was addressing a small class of women at Please, a sex shop in Park Slope– for the occasion, the shades were drawn at what’s normally a proudly-transparent establishment. Eileen, Vanessa’s friend and member of her original “focus group” cradled an acoustic guitar and a permanent smile.
A few years ago, Vanessa started carrying crystals around with her “everywhere she went” (according to the event invite that first attracted me to this class), but her bond with crystals took an entirely different turn after a woman with a “very large crystal collection” presented her with a particularly attractive specimen. “That would make a great dildo,” she recalls telling the room full of neo-spiritualists. “And the idea just kept growing and growing and growing.”
“Ceremonies of Love and Desire” at FIAF (Photo via Facebook)
When I first arrived at the French Institute Alliance Francaise (FIAF) I filed into one of the few empty stadium seats left save for the neck busters at the very front. The place was packed for The Art of Sex & Seduction: Ceremonies of Love & Desire, I realized all eyes were pointed to a tiny, gray-haired woman immediately below and in front of me. She looked more like a gentle octogenarian nun than a famous dominatrix known for her cruelty. But every once in a while there were flashes of unflinching harshness delivered with a toothy, thin-lipped grin–there was a reason why people seemed to either tiptoe or burst into fits of uncomfortable laughter around Catherine Robbe-Grillet all night. She could turn even the most accomplished Tinder Queens amongst us to puddles of prudish mush.
I was lying on a yoga mat in a Bushwick loft with two quartz minerals on either side of my head, when the “art witch” placed a selenite crystal just below my chest. I had just gone through a soul-searching tarot reading session in which a preponderance of pentacles revealed that I had to be more systematic and less feverish about pursuing my goals, while the ace of wands (with its phallic symbology) insured I had the “fire” to keep going.