Language of the Birds: Occult and Art

There is an exhibition on at present in New York at 80WSE gallery called ‘Language of the Birds: Occult and Art curated by Pam Grossman http://www.languageofthebirds.org. I’ve constantly got my eye out for any exhibitions or articles involving the occult or esoteric in art and this one kept popping up in reviews that I was reading. This is a collection of work by both contemporary and historical artists spanning both practicing contemporary artists, outsider artists and ‘sometimes artists’ (e.g. people who are better know for other pursuits such as writing, music or generally being notorious). It’s interesting to see Carol Bove included and expected to see Jesse Bransford, Austin Osman Spare, Margery Cameron, Kenneth Anger, Barry William Hale, Rosaleen Norton and Aleister Crowley.

IMG_9911Carol Bove “Legal Status of the Moon,” 2015 (Photo: Nicole Disser)

The title ‘Language of the Birds’ refers to a symbolic heavenly language revealed to the initiated. Thats a very poetic idea and it appeals to me deeply on a personal level but, much as I love esoteric symbology, I’m trying to move away from any sort of language that is available only to the initiated. I’ve discovered through my practice over the last 2 years that delving too far into occult symbology marginalises pretty much all of your audience! Unless you are creating work that is purely for the initiated, or those that have a particular interest in that area, it tends to create a barrier between the work and the viewer. This is something I’ve spent a lot of time struggling with and trying to overcome. I want the work I create to be available to the viewer and create a dialogue for them rather than excluding them.

I found some descriptions in the writing of two of these articles resonated with me in my continual contextualisation of my own practice:

“At its core, Grossman explains, the occult is about experiencing an immaterial realm, whether through a performed ritual, an altered state, a path of learning, or a work of art.”
Grossman, P. referenced in Frank, P. (2016). Emphasis my own.

“…“the occult” is not any one thing– it’s not an organized religion, there’s no definitive occult bible, nor is there a precise agreement on practice, folklore, or morality. Instead, it’s simply the unknown trying to be known.”
Disser, N. (2016) Emphasis my own.

Frank, P. (2016) Delving into the Shadowy World of Occult Art. Retrieved from www.huffingtonpost.com

Disser, N. (2016) A Little Bird Told Me: Aleister Crowley and Genesis P-Orridge in Occult Art Show. Sourced from http://www.bedfordandbowery.com

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3 thoughts on “Language of the Birds: Occult and Art

  1. Is there something nihilistic about not having an audience? I like the idea but the reality seems chilling over the long-run. Perhaps bloody-minded persistence is the only recourse. Thanks Mary I will read as you suggest.

    1. It’s tricky isn’t it? I found previously that the language I was using was only accessible to a certain group who were conversant with the symbolism. This would be ok if I only wanted the work to be accessible to these people, but then that made the work exclusionary and meant that instead of viewers being interested in reading the work, they tended to get turned-off and frustrated by it! It wasn’t so much that I was being deliberately exclusionary, but because I was so used to that visual language I just forgot that other people weren’t! I’ve discovered that having a language that is put together by me as the artist, but also holds key indicators that can be used as guides for the audience, it makes the work interesting for the audience and is able to unfold for them rather than being closed. That’s the big thing I’ve worked on over the last 2 years; that whole cosmology creation. It’s been a huge learning experience for me and has really pushed the work forward!

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