Sydney Biennale Part 2

On the secondary Justine and I caught the train out to Newtown for breakfast and wandered back into the city stopping at Biennale venues along the way. The Carriageworks hosts the Embassy of Disappearance.

“The Embassy of Disappearance addresses themes such as absence, memory, history and archaeology, and concerns in relation to natural resources, politics of spaces and questions of ownership of land.”
Rosenthal, S. (2016) The Guide. Sydney, Australia: 20th Biennale of Sydney.

IMG_2384Gerald Machona (2012) Uri Afronaut

The Afronaut works but Gerald Machona were both amusing and poignant. We see the outfits the Afronauts wear displayed as sculptural relics, as well as their journey in the form of a video piece. The costumes made of decommissioned currency parallel the state of the disenfranchised legal alien adrift in their own land. The Afronaut characters reference ‘Nyau’, a form of ritual dance incorporating masks that originates in Malawi.

IMG_2385Gerald Machona (2012) Uri Afrinaut

Apichatpong Weerasethakul (2016) Home Movie

Thai artist Apichatpong Weerasethakul creates film and experimental video works that address memory and representations of reality. He describes the work ‘Home Movie’ as being a ritual space in a cave-like environment where spectators gather to observe the light of the fire. I found this work mesmerising probably due to it’s elemental and ritual nature which are themes that appeal to me personally. I also spent a great deal of time watching the work and thinking about the way it was made; a ring of fire surrounded by fans that blow the fire in gusts and eventually become consumed themselves imitating a dying planet. Jus and I discussed how dangerous this would have been to make what with the electrical-powered fans slowly being consumed by flame. I was thinking about the kind of studio set-up you would require, what sort of fire regulations would need to be in place etc. It was much to our amusement that we discovered the piece is called ‘Home Movie”!

The Embassy of Disappearance is a huge gallery space and I’ve only choose 2 works to show here, but we spent several hours there looking at all the pieces. I got really tangled up with whether certain pieces functioned effectively or not and Jus had to bring me back to the present so we could make it on to the next stage because we were both dying of thirst. After stopping for a drink and a sit-down we continued on to the Embassy of Transition which is housed in the beautiful Victorian Mortuary Station.

“The Embassy of Transition is situated at the Mortuary Station, a former train station in Chippendale used until 1948 to transport coffins from the city to Rookwood Cemetery. Closely related to the Embassy of Spirits, this Embassy brings together two artists who each engage with cycles of life and death, and rites of passage more generally.”
Rosenthal, S. (2016) The Guide. Sydney, Australia: 20th Biennale of Sydney.

IMG_2417Charwei Tsai (2016) A Dedication to Those Who Have Passed Through Mortuary Station, Sydney

Charwei Tsai’s coils of incense have scripts written on them in different languages that contemplate the Bardo (the state between death and rebirth). During the course of the Biennale the coils will burn away and will not be replaced. Looking at photos of her incense coils installed in different environments I felt that the Mortuary Station was very ‘busy’ in its setting, it’s ornamentation and style so that the quiet contemplation of the installation was lost. The meaning was still there, but the feeling of that state of transition between worlds was nullified by the visual clutter of new-victorian architecture and the busy tiled floor. I spent some time talking to the woman who had been employed to look after the works in this Embassy (mainly as a zoologist to care for the birds in Marco Chiandetti’s works). Apparently the install had its own set of challenges that I was grateful to hear about; its easy to forget that well established artists deal with the same sorts of unanticipated questions and challenges that we do. Tsai had decided to install the objects lower than she at first envisioned because they would be lost in the rafters and it was definitely more engaging for us viewers to walk amongst them. There was also the challenge of the wind speeding up the burning process – will they last for the entire Biennale? The ash was being blown around the area rather than making circles on the floor, so the attendant was sweeping it up periodically rather than leaving it as it would be in an interior install.

IMG_2413Charwei Tsai (2016) A Dedication to Those Who Have Passed Through Mortuary Station, Sydney

Marco Chiandetti’s ‘The boundaries which divide Life from Death are at best shadowy and vague. Who shall say where one ends and the other begins?’ was installed but not yet active. The large aviaries and birdseed objects were in place but the myna birds intended to inhabit the installation were not yet present due to a hold-up with animal welfare permits. I would very much like to see this work progress over the course of the next couple of months.

We continued on the the Gallery of New South Wales to visit the Embassy of Spirits. Along with the Museum of Contemporary Art, this was the most traditional gallery space.

“The early twenty-first century has seen a dangerous return to fats-based political conviction, with various belief structures becoming associated with extreme views, and violent and harmful acts that impinge on our everyday lives. A belief structure helps us to define what we think and believe about ourselves and the world. It is how we connect to the external world and environment in which we find ourselves. The Embassy of Spirits addresses the place in our lives of belief systems manifested in the form of religious and personal rituals.”
Rosenthal, S. (2016) The Guide. Sydney, Australia: 20th Biennale of Sydney.

IMG_2424Mella Jaarsma (2015-16) Dogwalk

Dogwalk by Dutch artist Mella Jaarsma is a set of performative outfits and a video showing performers wearing the costumes within the bounds of a ‘dog walk’. Initially I found the outfits and the video deeply disturbing; I think this could be because I don’t eat meat and am very concerned about animal rights? The costumes with the calf skin trailing it’s legs along the ground (above centre) upset me the most because it seemed like a small animal being dragged to death. For me the ‘Dogwalk’ spoke of the different relationships humans have with animals that are considered companions and those that are considered food. Reading about the artist’s intent it is a similar idea from a different viewpoint; the animal skins are those that have been slaughtered in Islamic ritual, but are being compared to dogs that are considered unclean. There is also the juxtaposition between cultural relationships to animals; in the west we consider dogs companions, in Islamic countries they are haram. She also delves into the idea of the trickster in folklore, the shaman wearing the skins of animals, human-animal hybrids etc. It’s interesting because I’m not repulsed by shamanic characters in animal skins, maybe because there is a reverence at play? I saw no reverence in this use of skins which is perhaps what gave me such a negative reaction? The soundtrack music was jarring yet hypnotic and I felt it was very effective… I’m still not sure how to feel about this work, I think it was the one that affected me the most in terms of repulsion, but at the same time drew me in because I was fascinated by my own reaction.

IMG_2426Nyapanyapa Yunupingu (2016) My Sister’s Ceremony

Walking through the door from ‘Dogwalk’ you encounter Nyapanyapa Yunupingu’s My Sister’s Ceremony which I found to be a soothing reprieve from the animal carcasses. A cool, dimly lit room is dappled with light and filled with a dream forest of marked and engraved wooden poles. She uses a meditative mark-making practice as a kind of ritual and an expression of the action of her hands.

IMG_2430Nyapanyapa Yunupingu (2016) My Sister’s Ceremony

IMG_2446Taro Shinoda (2016) Abstraction of Confusion 

I enjoy experiential environments and I feel they are a successful way to convey the subtleties of ritual otherworldly experience. ‘My Sisters Ceremony’ did this with darkness and quiet, a womb-like ambience. Taro Shinoda’s Abstraction of Confusion use’s space and bright light together with the cool scent of drying clay to create an environment that conjures the tranquility of zen contemplation. This is a place of stillness, abstraction and thought. The coolness and smell of the space are soothing and work to quiet the mind and promote introspection.

IMG_2445Taro Shinoda (2016) Abstraction of Confusion

IMG_2440Taro Shinoda (2016) Abstraction of Confusion

IMG_2458Yin-Ju Chen (2014/2016) Liquidation Maps

Finally, the ‘Liquidation Maps’ of Yin-Ju Chen. When Justine and I saw these we joked that they could be the unholy offspring of both of our art practices! We imagined my work and her work combining and giving birth to this show; detailed drawing, artefacts, alchemy, astronomy, macrocosm and microcosm, diagram-making and historical referencing all in one! In this installation Chen references important events in Chinese history then maps them as cosmic cartographies showing the position of the planets and the stars when the event unfolded. She references the interrelationships between cosmic events and human behaviour, the macrocosm and the microcosm. I appreciated how the works were displayed. Placing them in tables increased the cartographic and scientific presence, if they had been hung on the wall I feel they would have become more decorative and have held less weight.

IMG_2455Yin-Ju Chen (2014/2016) Liquidation Maps

IMG_2454Yin-Ju Chen (2014/2016) Liquidation Maps

IMG_2453Yin-Ju Chen (2014/2016) Liquidation Maps



Earlier this year I created a diagram to examine the performative from the point of view of the artist. I had the challenge of creating a second diagram from the perspective of the viewer/participant. I might need to do a bit more work on this so any feedback is welcome! Here is where I have got to so far; the top diagram is my original, the bottom diagram is my new viewer’s perspective.

Performance Diagram

The Expanded Field


Rosalind E. Krauss’s “Sculpture in the Expanded Field” (1978) (Krauss, R. “The Originality of the Avant-Garde and Other Modernist Myths” (1985) The MIT Press; London, England) is a really useful essay that I have read three times and will probably read again. It examines the emergence of Postmodern sculptural practices and how they can be quantified when their expression is so varied.

The category of ‘sculpture’ becomes infinitely malleable and comes down from (or absorbs) it’s classical place on the pedestal. Krauss argues that in order for the new to be more palatable and acceptable it needs to have a historical evolution. Where sculpture once had a fairly linear art historical narrative, as it pushes the boundaries into new areas then historical provenance is expanded to include genealogies of millennia incorporating the likes of stonehenge, the nazca lines and neolithic mounds – none of which were ever intended as sculpture!

Modernist practice initially pushed the boundaries by removing the pedestals and moving the place. Modernist sculpture became somewhat nomadic. A new boundary needed to be established; if it’s NOT architecture and it’s NOT landscape, then it must be sculpture.

The 1960s welcomed in the postmodernist approach and the boundaries of sculptural practice were pushed to their outer limits.

“Sculpture is no longer the privileged middle term between two things it isn’t. Sculpture is rather only one term on the periphery of a field in which there are other, differently structured possibilities.” P284

Krauss put forward the Expanded Field theory and quarternary field diagram.

I have identified some examples of works that fit into the new fields:

Marked Site: both landscape and not-landscape


Robert Smithson, Spiral Jetty, 1970
mud, salt, basalt rocks, water, 460m x 4.6m, Great Salt Lake, Utah


Site Construction: both landscape and architecture


Mary Miss, Perimeters, Pavilions, Decoys, 1978
Long Island, New York

Axiomatic structure: this uses existing structures and works with them or upon them. The structures can be architectural and not-architectural.

Untitled 1965, reconstructed 1971 by Robert Morris born 1931

Robert Morris, Untitled, 1965 (reconstructed 1971)
Mirror glass and wood, 914 x 914 x 914 mm, Tate Gallery, London


The Hierophant – Harris and Crowley Thoth tarot

Between 1938 and 1943 Aleister Crowley worked with Lady Frieda Harris to create a series of 78 paintings for the Thoth Tarot. Crowley sketched basic ideas for the cards with the symbolism and imagery that he envisioned and Harris brought them to life as paintings in gouache and watercolour. These paintings are absolutely abundant in esoteric symbolism but have an added element brought my Harris; her interest in Projective Geometry.

The Hierophant trump is one of my favourite paintings in the series:
This is trump number 5, roman numeral V, the hebrew letter is Vau (the nail). Around the head of the Hierophant are 9 nails affixing a serpent above a rose and a dove. The astrological equivalent is Taurus, the elephants and the bull seen behind the Hierophant show the Taurian nature of the card. The colours are oranges, browns, reds; the colours of earth. the Hierophant himself is an Initiator and he carries the child Horus in a pentagram over his heart. The woman who stands in front of him is ‘girt with a sword’ and represents Babalon, the Scarlet Woman who ushers in a new Aeon. At each corner are the Powers of The Sphinx, the guardians of the shrine of initiation: To know, To will, To dare and to keep Silent, represented as eagle, bull, lion and man. They also represent the 4 elements. The Hierophant carries a wand with three rings, potentially representing the 3 Aeons and he makes a sign of benediction (seen in the traditional ‘Pope’ trump) that is also a V.
In the large hexagram and the 2 smaller pentagrams you can observe Harris’s inclusion of Projective Geometry showing the movement of a potential geometry through space.

The richness of the imagery is occulted to most viewers of this painting who are not familiar with the symbolism and it’s meanings. But despite the potential lack of specific understanding, the familiarity with the colours, animals, shapes and forms could lead a viewer to have a dialogue with the artwork and receive an innate understanding of the messages within the work: the colours are earthy, the animals are strong and forceful, the Hierophant is imposing and solid, these clues all convey ideas to the viewer. With greater involvement in the ritual aspects of the symbols, comes a differing perspective on the painting and a different experience when interacting with it. Each symbol has a wealth of meaning that adds layers to the understanding of the artwork. For example, a casual viewer might see 9 nails, but an initiated viewer will see the Hebrew letter Vau and the number 9 which opens up all the symbolism associated with both of those symbols as well as the symbol of the nail. The symbols unfold before the viewer like a fractal pattern.

Jesse Bransford

(Featured image: Magic Square: Mars (For Albertus Magus), Jesse Bransford, 2006. Latex, marker and graphite on wall at Galerie Schmidt Maczollek)

Jesse Bransford’s work is an interesting mixture of esoteric symbology, geometric (almost scientific) diagramatic imagery and ‘Pollokian’ organic paint and ink splatters. He is a Prof of Art at New York University and has exhibited internationally.

His work is particularly relevant to my research because of his extensive use of occulted symbology and it’s integration into diagrammatic or infographic art works.

Sic Itur Ad Astra, 2009

He talks about the use of and understanding of symbols in a context where the viewer might understand the meaning, or think they understand the meaning, and the effect that has as opposed to the effect of creating the artwork on himself as the artist:

PG: “And when you’re making this work, are you conscious of the effect you hope to have on the viewer, or transformation you’re trying to manifest in them, magical or otherwise? Or is it more about having your own experience of making the work and communising with your own angels, as it were?”
JB: “I have had moments where understanding of the work was transparent, where people have been open and receptive to it. On the other hand I think a lot of people are unwilling to engage when they see certain signs or symbols they think they understand. That’s the blessing and the curse of symbols, they are only as open as the viewer seeing them … Right now there seems to be a real calibration going on in the work between my legibility to the viewer and the self-knowledge and understanding I get from the work.”
Abraxas Journal of Esoteric Studies – Issue 3 Spring 2013, Fulgur Esoterica pg 28, Interviewed by Pam Grossman.

Transmission, III=260 (Mercurious) 2007

He also talks about another aspect of his work which is very interesting to me, and that is of movement in the creation of the work. Any work with a significant ritual aspect is influenced by the physicality of the ritual and the movements associated with that ritual:

JB: “I’ve made a very careful point to keep my practice moving, to use the way I make things as much as an exploration and experiment as the research I’ve done. It’s made me realise how much effect the trace of the body can project. For example most talismanic magic seems to want to happen at a desk, sitting down. I would guess it’s because the objects tend to be hand-held and more intimate. Other forms need more of the body involved, and some of the application processes I’ve used probably have more in common with dance than with painting.”
Abraxas Journal of Esoteric Studies – Issue 3 Spring 2013, Fulgur Esoterica pg 28, Interviewed by Pam Grossman.

Radiance, 2005, Kevin Bruk Gallery

Mercurious for Sol, 2007

The Fourth Pyramid, 2013

Abraxas Journal of Esoteric Studies – Issue 3 Spring 2013, Fulgur Esoterica pg 15-31
Artist Interview, Kari Adelaide, Huffington Post Arts and Culture, March 6 2014

Mind Map Feb 2014

This is a messy work-in-progress but it’s a starting point for me showing my thinking and the current interrelations in my areas of interest. I’m particularly interested in the intersection where ‘Brand’ becomes a magical language that effects change in the world through visual cues, and the intersection where Infographics and mapping can be used to convey both occult and design practices.

Austin Osman Spare

British artist and occultist 1886 – 1956

AOS is very interesting to me because of his depictions of the esoteric and the way he chose to express those ideas through diagrams, sigils and symbols that both reveal and hide the message.

He started out his artistic career at The Royal College of Art in London where his interest in strong line work (influences of Aubrey Beardsley and EJ Sullivan) apparently made him unpopular with the contemporary art scene. Throughout his life he worked in a variety of mediums: paintings, drawings, pastels and etchings. After developing his interest in Western Esotericism these subjects informed all his work from this point on and he developed his own powerful and unusual system of mysticism centred around his ideas of ‘Zos’ – the human consciousness and ‘Kia’ – the universal consciousness.


The Death Posture, 1913 (A self portrait. Interestingly the white horned statue of a woman is an ancient carving of Ishtar/Astarte that currently resides in the Louvre).

Many of his artworks from this time were ‘automatic drawings’ that were created during magical trance states and that he believed were created when his conscious mind was held at bay. The elements in his artwork which are of particular interest to me and my research are his use of sigils in his work. The sigils are created from words, letters, images and distilled into almost unintelligible symbolic diagrams. The messages within the sigils and their intent should bypass the conscious mind and find action in the unconscious mind. The desire and conscious understanding of both the practitioner (artist/occultist) and the viewer should be dispelled by the indecipherability of the sigil. It is preferable that neither viewer understands the meaning and that it is filtered through the unconscious mind and the meaning extracted without thought or desire.

“For pure will, unassuaged of purpose, delivered from the lust of result, is in every way perfect.”
(Liber al vel Legis, Chapter 1, No.44 – Aiwass via Aleister Crowley, 1904)

The following quote expresses the feelings of a viewer who realised that Spare was creating diagrammatical infographics of his ideas as a method of communication, but that he did not have the necessary knowledge to understand them. Whether this is important or not is debatable as it was perhaps not the intention of AOS to communicate these ideas in a didactic form to a viewer who was uninitiated in the symbology of his mysticism.

In a 1914 review of The Book of Pleasure, the critic (anonymous) seems resigned to bewilderment, “It is impossible for me to regard Mr. Spare’s drawings otherwise than as diagrams of ideas which I have quite failed to unravel; I can only regret that a good draughtsman limits the scope of his appeal”.
(Review of ” The Book of Pleasure, the Psychology of Ecstasy” (by Austin Osman Spare) in The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs, Vol. 26, No. 139, (Oct., 1914), pp. 38-39)


Protection Against Evil People


The Formula For Atavistic Resurgence


The Death Posture


AOS and his cats


AOS painting in his studio

David Chaim Smith

I discovered David Chaim Smith a few years ago when looking for books of esoteric art online. His incredibly detailed and textured drawings represent his visionary kabbalistic practice. His use of symbolic language is beautiful and absorbing.
He has an MFA in drawing from Colombia University.

On his website he explains the purpose of Shiviti and Illanot:

“A shiviti is a devotional image which displays a divine name for spiritual practice. The term comes from the verse “I have set (shiviti) YHVH before me always” (Psalm 16:8). In its esoteric form, shivitis provide a graphic context for the visualization and contemplation of complex divine name configurations. The tradition of illanot is a bit different. It refers to the cartographic aspect, which is the diagraming of the complex kabbalistic phases of creation and creativity. They serve more as maps than devotional images. Both traditions are combined in my work. I have been making illanot, shivitis, magical seals, and all kinds of related talismanic images since the 1970’s. They have served a wide variety of functions; some traditional and some quite radical. Below is a mixed selection spanning the past 25 years. Some are rather crude, however all of them function in the service of a working spiritual practice, in a wide range of contexts and configurations. The basis of my practice is highly unusual, which the construction of these images reflects. In these pieces various aspects of hermetic and gnostic wisdom can be seen in an amalgam with the kabbalistic structures. It is through this bond that the scope of the devotional, contemplative, magical, and mystical applications of my work arises.”

“The Sacrificial Universe” – David Chaim Smith, Fulgur Esoterica, 2012

1 3enthroningblaze 14 ggg shiviti2000

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