The Ritual of the Mass & the difficulties of portraying esoteric ritual practice in contemporary art

Image: The main iconostasis in St Kazan Cathedral, St Petersburg, Russia.

I’ve been discussing the idea of filmed ritual with Josephine who has collaborated with me in my video work. We were wondering about how have to have a more active ritual aspect to the work and how this would translate. The main issues I see around filmed ritual are as follows:

  • Much ritual; western ceremonial magick in particular; just looks daft when viewed from ‘the outside’. It’s a participatory practice and rarely works as a spectator sport. Ritual is experiential in nature and there are few forms that can be viewed and appreciated without most of the active ingredients being completely lost.
  • It can look truly hokey. The trappings of ritual (again, especially western ceremonial) are so loaded with pre-existing cultural and pop-cultural meaning that use of them is very difficult unless it’s in a deliberately self-aware way, which lends itself more to the glib and ironic. Candles, incense, swords, robes? Pile all those together and you’ve got yourself a bad amateur horror movie.
  • Blatantly utilising the ritual language of cultures that are not my own for the sake of my art smacks of appropriation and the arrogant surface skimming of something I can’t truly understand. In a personal ritual setting experimentation with new practice is enriching, but for something like my video art I think it is gauche. The best way for me to work with non-western ritual language would be to collaborate with a practitioner who understands the deeper context and for me to take more of an ‘outsider’ position. This is something to consider for future works.

Ritual as a live performance piece is fraught with many of the same problems, especially the ‘cringe factor’ that comes with the cultural loading mentioned above. For both video and performance I’m inclined to remove most of the symbolic aspects that the audience is familiar with and, if I keep any (eg the kind of robed dress I’ve been using), angle it away from the ‘witchcraft and sorcery’ connotations. I’ve been leaning in the direction of historical art in gesture and form so that the work alludes to Renaissance or Baroque art which I hope lends it a different symbolic texture.

Looking again at Mikala Dwyer’s treatment of esoteric themes in her work I’ve been influenced by the way she has subverted and also utilised the loading of the forms she has used. Her robes and costumes for example still retain the connections to magical dress but they use fabrics and forms that have different connotations and so take the symbolism to a new place. Likewise her performance piece Goldene Ben’der (2013) which sees hooded participants robed in golden lamé attempt to defecate publicly into clear perspex seats which are later displayed. While this work may seemed to have a humorous aspect, it also captures both the seriousness and visual ridiculousness of ceremonial magick in one go. Very clever I think!

I spent some time pondering the kinds of rituals that are meant to be viewed as well as experienced and I came to the concept of the Mass. Aleister Crowley created a Gnostic Mass as a ceremonial ritual that I believe is the only example within his canon that is intended to be viewed by non-participants, although that’s an interesting point to play with as truly the congregation are also participants through the aspect of the Priest.
(Side note: he did also create his interpretation of the Rites of Eleusis, but to my mind they are theatre more than active ritual. Others might beg to differ.)

Crowley was hugely influenced by a Russian Orthodox Mass he witnessed, so while in St Petersburg I attempted to attend one to get a feel for what impressed him. I wasn’t able to attend a Mass, as I was not there on a Sunday, but I did attend a Russian Orthodox liturgy at Kazan Cathedral. Obviously I took no photos at the time of the service.

The cathedral has a central altar and 2 side altars, the Evening Liturgy was at one side and was cordoned off for worshippers. In order to be part of it I needed to wear a scarf over my head and I paid attention to everyone else to try and make sure I was doing the right thing. There is an awful lot of genuflecting, but apart from that it was actually quite relaxed with people coming and going.

Here are some interesting things that I noticed:

  • The altars are not visible to the congregation at all. There is a three part divider in front of each of the three altars called an iconostatis. Only the high clergy can go behind this to the altar and I believe it is only ever opened at Mass.
  • There are three clergy involved and they move around a lot; in and out of the 2 side doors in the iconostasis (but not the central door, they adored this but did not open it). There is a small altar within the congregation in front of the altar steps. This gives the chapel a three-point area of movement for the clergy: 1 behind the iconostatis (at the high altar), 2 in front of the iconostatis on the dais and 3 in the congregation on a lower level. One of the clergy takes incense around the whole perimeter of the chapel area and everyone turns towards him as he walks.
  • The congregation stand for the whole time. I had no idea how long the liturgies would go but I realised after an hour that they were actually looping round and it didn’t seem like they were going to stop any time soon. They genuflect a lot: head, base, right, left, touch the floor.
  • The loveliest part is the continual chanting and singing. The clergy chants the liturgies and an invisible choir up behind us sang in a call and response with the clergy. It’s worth having a listen to a Russian Orthodox service if you are interested because it truly is spine-tingling.

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Once again the viewer is still a part of the experience; you are THERE, you are not watching it play out on video. I find the placement of objects and people, plus the necessity to move through the area and be in certain places at certain times, to be a concept I could work with. I have created a diagram of the layout of a Russian Orthodox service versus Crowley’s Gnostic Mass. You can see the clear similarities between the too and the way movement through space would function in both rituals as the various clergy (or officers in the case of the Gnostic Mass) move around the chapel/temple. The 2 rituals above are very different but have strong similarities in movement, pacing and interactions. I feel that perhaps movement through space with gesture and interaction is intrinsic to a lot of ritual practice and could be included in my video while still allowing the work to remain free of the problems I outlined above. Something to think about further…

I find this whole quandary of portraying active ritual very interesting to think about. I find it very difficult but a great challenge. There are going to be some serious failures coming up, but a good ‘art fail’ is the best thing to point you in the right direction!

 

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‘Occulture: The Dark Arts’ at City Gallery Wellington

Last weekend I flew down to Wellington for the day so that I could attend the opening of ‘Occulture’ at the City Gallery. I have never been at such a busy opening day with so many packed-out floor talks! It was seriously heartening for me to see so much interest in work with this kind of content as it is so close to my own heart and art practice. The success of this show is testament to the work of both curators Aaron Lister of the City Gallery and Robert Buratti of Buratti Gallery, Perth.

Robert showed some of my video work at his gallery last year so it was lovely to finally meet him in person. He is an erudite and well-considered speaker who brought the works of Aleister Crowley and Rosaleen Norton to life for the crowd, while orientating them in both a magickal and art historical context. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to properly hear the floor talks by all the artists due to the rather large crowds, meaning I was sometimes only partially in the gallery space or around a corner!

I had a good spot during Dane Mitchell’s talk so I was able to take a lot of notes which I can share here. The process involved in the works is very interesting: There are 3 different works within the larger grouping he has chosen to show; ‘Non Verbal Gestures 1, 2, 3 & 4’ a set of hanging silk banners, ‘Celestial Fields’ a series of metal stanchions and a set of 7 glass globes and ‘Ceramic Fields‘ a series of 12 ceramic objects.

 

The four banners depict mudras that can be seen in use throughout the world, often with magic, religious or superstitious meaning. They hang above a maze of metal stanchions that Dane Mitchell describes as a constellation rendered in a rational museum language. It describes a universal system of knowing or belief – in this case the stars – that charts a wayfaring system that then corrals visitors within the gallery space. Dane talked about his desire to explore the scope of the invisible and how he sees himself as an anthropologist or tourist navigating these realms with the assistance of practitioners. In the case of ‘Celestial Fields’ his guide was a Korean shaman who, it turned out, had some quite complex requests. Dane told us how the shaman had decided at one point that he would no longer communicate with him verbally and would now only work with him on the astral plane. In response Dane sent him an empty water bag into which the shaman passed his breath and sent it back. The glass objects were created by the co-mingling of the 2 breaths blown into glass and encapsulated within. The preparation of this kind of object is equally as important as the presentation of the ‘finished’ art work.

‘Ceramic Fields’ is comprised of 12 objects representing the zodiac. The clay objects were baked in an oven with hallucinogenic plant-matter provided by the shaman to imbue the works with it’s properties. There is something in this use of very organic materials that investigates the seeking of the supernatural through the natural, transcendence through the everyday. There is a groove running around each object that was made with a cast of the artist’s tongue. Dane talked about the nature of taste as exploration, and the way that children ‘stick the world in their mouths’ in order to understand it. I love this because I have quite an interesting relationship with taste myself. When I experience an object or a texture that I particularly enjoy I find that my mouth starts to water and I get an associated taste, or more accurately a ‘mouth feel’ to go with the texture. There is also often an accompanying ‘tone’ that goes with the texture and the mouth-feel. When I see an object I really like I have an overwhelming urge to taste it! Not something you can really get away with in a gallery or museum.

There was another comment that Dane made which I found related very closely to my own art practice; the exploration of revelation and concealment. This pairing of ideas follows me around everywhere and I think it must be due to the very meaning of occult; to be hidden or concealed. Exploration of the occult is a constant process of hiding and revealing, finding and losing. I find that in Dane Mitchell’s practice the conceptual thought and complexity of process within the work provides that depth of concealment and continued revelation that draws you in and keeps you curious.

Some of my favourite contemporary artists were also showing; Mikala Dwyer, Fiona Pardington and Yin-Ju Chen’s incredible ‘Liquidation Maps’ that I was raving about at the Sydney Biennale. Not to mention the Aleister Crowley and Rosaleen Norton works. My intention is to take more notes on my return in September so that I can write about the many other works and the show as a whole. Very much looking forward to a second viewing!

Mikala Dwyer @ Hopkinson Mossman 2016

Last Friday I popped into Hopkinson Mossman gallery to enjoy the Mikala Dwyer solo show – I’m a big fan of her work but had never seen an entire gallery install. On entering the gallery there are three of her robe costumes on the lefthand side, with one of her hanging ‘necklaces’ on the right. On entering the main gallery space you encounter three large painted banners, a hanging mobile-type structure and a number of of her fetishistic ritual objects. There was no one else in the gallery which was quite nice because I could spend time with the works and get up close for a good look at the different objects.

The large draped banners immediately reminded me of sacred geometric designs, of mandalas and of the Tree of Life. They changed an became more three dimensional or more flat depending on the angle they were viewed from. The sculptural objects that sat on them seemed like chess pieces waiting to be moved activating the composition. i felt they had a potentiality about them in the sense that they could be performed – the costumes also have this but in a more obvious way because the viewer is quite aware that they could be worn. Perhaps the positioning of the robes and headwear at the entrance to the ain space signalled that an initiate could don the robes and activate the space?

Between 2 of the banners hangs a totemic mobile. It guards the space and the viewer feels that even though they could walk through to the other side, they probably shouldn’t if they know what’s good for them. Maybe donning the mask and robe would make it a safer journey? The feeling of a gateway or passage to another space is amplified by the use of semi-translucent material, translucent gauze and reflective mirror. The mirror does the trick of reflecting back the shapes and objects as well as the viewer and bouncing you around between the structures in the space.

Dwyer uses some wonderful objects in her assemblages. The weirdness and clashing nature of them activate the ritual totemic urgency in the work, creating a dialogue between the materials. In her large necklace piece I particularly enjoyed the lumpy clay weights that hung heavily from the ends of the chain. They served to make the other elements on the ‘decorative’ part of the necklace seem all the more special, magical and precious. On both the necklace and in the main room assemblages there are some of Dwyers trademark moulded pieces; some with other objects embedded in – or more accurately consumed by – the malleable substrate. The multi-hued metallic glaze she has used is like an oil slick over their lumpy surface.

Somehow the install manages to be both noisey and quiet at the same time. You could very  well sit and meditate on the geometric constructs, but you have to be prepared to deal with the cacophony of bold colour and clashing objects.

Wonderful.

Wunderruma

Anita and I visited the Auckland Art Gallery this afternoon to view the Wunderruma jewellery show. It was more exciting than I expected as the curators had chosen to explore the concept of jewellery in many interesting ways. Not only did we see many decorative, wearable pieces but they also provided examples of jewellery in and as image, jewellery as sculpture, as installation and as artefact.

I was particularly thrilled to see one of Mikala Dwyer’s necklace installations as I had been looking at pictures of them today in relation to the language of things. IMG_1793Mikala Dwyer, Methylated Spiritual (2012) photo taken at Auckland City Art Gallery

Speaking of heterogeneous object collections there were several I saw in the exhibition. This one is a collection from the Randell Family cottage, discovered in a small hole behind the chimney.
Obviously someones little stash of magical objects!

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IMG_1800 IMG_1801Hany Armanious, Turns in Arabba (2005) Photo taken at Auckland City Art Gallery

This Hany Armanious work has a fascinating collection of objects presented on an altar-like shelf and in various stages of creation and transformation. This work had me pondering around how it expressed the jewellery theme of the exhibition. Was it the casting of the objects? Their decorative shapes and method of display? The way they ornament their altar/shelves? The sound added an extra dimension to the work by seeming to fill the negative space around and between the objects.

Another thing of note was the very unusual display strategy of stacked perspex cubes for the smaller pieces. At some points I felt it didn’t work as the small items on the lower cubes got a bit lost and I don’t think it works to force a viewer to bend over uncomfortably when the intent is display rather than as a function of the artwork. But overall I found the display strategy engaging and interesting, it also allowed for the viewing of many small objects without breaking up the gallery spaces with standardised, waist level display tables.

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This exhibition appealed to me in particular because of my own interest in jewellery. I found that it opened up my ideas around jewellery and it’s possibilities in my art practice. The wide variety of objects and images allowed me to see the concept of ‘jewellery’ in more than just decorative of wearable terms, but also objects that can be brought into installation or sculptural conversations.

Mikala Dwyer and The Language of Things

“Walter Benjamin understood the true collector’s collection as a ‘magic encyclopedia’. Such a collection is animated. It acquires a life of it’s own. What is more, when objects are added to it they undergo a rebirth as they are placed in this new context.”
Taussig, M. Art and Magic and Real magic. P26, Franzidis, E. (ed). (2014) Drawing Down The Moon. Brisbane, Australia: Institute of Modern Art.

“According to Benjamin this language of things is mute, it is magical and it’s medium is material community.”
Steyerl, H. (2006) The Language of Things, http://eipcp.net/transversal/0606/steyerl/en

Over the years I’ve had many collections; collections of objects that I felt were significant in some way, collections of images that I wanted to return to and put into order (these orders would change as I revisited them), collections of items I wanted to make something out of, to change into another object that becomes a new thing by the sum of it’s parts. In a way they were all potential collages, both two dimensional and three dimensional. Why do collections appear to have their own innate power? Adding or subtracting from them can change their very nature and the nature of the new addition or subtraction.

Benjamin suggests that objects have their own innate language that is expressed in their relationships to each other. (Steyerl, H. (2006) The Language of Things ). We, as humans, come along and name them, try to impose, vocalise, amplify their language with our own. Benjamin refers to this as the Language of Judgement which I suppose means that the Things (capital T!) allow each other to be content with their original thingness while we are unable to resist imposing our own language upon them.

I have seen these ideas expressed in the Mikala Dwyer’s ‘Additions and Subtractions’ works, the collections of objects that create a conversation between themselves and a magical space in which to exist and explore their ‘thingness’. The works are never the same and Dwyer is never sure what they are going to be, bringing large numbers of objects with her and then responding to the environment and the relationships of the objects to each other and their surrounds. The circles created in the ‘Additions and Subtractions’ works create an otherworldly space within their circumference that is created by their conversations with each other. Sometimes, as in ‘An Apparition of a Subtraction’ (2010) Dwyer will add other elements to the collections such as smoke and sound to create a ‘sonic object’ within the circle. She also utilises materials and forms that draw on her family history; blocks of stone from Cockatoo Island where her parents lived and shapes from her mothers jewellery making practice (see Goldene Bend’er, 2013).

Dwyer tries to limit her ‘language of judgement’ by allowing her Things to realise their own language.
“I try to get to a point where things can speak for themselves rather than having me impose my voice upon them.”
Mikala Dwyer in conversation with Robert Leonard. p57 Franzidis, E. (ed). (2014) Drawing Down The Moon. Brisbane, Australia: Institute of Modern Art.

002Mikala Dwyer ‘An Apparition of a Subtraction’ (2010).

_MG_2803Mikala Dwyer ‘Goldene Bend’er’ (2013).
Objects reminiscent of the shapes of her mothers rings

I really enjoy the variety of size and materials in Dwyers objects. The same form may be repeated over and over but take on a completely different life depending on it’s dimensions and materiality. I also appreciate the way they create windows and vignettes for each other, giving the viewer new perspectives and insight into the conversations between the Things.

“The circle then becomes a defined space of activity in which the conversations between forms matter far more than the forms themselves. This reversal of focus, from the installation’s positive solidity to the negative spaces it leaves, is similar to the experience of a séance, which invites participants to believe certain arrangements of objects and bodies in space will create electrical fields that enable spirits to transform or reappear.”
Byrt, A. Prism Break. P12, Franzidis, E. (ed). (2014) Drawing Down The Moon. Brisbane, Australia: Institute of Modern Art.

I would go so far as to say that the above idea can be related to much ceremonial ritual practice, where the gathering of specifically chosen Things creates an energy between both the Things and the practitioner that enables the experience of the otherworldly. The language of the Things imparts an importance to the ceremony that enables the practitioner to believe in the ritual and remove the conscious (and skeptical) mind from the proceedings. Michael Taussig suggests that Mikala Dwyer exhibits both scepticism and faith in equal measure (Taussig, M. Art and Magic and Real magic. P26, Franzidis, E. (ed). (2014) Drawing Down The Moon. Brisbane, Australia: Institute of Modern Art.) and this is an idea I relate to in my own work and, indeed, my own life. I’m an entirely skeptical atheist but at the same time inexplicably drawn to the occult, the esoteric, the otherworldly. I don’t see these stances as being oppositional to each other, indeed the flourishing of occult practice in conjunction with the emergence of Modernism around the turn of the last century brings together metaphysical thinking with the western scientific worldview in a strange amalgamation of the rational and the mystical. Friedrich Fröbel’s rather mystical thinking produced the Kindergarten movement which exerted a significant effect on certain Modernist schools. And Dwyer herself utilises a form of modernist, esoteric practice in the way she assembles her Things, using a Fröbel-esque approach to uncovering the objects relationships to each other.

It seems that the interplay between the Things is strongest and most ‘electric’ when the collection is heterogeneous, when the objects clash, confuse and challenge. This can be seen in Dwyers circle works as much as on in the collections of magical practitioners. The image below shows a West African Voudou altar where Catholic icons sit side by side with jewellery, traditional pottery, stones, snakes and offerings of food and drink.

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When looking at Dwyers collections of Things it’s easy to see them reflected in the magical collections of both traditional shamanic ritual and of western ceremonial tradition, as well as their relationship to the ‘magic encyclopedia’ that Walter Benjamin describes. Michael Taussig makes a connection between Things and the human relationship to the otherworldly:

“Could it be that magical practice through the ages needs things so as to maintain a relationship with the non-human, thing world?”
Taussig, M. Art and Magic and Real magic. P27, Franzidis, E. (ed). (2014) Drawing Down The Moon. Brisbane, Australia: Institute of Modern Art.

Maybe it does, especially if Things speak the language of creation, or as Benjamin described it, the residue of the word of god. (Benjamin, W. (1916) On Language as Such and on the Language of Man, http://users.clas.ufl.edu/burt/chaucer’swake/LanguageofMan.pdf

Experiencing the unknown

Since embarking upon an exploration of participatory performance art my research and thinking has been centred around the new concerns this medium throws up for me. A large part of that has been around audience engagement and participation, how levels of consent and safety affect the appreciation of the work and how this can be achieved for your audience without compromising the work.

Invariably there is work in the contemporary artworld that shocks, disgusts and creates discomfort in the viewer. When responding to an image or an object, the viewer has distance and a level of detatchment from the artwork, so if the discomfort is too great the viewer can turn away. How does this function within an immersive environment? Even when an artist may not intend discomfort, an audience member may still experience it and the artist needs to take this into consideration.

Olafur Eliasson’s “Your Blind Passage” (2010) requires the audience take a bold step into the unknown by entering a passage with no prior knowledge of it’s interior. Once inside, the viewer has to rely on senses other that sight to navigate as the density of smoke and coloured lights makes it impossible to see more than a short distance. In the gallery space the audience member has the option to enter or not enter the work depending on their level of comfort and they do not have to enter the space alone. Once inside the work the viewer could choose to leave if the experience was unpleasant for them. This allows audience members to give themselves over to full engagement with and experience of the work without feeling uneasy about their place in the environment.

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Olafur Eliasson ‘Your Blind Passage’ (2010)

Other works offer the option for engagement or observation. “Imponderabilia” (1977) Marina Abramovic and Ulay, creates a doorway from two naked bodies facing each other. If an audience member squeezes through the gap they must choose which body to face. This piece gives the audience the option of either participating in the work or watching others participate in the work. The experience will be different depending on which option the viewer chooses, but the ability to make that choice is given and that allows the viewer to feel comfortable in their decision.

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Marina Abramovic and Ulay ‘Imponderabilia’ (1977)

A work such as Tino Sehgal’s “This Progress” (2010) requires a far more active participation from the audience. Rather than being explorers (Your Blind Passage) or having a brief but potentially intense interaction with the work (Imponderabilia) ‘This Progress’ envelops the audience fully into the work for an extentended performance. Although the experience of passing up the spiral gallery of the Guggenheim talking with performers doesn’t sound confrontational or discomforting, there is still the aspect of venturing into the unknown that has to be overcome by the audience. Their trepidation would certainly be allayed by the fact that the travellers can journey through the work in small groups, they can also see ahead of them and behind them, there are also no uncomfortable situations to be faced except for questions around the nature of progress.

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Tino Sehgal ‘This Progress’ (2010)

Apart from discomfort related fear of the unknown the other aspect of my work I need to contend with once again is the issues around dealing with exclusionary subject matter. I went back to looking at Kara Walker and the way she addresses racism in the Antebellum South. Her large installations are quite enveloping so a viewer could be well within the artwork before noticing that the charming silhouettes dancing around the walls are not so charming after all. There are bound to be viewers who are disturbed and upset by the scenes, but the nature of the work means that they have enough distance from the images that they may just move away and leave the installation.

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Kara Walker ‘Darkytown Rebellion’ (2001)

When working with the symbolic language of ritual one has to be very careful to strip away any excess symbolism that could have a negative effect on the work and only keep that which is truly useful. I’ve been creating some costumes for a performative piece and have changed them and rethought them several times to make sure that they retained the associations with ritual and mysticism while avoiding any problematic or unnessary connotations. I examined Mikala Dwyer’s use of ritual costuming in her work ‘ Goldene Bend’er’ (2013). She uses hooded robes which immediately evoke ritual and the occult, she even has some pointy hoods which can be a very difficult and potentially offensive choice. The way she changes the robes and creates her own ritual garb is to use unexpected materials such as gold lame, lurex and covering her mishapen hoods in strange material and textures. This way she effectively maintains the associations she wants to keep and removes those she does not. This has been a very valuable observation for me and something I need to keep pushing in my own work. Dwyer maintains a distance between audience and ritual performance, they are observers not participants so they maintain a level of detachment.

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Mikala Dwyer ‘Goldene Bend’er’ (2013). Ritual garb hanging on wall

Each of these artists have strong, well known practices. This gives them a bit of freedom to push the boundaries because viewers have some preconceptions around what to expect; they know that a Kara Walker work is going to contain some racially provocative images, that an Abramovic piece is likely to be confronting and that Tino Sehgal will probably have some audience participation. As these works are on display in public spaces the options for viewers to choose to engage with the work are totally open. For my work, in an educational setting, where I benefit from feedback from my peers, I need to make sure that the work is accessible and viewers are comfortable in engaging with it without taking away from the experience of the performance.

Accessing the Otherwordly

One of the issues within my practice that I am still working through is the problem of exclusionary subject matter. This is something I researched through looking at Kara Walker’s treatment in her work and I have continued to research in artists working with mystical or occult ideas.

Australia artist Mikala Dwyer also deals with this issue of the viewer as outsider in her work. Because of the esoteric strangeness of the work, there is the possibility of the viewer feeling that taking the time to engage is too difficult, and that maybe some sort of complex trick is being played on them, the nature of which is only privy to a select cabal of initiates. What is actually going on? Should we be scared? It this really something other than what it seems?

“Concealment of one sort or another is clearly a feature of the artist’s work. It is tempting to reject the quality of strangeness outright – on the one hand because interpretation proves to be too difficult and time consuming, and on the other because it is a reminder of our own relative ignorance, coming to the gatherings, as we do, as outsiders.” (Hansford, P.  Enigma Machines p48)
Clemens, J. Colless, E. Hansford, P. Long, D. Mathews, H. Michael, L. Ross, T. Campbell, K (2013) Mikala Dwyer: Goldene Bend’er. Southbank, Australia: Australian Centre for Contemporary Art.

dwyer_2008_detail11-mDwyer, M. Swamp Geometry (2008) various materials, Anna Schwartz Gallery, Melbourne, Australia

Dwyer uses formal elements to allow the viewer not just access to the work, but the opportunity to be part of it. In his talk “Frontier Spirits: Ghosts, Magic, and Colonial Half-Truths” (2013). Cranbrook Academy of Art, [Video], Anthony Byrt describes the use of circular spaces as choreographic parameters which restrain the work and create an area of invocation in which the work can be experienced. This appears to give the viewers access and permission to step inside a liminal space which might otherwise make them uncomfortable. Dwyer acts as a guide into the otherworld and leads the uninitiated across the borders; thanks to the artist the spectator can see.

“In Dwyer’s work, both artist and spectator find a way to connect through a second skin in the artist layer itself.” (Hansford, P.  Enigma Machines p48)

Dane Mitchell also deals with viewer suspicion in his work, “namely the ever present suspicion that a work of art is concealing something, that it’s not all there, indeed that some crucial, occult element can only be gleaned by a very small coterie of superhuman initiates. Either that, or it is what the French bluntly call ‘fouteage de gueule’ (roughly translatable as a spit in the face).” (Sharp, C.  Trajectories of Immateriality p61)
Mitchell, D. (2012) Radiant Matter I/II/III. Berliner Kunstlerprogramm DAAD and Govett-Brewster Art Gallery (New Plymouth), Dunedin Public Art Gallery (Dunedin), Artspace (Auckland). New Zealand

dane-mitchell_dpag3Mitchell, D. Gateway to the Etheric Realm (2011) Powder-coated steel, spell, spell materials. 6000 x 6000 x 3250mm approx. Radiant Matter II, Dunedin Public Art Gallery, Dunedin, New Zealand.

Much the same as Dwyer, Mitchell acts as an artist on the threshold of worlds, using boundaries as parameters to contain liminal spaces. In his work “Gateway to the Etheric Realm” (2011) Mitchell uses a delineated space to contain a conjured spell. It is only the borders of the space that enable the viewer to know that the spell exists in this world at all. His use of vitrines, blown glass and mirrored boxes create boundaries within which his otherworlds exist and can be accessed.

It’s noteworthy how much this feeling of being excluded can irritate the viewer rather than making them curious. Perhaps it’s an extension of the perceived inaccessibility of the art world itself where only the academic, the members of an elite art world can fully understand the work!