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The Believers

  • Archive, Archive Exhibitions, Exhibition

  • April 26, 2007 – September 3, 2007

Meticulously crafted animals that move on their own, healing machines that exude beneficial energy, love-filled performances, and statues that honor past and present deities — these were some of the works that made up The Believers, an exhibition that opened at MASS MoCA on April 7, 2007. The Believers wasn’t about “belief” per se, but rather about the believers themselves, whose deeply held personal truths fly in the face of skepticism, irony, and often, reason. The exhibition included new work by three of the artists.

Some artists in the exhibition pondered (and suggested answers for) some of the most fundamental questions that have long captivated philosophers, scientists, and spiritualists alike, from the nature of matter, the possibility of immortality and the elements of identity, to the dynamics of human interaction, the limits of physical capacity, and the power of the human mind. Bas Jan Ader’s work, for example, was fueled by an unrelenting desire to search despite his constant failure. While making In Search of the Miraculous, a multi-part work that would challenge the boundaries between art and life, Ader attempted to cross the Atlantic in a 13-foot sailboat. He was never seen again. The Believers featured a photographic series from In Search of the Miraculous.

The Icelandic Love Corporation (ILC) wrote that their work is “fueled by champagne, a natural capacity for mayhem and a devout respect for Dolly Parton.” An all-female art collaborative, the ILC works to break down the barriers between artist and spectator by encouraging audience participation and by staging events in public places. Their belief that “love redeems us all” is neither cynical nor ironic. Through light-hearted, humorous, love-filled and sometimes absurd artworks and happenings, the ILC seeks to provide an alternative to the cold and sometimes harsh reality of consumer culture and technology.

Yoshua Okón and Fritz Haeg installed a new work which included Plan B: Dymaxion Projections, a 70′ × 20′ mural/graphic of Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion map of the earth. It served as a legend to the locations of significant alternative communities of the 20th century. Located in front of the map was Plan B: Geodesic Dens, made up of three geodesic domes which visitors could enter. Inside the domes were binders of collected research and documentation of the utopian communities referenced on the map. The dome consisted of a pre-fab aluminum frame with a fabric cover featuring digitally produced graphics by the collaborating graphic designer.

The work that some of these artists created is decidedly intimate, providing a window into their personal reality, with little delineation of their art as a category separate from their life. CarianaCarianne, for example, is the name of two distinct individuals, Cariana and Carianne, who occupy the same physical body and create work for, and in response to, each other. CarianaCarianne operate within both legal and artistic spheres to publicly proclaim the fact of their existence. Their multi-media gallery installations typically include framed legal documents, gifts exchanged between Cariana and Carianne, and dual video projections in which Cariana and Carianne engage in a dynamic dialogue. By making their personal dialogue public, CarianaCarianne address issues of freedom and acceptance as they strive to expand our notion of what constitutes the individual and the self. They are creating a new work for the exhibition.

Enigmatic and difficult to characterize, the sheer magnitude and diversity of Genesis P-Orridge’s work, as well as that of his public profile, attests to his ongoing process of reinvention against the status-quo. In an artistic reinvention, Genesis P-Orridge and his partner Lady Jaye (who passed away in 2007) underwent parallel plastic surgeries to achieve increased physical similarity, becoming a third being: Breyer P-Orridge. The series of work that accompanied this transformation, entitled Pandrogeny, is part of Breyer P-Orridge’s ongoing exploration into the realm of human identity. Breyer P-Orridge created a new installation for The Believers.

Several of the artists employed objects, sayings, and concepts from popular culture to create a new personal reality. Sister Mary Corita Kent gained international fame for her vibrant serigraphs during the 1960s and 1970s. Her early works were largely iconographic, using phrases and depicted images from the Bible. By the 1960s, she began to lift images from popular culture (such as advertising slogans and song lyrics) as raw material for her works, which have been characterized as spiritual and inspirational “bursts of text and color.” Corita’s art reflects her spirituality, her commitment to social justice, her hope for peace and her delight in the world.

Jonathan Meese‘s prodigious output ranged from large-scale installations and wild performances to graffiti-style paintings and bronze sculptures. As a self-proclaimed “cultural exorcist,” Meese freely brought together a wide range of cultural zeitgeist and media images to develop narratives that exploited the nature of power, corruption, and contemporary mythology.

A belief in extraordinary powers of objects and auras characterizes the work of several of The Believers: Emery Blagdon, a former hobo who, at the age of 43, settled on a farm in central Nebraska, spent the last 30 years of his life creating what he referred to as “healing machines.” He lived as a recluse, and his work remained unseen by the public until after his death. Blagdon believed that his intricate constructions — made from wire, metal, lights, and wood scraps — exuded healing energy fields, a phenomenon that he did not, and could not, explain.

A scholar of the work of film-maker, occultist, and Hollywood Babylon author Kenneth Anger, Walter Cassidy is a practitioner of Magick, a system of occult beliefs established by British occultist Aleister Crowley. In his artistic practice, Cassidy makes photographic records of spells and their ritual ingredients. Roger Davis, known as Witch Vortex, resided in Savoy, Massachusetts, approximately 20 miles from MASS MoCA, until his death in 2011. An admitted recluse, Witch Vortex produced numerous large wooden statues on his remote property including those of Pan, a moon goddess, an altar for the phases of the moon, and a steer. He used the statues to both honor deities as well as to enhance various ceremonies he intermittently held on his property. For The Believers the artist created a ritual space in MASS MoCA’s galleries.

Some of the artists’ inspirations come from science and technology. Panamarenko’s machines, one of which will be on display, are intended to liberate people from gravity enabling onlookers to escape the forces of terrestrial and magnetic attraction and to experience new forms of travel and movement as well as exceptional, remote and hitherto unknown locations. In this sense, they are far more than just inventions. They help the viewer to discover how everyday aspects of his life — the way in which he moves from A to B — could be indescribably different and enjoyable.

Theo Jansen, fascinated with technology and the process of biological evolution, developed a series of programmed worms that live, procreate, and die on the computer screen and later began to fashion his own creatures out of plastic PVC tubes, using computer programs to calculate optimal walking motions. Since then, Jansen’s animals (who he refers to as Strandbeest or “beach animals”) have evolved through several generations. Powered by the wind, the most complex of these animals can walk, flap their wings, discern obstacles in their paths and even hammer themselves into the sand in preparation of a storm. Ultimately, Jansen hopes to “release” his animals in herds where they can live out their own lives. The exhibition featured one of his majestic deceased animals plus a video of the creature in its natural habitat.

One of the undeniable pioneers of Finnish electronic music, Erkki Kurenniemi built electronic instruments for himself and also for other people, such as M.A. Numminen, for whom he first created a “singing machine,” with which Numminen participated in a singing contest in 1964. His most ambitious project was the series of digital synthesizers, called DIMI, in the early 1970s. The video synthesizer DIMI-O converted any movements recorded by the video camera into real-time sound and music. In 2002, Finnish film director Mika Taanila made a documentary film on Erkki Kurenniemi, called The Future Is Not What It Used To Be, was screened as part of the exhibition.

Theo Jansen, Animaris Percipiere Primus, 2005
photo: Kevin Kennefick