Language of the Birds

Language of the Birds: Occult and Art 

Paul Laffoley "Astrological Ouroboros" 1965 Oil, acrylic, and hand applied vinyl letters on canvas and wood

Paul Laffoley “Astrological Ouroboros” 1965 Oil, acrylic, and hand applied vinyl letters on canvas and wood.  Courtesy Kent Fine Art.

80WSE Gallery, New York University
January 12 – February 13, 2016

Curated by Pam Grossman

Opening reception: Wednesday, January 13, 6 – 8 p.m.
Hours: Tuesday – Saturday from 10:30 a.m. – 6 p.m.

Language of the Birds: Occult and Art  considers over 60 modern and contemporary artists who have each expressed their own engagement with magical practice. Beginning with Aleister Crowley’s trance portraiture and Austin Osman Spare’s automatic drawing of the early 20th century, the exhibition traces over 100 years of occult art, including Leonora Carrington and Kurt Seligmann’s surrealist explorations, Kenneth Anger and Ira Cohen’s ritualistic experiments in film and photography, and the mystical probings of contemporary visionaries such as Francesco Clemente, Kiki Smith, Paul Laffoley, BREYER P-ORRIDGE, and Carol Bove.

The concerns and influences of each of these artists are as eclectic as the styles in which they work. While several of the pieces deal with “high” or ceremonial magic, others draw from so-called “low magic” practices and have deeply chthonic roots. The approaches in technique are varying as well, with some doing years of research and preparation for the act of creation, and others working entirely intuitively. Regardless of method, Language of the Birds suggests that all are part of the same lineage: one that pulls on threads from the esoteric web of alchemy, Hermeticism, Spiritualism, Theosophy, divination and witchcraft.

The exhibition takes its name from the historical and cross-cultural notion that there is a magic language via which only the initiated can communicate.  Often referred to as the “language of the birds,” it is a system rumored to operate in symbols, and to be a vehicle for revealing hidden truths and igniting metamorphic sparks.

The artists in Language of the Birds can be considered magicians, then, when seen through this mythopoeic lens. A visual vocabulary is offered up by them, so that we all might be initiated into their imaginal mystery cults and dialog with the ineffable. They speak to us in secret tongues, cast spells, and employ pictures for the purpose of activating profound change in both themselves and in us.  By going within, then drawing streams of imagery forth through their creations, each of these artists seeks to render the invisible visible, to materialize the immaterial, and to tell us that we, too, can enter numinous realms.

Participating Artists

Kenneth Anger * Anohni * Laura Battle * Jordan Belson * Alison Blickle * Carol Bove * Jesse Bransford * BREYER P-ORRIDGE * John Brill * Robert Buratti * Elijah Burgher * Cameron * Leonora Carrington * Francesco Clemente * Ira Cohen * Brian Cotnoir * Aleister Crowley * Enrico Donati * El Gato Chimney * Leonor Fini * JFC Fuller * Helen Rebekah Garber * Rik Garrett * Delia Gonzalez * Jonah Groeneboer * Juanita Guccione * Brion Gysin * Frank Haines * Barry William Hale * Valerie Hammond * Ken Henson * Bernard Hoffman * Nino Japaridze * Gerome Kamrowski * Leo Kenney * Paul Laffoley * Adela Leibowitz * Darcilio Lima * Angus MacLise * Ann McCoy * Rithika Merchant * William Mortensen * Rosaleen Norton * Micki Pellerano * Ryan M Pfeiffer & Rebecca Walz * Max Razdow * Ron Regé, Jr. * Rebecca Salmon * Kurt Seligmann * Harry Smith * Kiki Smith * Xul Solar * Austin Osman Spare * Charles Stein * Shannon Taggart * Gordon Terry * Scott Treleaven * Panos Tsagaris * Charmion von Wiegand * Robert Wang * Peter Lamborn Wilson * Lionel Ziprin

Special Events Related to the Exhibition

Weds, Jan 13: Opening Reception  6-8pm

Weds, Jan 27: Performance of “The Language,” a theatrical piece written by playwright Matthew Freeman, commissioned for Language of the Birds  7pm

Fri, Feb 5 – Sun, Feb 7: The Occult Humanities Conference at NYU Steinhardt – a weekend long symposium of 14 lectures and performances which explore the influence of magical thought upon art, history, and contemporary culture

Weds, Feb 10: “Art Workings” Lectures and panel discussion with Professor Susan L. Aberth, Jesse Bransford, and William Breeze  7pm

For more images and info, please see languageofthebirds.org