“THE ECSTASY OF FORBIDDEN DAYLIGHT”
Alexis Palmer Karl
School of Continuing and Professional Studies Gallery
Co-sponsored by Stephen Romano Gallery
Opening reception October 12th 6 – 8 2017
Exhibition dates October 12 – November 12 2017
144 West 14th street 2nd Floor New York, New York.
“THE ECSTASY OF FORBIDDEN DAYLIGHT” is an immersive multi media experience involving sculpture, photography, painting, sound and film which explores the pull of magic lifting the veil between our world and the spirit realm.
Alexis Palmer Karl is a Multimedia artist who works in sculpture, painting, photography, film and dark ambient music with her bands LEX and Parallax Born, who release their music with Onyudo Records.
Alexis’s work has been exhibited in the states and internationally, with performances at the Whitney Biennial and Guggenheim Museum, and is represented in New York by Stephen Romano Gallery. Alexis’s work explores the reinventing of oracular magic and ritualistic objects and the redefining of the witch archetype.
The work reinvents sacred ritualistic objects, and presents a portrait of Oracles who, while bound by this mortal coil, can see a world beyond. Inspired by her scholarly research and lectures of historical accounts of witchcraft and folkloric magic spell books, Karl’s work recasts and shifts the powerful Witch archetype.
A painted and filmed coven harness elements of the earth to do their magic; borrowing from death to bring new life, they are archetypal and goddess -like in their power. Obsidian- laden scrying bowls and black a Quartz pendulum reveal the future, and call forth spirits.
The work challenges the viewer to embrace the artist’s reinvention of magical practices, and brings into the light which has for centuries been seen as dark. The exhibition includes Animal Familiar ritual bowls, ritual bowls that secure love spells, and witch bottles to bind malevolent spirits.
Interview with Alexis Palmer Karl
DISINFO: Why do you think there is a revival in interest in all thing occult and esoteric in the arts?
APK: I think we are in a time of such homogeneity- a saturation of the the sameness in our culture, from strip malls and chain stores to expected routines; work all day five days a week to buy this or that from a mass produced shopping institution, where hangable art is at the ready.. just a shopping cart away. And this is a sterilization of our culture, and eradication of the individual in art.
The occult and esoteric arts offers the great alternative culture–something often much darker than reproduced airbrushed sailboats, and the like. The work of the occult reaches into a darker part of us, as it speaks of something arcane, personal and mysterious that harkens back to our very beginnings as a culture. When I look at work of this genre, and regard my on work I see links to ancient shamanic practices- through everything from mark making to symbolic intent. And this is why it makes one’s heart beat faster, for it speaks of a cultural history we all share, while it dares to dive into the shadow regions of our minds. Ours is the work of dream makers. We need this right now. There is a rise in interest due to the want of seeing the individual in art once again- needing to access a certain physicality in art that “mass art production” and technology is slowly cleaning up.. I call it it imagery bleaching. More and more, there is a growing audience who wants to see more, who wants to be challenged.
DISINFO: Do your position yourself as a shamanic presence within the culture? Are the art objects you make functional as healing devices?
APK: Yes, I do. I feel my art objects carry with them elements of healing- though must define that. It is more of a cultural healing that I offer. I ask people to engage with the work: to peer into the scrying bowls, to touch the pendulum while asking a question…to gaze into the ritual bowls and search for the symbols hidden within, to listen to the music, which is intended to break the boundaries of the room the work is in. All this to allow for a certain interaction. I want people to go into the work, travel from one object to the next, searching along the way for as of yet unanswered questions. This is not passive work. I think the act of engaging is a healing in itself, as it’s demanding an audience to look, to listen to question and to seek. My hope is that this is healing on a personal level as well. A women who has never seen anything like my work before gazed into the scrying bowl yesterday, and said she was reminded of her grandmother, who she was sure had magic in her. She touched the pendulum, silently asked it a question, and went away from the ritual table with a smile and tears in her eyes. She said it was able to answer something important for her. The art in this instance became the vehicle I wanted it to be; objects to guide…to inspire to viewer to dare to look a little deeper than they usually do.
DISINFO: To what extent does the artist bear any responsibility for adverse responses to the works? Bad memories that are unearthed? Ordeals or trauma? Suppressed memories?
APK: I think every artist has a certain responsibility to adverse responses to the work, in the recognition that the art can ignite memory , trauma, even nightmares. I personally welcome conversation with the viewers..will engage in a discourse about why I create what I do, so that perhaps I can answer questions that may arise. I am sorry for any adverse responses that the work may inspire, but also realize that once my work is presented in public, it is quite out of my hands as far as opinion goes.
For me, the use of a human skull and animal skulls in my work, or the eroticism of my painted figures is something natural, and not meant to be incendiary. It is, however, meant to provoke thought and emotion. I offer ideas of vanitas, of death and rebirth, of truth-seeking through magical practices. With that can come distress..or can come understanding and calm. While I recognize some will shirk at my materials or my creations in themselves, others will embrace them. I want the work to wake up the viewer. Let them come away elated or disgusted… secure or frightened… just let them come away with having felt something at all.
DISINFO: Do you have any concern about being persecuted because of your subject matter and materials, particularly in a socio political environment whereby evangelicals and puritans seem to have such enormous influence?
APK: This socio political environment is as such that I would not be surprised if my work would be persecuted for both its material use and content. The idea of feminine power I promote while referencing historical folkloric magic and shamanic practices is at odds with how women are being viewed once again through the skewed filter of our president. His campaign reflected historical witch hunts- spreading the notion of women as either vile beings or sexual objects. On the one hand, women, through the lens of our our current president, have been deemed nasty, or bitches.. witches once again. We are being reduced to either the old crone or the hyper-sexualized whore. On the other hand, there are strong, powerful, brilliant women in office who are challenging these disparaging stereotypes every moment.
My work talks about the celebration of feminine power throughout the ages; the idea of magic is interlaced with creativity, healing, sexuality and intelligence. There is a certain immortality promised within an archetype, and the witch archetype, while altered over and over again throughout history, immortal it remains.
The witch character has been feared throughout the ages…one that has been at odds with politics of men, with rises of religions, and social placement of women in our culture.
So to be persecuted for the work- work that is all about women, all about looking into the darker regions of the self, and using materials that could be deemed dangerous or dark… well, I would join the ranks of persecuted women and witches throughout the ages. The difference now is that, despite the political state and shifting view of women in our county, we have an open forum women have not had before: The internet-groups, platforms, communities that support one another. There are covens all throughout NYC, not to mention the whole country- women and men, who practice magic or art or both. At the very least, with every persecution, comes an outcry….nothing is hidden. This gives strength to freedom of creation.
DISINFO: You work in several medium, painting, sculpture, mixed media, sound, photography, music.. What is your thread of continuity from one medium to another?
APK: I am constantly switching back and forth between mediums, and the resulting works are all interwoven. I will compose music which will inspire a film, and the film concept will inspire a sculpture that I then use as a prop in the film, and so on. Often I’ll ask my models- often dancers, who I film or photograph with my ritual objects, to perform live with me for my LEX performances, or pose for a painting. While I intend for each piece to stand on its own, when together, I hope to see a thread running through them all. Together, they form my particular vision- one that is immersive and experiential due to the very mediums I am working with.
I find that I have much to say in many artistic languages. This feeds my need to constantly explore ways to define a concept, create a character, tell a story. Being surrounded by sculpture, film, music and painting allows for a more fully realized installation – one that can engage viewers in a very specific way..
The multidiciplinary nature of the work also reflects the ancient shamanic tradition , where shamans would use dance, music, words, fragrance and imagery to call forth gods or commune with the spirt realm- as well as the use of botanical or natural organic formations for ritualistic art. The use of found animal bones speaks of a recognition of mortality, while adorning the bones with semi -precious stones, or using them within ritual bowls and then film , speaks of reinvigorating them with new purpose… bringing them forth into the immortality realm of art. All of the works in all of the mediums ,when put together, become a sort of multi dimensional spell. They are like physical, tactile incantations, and tell the narrative of magic and witches- all seeking to reveal, question and glorify the world around us.
DISINFO: What drives you? Is it inspiration? A calling? Something you were born with?
APK: My work is driven by my fascination with exploring occult history and practices as well exploring my love of narrative and storytelling. My music is often intertwined incantations from The Egyptian Book of The Dead, or The 9 Songs from 2nd Century Bc Shamanic poetry. I like to wind the modern with the ancient in imagery and music, and in doing so, reveal something ancient and arcane in all of us.. something so easily lost to this modern world.
In my films, you will see women dancing in a forest- there is an enchantment to this.. but if you look closely, you may see the blinking lights of a passing plane, or hear the hum of machines imbedded in the music.
I’m driven by the need to find something sacred in objects once again, and recognize the power they hold.
I’m driven by this need to find the dark beauty of something internal and physical, and then share that with people. I’d like my viewers to forget where they are and when they are, when exploring my work.
I think in part a great part of my interest in occult and esoteric work comes from spending a lot of time in a cemetery as a child. My parents both worked within the gates of this grand, Victorian era cemetery, and my ideas of death were a little less taboo then expected from a young girl. I would play hide and seek in mausoleums with my brother, watch graves being dug, and have full blown picnics and grave rubbing sessions with my mother on the grounds. We would plant wild flowers around the trees, and look for animals nestled in the gravestones. My mother was magical to me. I remember her waking me up in the middle of the night to dance around our huge chestnut tree at midnight during the Solstice. She instilled a sense of wonder about the natural world, as well as a love for the darker side of art and music. I was this young, happy child living in a massive old house, paying in the cemetery everyday after school, and imagining wondrous characters of witches and spirits exploring the grounds with me.
To me, this place of death was also one of life and great imagination. I suppose this is why I choose to work with the materials I do..I am bringing those characters and their world to life.
ALEXIS PALMER KARL BIO
Alexis Palmer Karl is a multidisciplinary artist, professor at Pratt Institute and School of Visual Arts, and scholar and lecturer on magic and ritualism in art, fashion and fragrance. She has lectured extensively on ritualistic shamanic practices and folkloric magic, and the relevance of ritual within artistic culture at both the Metropolitan Museum and The Morbid Anatomy Museum, where she was the house perfumer and an exhibiting artist.
Karl’s art work is concerned with a reinterpretation of magical objects and the illustration of oracular magic through sculpture, film, gothic dark ambient music, ritual fragrance, and large scale portraits of witches. Her upcoming solo exhibition at Pratt Institute, “The Ecstasy of Forbidden Daylight”, is based on studies of 18th century accounts of witchcraft trials from her research in the UK, and a series of her lectures at The Morbid Anatomy museum, and serves to bring the archetype of the Witch into the modern era.