80WSE NYU Steinhardt School, New York
82 Washington Square East
NY 10003 New York
artists & participants
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 tarot paintings and Austin Osman Spare’s automatic drawings of the 1920s, the exhibition traces nearly a century 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.