Thursday, February 14, 2013
Chapel of Sacred Mirrors Deep Puddle Dynamics
Posted by James Curcio
(first run on Alterati, 2007)
I'm lying on my back on the floor, on a mat in the middle of a long hall surrounded at both ends by singing bowls and enormous gongs. To my left is a girl, curled in a ball, who has been rocking back and forth for five minutes, sobbing, repeating the mantra, "I want my mommy, I want my mommy." To my right is another girl, lying in corpse pose as I am, who merely periodically sighs, "this is amazing." And here I am in the middle, eyes closed, clear-headed, and more or less invisible.
Though it would strike me as no surprise if hallucinogenic drugs were involved, there is no doubt in my mind that some of this reaction is the result of amplification. The Greys have really built a sacred space here. I first noticed it during my initial visit to the space-- I was one of the speakers for the Generation Hex launch party November 2005. About halfway through the presentation it struck me that many people were behaving as if they were on LSD, and they were people who, I knew for a fact, had taken none. This was later confirmed by comments from a number of the people in the audience later. As with a church when it is really serving its cultural function, the Chapel is a space which, if you're open to it, unhinges you from your everyday experience and expectations, and allows you to percieve everything, including yourself, from a new vantage point. (Also, like a church, you only get out of it what you bring to it.)
None of this is to say that I'm completely taken by the second-wave hippy "burning man" culture. This is no comment on the Greys, or their work, but instead upon the numerous conversations I overheard during the course of the night-- mostly boys trying to impress girls with their esoteric knowledge, or better yet, explaining what "Alex is trying to tell you with this picture." Like any other movement, you tend to have one innovator for every nine parrots. (And thankfully so, without the parrots, many ideas which deserve to be spread would die in silence.)
If you are familiar with the religious and mystical experience, his paintings, though open to interpretation, are also very clear statements of certain common, experiential truths. In one of the rooms, meditation chairs were provided so people could sit, meditate, and really get inside the paintings. Like many others, I spent an hour or more doing just that.
I want to demonstrate what I mean by by this statement with an example.
In this painting, the first thing you'll likely notice -- at least if it is ten or so feet across in front of you, rather than a small image on a screen -- is that the vanishing point of the horizon is the same location as the ajna chakra ("third eye") of the meditating aspirant. it also struck me that if you are sitting in front of the painting and meditating, you are in the same relationship with it.
Having done my fair share of standing meditation, where a part of the practice always involves setting the eyes and the intent upon the vanishing point of the horizon directly in front of you, this is a depiction of what you will eventually find to be a fact through such practice.
Also common to the mystical experience is the idea of the ascent upon the mountain, or even more commonly, time in the desert, and the long hard spiritual "dryness," oftentimes depicted as 40 days and 40 nights. Beneath the meditating figure in this image, depicted as his energy rather than physical body, is a desert floor. And behind him, flames. None of this requires analytical explaination. Part of the genius of it, for me, is that the picture makes clear certain ideas and experiences which took me years to uncover in books and Chi Gung. This isn't to say that those things should be spurned for the visual image, but there is something really reassuring about seeing it put so plainly.
I'm not trying to tell you what "Alex is trying to tell you"; aside from being just a little bit creepy, this seems to miss the point of all painting. The painter can say a whole lot more than he even recognizes himself saying, on a conscious level. The artist, like the audience, may not recognize the full extent of what they've done until they've already done it. It is as much a process of self realization for an artist as it is for a participant viewer.
This calls to mind one of the conversations I had with him. I had somewhat awkwardly re-introduced myself, and after a moment pointed out that the painting he was working on was very reminiscent of the (New) Aeon card in the Thoth Deck. Seemingly genuinely surprised, he peered at the picture, which had a child in the center, surrounded by sun yellow flames, and his two parents, looking on pensively, expectantly, their hopes and faith for the future invested in this new life. The child held aloft a single finger. Granted, in the Aeon card, the finger is held to his lips, in Alex's painting, it is held aloft, as if to proclaim something. He nodded, and said, "Wow, I think you're right."
I witnessed a certified thug strolling up to one of the paintings in the hall of mirrors, baggy pants and jacket, 40 oz in tow. He looked the image up and down for almost a minute before letting out a grunt. "Yeah, I dig that," I heard him say, before turning around and flossing out of the room. Obviously, they speak on many levels. The statement of the work as a whole is universal, almost Pantheistic, depicting every possible level of human experience, as a physical and energetic body, and as many cultural modalities of the Divine as is possible.
Towards the end of the night, covered in sweat from hours of dancing to Gaian Mind's Psytrance, I couldn't resist approaching him and saying something along the lines of, "you just channel it effortlessly at this point, don't you?" I didn't mean the act of painting but rather the content of the paintings... however, I wasn't clear in that, as I often tend not to be when I'm conversing in the moment, especially when out of breath at five in the morning.
He looked a little bashful and flustered for a moment, and said that though he may look that way sometimes, it really isn't so. The music was loud, so I didn't bother to further explain what I meant, but having watched him paint over the course of the evening, I can't say I'm entirely convinced. My theory that artists are more mediums and channels for something in themselves they don't even fully grasp remains unshaken. And in terms of the strength of that inner dialogue, and the ability to externalize it for others, Mr. Grey seems to be one of a small group in his generation.
As I was lying in the middle of the chapel between heaven and hell, ("This Is Amazing" / "I Want My Mommy"), I had to wonder, 'what's going on here, really?' What have they created?
Of course, on a cynical level, it's simply a smart branding and business move to create a space like this -- hold events in your gallery, sell your merch, have thousands of people out of their minds on God knows what stare at your paintings for hours and find themselves in it. But, for once, this doesn't seem to be the modus operandi. It is a means, but not the end.
What is the end? All I can provide is a short conversation I had with him. Somehow we got on the topic of Kali, and the consumption of Capitolistic culture. And he pointed out that we're in a chrysalis stage. Eating, eating, eating, but we don't really know what's coming out of this, what's next. CoSM, he said, gives a hint of that thing.
I think he's right.