The Occult Humanities Conference 2017:
Contemporary Art and Scholarship on the Esoteric Traditions

October 13-15, 2017
34 Stuyvesant St. New York, NY


Hosted by Phantasmaphile and the NYU Steinhardt Department of Art and Art Professions

About

 

The third Occult Humanities Conference is a weekend conference to be held in New York City on October 13-15, 2017. The conference will present a wide array of voices active in the cultural landscape who are specifically addressing the occult tradition through research, scholarship and artistic practice.

The arts and humanities at present are acutely interested in subjects related to the occult tradition. The tradition represents a rich and varied visual culture that displays a complex set of relations at once culturally specific and global in their transmission. Roughly defined, the occult tradition represents a series of culturally syncretic belief systems with related and overlapping visual histories. Though there are as many ways into this material as there are cultural - and personal - perspectives, universal occult concerns often include a belief in some sort of magic; a longing to connect with an immaterial or trans-personal realm; and a striving for inner-knowledge, refinement of the self, and transformation of one's consciousness - if not one's physical circumstances.

Intensely marginalized throughout most historical periods, these traditions persist and represent an 'underground' perspective that periodically exerts a strong influence on structures of dissent, utopianism and social change. Though history is marked with several so-called "Occult Revivals," the contemporary digital age is a perfect confluence of several factors which make this moment prime for a reexamination of all of the esoteric traditions. While the information age has allowed for easier access to previously obscure writings, imagery, and social contexts, it alternately elicits a deep desire for sensorial experiences and meaning-making once one steps away from the screen.

The presenters at the OHC represent a rich and expanding community of international artists and academics from multiple disciplines across the humanities who share an exuberance and excitement for how the occult traditions interface with their fields of study as well as the culture at large. The small scale of this conference (approximately 100 attendees) will give ticket holders an intimate look at the presenters and their views.

 

Information about the 2016 Occult Humanities Conference can be found here.

Information about the 2013 Occult Humanities Conference can be found here.

 

Participants

 

LEONORA AT 100: WHAT HAS CHANGED AND WHAT HASN'T

This panel will be a discussion between Dr. Susan Aberth (author of Leonora Carrington: Surrealism, Alchemy and Art) and Jesse Bransford (artist and conference co-organizer) concerning the perception of occult themes within art criticism, in light of Leonora Carrington's centenary. Though there have been several monumental esoteric exhibitions of late, the topic of occultism is still ghettoized and discredited as was amply evidenced in the reviews of the recent Mystical Symbolism exhibition at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. Discussion will include how feminism helped to change perspectives, along with a more global reappraisal of surrealism. Using examples from dismissive early reviews of Leonora Carrington's work, the panelists will trace how perceptions of her art have evolved over time, culminating in the celebratory retrospective opening in April 2018 at the Museo de Arte Moderno in Mexico City.

DR. SUSAN L. ABERTH is Associate Professor of Art History at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York. In addition to her 2004 book Leonora Carrington: Surrealism, Alchemy and Art, she has contributed chapters to Surrealism, Occultism and Politics: In Search of the Marvelous (Ashgate, London), Unpacking: The Marciano Collection (Delmonico Books, Prestel: Munich), and Leonora Carrington and the international avant-garde (Manchester University Press) as well as articles in Abraxas: International Journal of Esoteric Studies, Black Mirror (London), and Journal of Surrealism of the Americas.

JESSE BRANSFORD is a Brooklyn-based artist whose work is exhibited internationally at venues including The Carnegie Museum of Art, the UCLA Hammer Museum, PS 1 Contemporary Art Center and the CCA Wattis Museum among others. He holds degrees from the New School for Social Research (BA), Parsons School of Design (BFA) and Columbia University (MFA). An associate professor of art at New York University and the chair of the Department of Art and Art Professions, Bransford's work has been involved with belief and the visual systems it creates since the 1990s. Early research into color meaning and cultural syncretism led to the occult traditions in general and the work of John Dee and Henry Cornelius Agrippa specifically. He has lectured widely on his work and the topics surrounding his work and is the co-organizer of the biennial Occult Humanities Conference in New York.

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SATURDAY EVENING ENTERTAINMENT BY ALUNARÉ

Alunaré is a collective of artists led by Claudia Valentina and Argelia Arreola. Inspired by the shifting influences of the moon, la luna, Alunaré brings together the already fused and magical rhythms of Mexico, South America, Andalusia and Africa in a memorable performance.

Through music and dance, Alunaré will pull you in and out of different moods, creating tides of emotions that will have you singing, dancing, feeling.

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ARTS IN AFRICA: LINES, MOTIONS AND THE MYSTICAL TECHNOLOGIES OF THE SELF

Using three examples of occultic art forms with which conventions of visual and performing arts use ideas of lines, motions and emotions to divine history, my presentation uses a premise that culture and the spiritual axis with which individuals and communities imagine space, place and time is a foundational mode of knowing, being and belonging in African aesthetics. Language, dance, music and sculptures in three communities from West Africa will illustrate my thesis of the occultic as a historical technology and sets of techniques of imagining and imaging subjectivity through space, temporalities and physical locations.

AWAM AMKPA trained as a play director/playwright/actor/scholar and filmmaker in Nigeria (BA-Obafemi Awolowo University and MA-Ahmadu Bello University) and Britain (PhD.- University of Bristol, Bristol). He is an Associate Professor of Drama at Tisch School of the Arts and Associate Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis at New York University. He is the author of Theatre and Postcolonial Desires, (Routledge, 2003) and several articles on cultural politics and representations, Africa and its diasporas, modernisms in theatre and performance, postcolonial theatre and performance, Black Atlantic films-- published in numerous anthologies and edited volumes. He is editor of volumes Africa: See You, See Me and ReSignifications. Amkpa is also a curator of visual and performing arts and curated Signifaciones in Havana, ReSignifications in Florence, Africa: See You, See Me in Lisbon, Rome, Beijing, Macau, Lagos and Dakar, AfroEuropa in Florence and annual highlife music festivals in Accra. He is director of film documentaries such as Winds Against Our Souls, It’s All About Downtown, National Images and Transnational Desires, A Very, Very Brief Story of Nollywood and A Merchant of Time (forthcoming) and the Nigerian feature film Wazobia! - written by Tess Onwueme.

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“RISE TABLE RISE”: ESPIRITISMO IN NUYORICAN POETRY

Espiritismo has had a tremendous influence on the culture of Puerto Rico and the Puerto Rican community in the US, wherein it is often called "Mesa Blanca" or "White Table" Spiritism. It became a key theme and also a kind literary practice for Puerto Rican writers in New York of the Nuyorican literary renaissance. Focusing on Victor Hernandez Cruz's collection "White Table" and Pedro Pietri's poem "Puerto Rican Obituary,” Baumann will show how they explore loss, haunting, history, and transcendence in dialogue with Spiritist liturgies.

JASON BAUMANN'S research focuses on Latin@ literature, Africana studies, history of sexuality, and the Gothic. He is Visiting Associate Professor at Pratt Institute, and serves as Susan and Douglass Dillon Assistant Director for Collection Development at the New York Public Library. He earned his PhD in English from the CUNY Graduate Center and an MFA in Poetry and MLS from the City University of New York. He has studied and practiced Espiritismo for over 25 years.

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HIDDEN LINES: AN OCCULT PRACTICE OF DRAWING

"In this paper, I develop an autobiographically generated account of drawing as part of an occult practice of the “left” (or sinister) sacred. Marshalling analytic insights from psychoanalysis, religious studies, and the work of Georges Bataille, and with attention to the surrealists’ interest in magic, this account engages the occult as a means for understanding both the medium and the activity of drawing. Revealing occulted elements of a personal practice of drawing—modalities of hiddenness including secrecy, seduction, shame, excrementality, transgression, and eroticism—this paper adumbrates a 'heterology' of drawing that envisions drawing as an ambiguous and ambivalent practice eliciting and communicating an experience of the sinister side of the sacred."

JEREMY BILES, PhD, teaches courses on religion, philosophy, photography, and writing at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and is the author of Ecce Monstrum: Georges Bataille and the Sacrifice of Form.

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777

Magicians have catalogued and explored ten different levels of what is known as reality, and then produced a map of this terrain. That map now goes by the name of the Tree of Life. Magicians also studied and mapped out the path through levels of reality that divine energy takes as it manifests on the physical plane, that path has been configured to have the numerological value of 777.

Jen DeNike will speak about her art practice as a form of divination and her current collaborative exhibition with Damien Echols titled 777 at Participant Inc. DeNike and Echols began collaborating as artists while Echols was serving an 18-year prison sentence for a crime he did not commit, a teenager at the time of his conviction in 1994, Echols was released in 2011. Both DeNike and Echols are practitioners and teachers of their own hybrid of Western Ritual Magick and have conducted magick and tarot workshops individually and as co-mentors.

JEN DENIKE is an artist and director who lives in New York and Los Angeles. Her work has exhibited internationally including; MOMA PS1; KW Berlin; Museum of Modern Art, Bombay Beach Biennale, California; Eastman House; 54th Venice Biennale; Garage Projects Moscow; Palais de Tokyo; Zendai Museum of Modern Art, Shanghai; MOCA Toronto; MACRO ROMA; and Tensta Konsthall, Sweden. Commissioned projects include Creative Time, LAND Los Angeles Nomadic Division, Miami Art Basel Art Public, Performa Biennial, and PopRally MoMA. She is currently finishing post-production on a new film short Queen of Narwhals about a gang of sorceresses in a post apocalyptic landscape who conjure a narwhal.

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THE WITCH WAVE

This panel discussion will center around the current resurgence of the archetype of the witch. Between a digitally-fueled rise in the practice of witchcraft and the growing prevalence of witchly fashion, pop culture, art, and activism, it's clear that a new Witch Wave is cresting. In this session we'll be considering the relationship between the witch and 4th wave feminism, technology, and personal identity via conversation with three of today's leading witches.

PAM GROSSMAN is a writer, curator, and teacher of magical practice and history. She is the creator of Phantasmaphile, a blog that specializes in esoteric and fantastical art, which she has maintained since 2005. Pam is the author of the illuminated manifesto, What Is A Witch (Tin Can Forest Press 2016). Her writings about witches, occulture, and art have appeared in numerous mediums, including Sabat, Abraxas Journal, Sciences Occultes, Huffington Post, MSN, Film Comment, and Etsy. Pam’s group art shows and projects, including the critically-acclaimed exhibition Language of the Birds: Occult and Art, have been featured by such outlets as Artforum, The New York Times, The New Yorker, and Art in America. In April 2017, she launched WitchEmoji, a witch-themed sticker pack for iMessage that became the #1 seller in the App Store. She is also Associate Editor of Fulgur Esoterica and the co-organizer of the Occult Humanities Conference at NYU.

BRIANA LUNA is the founder and creative director of The Hood Witch (‪thehoodwitch.com‬) a web platform and lifestyle brand dedicated to empowering, educating, and cultivating community through meaningful rituals supporting self-care and wellness. Luna is devoted to offering “Everyday Magic for the modern mystic,” and is an advocate for the use of traditional healing practices to address modern day challenges. She and her work have been featured internationally and in major publications including Vogue, I.D, and The New York Times.

KRISTEN J. SOLLÉE is a lecturer at The New School and founding editrix of Slutist, a sex positive site that delves into the intersections between sex, feminism, and the occult. Sollée’s signature college course, "The Legacy of the Witch" follows the witch across history, pop culture, and politics, from the Venus of Willendorf to The Love Witch. Her first book, Witches, Sluts, Feminists: Conjuring the Sex Positive, was published in summer of 2017.

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OF SHADOWS: WITCHCRAFT, MAGIC, AND PHOTOGRAPHY

Sara Hannant, artist, photographer and author, will discuss the relationship between photography and magic that inspired her approach to Of Shadows: One Hundred Objects from the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic (2016). Using her own magical tool, the camera, she found that it was best to photograph at night… where it is said magic begins. This presentation will reveal carefully selected artefacts exuding magic and mystery, including wax dolls, wands, statues, daggers, pendants, robes and amulets as they emerge from the darkness of Cornwall’s much loved Museum. Some have been displayed at the museum for years, others have long been hidden in its archives.

SARA HANNANT is a widely exhibited photographer whose work explores magical belief, seasonal rites and folklore. Recent awards include the Moscow International Foto Awards 2016 and The Prix de la Photographie 2015. Books include Mummers, Maypoles and Milkmaids: A Journey through the English Ritual Year (2011) which received the runner-up Katharine Briggs Folklore Award in 2012, and Of Shadows: One Hundred Objects from the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic (2016) with Simon Costin. Sara lectures at City, University of London.

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A WITCHCRAFT MUSEUM OF YESTERDAY & TODAY

The current curator and caretaker of the Buckland Museum of Witchcraft & Magick explores the history and significance of Raymond Buckland's collection, tracing it from its humble beginnings in a Long Island basement to its current home inside a psychedelic record shop in Cleveland, OH. The collection has had many twists and turns in its history, but through them all it has remained well documented. This presentation will feature photos, news clippings, audio recordings, and promotional materials from its birth in the 1960s to today.

By day STEVEN INTERMILL curates a large pop culture themed museum, by night it is strictly amulets and cauldrons.

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AN INVISIBLE ART: MAYA DEREN AND EXPERIMENTS WITH ABSENCE

This paper takes into account the legacy of experimental filmmaker Maya Deren's work at the centenary of her birth. Deren traveled to Haiti four different times with the ultimate aim of making a film that would compare children's games, Balinese dances, and the rituals practiced for Voudoun that she had gone there to film. In the process, her work began to focus on generating connections through which what is seen and what is unseen might traffic. She gives precedence to that which is accomplished through suggestion or association rather than through causal links, and takes pains to represent that which seems not to be present but is actually simply not visible. Such strategies underline Deren's obsessions, including how to access inaccessible states of being and present them cinematically. The work that comes out of her Haitian experience draws on energies related to the incomplete, missing, or desired but absent object that she labored to represent.

SARAH KELLER is Associate Professor of Art and Cinema Studies at the University of Massachusetts-Boston. She co-edited the collection Jean Epstein: Critical Essays and New Translations (Amsterdam University Press, 2012), and her book Maya Deren: Incomplete Control (Columbia University Press, 2014) examines the role of unfinished cinematic works by focusing on the Maya Deren oeuvre. Keller’s current project, Cinephilia/Cinephobia, focuses on the history and theory of love and anxiety in the cinema.

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JAGUARS, SORCERY, VOLCANOES, DEATH, AND OTHER OBSTACLES

Artist Karsten Krejcarek will present a curious selection of field recordings, film vignettes, journal entries and photographs, which chronicle his diverse encounters with mystical and magical traditions in Latin America.

KARSTEN KREJCAREK is a New York-based interdisciplinary artist who is primarily focused on video and photography. His work is largely concentrated on esoteric narrative, mystical symbolism and natural phenomenon. Engrossed in magical ritual and folk tradition in Latin America, Krejcarek centers his attention on Amazonia and the Caribbean, where his work is often created. Through his artistic practice and immersive fieldwork he has expanded upon ideas of multiplicity, telepathy and symbiotic relationships between nature and the unconscious—concepts that have largely informed and benefited the narrative structure of his work and life.

Krejcarek received a MFA from Columbia University in 2000 after graduating from the Maryland Institute, College of Art. He has regularly exhibited his work nationally and internationally over the last seventeen years, including in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia where he is represented by Nube Gallery. Most recently Krejcarek completed an experimental narrative that explores the Santería orisha, Babalú-Ayé, as part of a large-scale survey exhibition of his work at CEPA Contemporary Photography and Visual Arts Center in Buffalo, NY. He is a longstanding adjunct professor at New York University and has been a guest lecturer at numerous schools and institutions.

Currently, Karsten is (once again) in the process of deploying a re-engineered life-on-earth plan.

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FRIDAY NIGHT RECEPTION WITH A PERFORMANCE BY ELLENA PHILLIPS

ELLENA PHILLIPS' earliest memory is falling in love with the harp. Her Mother was a harpist, her grandparents were opera singers, and she grew up in a household consistently full of musicians and artists. Her classical training started at four years old and blossomed to include an expansive range of genres from folk to punk rock, indie and noise bands.

She combines her technical proficiency with a unique disposition of experimental atmospherics. Her music is evocative and complex, inspired by the earth's elements, the cosmos, her ever changing environment, the esoteric atmosphere surrounding her and a restless, siren spirit.

Her work draws forward the delicate nature of the instrument enhanced by electronic effects, evoking an ethereal yet dark, mysterious, dream-like sound. Inspired by shamanic elements, her music opens intention and her improvisations bring the healing spirit into play as an offering, made accessible to her audiences.

While she is currently based in Brooklyn, New York, she is a true gypsy at heart. She and her harp have traveled extensively, playing on train cars billowing down the West coast, to the vast deserts of the Southwest. The lush redwood forests of California, sailboats and old steamships on the Atlantic, speakeasies in New Orleans, to the crypts and catacombs in New York City. All of this has lead to collaborations with many note worthy musicians including the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, TV on the Radio, Florence and the Machine, And You Will Know Us By The Trails of the Dead, PVRIS, and many more. She is currently in the process of completing three records with anticipated end of year release dates.

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WOMEN WHO FLY

This talk follows a slim slice of the world’s religious history focused on aerial females, both human and divine. Yet, the slimness of the topic when juxtaposed against a deep historical background and a wide geographical distribution expands it in ways that can illuminate many aspects of gender and power. Aerial females are a tenacious religious subject from the Paleolithic to the present. If they can fly, they are free. Flying females experience a freedom unlike any other as they soar above the petty concerns of earth-bound existence. Yet, if men can control them they can control a piece of that power for their own ends; aerial females can become the means of their salvation or immortality by carrying them to heavens, granting them spiritual insights, conferring children, taking them beyond time, healing them. This leads to the many stories about the captivity of aerial women and sometimes, but not always, their means of escape. Nonetheless, they are symbols of female freedom that are found all over the world, even if over time they flew through increasing constrained space.

SERINITY YOUNG received her Ph.D. in Comparative Religion from Columbia University and is an Adjunct Assistant Professor at Queens College. She is also a Research Associate in the Division of Anthropology at the American Museum of Natural History where she works on Tibetan artifacts and iconography. She has been awarded two Fulbrights, two Asian Cultural Council grants, was a Research Scholar in the History of Science, and in Archaeology, at École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, and has been elected to the Hunter College Alumni Hall of Fame. She is the author of Courtesans and Tantric Consorts: Sexualities in Buddhist Narrative, Ritual, & Iconography (Routledge, 2004) and Dreaming in the Lotus: Buddhist Dream Narrative, Imagery, and Practice (Wisdom, 1999); editor-in-chief of The Encyclopedia of Women and World Religion (Macmillan 1998); editor of An Anthology of Sacred Texts By and About Women (Crossroads & HarperCollins, 1993); most recently she has published Body & Spirit: Tibetan Medical Paintings, (AMNH Publications and University of Washington Press, 2009) and has several electronic publications on the AMNH website (www.amnh.org/our-research/anthropology/collections/highlights).

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Schedule

 

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 13

 

8:00-8:30pm  WELCOME & INVOCATION from conference organizers Jesse Bransford & Pam Grossman

8:30-10:00pm  WINE & CHEESE RECEPTION with live music from Ellena Phillips

 

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 14

 

9:00-9:30am  WELCOME ANNOUNCEMENTS & OPENING REMARKS by Jesse Bransford & Pam Grossman

9:30-10:30am  777 with Jen DeNike

10:30-10:45am  Break

10:45am-11:45am  HIDDEN LINES: AN OCCULT PRACTICE OF DRAWING with Jeremy Biles

12:00-1:30pm  Lunch Break

1:30-2:30pm  A WITCHCRAFT MUSEUM OF YESTERDAY & TODAY with Steven Intermill

2:30-2:45pm  Break

2:45-3:45pm  ARTS IN AFRICA: LINES, MOTIONS AND THE MYSTICAL TECHNOLOGIES OF THE SELF with Awam Amkpa

3:45-4:15pm  Intermission

4:15-5:15pm  DISCUSSION: LEONORA AT 100 with Susan Aberth & Jesse Bransford

5:15-5:30pm   Break

5:30-6:30pm  JAGUARS, SORCERY, VOLCANOES, DEATH, AND OTHER OBSTACLES with Karsten Krejcarek

6:30-8:00pm  Dinner Break

8:00pm  EVENING ENTERTAINMENT: Musical Performance by Alunaré - Open to the Public

 

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 15

 

10:00-11:00am  AN INVISIBLE ART: MAYA DEREN AND EXPERIMENTS WITH ABSENCE with Sarah Keller

11:00-11:15am  Break

11:15-12:15pm  OF SHADOWS: WITCHCRAFT, MAGIC, AND PHOTOGRAPHY with Sara Hannant

12:15-2:00pm  Lunch Break

2:00-3:00pm  “RISE TABLE RISE”: ESPIRITISMO IN NUYORICAN POETRY with Jason Baumann

3:00-3:30pm  Intermission

3:30-4:30pm  PANEL DISCUSSION: THE WITCH WAVE with Pam Grossman, Briana Luna, & Kristin Sollée

4:30-4:45pm  Break

4:45-5:45pm  WOMEN WHO FLY with Serinity Young

6:00-8:00pm  CLOSING RECEPTION AND TIN CAN FOREST'S EXHIBITION VIEWING - Open to the Public

 

Exhibition

 

Tin Can Forest is name for the collaborative work of Pat Shewchuk and Marek Colek, Canadian artists based in Toronto Ontario. Together they create sequential art, video installations, films and books. They are inspired by the the forests of Canada, Slavic art, and occult folklore.

Their work has been shown at festivals and galleries internationally, and recent projects include the poetic graphic novel What Is a Witch in collaboration with Pam Grossman, and Lawren Harris's Dream, a video installation commissioned by the Art Gallery of Ontario for the summer 2016 exhibit The Idea of North: The Paintings of Lawren Harris.

At present, they are on the Canadian West Coast, working on their next book to be released by Tin Can Forest Press in spring 2018.

For the Occult Humanities Conference 2017 exhibition, Tin Can Forest presents Scenes From a Wedding a selection of prints chosen to celebrate this most auspicious event. For more info please visit TinCanForest.com

 

Tickets

 

Tickets available here.

 

Contact

 

 

Email:  occulthumanities [at] gmail . com

Conference location: 

NYU Steinhardt Department of Art and Art Professions
Barney Building
34 Stuyvesant St, New York, NY 10003