An Opaque Figure
I. Fatal Encounter
A pair of ruby eyes sparkle in the murk. The pupils move swiftly, pumping at each of the man’s breath. She laments a low growl and begins a dance of deadly courtship. She advances one dense step after another until she gathers the strength to rise and fly. Indigo feathers cover her ponderous body; they shine as the moonlight caresses them. She circles the man, decorating her movements with whimsical pirouettes. She twirls around him, occasionally stroking his face with her coarse wings. Then, as she is still floating in the foggy mass, she protrudes her tongue, framed by four curved fangs. Her mouth opens in a petrifying smile. Her hair is awkwardly swelling as the curls slither slowly on her head. Their hiss breaks the silence around them.
Abruptly, the darkness engulfs the winged creature, and she vanishes. But sweat drains the man’s forehead and tells him she isn’t out of the way. Gasps of horror pressure his chest. The noise of his puffing echoes in his head. His vision becomes blurred, and a few tears drip from his eyes. Indeed, he might already collapse from the pain of this waiting game. The man knows the beast is savoring the relish of his fright.
She sneaks up to him. He still can’t see her, but he reckons the last fragments of his life with an unexplainable sense of relief, hoping it will end soon. Eventually, his wish is granted. After a piercing scream, the creature’s head emerges from the murk. With a single ferocious bite, she breaks his neck.
Then, she turns to me in full rage. I recognize it. I sense it. I want to own it, but I shy away. I ponder, is she, my killer or my protector?
Are you ready? She whispers.
II. NEW MYSTICS
NEW MYSTICS is an ongoing artists’ platform initiated in 2021 by the artist and writer Alice Bucknell. She designed the venue to fuse art with magic, mysticism, occult, and ritual. It presents human language in conversation with a non-human voice, generated by the Language AI GPT-3, that takes on the digital ‘oracle’ role.
This collaborative project occurs in rhythm with the lunar cycle. Indeed, the collective initially released it on the Summer Solstice. Subsequently, they published three new artists’ texts on each of the following 12 full moons until the Autumn Equinox.
When I open the online platform, the case of a new mystic immediately stands out to me. It is a project about awkwardly shaped sea creatures floating freely in a grim cave. Joey Holder’s Abyssal Seeker (2021) is a fantastical, mysterious place. It might represent an apocalyptic future or, perhaps, a parallel universe. Its inhabitants could be aliens or more reasonably uncharted deep-sea creatures. But what if they were once humans?
Similarly to the layers that make up the ocean, multiple references and interpretations saturate this complex project. For instance, it tackles the relationships between humans, the environment, and technology. Most notably, it offers an escape from the suffocating itch of today’s omnipresent technological network. It is an invitation to return to a natural prehistoric state.
The cave at the bottom of the ocean is an allegory of the consciousness we posse yet cannot comprehend. From the begging of time, it has been the home of the primordial gods who rule the inner depths of the cosmos. In modern psychology, it is called the ‘subconscious.’ The artist adds sigils and diagrams throughout the project; they are charged with spiritual knowledge and serve as an access point to the subconscious energy. Such concentration of energy commands to be in the here and now.
The idea of speculative fabulation is vividly present in the project. The reference to Donna Haraway’s Chthulucen makes it particularly evident.
In Holder’s digital environment, the cave is a question for an uncertain future. It stimulates our imagination to extrapolate our personal ideas of kinship and progressive systems for living together harmoniously.
II. In A Dark Universe
In a dark universe, there is a fish. Its scales are stiff and encrusted with shiny needles. Sharp crooked teeth cover its acid mouth. A long limb emerges from its wrinkled head; it emanates a dim light that diffuses in the vast empty space.
It is a lonely old creature who ambles passively, following the stronger currents of the water. The fish enjoys the silence; the peace that comes with loneliness fills his heart with warmth and satisfaction. He does not need anyone or anything to be content.
When a threat comes his way, the fish adopts a camouflage strategy, as it is pretty easy to blend in the deep blackness. When the light he carries is switched off, the animal lurks patiently, waiting for his enemy to swim by. He would rest on a rock, hiding inside the eroded holes on the surface.
His hearing is exceptional, as well as his waiting skills. The creature instinctively knows when the danger is far enough to escape the hideout and proceed with his monotonous life.
Encounters are rare in this universe and often not welcomed. Its inhabitants are all beasts with a turbulent past. Their tedious lifestyle makes them prone to aggression and highly violent attacks. The fish has lived numerous centuries and knows how to deal with individuals of his kind. He had a long, challenging life until he eventually learned to surrender. He is devoted. Now, he lives a life that is not his own. This monstrous creature will never die. Some of him is still hiding from the atrocities he committed, even though he holds on to death like a baby holds on to his mother. He desperately wished for it to come and free him from the horror he had perpetrated. His soul is soaked, and the punishment can be brutal. He will linger in eternity, wandering between existence and nothingness.
IV. Chiara Fumai
Chiara Fumai (b. Rome, 1978-d. Bari, 2017) merges performance art, mediumship, and the occult in her artistic practice. Her work is dominated by symbols, sigils, and mainly by the spirits of the dead. Her performances consist of channeling feminist historical figures who relive and speak through her. Chiara does not merely imitate; she reconstructs her own identity around the energy of the deceased person. Most of the time, it is a woman who has been marginalized and repressed in her life.
Chiara often summons multiple women and lets them interact with unexpected conversations. She mixes reality with fiction to speculate a different future for these women. Although Chiara never writes herself, language is a core component of her work. Instead, she cuts and glues together parts of books, poems, and speeches. She intends to create imaginary narratives conducted by people who existed.
In The Book of Evil Spirits (2015), Chiara becomes Eusapia Palladino (1854-1918), a renowned Italian medium. During the performance, Eusapia invokes the spirits in a séance through a game of Chinese boxes. Zalumma Agra, Annie Jones, and Urike Meinhof take over. The three women possess the medium and intone several texts, including Carla Lonzi's manifesto for La Rivolta Femminile and Mysterious Psychic Forces: An Account of the Author's Investigations in Psychical Research, Together with Those of Other European Savants, a book published in 1907 by Camille Flammarion, an astronomer who defended Palladino.
In Per Vas Nefandum (2016), Chiara bluntly references the Bible. This time, she becomes a Pentecostal Brazilian prevaricator. Suddenly, the Whore of Babylon possesses the woman and takes over her hateful speech. In Christianity, The Whore of Babylon is simultaneously a demonic spirit, a place, and an evil belief system. She deceives and corrupts men, leading them astray from the path of God. She is also referred to as a harlot, sometimes with seven heads and ten horns. The sacred prostitute announces her presence with a deep growl. She manifests herself through the number 7, the number of the antagonist in the Bible. She guides the beast and pilots a revolt against God, announced by 777. She explains; the number 777 stands for the sacred prostitute multiplied by 3, meaning the holy trinity.
The history of oppression significantly consumes Chiara's work. She is inquiring about the marginalization of knowledge and its implications on socio-political systems. She soon realized the correlation between occult practices' oppression and women's oppression throughout history. This correlation is the fundamental link that fabricates her work. She proactively uses magic as a method of self-empowerment and revolt against repressive models.
The curatorial text by Milovan Farronato accompanied the exhibition Poems I Will Never Release: Chiara Fumai 2007-2017 and offers some insights into Chiara's work. Farronato illustrates the main themes of her performances. The idea of fragmentation of identity particularly struck me.
Chiara felt a lack of identity as an adolescent, which eventually turned into a total dissolution of her sense of being. She could not feel as one but as a multitude of particles slowly drifting apart. She confided to a friend and learned she was experiencing a spiritual phenomenon. Her friend said that, according to certain spiritual ideologies, this feeling of disintegration was a sign of spiritual evolution and liberation. It was a turning point for Chiara. Instead of fearfully dismissing her feelings, Chiara learned to accept them. In her words, she was initiated. She managed to break apart and freed herself, flying away.
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Holder, Joey. “Joey Holder Abyssal Seeker.” Newmystics.xyz, www.newmystics.xyz/2021/05/19/joey-holder/. Accessed 22 Jan. 2023.
“Chiara Fumai: The Book of Evil Spirits.” Waterside-Contemporary.com, waterside-contemporary.com/exhibitions/the-book-of-evil-spirits/. Accessed 20 Jan. 2023.
Conte, Kari. “In the Spirit of Chiara Fumai.” Metropolism.com, 19 Mar. 2022, www.metropolism.com/en/features/45710_in_the_spirit_of_chiara_fumai. Accessed 20 Jan. 2023.
Farronato, Milovan, and Francesco Urbano Boys. Poems I Will Never Release: Chiara Fumai 2007-2017. Madrid, Brizzolis, 2022, www.lacasaencendida.es/sites/default/files/cuaderno_poemas_nunca_mostrare_chiara_fumai_english.pdf. Accessed 15 Jan. 2023.
Gingeras, Alison. “Chiara Fumai and the Dead Feminist Society.” Affidavit.com, 4 Dec. 2017, www.affidavit.art/articles/chiara-fumai. Accessed 20 Jan. 2023.
Pellerano, Micki. “On the Occult in the Work of Chiara Fumai.” mickipellerano.com, 13 Aug. 2020, www.mickipellerano.com/writings/2020/8/13/on-the-occult-in-the-work-of-chiara-fumai. Accessed 15 Jan. 2023.
Wertheim, Bonnie. “Overlooked No More: Valerie Solanas, Radical Feminist Who Shot Andy Warhol.” The New York Times, 26 June 2020, www.nytimes.com/2020/06/26/obituaries/valerie-solanas-overlooked.html. Accessed 15 Jan. 2023.