An Exhibition on Psychedelia

Henriette Heise

The machine is not antithetical to humanity, but a correlate of our imagination. Heise (born 1966, Hørsholm, Denmark, lives Copenhagen) writes, 'A Darkness Machine is stitched together from circles of blackout fabric. If you leave one on a green lawn it will kill every plant beneath it ... The darkness produced is the sort that simultaneously attracts and scares us ... (sex and death).' Heise's practice doesn't have a connection to drug culture, but it overlaps with the particular sense of abstraction that belongs to much art created in relation to psychedelia; an emphasis on process and imagination rather than finished object or image. In Darkness Machine, lines of light appear in stitch-holes in the fabric, as microscopic vistas to another world, and simple pieces of textile stage dramas, confronting absolutes through downbeat sensuality.



The Cockettes

The Cockettes were a drag theatre group whose members – women as well as men – pursued the possibility of an outrageous, communal, sexual-revolutionary theatre. Between 1969 and 1972, the group ran an eponymous commune and performed at an abandoned San Francisco theatre. Their shows riffed off musicals and Hollywood showgirl fantasies, surprising both the audience and cast, as rehearsals and shows were supported with psychedelic drugs.

Their 1971 short film Tricia's Wedding indecently satirises the wedding ceremony of president Nixon's daughter. a copy of the film was shown by the FBI to White House staffers in order to gauge possible PR damage; they decided to let it pass.



Pramod Pati

Cultural theorist Julie Stephens writes that sixties counterculture in the West moved its problems and tensions off-shore, 'to a country where different codes and modes of rationality were seen to be at play; a "metaphoric" place called "India".' in this way India was perceived to be a spiritual place beyond the capitalist market. However, in the attempt by hippie travellers to refuse consumption, their identity as consumers often manifested itself most profoundly in their orientalism. As opposed to hippie preferences, Trip/Udan (1970) by Pramod Pati (born 1932, Cuttack, India, died 1975, Mumbai) portrays urban reality by modern means. To capture the movement of the sun over Mumbai, Pati uses time-lapse, a favourite of sixties experimental cinema (in Hindi, "udan" means "fly" or "to take flight").

At precipitous speeds, human visuality falls away and the world is seen anew. As Deleuze and Guattari have it, 'all drugs fundamentally concern speeds, and modification of speed.' With a cosmic theme, using an abstract soundtrack and non-human velocities, Pati opens up psychedelic ideas to experimental appropriation, and plays with their orientalist subtext.



Marta Minujín

Edited by artist Marta Minujín (born 1943, Buenos Aires, lives Buenos Aires) with Guillermo Beilinson, Lo Inadvertido [The Inattentiveness] – probably Latin America's first psychedelic magazine – was published in Buenos Aires in around a dozen offset-printed issues during 1969. A mix between a diary and a flyer, the zine contains ruminations on psychedelic states of grace – on Buddhism and eastern mysticism, translations of poetry, tributes to The Beatles and The Rolling Stones (and even Jason Donovan) – all expressed in colourful felt-tip pen with unconstrained afición: ARE YOW [sic] EXPERIENCED?'

In his forthcoming book Marta Minujín: Diario de Lo Inadvertido, Fernando Garcia writes, 'Lo Inadvertido is the press of the catacombs; the underground of the underground press. There was no need to look for readers or a public, only comrades who received and participated in a communication characterised by certain knowledge forms, and who were assumed to be in a state of confrontation with messages of publicity and mass media.'

There was, no doubt, genuine hippie sentiment behind Lo Inadvertido. In the late sixties, Minujín lived on a diet of LSD and performed with The Cockettes when they visited New York. The zine was also related to Minujín's Importación/Exportación [Import/ Export] (1968), her other countercultural project and one of several large-scale happenings/environments she created in the period. For Importación/Exportación she imported hippie artefacts from the US – tie-dye outfits, jewellery, bongs, beads, psychedelic posters – that were brought to the art centre Instituto Torcuato di Tella in Buenos Aires. The artefacts were included as stock in a head shop-cum-exhibition that she established here, which developed into a communal live-in situation.

Importación/Exportación paid ambiguous homage to the counterculture by pointing to the cultural specificity of North American 'hippiedom', and by implying that the latter received its supposed universality not only through a metaphysics of love, but also through markets, as alternative and underground as these may have been.



Learning Site

Learning Site (formed 2004) is a collaboration between Cecilia Wendt (lives Malmö) and Rikke Luther (lives Copenhagen). They gauge the social fabric of the sites in which they work with research revolving around environmental issues, property rights, urban planning, alternative economies, and especially how learning itself is learned. For this exhibition, learning Site (Rikke Luther) presents House of Welfare, a new version of their House of Economy (2010– 13), a papier-mâché termite mound built to be devoured by a culture of oyster mushrooms that grow within it, thus destroying their means of survival. Produced in a bankrupt present, the ruin of the House of Welfare echoes a collapse that will have been; when everything is based on credit and financial speculation, the future melts into air.

Alongside the House of Welfare, Jaime Stapleton, an associate of Learning Site, has written an essay on the history of social security and the welfare state; a history that is traced from the trenches of the First World War to the contemporary onslaughts against it. In this way Stapleton gives critical context to the way that the psychedelic narrative of freedom has been deformed in today's mushrooming networks of control.



Öyvind Fahlström

Öyvind Fahlström (born 1928, São Paulo, died 1976, Stockholm) saw a potential for social reconstruction in hallucinogenic drugs. In a newspaper article written in 1967 he argued in favour of animating Sweden the psychedelic way: 'The point with the CE (consciousness-expanding) drugs is to convey a balanced shock experience – often both frightening and joyful – that lifts a person out of his ego-perspective.'

The Little General (Pinball Machine) (1967–68) – the largest of Fahlström's pool works – represents social multiplicity and relativity, using an ever-shifting montage of images and signs. There are composite images of politicians and celebrities: Lyndon Johnson and Charles de Gaulle lose their noses that float around independently, while Jackie Kennedy resembles one of the three brides of Dracula. An alphabet of sardines helps unhinge familiar brands and political associations. Menace and obscenity bob about while three sculptural models – a brain, a foetus and G.I. Joe – are placed in perspex boxes under water. The photographer Christer Strömholm provided Fahlström with many of the prints, including those of blind children and a drag queen. The dizzying simultaneity of pictorial elements turns The Little General into an open-ended, schizophrenic picture puzzle, a semiotic pinball machine in which signification is literally floating. In this way, a radical alternative language is imagined, capable of accommodating new abstract meaning as well as pure, visceral affect.

Three accompanying drawings by Fahlström are glossaries, illustrating and naming the singular elements of the work.



Pierre Huyghe

L'Expédition Scintillante is a light show, where effects are protagonists, accompanied by one of Satie's Gymnopédies on an otherwise empty stage. The work – 'a formal hypothesis', according to Huyghe (born 1962, Paris, lives New York) – is a situation that he dreamt, inspired by the memory of attending a Pink Floyd concert in the mid-seventies. It is the second part of a series in three acts, the first of which consisted of a life-sized boat made entirely of ice, and the third a booklet containing meditations on 'poetic expeditions' placed on a black ice skating rink.

Psychedelic thinking places as much faith in the power of effects as in human agency. The "revelations" of drugs are the result of effects they produce in the nervous system, and the sonic and visual production of the counterculture revolved around the creation of effects in light shows and manipulations of amplified sound. Militant hippie genres such as the "media happening" sought to create political effects through electronic media. Media theorist Marshall Mcluhan's book, The Medium is the Massage (1967) was evocatively subtitled An Inventory of Effects. In psychedelia, the most important events are the effects that create a non-human force by which we may extend ourselves towards a margin or an elsewhere. To set effects free is to play with the suspicion that perhaps the world only reveals itself to us through them.



Willoughby Sharp

Between 1973 and 1976, Willoughby Sharp (born 1936, New York, died 2008, New York) art historian, independent curator, artist, gallerist, perhaps best known as co-founder and publisher of Avalanche (1970–76) carried out nearly 60 "videoperformances" on LSD, mainly at universities across the US and Canada, but also in Europe, at the Kölnischer Kunstverein and for art/tapes/22 in Follonica, Italy. He coined the term "videoperformance" to refer to a performance that an audience experiences in real time on a video monitor.

A video camera on a tripod was usually focused on Sharp, delivering a live feed to a monitor in an adjacent room where the audience gathered. Based on a rudimentary script that was partly autobiographical, the performances were in violent and painful slapstick, intending to elicit a visceral response. Prior to his performances, Sharp would drop acid – by the seventies, an anachronistic drug. In one instance he climbed into a rotating industrial clothes dryer, a camera focused on him from outside through the round glass window. While turning in the dryer and sucking on a baby bottle, he imagined his parents making love, and the moment of his own conception. On the monitor showing the live video feed a few feet away, Sharp appeared to be turning inside another monitor. Cough Up (1975), shown here, deals with questions of control: 'Do you want to have control over me?' Sharp exclaims in the performance. 'The medium, that's where it's at... you can't have it. There's no control... cough up.'



David Medalla and the Exploding Galaxy

The Exploding Galaxy was a commune established by David Medalla (born 1942, Manila, lives London) in a house he jointly owned with Paul Keeler at 99 Balls Pond Road in Dalston that operated between 1967 and 1969. Guy Brett writes, 'as well as their improvised "explorations" (performing and scavenging materials) all over London, the galaxy worked towards ambitious and elaborate dance-dramas.'


The Birth of 'The Bird Ballet'

'My mother sang a Mexican song 'Las Golondrinas' (about the flight of birds) as a haunting lullaby to my brothers and sisters and me when I was a child in my native home: Manila, Philippines. In Ermita, Manila, on hot summer days, after our siesta, my mother (while serving us guinataan, a Philippine desert of tropic fruits cooked in coconut cream) sang to my brothers, sisters and me a kundiman (a Philippine song), called 'Ang Pipit' ('The Sparrow'). That song, with its sweet lilting melody, was popularised in a Tagalog film by Paraluman, a beautiful actress with a heart-shaped face, the daughter of Filipino and German parents. I carry memories of those two songs about birds: 'Las Golondrinas' and 'Ang Pipit'.

When I was living at 99 Balls Pond Road in Islington near Dalston in North London, in the sixties, I had a lively cat named Bean Curd. One sparkling bright spring morning, Bean Curd came up to my bedroom in the top floor of the house carrying a dead sparrow in his mouth. Bean Curd offered the dead sparrow to me for breakfast! I took the dead sparrow from Bean Curd's mouth.

Bean Curd followed me downstairs to the back garden of 99 Balls Pond Road (it was in that house where I initiated the Exploding Galaxy on the Feast of Epiphany, 6th of January 1967). I buried the dead sparrow in the moist ground of the garden between a plant called Jacob's Ladder and a tall sunflower. In memory of the dead sparrow, and recalling in my head the melodies of 'Ang Pipit' and 'Las Golondrinas', I wrote the script of 'The Bird Ballet'. The Exploding Galaxy performed 'The Bird Ballet' at the Roundhouse, Chalk Farm, North London, in October 1967.' (David Medalla, August 2013)



Sigmar Polke

The presentation of work by Sigmar Polke (born 1941, Oels, Lower Silesia, died 2010, Cologne) comprises three elements: a painting, a photograph, and an invitation card from an exhibition. Polke's painting, Untitled (Head) (1966–68) can be seen as a semiotic take on ecstasy, where psychedelic effects in the nervous system are rendered as elementary signs – starbursts and fiery blots – on the painterly surface. His photograph of psilocybin mushrooms, that are staples of shamanic cultures, suggests a connection between the signature use of image layers in his work and psychedelic visual experience. The invitation card, with the artist's design of a Native American, was created for a 1975 exhibition at the Kunstalle Kiel. The motif reflects the psychedelic trope of tripping; of creating the possibility for self-understanding by momentarily becoming someone, or something else – non-European, non-white. Polke invited Kiel's Native American Association, a group of local enthusiasts dressed up in tribal styles, to the exhibition's opening.

To the critic Diedrich Diederichsen, Polke's work from the era represents, contrary to the myth, 'material evidence of a connection between politics and psychedelia ... What made the "long-hair life" so attractive was precisely that it offered not only drugs, sex, and spirituality, but also struggle, critique, and justice.' The psychedelic perspective on Polke also testifies to a less canonised aspect of Polke's work, in which he negotiated sub- or countercultural lore beyond the styles with which it is normally identified. Polke's is not a Pop Art-style appropriation of visual elements from "low culture", but the employment of psychedelic concepts and experiences towards painterly method as well as cultural critique: a kind of anthropological participant observation, through which the strangeness of existing culture is dramatised.



Sture Johannesson

Sture Johannesson's (born 1935, lives Malmö) work with experimental graphics since the fifties spans the production of posters, digital graphics, and stylistic transformations, ranging from concrete poetry to punk to his own strain of turned-on Dada collage. He sought to make mass-produced art forms by which established markets for art could be undermined. At Raven Row, and exhibited for the first time, are the eleven works of the collage series Japanese Omnidelics (1956–59). Johannesson created these by dissecting a Japanese newspaper, turning "illegible" signs into artistic material. The number eleven is considered transgressive, exceeding the number of The Ten Commandments. A version of William Burroughs' cut-ups, the Omnidelics establish a connection between concrete poetry and art made in relation to the psychedelic imagination. Johannesson insists that in the sixties he worked with "underground art", and not "psychedelic art"; a term that he at the time considered too easy, too commercial. The term "omnidelic" describes another transformation of the concept of the psychedelic.

Johannesson's work turns alienation into an ambiguous form of pleasure. If alienation according to the Marxian definition can be summed up as a lack of control, this state of affairs represented to Johannesson a potential for the transformation of self and society. Affects and hallucinations were considered tools for resisting social control.



Jordan Belson

With a body of work that explores the dynamic relationship between form, movement and colour, Jordan Belson (born 1926, Chicago, died 2011, San Francisco) was a pioneer of "non-objective" and abstract cinema. Albeit his practice was highly experimental, it is his work in this exhibition that comes closest to the tenets typically associated with new age holism, through his take on life's spiritual dimension and use of traditional forms such as the mandala. As visual director of the legendary vortex Concerts at Morrison planetarium in San Francisco (1957–59), Belson is central to the history of the visual production of sixties counterculture. In Belson's words (in an interview with Cindy Keefer) the vortex Concerts were 'a series of electronic music concerts illuminated by various visual effects.' They had a profound effect on the way the psychedelic multiple-projector light show later developed in the Bay area, and are considered by some to be an early precursor of experimental film in the sixties.

Belson's cosmological films 'show a little more than human beings are supposed to see.' He called his work Samadhi (1967), 'a documentary of the human soul.' He composed electronic music scores for some of his early films, and invented devices to produce unique visual effects.

This exhibition presents three films, Séance (1959), World (1970) and Chakra (1972). While Séance is an interference-pattern film, made with techniques and material developed during the vortex Concerts, World shows, according to Belson, 'the birth of a world depicted as a bio-astronomical event.' Chakra revolves around the study of what, according to yoga philosophy, are the psychic centres in the body. The soundtrack of Chakra performs sounds people have reportedly heard during deep meditative states, including a motor, a flute, a bell and the sound of the honey-intoxicated bee.



Tadanori Yokoo

Novelist Yukio Mishima wrote in 1968; 'Tadanori Yokoo's works reveal all of the unbearable things which we Japanese have inside ourselves and they make people angry and frightened.' There is a dark undertow in Tadanori Yokoo's (born 1936, Nishiwaki, Japan, lives Tokyo) original psychedelic style, related to a processing of national identity. National identity was a signifier for countercultures elsewhere in the western world (TIME Magazine noted a 'pure American species' under 'the long hair, the beads and the kaftans'). Yokoo's work, spanning painting and graphic design, eschews pop in favour of a kind of folk art which is disruptive in its removal of images and signs from their referents, and the juxtapositions of traditional imagery with modern. Yokoo's work seems a manifestation of a modernity that sends national identity tripping, while psychedelic style itself is dreaming of the extreme possibilities of the graphic surface.




Magma is a still active French prog rock band founded in 1969 by drummer Christian Vander. Inspiration for their work ranges from Carl Orff to John Coltrane. The band sing about space migration and Earth's ecological survival in Kobaïan, a language constructed by the group and based on Slavonic, Germanic and intuited elements. This eccentric band is the starting point for a speculative presentation at Raven Row, created by Yann Chateigné Tytelman, art historian and curator, and the exhibition's curator Lars Bang Larsen, as part of their research project Radical Enlightenment at Geneva University of Art and Design. This deals with the poetics of magma, an aesthetic and philosophical tenet of the psychedelic. Magma is an underground deposit of melted rock, but it can refer to matter in movement, whether organic, sonic or linguistic. Or it is used as an overarching trope for the flow of the imagination. In a pamphlet designed by Louise Hold Sidenius, the meaning of magma is chased through philosophy, machines, music, literature, and French countercultural cartoons, as a wormhole connecting different dimensions and realms of being.

The pamphlet is accompanied by artist and composer Vincent de Roguin's soundtrack with various magma sounds, including those from the eponymous group, and Jes Brinch's chipboard lava lamp – a rave era spoof on the primordial psychedelic machine. Originally presented as a prop in an installation from 1997, the artist imagined what it would be like to fall asleep in a Copenhagen club in the nineties and wake up 50 years later as an old man. In Brinch's world, the faint echoes of sixties' non-conformism are sclerotic and demented, and what remains of the psychedelic dream is acid that one can pour on reality.

(Magma is organised in collaboration with Geneva University of Art and Design)



Dexter Sinister

Dexter Sinister (formed 2006) is the graphic designer-editor-publisher duo of Stuart Bailey and David Reinfurt (both live New York). Their activities, which include a workshop and bookstore in New York City, explore the possibilities of writing, printing and publishing, reflecting the autonomy and self-organisation of the counterculture and the prominence of graphic design in the sixties. The slide projector plays an important role in psychedelic visual production, as one of the principal machines adopted by light groups who used it for the projection of homemade "wetslides". The single slide piece that Dexter Sinister have created for Reflections from Damaged Life is a "light poster" advertising any solstice party, in the past, present or future. However, it is a durational piece, with the image reacting to ambient light, and fading over time.



Robert Horvitz

Artist, writer, and former art editor of the Whole Earth Catalog, Robert Horvitz (born 1947, New Bedford, Massachusetts, lives Prague) developed his characteristic graphic style in the early seventies from quantum physics and psychedelic experience. Horvitz flicks his pen on the paper, producing half-inch, comet-shaped tracks. From this briefest of gestures comes an exploration of time and space, matter and energy. Horvitz writes, 'as each stroke endures on paper, the sequence is transformed into a growing network of simultaneous relationships ... There is no uniquely prescribed course of action. At every moment it is possible to imagine the drawing extending into a variety of futures ... Conflict and mediation. Some process of selection is called for that does not reduce to rules.'



The Otolith Group

In The Otolith Group's (founded by Kodwo Eshun and Anjalika Sagar in 2002, both live London) Anathema (2011), advanced information technology has come alive, and capital has turned into a sentient entity that probes human bodies. Manipulating appropriated television commercials, the film shows what has happened to the plasmatic vistas of the psychedelic image. With LCD systems – an acronym of Liquid Crystal Display – what once provided an affective and open-ended countercultural environment (for instance in Gustav Metzger's great Liquid Crystal Environment, first shown at London's UFO Club in 1965) has become the material substrate of image-borne capital. Mark Fisher writes about the film that it 'demonstrates the liquid erotic lure of communicative capitalist tactility... Anathema asks what would happen if the promises made by capital actually came true. Its conjecture is that we would be in the very (libidinal-dreaming) space which capital cannot but rely upon, even as it continually inhibits us from attaining it.'