Brion Gysin—autoportrait (1935).
“A shaman to me is always a pansexual being,” says the gay Canadian filmmaker. “These guys all came out of that period where queer was really hardcore, it was part of their radical art — and of course it was illegal.” (more)
The filmmaker in question is Nik Sheehan discussing FLicKeR, his 2007 documentary about artist and writer Brion Gysin. Sheehan’s film is available for viewing at Ubuweb although I haven’t got round to watching it yet so I can’t say much about it. (Reality Studio has a review.) Gysin’s life and work is certainly worthy of study, however, his art and writing—which encompassed novels and experimental poetry—often having been overshadowed by his close association with William Burroughs. He gets a raw deal in Ted Morgan’s curiously bad-tempered biography of Burroughs, for example, despite having given his co-conspirator the cut-up technique, collaborated with him on The Third Mind, and so on. FLicKeR‘s title refers to Gysin’s Dreamachine, the first sculpture which needs to be experienced with the eyes closed, being a homemade hallucination engine which works by flickering light and shadow at a rapid rate on the closed eyelids. I made some Dreamachines of my own in the mid-1980s by carefully studying photos in RE/Search #4/5, and they certainly do work. It’s a shame that 78rpm record players are more difficult to find than they used to be since the original template devised by Gysin and Ian Sommerville needs a high speed in order to create the optimum flicker rate. As you might expect, various psychonauts have since created their own variations such as this one for a 45rpm player.
I mentioned a few weeks ago that the New Museum in NYC is staging the first US retrospective of Gysin’s work, an exhibition which they happen to call Dream Machine, and which opens on July 7th. The New York Times ran a piece about Gysin in advance of that. Ubuweb has further Gysin materials, such as this Burroughs piece about Gysin’s invention of the cut-up method, and some recordings of the permutated poems. Finally, if you’re wondering about the title of the post, it’s a reference to this.