Abraxas: The International Journal of Esoteric Studies

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A welcome arrival in the post recently was two issues of Abraxas, the book-format journal of esoteric studies from Fulgur Esoterica. I’ve always observed the contemporary occult scene from a distance, being more interested in cultural spin-offs whether those happen to be music-oriented—as was the late, lamented Coil—or art-oriented. Something I always enjoyed about Kenneth Grant’s books was the amount of unique art material they contained, much of it by his wife, Steffi Grant, or previously unseen work by Austin Osman Spare. Fulgur have for many years continued this artistic focus, starting out by reprinting Spare’s books (and publishing new ones, such as the revelatory Zos Speaks!), and more recently turning their attention to the work of contemporary artists following similar paths.

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Study for Salome (2012) by Denis Forkas Kostromitin.

Abraxas is a venue for the latter group, especially in the most recent issue, no. 3, which features a wealth of new art, photography, essays and poetry. In the past I’ve complained about the misunderstandings Austin Spare’s work used to generate among otherwise intelligent and sensitive critics when faced with the artist’s occult obsessions; the usual response would be to lazily dismiss this side of his work as “black magic”, and therefore either kitsch or nonsense. Things have improved in recent years but it’s taken a long time for critics and curators who would show the greatest respect to a minority belief from South America, say, to offer the same respect to equally sincere artists who happen to be working in London or New York. One of the values of Abraxas for artists such as Jesse Bransford and Denis Forkas Kostromitin, both of whom are interviewed here, is that they can have a conversation with someone who won’t treat their work or their interests in a condescending manner. I’m particularly taken with Kostromitin, a Russian artist whose work I only discovered recently.

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M L K (Moloch) (2011) by Denis Forkas Kostromitin.

Elsewhere in Abraxas 3 there’s a feature on the recent exhibition of Aleister Crowley’s extravagant daubs, an article by Francesco Dimitri about tarantism in southern Italy, a piece about Dada by Adel Souto, and text by Paracelsus with illustrations by Joseph Uccello which is printed on a different paper stock. The production quality is as good as any art book but then that’s standard for a Fulgur publication. Mention should be made of the interior design of this issue which far exceeds the often perfunctory layout of many publications from smaller publishers. Tony Hill is credited on the masthead as Creative Director so I’m assuming he’s the person responsible. Abraxas is an essential purchase for anyone interested in contemporary occult art. The hardback of no. 3 is a limited edition that includes a signed and numbered lithograph by Denis Forkas Kostromitin.

Previously on { feuilleton }
I:MAGE: An Exhibition of Esoteric Artists

La Région Centrale

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I would have posted this yesterday if it hadn’t been for the news about Ray Bradbury, Michael Snow’s La Région Centrale (1971) and Tony Hill’s Downside Up being related in my head if nowhere else. For anyone interested in experimental cinema Michael Snow occupies a key position with a pair of films that aspire to a kind of epic formality: Wavelength (1967), his 45-minute zoom into a photograph at the opposite end of a room, and La Région Centrale which is shots of the Canadian landscape (and the sky above it) filmed by a continuously moving camera attached to a robotic arm. Since the the latter runs for three whole hours it’s not the kind of thing you’ll find on TV or even at at most arts cinemas. Consequently all I’ve ever seen are extracts like this but it fascinates all the same. The electronic noises are the sound of the camera arm in operation. Snow apparently said that he wanted the effect to be that of an alien probe exploring a new planet; given this you could probably class La Région Centrale as a piece of science fiction formalism along with Chris Marker’s La Jetée.

YouTube is the worst venue for films intended to absorb the viewer’s intention but for the curious there’s a rough copy of Wavelength here.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Downside Up
Expanded Cinema by Gene Youngblood

Downside Up

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Downside Up (1984)

For a long time I didn’t know which came first, Downside Up, a 16-minute short by experimental filmmaker Tony Hill, or Sensoria, the Cabaret Voltaire music video directed by Peter Care. Both were made in 1984 and both employ the same technique of a camera fixed to a special rig that allows shots to begin at ground level, rise parabolically into the air then descend to the ground again showing a reverse angle. Thanks to this Quietus interview with Peter Care last year we now know that Tony Hill’s film came first and that Care borrowed the rig for his video. Both are memorable pieces of work. Hill starts out with a series of slow shots accompanied by sounds that imply the camera is passing through the earth. This is contradicted later (and with gathering speed) when some of the shots are rotated through ninety degrees so they materialise out of building walls. Care stripped the technique down using faster shots that he cut with stop-motion footage of Richard Kirk and Stephen Mallinder. It’s the best of the promo videos made for the group.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Crackdown by Cabaret Voltaire