Voodoo: Hoochie Coochie and the Creative Spirit opened at Riflemaker in London on Tuesday 28 October 2008 and continues through Saturday 12 January 2009. ‘The act of putting brush to canvas is an act of lyrical intuition, and in that act, in that instant, the personality and indeed the spirituality of the artist is revealed.’ Francis Bacon quoted in Herbert Read 'Art Now', 1933.
The work of artists, writers, musicians and dancers who acknowledge the need to reach a heightened or 'altered' state of mind in order to create their work is the subject of 'Voodoo - Hoochie-Coochie and the Creative Spirit', at Riflemaker from 28 October.
Throughout the exhibition, the idea of Voodoo practise – initiation and possession particularly - is used as a metaphor for the spiritual heights considered essential to the creative process - a need to fire up the spirit, get your Mojo working, go into a trancelike state, hallucinate, exploring the mystery of the creative act via language, ritual, spells and sacrifice including a special Voodoo film season at the Curzon Mayfair and exploratory concerts at the Royal College of Music.
‘My art originates from hallucinations only I can see. I translate the hallucinations and obsessional images that plague me into sculptures and paintings. I think only of myself when I make my artwork.’ Yayoi Kusama (Bomb, Fall ’99)
From Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Haitian high priests to the Catholic icons of Andres Serrano, from the alcohol-induced stupors of Francis Bacon and F Scott Fitzgerald to the self-obliteration of Yayoi Kusama, from the exploration of power and sexuality in Richard Niman’s sculpture of Hitler as an infant girl, to Igor Stravinsky's dance rituals, the attempts of the artist to enhance the creative process by removing themselves from reality through meditation or mind-altering substances is examined as a fundamental element in the act of creation.
The exhibition, with an integral soundtrack that ranges from Messiaen's 'Transfiguration' to Muddy Waters', 'Hoochie-Coochie Man', examines the loss of 'self' in the process of making - the translation of creative production into a form of ritual or sacrament - and draws parallels with the religion of Vodou or Hoodoo.
‘To reveal art and conceal the artist is arts aim.’ Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray
Voodoo, traditionally associated with sticking pins in dolls, has been sensationalised in films and books as black magic based on animal and human sacrifices. In West Africa it is a religion practised by over 30 million people, permitted by Haiti's 1987 constitution and, since 1996, the official religion of Benin. Its religious manifestation, Vodoun - the Fon-Ewe word for spirit - is described as the attempt to explain the forces of the universe, influence those forces, and thereby influence human behaviour.
‘Voodoo is a religion of stature, rare poetic vision and artistic expression’ Maya Deren, filmmaker and Voodoo initiate.
The exhibition of images, installation, audience interaction and sound is grouped into interweaving themes from sacrifice, spells and spirits to hysteria, possession and ritual. It includes work by artists who explicitly reference the religion of Voodoo or other cult and spiritual themes, who engage with raw and natural materials in unique way or those who have talked openly about the irrational state of mind or level of spirituality that they must reach in order to begin creating.
Exhibition visitors enter the gallery through William Burrough's 'Wishing-Box', which was originally located at the front door of the infamous author’s Kansas home. While Bill Evans’ seminal jazz track ‘Witchcraft’ plays, guests are instructed to deposit a written wish in a slot before moving through a curtain into the exhibition.
During their journey through the exhibition visitors encounter the 'art of natural forces' of Sigmar Polke, Maria Novella Del Signore, Miquel Barcelo and Annabelle Moreau; the tidal art of Michael Johnson and the tower-block visions of Sister Marie Gabriel; the psychic automatism of André Masson, André Breton and
Hans Hartung and the Freudian relapse of Max Ernst and Paul Delvaux; Rachmaninov's chromatic hysteria;
Max Reger's spiralling fugues and the supposed 'atonal' otherness of Stockhausen and Lygeti. The sacred cows of Voodoo are photographed by Sebastião Salgado and Leah Gordon and its rites celebrated by Igor Stravinsky, David Lewiston and Darius Milhaud.
‘Voodoo: Hoochie Coochie and the Creative Spirit’ includes the work of:
Alice Anderson - Francis Bacon - Miquel Barcelo - Jean-Michel Basquiat - Hans Bellmer - Benrik - Hardy Blechman - Karl Bodmer - Louise Bourgeois - William S. Burroughs - Jose Maria Cano - Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle - Le Courbusier - Maya Deren - Adrian Di Duca - John Fowles - Diamanda Galas - Kendall Geers - Leah Gordon - Hans Hartung - Roumald Hazoume - Simon Henwood - Graciela Iturbide - Mati Klarwein - Chosil Kil - Julius Koller - Ansel Krut - Yayoi Kusama - Justine Lowe - Karl Lutchmayer - The Manson Quartet - Vincent Mazeau - Olivier Messiaen - Moondog - Annabelle Moreau - Dennis Morris - The New York City Ballet - Vaslav Nijinsky - Richard Niman - Gerard Quenum - Sergei Rachmaninov - Zina Saro-Wiwa - Sebastiao Salgado - Arthur Schnitzler - Andres Serrano - William Shakespeare - David Shrigley - Francis Albert Sinatra - Dash Snow - Igor Stravinsky - David Taylor - Peter Terson - Sage Vaughn - Julie Verhoeven - Marina Warner - Muddy Waters - Oscar Wilde - Virginia Woolf
‘Voodoo: Hoochie Coochie and the Creative Spirit’ is accompanied by:
- a book of the same name including texts by Marina Warner and Zina Saro-Wiwa;
- a film season of Voodoo films at the Curzon Mayfair every Sunday from 1 to 22 November;
- a series of exploratory concerts at the Royal College of Music every Tuesday throughout the exhibition;
- a live performance by David Taylor; and
- a soundtrack - available online at riflemaker.org from October 2008