In 1970s America, large groups of random strangers joined together to participate in confessional, aggressive group activities. By engaging in the popular phenomenon of self-actualization seminars, these people sought to strengthen the awareness of the individual self, expand the consciousness of their physical body, and collocate their metaphysical position on Earth. Participants were encouraged to sacrifice their sensory input, consent to relinquish control, and revel in a context of aggravated, unwilled proximity that was both physical and spiritual. Thereupon initiating an alternative liminal space-time condition, the collective experience became increasingly bare, traumatic, and ultimately rehabilitative.
Photo by Pascal Bernier
Forward to late 2012, post-Sandy New York. This is the nascence of WILD TORUS (WT): an evolving collective of artists, based in and around Brooklyn, which reframes the ideas and experiences of self-actualization seminars in the contemporary context. Under the auspice of the so-called "digital spirit cycle" (DSC) WT enacts ceremonies centered around intense digital simulation and participatory action. The DSC unifies the media and individuals of sub-cultural periphery to commemorate unseen cataclysms in time between ancient, predetermined spiritual indicators and current natural and societal disasters. Essentially, it is a surreal self-aware hybrid of a psychotherapy seminar, a tribal ritual, and virtual reality simulation. It takes place in sensory-saturated, digitally-constructed environments that beckon toward the open-minded viewer. DSC rituals operate on egalitarian principles, and rely on a gender, geographic, generational, and class neutral approach; the more variety of people that are brought together, the stronger the resulting exercise in sublimity.
Today, in a post-religious society where psychotherapy and physical wellness rituals have usurped spirituality, WT deems the DSCs as therapeutic in their holistic nature of spiritual and physical commitment. Current society lives in a desensitized state of mass cultural trauma, brought on by an American-led war in the Middle East, and fueled by an escalating onslaught of conflicting imagery and information in the technological sphere. Nearly 100 years after Edward Bernays made mass media outlets the tools for cerebral manipulation through his practices in early TV advertising, human beings now function wholly disassociated from real-life experience, functioning instead within segmented versions of the self, while engaged in a privatized simulation of fantasy enabled by household technology. To combat the vacant gaze of this societal trauma, WT promotes its own brand of collective spectacles and mass performance rituals through the DSCs. Its sustainable-based practice existing parallel to the inflation-addled art market and the unstable global economy, WT manipulates the cultural art medium with mutable digital tools and collaborative processes that fill the gaps, where an individual's own market value awareness stops short.
Yet, like the worldwide digital sphere, the DSCs are not without technological and structural glitches. WT's group process has been known, in some instances, to expose the extreme and negative aspects of group mentality. These include the naked urge for a communal, emotional outlet and the erotic desire for a leader to put undue trust into. The beauty of unified, raw, orgiastic experience will ultimately reveal the ugliness of auto-cannibalism and built-in obsolescence. Societies draw both their strength and their demise from the sheer power of collective numbers. In addition to historical cases of this flaw, like the fall of the U.S.S.R., we see this today with the rise of the Tea Party, whose members, while laudatory in their ambition to challenge government power, have been perverted by misinformation and lost sense of reality. Having observed these pitfalls firsthand from combined Russo-American identities, WT members aim to both distort and transform perception: glitching the life code and flaying the fabric of reality to reveal it's raw structure.
Photo by WILD TORUS
In order to better comprehend the nature and process of a DSC, let's take an example. The most recent digital spirit cycle, titled "inSOUL/ation," took place on November 19th at Bushwick's all ages, multi-use art space: The Silent Barn. The spectacle featured 16 performers in four non-stop hours, and dominated the entire first-floor of the storefront DIY venue. The Silent Barn's flexible, hexagon-shaped stage was separated into individual upright pyramids and placed against the walls. In the stage's place, a floor-to-ceiling Spandex tent was constructed to act as a nest for the participating performance collective, The Cocoon Project. In front of this Nest, WT constructed and suspended an illuminated cuboctahedron sculpture. The shape, a variation of the Silent Barn's heptagon symbol, is known as "Metatron's Cube" and is believed to encode the basics of life. Here, it functioned as a condenser, harnessing the energy of the space, and the vessel for that energy to imbue. Surrounding the cube nucleus, distorted, back-fed, glitch-art projections spanned the walls and rained down on performers. Placed among the audience, a handmade sensory amplification chamber, made by Dominika Ksel, allowed individuals infinite meditative possibilities with the confines of a coffin-like dark, yet comfortable chamber.
Following typical WT anti-pattern sequencing, the event did not flow in a linear fashion, but was presented as a confluence of happenings, such that the musicians, performance and digital video artists performed at the same time. The cycle was broken down into seven stages or "states" entitled: De-Attenuation, Virulence, Intension, Conglomerate, Internation, Self-Deification, and Dissend.
The De-Attenuation state reflected the overall form of the cycle, expanding the group ritual from point zero. Beginning out of darkness the two leaders of WT were then illuminated in the center of the space. Dressed in full-body Zentai suits that were complimented by Nike active wear and a handheld video camera, WT's live feed melded individual audience members into a collective projection, contorting their faces with visual effects, all while performing a nudity-free striptease. As Metatron's Cube was raised from ground to ceiling, the foreboding, robotic sound of EUU, drawn from a mighty stack of analog synthesizers, permeated the space. After WT, the next performer, Felix Morelo, consecrated the ground with table salt, frantically whipping it with white rope.
Photo by Stefan Frederic Walz
The second state, Virulence, was intended to release all hidden demons and noxious sentiments into the space. Performance artist Jon Konkol and acoustic noise guitarist The Pearl, appeared under the Cube. Both wearing disfigured, old man masks, The Pearl cried out a song of misery while Konkol stumbled around, regurgitating mayonnaise and blurting out fragments of cerebral torment. After everyone helped clear the sickness both from the air and the floor, performance artist Jenna Kline, and musician Allison Taylor, began to set the space for the third state: Intension. As Taylor's droning electric violin raga intensified the space, Kline dissected glitter-sprinkled animal hearts, eventually shedding her own blood by the same blade.
By the next state, Conglomerate, the digital spirit cycle reached its turning-point and the DSC liminal space-time was finally wide-open to all present. The synthesized-cello and electric guitar duo, Hot Date, was paired with The Cocoon Project to navigate this transitional stage. Multiple "Cocooners" began to emerge from the Nest, within enormous, undulating, Spandex sacks, or Cocoons. Populated by a body-scape of cloaked contortions, undulating under the frenetic projection art of Rob Cerrato, the space had by then fully devolved into psycho-human dystopia.
Photo by Patricio Jijon
The Cocoons shrieked and stretched, absorbing members of the audience inside their fabric membrane. Finally, as Hot Date began to wind down, and the Cocoons subsided, the two WT leaders emerged from the one remaining Cocoon, inflated a large Earth beach ball and thus initiated the Internation state. The ambient Theremin and synth sounds of PAS Musique provided the soundtrack for the next ritual. A dream-like visual composition by WashMachine was projection-mapped onto Metatron's Cube. The Earth was seduced by the WT female, who lovingly caressed it and drooled all over its surface. The WT male then emerged and placed on her a tall, flashing headdress. Together they walked under Metatron's Cube. He lifted her up onto his shoulders so that she disappeared inside the Cube. He stood there as another male WT performer, Josh Kil, purified his entire body with white paint. In a sudden twist, Metatron's Cube ripped from the ceiling and at once all came tumbling down.
Photo by Patricio Jijon
The time had come for body performance artist Macklen Mayse, to enter the space. She wore a dark ensemble of a black leotard, black tights, and a cloth mask. With exploratory, tempered movement, she interacted with a single, standing light, as well as the vertical pyramid shapes, by impressing her body into the structural elements of the space.
Photo by Devlin Goldberg
Mayse's dance functioned as a meditative break for all to prepare for the next state of Self-Deification. The white-covered WT male was positioned inside the fallen Cube for the commencement. The WT female, dressed as a Cyber Warrior, slashed open the Cube, exposing the WT male inside its skeleton. She then assembled various pieces of furniture into the center of the space. She put a tall ladder next to the fallen Cube and the WT male. Then, with her flashing staff, she prodded all the performers and audience members to stand on the surrounding furniture creating a multi level congregation. WT performers Kil and Kim Wirt, unraveled four long, elastic bands attached to the Cube and wrapped them around the waists of the gathered disciples. The bands formed a literal human body Inter-net that started to expand and contract, becoming increasingly intimate within the whirling environment of cosmic sounds and digital paintings.
Eventually the network disassembled. The WT performers slopped syrup onto the WT male and covered him in fluff while the Warrior passed out cups of sugar to audience members. The audience then formed a line and, one by one, poured their sugar cups over Him in a combined perverted Baptism/Tar and Feathering.
Photo by Kristofor Giordano
The Self-Deification of the WT male gave way to the last state, Dissend. The sound environment flipped yet again as drum and guitar based noise rockers, Thickly Painted Walls (TPW), erupted in electrifying dissonance. All the performers rushed to the Cocoon Nest to detach its cover, a huge blue swath of elastic material. As it was thrown over the heads of the entire gathering, everyone took to the edges of the fabric, letting it take over the space and swim above them in the air. The Earth ball bounced freely on top, as people ran in and out from under. This collective trance, dance-like exercise continued in this manner until, finally, the TPW set had self-destructed, and everyone let the fabric fall and cover their slumped exhausted bodies.
Photo by Patricio Jijon
This conclusion marked the end of the inSOUL/ation DSC. All had experienced the seven, distinct states. They emerged with from this utopian play act, with novel experiences of their selves and surroundings, shaped by both trauma and ecstasy. If you would like to experience WILD TORUS' Digital Spirit Cycle first hand, the next one will be presented this Thursday, December 12 at Bizarre, (12 Jefferson St, Brooklyn, NY) . It is titled Solid State Intelligence, and is part of the WT series, Sacred Sensoreal, which takes place every month at Bizarre.
Rhizome Announcement: http://rhizome.org/announce/events/60178/view/