It is rather timely to have popped the witch’s hat on again just weeks before the term ‘witch’ once again entered the Australian political vocabulary (Remember ‘Ditch the Witch’? Never forget. Never, ever forget.). Immigration Minister, Peter Dutton this week referred to political editor, Samantha Maiden as a ‘mad fucking witch’ in a text he mistakenly sent directly to her and in reference to her column criticising his colleague, Jamie Briggs (for whom the message had been intended) regarding the sexual harrassment of a younger female colleague.
My general disgust with Australian politics and a feeling of immense powerlessness to enact change through the conventional democratic means has been one driver behind some of the more esoteric explorations I have made as an artist. How else can I affect change? What tools are available to me? Magick seems as legitimate a possibility to me as the machinations of the Australian political system right now. I’m as agnostic about one as I am about the other.
My disgust has been strengthened and validated by both Dutton’s words and Briggs behaviour and a general failure in Australian politics and media to comprehend why it is not OK to brush off either incident as a misplaced joke or high spirits. It’s also done nothing but strengthen my position that it is not OK for Australia to be run largely by a club of rich, white fellows big on handshakes and personal networks and short on empathy and, most importantly, that we must endeavour to do something about that.
It’s no surprise to me that Australian women, at least online, have responded with a great embrace of the terminology. A Facebook page ‘Mad Fucking Witches’ has received in excess of four thousand ‘likes’ since it’s inception 2 days ago and there is a grand movement to #putyourbroomout around the front doors and gates of the nation (extra points for getting a black cat in the photographic evidence). With it’s history of being applied to women perceived as wielding unknown power and working outside societal conventions, I believe the term ‘witch’ is a badge to wear with pride. This is despite (or inversely, in celebration of) it having become Australian political shorthand for ‘woman we can’t control’. It’s use is intended to generate fear and to undermine the subject, but judging by the way women are responding, they have got it so wrong, at least for roughly half the population. I for one, will be looking for the ‘witches’ and following their lead. They must be doing something very right by my ethical compass to have earned that title.
But in December, before all this occurred, I put on the hat for The Guðmundsdóttir Summoning, which has been a very agnostic but equally optimistic experiment in magick to summon performer/singer/songwriter/instrumentalist Björk to Tasmania.
The work came about as I was revisiting The Golden Bough and thinking about occultism and how/if it figures into the animations I make. When I dipped into a passage on sympathetic magick, I began to think it was an apt description for the purpose and process of my animations, but I had never thought of them as this quite so boldly before.
I began to entertain thoughts of ‘testing’ the effects of more deliberate, purposeful magick. While I chewed over worldy concerns I felt desperate to affect (asylum seekers in detention and a change of government figured largely) as the subject of such an experiment, I began to feel that it would be irresponsible to attempt L-plater spellcraft around anything too critical and so wound back to a more selfish and flippant desire – to have Björk come and perform in Tasmania. It was important to me, as an entirely novice witch, for the intent to be not beyond the realms of possibility and thanks to David Walsh, MONA and the MOFO festivals I believe this to be true.
So – I opened up a little magick workshop in the Plimsoll Gallery as a part of the exhibition, Gratis curated by Sam Johnstone.
The starting point was a hand-drawn effigy – scanned, emailed from here, then given physical form a couple of months before the exhibition and escorted back from her neighbourhood in Brooklyn Heights NY by an artist friend. She is structurally supported by one of his paintbrushes and a giant, spliff-paper packet he found on the street. Once in Hobart I took her to the top of the mountain to see the view and collect some earth before taking her to the gallery and placing her in a protective vitrine with a small slide-show of her travels.
To assist the transition in the gallery from civilian to magick-worker, I constructed a ritual hat based in structure and colouration on her headpiece (designed by Maiko Takeda) worn on the the Biophilia tour and, more recently, the Vulnicura album cover but shaped in the form of a more traditional witches hat. When not in use the hat is displayed in the gallery upon a ceremonial stand.
I formed The Guðmundsdóttir Coven, a group of (not compulsorily so, but as it happens) artists who also hold the desire to see her perform here. Together we conducted karaoke rituals, exercises in chaos magick. Each member of the coven bore a sigil on their palm in the form of a temporary tattoo.
The sigil is a magick symbol designed purely for the purpose of drawing Björk to Tasmania. We concentrated on the sigil, and charged it with the transcendent and transformative power of group song. There were two karaoke rituals conducted at either end of the same day. One skyclad (nude) in a closed gallery and the other clothed and during the opening of the exhibition. Documentation of the skyclad karaoke can be seen here.
Another couple of artist pals had just left Björk’s birthplace and cultural identifier – Iceland – when I began this project. They knocked the glacial mud from their walking boots and brought that back for spellcrafting in a ziplock bag. It was later blended with the earth from the top of our mountain, Kunanyi, and used for a simple (and more traditional) spell: The blended earths held a candle. Another summoning sigil (the same symbol used for the karaoke rituals) was burned in the flame as I concentrated on it’s image. The flame scorched my fingers and the energy of that pain charged the sigil. The flame was then left to burn until extinguished by the breeze. It’s worth noting that as soon as I announced that intention, the breeze complied.
I have documented a lot of the process through my Instagram account using the hashtag #theguðmundsdóttirsummoning.
Gratis will begin touring the country next year and artefacts from and documentation of the project will tour a number of galleries around the country. Effigy Björk however, will relocate to my studio here in Hobart, as to continue her travels would mess with the spells intent. I want her here, not Wagga Wagga. I can’t afford a trip to Wagga Wagga. Sad but true.
My primary reason for writing this post besides documenting that this project occurred and to complain about the state of the nation, is REALLY to give many a thank you where it is due. As you may notice reading this – I have relied on the good will, trust and generosity of many people from coven to couriers to child-minders (who cared for the covens kids while they sang).
So in immense gratitude I here acknowledge everyone who has become involved or assisted in some way:
. Alison Butterworth .
.Rob O’Connor .
.Julia Drouhin .
.Lucy Hawthorne .
.Sam Johnstone .
.Kate Kelly .
.Mish Meijers .
.Lola Page .
.Oscar Parsons .
.Lisa Rime .
.Elissa Ritson .
.Josh Santospirito .
.Pip Stafford .
.Matt Warren .
.Tricky Walsh .
.Sarah Wright .
It is the interest, will and trust of other people that have thrust this project along and in many ways I have merely administrated it along the way, as it charged forward under it’s own energy. This took me by suprise and has given me great pleasure and gratification. I’m forming new schemes based on these feelings. I plan to try to relinquish control more often and some mass-collaborative dreams that I have considered too difficult in the past now seem like a possibility.
When Björk is imminent, I’ll let you know.
I’ve not yet done anything about the rich, white men lacking in empathy, but I am conducting tests to find out what tools I might have available to me. It’s a start.
Witch it up, Witches.