On the renovated 13th floor of an imposing government building sits Clocktower Gallery, wedged on Leonard street somewhere between Tribeca, City Hall and Chinatown; on Tuesday, Feb. 21 Taraka Larson presented there a lecture on the formation of Now Age aesthetics and their implications for Ghost Modernism--an examination of the Symbol's loss of power and it's occult move to kitsch, all within an architecture of Utopia. Later, small-scale media publisher Jesse Hlebo of Swill Children joined aesthetic theorist and musician Hunter Hunt Hendrix of Liturgy with Columbia professor Jon Kessler for discussion on the state of the Culture industry.
Hang in there.
To catch you up: Larson is one half of sister-duo Prince Rama, a Brooklyn-based band storied as much for their rearing on a Hare Krishna tract somewhere in Florida as their live shows of ritual and the borderline occult. Prince Rama is a band with some pretty heavy clout in the Brooklyn underground, having played most serious venues in the DIY Wave. They'll run an exercise Thursday, Feb. 23 at Glasslands; they've pummeled 285 Kent; they released an album, literally, into the sky with balloons, from the roof of The Market Hotel. And they ran a residency on the apocalypse at Issue Project Room. They've toured the world with their beat-heavy mantra-song and toed the line of style and substance that seems to be the idiom of the moment. It's surprised me that the sisters (Taraka with Nimai) haven't wound up on the cover of Fader by now, what with their intricate styling, ornate around a pulsating zeitgeist.
Nimai joined Taraka onstage as part of her lecture on the Now Age, though there was none of the meditative song the two create together. Instead, Nimai played slight percussion and was one of about ten dancers who appeared in a maddening, glittered group of spritely females intended to provoke the crowd. At their best, they incited a mosh-pit during Taraka's Black Sabbath air-guitar-with-a-guitar karaoke thrash jam; at their most intrusive, they pulled the stoned from their seats. But this exercise helped underscore a point Larson made relating art space to concert space--it was an iteration of liberty for people to thrash like that for so long in a gallery.
The lecture as a whole John Cage would have been hard pressed to follow. A mix of multimedia, music, discussion, concert, spectacle, dance, pop, blood, and Mylar echoed around Clocktower's expansive back room. The presentation was modeled after Larson's concise Swill Children publication and each heading functioned as the separation of an act. That compartmentalization of the moment sought to explore the difference between past and future time, eradicating notions of new or different through embracing performance as The Record. It was Ad Hoc by just a few days, Larson told me later, but came across as polished and surprising and gripping altogether.
In the theory, Larson became more forcefully New Left than she'd previously professed her loyalties to me. Notions of the work's aura and the formation of style as critical arc echoed Walter Benjamin and Adorno with Horkheimer at their most irritated. But Larson's most interesting contentions were on the confluence of unlimited access to nostalgia as a shield of deference. In finality Larson makes a case of unrestricted cultural-temporal access to signifiers of any era at any time-the Internet. Her intentions of aligning the spiritual with the rational, heretofore quite public, had not yet reached so far into an actualized metaphysical space. Larson even sought to prove the delineation of spirituality that came to divide and reunify in 2011 as representative in the symbols of the Cross and the Triangle, both of which moved to kitsch from occult in 2011. Her illustration and resurrection of the symbols became finite when she pulled Hlebo and Hendrix from the crowd, made them stand shirtless, and explained the theoretical power of both forms, painted on the models.
A lot of Larson's notions came off as somewhat...obvious? That can't be the right word because the obvious doesn't bread the kind of spectacle and joy that occurred at Clocktower Tuesday. More so, what we're witnessing is the destruction of style as the aesthetic equivalent of domination (Adorno & Horkheimer). The collision of these worlds that Hlebo and Hendrix represent, with Larson edging them together, speaks to a moment where a lack of style as combat allows community across structural, technological, and critical lines. Larson's given us an argument of metastasis, the kind of discussion of a discussion that must happen if we're to reform the state of the culture industry. Further, we're seeing similar notions of sampling, albeit on not such an ephemeral level, in the theoretical mainstream-Jaron Lanier is the easiest reference point, particularly his book-length rant You Are Not A Gadget. However, Larson's contention is that, while gadgets we are not, gadgets may assist us to be in identity.
Before I found my way to Clocktower Tuesday, I wrote to a friend: I think I'm going to an event that will be very important in the formation of the second-wave psychedelic. She laughed at me. But I'm taking this entire discussion very seriously because other people are too. When we're actually able to do things like this and merge so many creative worlds into space, metaphysical and physical--that is the art. That is the post-digital empiricism we've lacked in blog culture. That is community. That is trust.
The notion of the Record came to bare when, after a treatise on the death of the moment, Taraka killed herself off in a flash of blood. Well, corn syrup probably. And Nimai was the one that stabbed her, with the back end of a Tympani mallet. They both wore white gowns and the blood caked on Taraka's face clashed against her emerald eyes, fierce and desperate. She passed on the floor next to a looping wooden vinyl player, having literally killed the moment and underlined Feb. 21 as the night of Now Age Record.
This is how it all made sense: We are always Now.