Temple of the Occult

When faced with the word ‘occult’, many would instantly visualize a dark, sinister religious style belief system. Over the past few decades, occults have been embodied with a menacing stereotype, being labeled as demonic, cruel and iniquitous to the public. At the University of York however, students and the public are able to view the occult belief system through a different outlet. The Norman Rea Gallery, above Langwith College on Heslington West, is hosting a controversial installation styled exhibition; ‘Temple of the Occult.’ Directed by Mayssa Kachicho and curated by both London Artist Robin Spalding and York Student Penelope Hines, the negative assumption associated with the secret religion is tackled, aiming to breakdown the scrutiny that this religious phenomena has managed to craft over the past several eras.

Through the use of different art styles such as sculpture, taxidermy and print, the Norman Rea Gallery has embodied the nature of this secret religious society in various ways through the utilization of numerous artists’ works. At first impression, when learning about the exhibition, it was believed that the setting and atmosphere would be severely ominous. The description given prior to the visit described the work as an installation mimicking the interior of a religious temple. In reality, the atmosphere and setting one is faced with severely shocked as the white walls and bright lighting portrayed much more of a clinical, sterile feel than a menacing, supernatural experience expected. Although somewhat contradicting the mysterious atmosphere that was anticipated, the artwork displayed throughout the gallery undeniably captured the overall dark continuity that was first predicted which was evident through the overflowing enthusiasm within the gallery. The lack of judgment in relation to the setting was overlooked by the variation that the exhibition achieved in such a small, claustrophobic space, bringing the occult traditions and artifacts to life.

Robin Spalding, curator of the exhibition also managed to incorporate his own sculptured pieces, creating ‘Thelemite’s Altar’ which was at the forefront of the temple like installation. Through the use of the Thelema belief system, Spalding was able to reconstruct the temple structure as a way to exemplify the prophecy that stands amongst many secret religious cults. The temple, armed with the occults prophecy in centre view, powerfully reflected the devotion that believers bring to the supernatural religion. Spalding’s influential work delves even further by representing the three relics within the belief system’s prophecy, highlighting gold, talisman and Bole skin as strong representations of the religion’s rituals of “The Sacred Magic”. Spalding’s work undeniable stood at the forefront of the exhibition, creating the atmosphere that continued throughout.

Hector de Gregorio, on the other hand, manipulates the religious belief system through the use of print and religious renaissance. His paired print pieces, branded “Crux” powerfully highlights the themes of piety and cruelty as a way to enhance and augment common religious figures within the western world. Through one of the pieces of the contemporary occult artist’s work, the Vitruvian Man is coalesced with Jesus Christ as a way to emphasize the war between Christianity and occultism through the eight limbs portrayed on the print, whilst also symbolizing the eight points of the occultist belief. Here, the audience is confronted with a confrontational figure that questions not just occultism, but all religions as a whole.

Several pieces of art illustrated by artist Brendan Hansbro became key pieces within the gallery, denoting several different chapters within “Apocalypse”, with each piece representing a whole chapter through his own illustration. Through similar artistry as Jean Duvet, whose artwork too consisted of strong religious links, Hansbro utilizes the detailed and crowded pieces as a way to highlight the extraordinary syncretic traditions of occultism. However, as explained by Hansbro himself, the pieces are a way to demonstrate his own life struggles on paper, where his pain of family mourning, divorce and loneliness are visible to the audience when evaluating his work. Hansbro’s work, although frenzied and anarchic, represent purely the occultist religion in the most extraordinary form.

Through the use of multiple artists within this exhibition, one is truly able to identify with the Occultist tradition in more ways than one. Through the different art forms on display, the audience is able to identify different versions and depictions of this misunderstood religion. Through the works of Hansbro, Spalding and Hector de Gregorio, it is hard to perceive Occultism in any other way than mysterious, dark and sinister as first perceived. The chaotic and overwhelming pieces of art, shock rather than persuade the audience, enhancing the understanding of Occultism. Unfortunately however, the exhibition is unlikely to drastically alter the stereotype of Occultist beliefs, where the audience is still confronted with a supernatural, inauspicious organization, remaining the taboo of religion.