Our first get-together to plan this issue took place in early summer 2020, when we met with fellows on the meadow in front of Akademie Schloss Solitude to discuss the last chapter of Silvia Federici’s Caliban and the Witch and the first chapter of Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Heart. Originally, the idea was to make a journal on »Radical Pedagogy« in cooperation with Ujazdowski Castle’s Obieg magazine, an interdisciplinary journal about art and humanities with a decolonial streak. Unfortunately Obieg magazine no longer exists in this form, as it has taken another direction.
Previously digesting the texts, we spent the afternoon sharing stories about our schooling and upbringing and the places or countercultural movements we could learn from – or get confused or amazed by. Between the lockdowns and close to the woods we wanted to draw on experience-based learning methods, the »living laboratory« of education, and our bodily and cognitive abilities of sensing/being/transforming with the world. In this first session, we invited fellows to think along nonmaterialistic frequencies, communion, and maybe even spiritual and ritualistic aspects of learning. We could observe that many attendees were interested in methodologies and rituals that are informed by ancestral and Indigenous practices or other a priori concealed languages and cultural techniques.
We are aware that the terms »the Occult« and »the Supernatural« are concepts that were framed by Western patriarchal traditions and their attributions. But we take them as a starting point for this issue, as the occult was also largely explored and displayed in valid scholarship and thus challenges both nominations/classifications, boundaries and hegemonic structures per se. Likewise, the supernatural is widely associated with phenomena such as a cosmological world view, the world of the spirits, parapsychology, or transcendence, and can be traced to various philosophical, religious, mythological, and Indigenous domains. It thus represents an overarching approach. What is interesting is the trans-historical continuation: If we now see an increased interest in practices and knowledge deviating from institutionalized secured knowledge, this is due to centuries of sanctioned knowledge, segregation, and demarcation. We would like to share one of Gutfrański’s stories here:
Back in the late 80s and early 90s, I grew up in a special place in northern Poland. The fall of communism had started the craziest period of recent Polish history. A time of mafias, UFO stories, dark New-Age cults, Americophilia and wild, rapacious karaoke-capitalism. I lived in a town which historically is one of the most important pilgrimage places in the region, founded on a supposedly equally relevant site of a former Slavic cult. It is a home of the medieval miraculous figure of Holy Mary that exposed me to the energies of vision, ardent ludic Catholic religiosity, and incredibly charismatic characters. This ancient Catholic tradition was gradually supplemented by an influx of New-Age and alternative truth-seeking ventures, at times materializing in the form of organ-snatching sects and on everyday mass hypnotism right from the screen performed by Soviet-styled TV psychics, or traveling dowsers saving you from the harms of underground waters. These »health séances,« aimed at reassuring citizens panicked over the ongoing political upheaval, were just part of a much wider repertoire. The popular culture of the time was simplistic yet suggestive, and if you were susceptible enough to these phenomena, all surrounding labor pains of capitalist transformation could have been seen as a sort of common »magic.« Fueled by ongoing disbelief in the future, the old values of collective thinking gradually disappeared under the influence of the heralds of a new order – the new role models, the new language and captivating juju of the market. Back then, I could observe how »magical thinking« can be seen primarily as an alternative form of (un)learning not allied to a state or established theologies. Which in times of crisis can be successfully activated for (mass) healing purposes or even vice versa for total crackdown.
Now, in a completely different time, we can experience something similar, but in high definition and in the form of a collective 24/7 pandemic livestream of common global madness. And this is most likely just a harbinger of further problems with the climate crisis, austerity and cyber-life consequences of the period we are heading to; with its growing critique for existing systems and structures by representatives of all different political spectrums. Now more than ever, people are becoming loyal to simple symbols of consumerism and they’re run by fear. Fear for your own and closest ones’ health makes people afraid of change and what the future holds. Now with the global pandemic we can observe the effect of dividing and polarizing on a global scale more than ever before, even on the level of each echo chamber. As individuals, we are emotionally involved, mainly because of the media simplifying things and making everything very black and white. So you’re either for or against something. It is a post-post truth moment when the year 2020 – which according to the Ouija board was possessed by the demonic entity »Zozo« – gave the stage to another year of backspinning and restrictions. We need to acknowledge that the ivory tower of official, sanctioned knowledge – indoctrinated by the power structures as solely valid and classified as real or fake, science or humbug – apparently does not get us closer to understanding where and what we are now.
Coming from every corner of the planet – syncretic religions and multiple ethnical groups to individual search for self-fulfillment – contributors featured in this issue proclaimed the difficulties they had with the term »magic« in general. Knowing that from the earliest cave paintings to the beliefs and practices of modern Indigenous communities this trend occupies cybersocials, magic cannot be dismissed as irrational because it has a mind of its own. To quote the Desert Lab collective, one of the contributors of this issue: »You can call it magical, spiritual, wisdom of the ancestors if you like, but we would call this knowledge. Knowledge has many different forms.«
These initially disenchanting words by implication mean for us that instead of reproducing a naïve or colonial notion of magic as the Other, non-rational, or an anthropological-academic reading that objectifies certain practices and methods, we instead take contemporary interest in magic to talk about past and present witchcraft and artists whistleblowing the destruction of cultural and natural environment.
We see the occult and the supernatural as positive tools to understand what is happening around us, to connect with nature, and as another way to tackle crises. »Real Magic« is against division; against the way that societies have been structured for hundreds of years and now put to a harsh test when everything becomes increasingly atomized. We can be mere observers of these happenings or try to explore alternatives, which eventually give us better understanding of where we are collectively heading.
What would happen if more attention were paid to magical and or spiritual consciousness? What effects would this have on individual, social, and cultural levels? Such questions could perhaps help us understand magic today and confront it with logic-heavy Western automatisms. Magic as a form of knowledge works through analogy and association: uniting, not separating society, individuals, and phenomena. It is not overly idealistic to suggest that participation rather than separation can have positive environmental and social effects that radically undermine ideological, political, and religious divisions run by fear. If we take magic this way, we can perhaps connect to the sense of infinite whole. Asking these questions can at the very least evoke a different understanding of the role of magic and the possibilities of magical consciousness in art and everyday life – to make subtle changes to the way we experience and interpret the world.
We are interested in artistic positions and how authors of this issue use the occult and the supernatural for their practice. Considering the times we are in, we are not looking at magic as a form of solipsism or a tool for further political segregation and charlatanry. We are interested in the knowledge of the past to update the future. What was a good ritual in 1850 might have no relevance to us now. But a ritual that destroys the power of certain atomizing elements of the internet and cleans it, might be important now. With this issue and through multiple histories/realities, methodologies, and practices, we can connect to hermetic, syncretic, or pagan traditions that function as a surrogate for a community that is intentionally rewriting its plot. The first step of magic is (un)learning, and to empower yourself enough to then have the confidence to truly wish to effect change within as well as without. It’s an ongoing infinite process of change through learning to be shared with your community.
In spiritual terms of the Solitude Journal, we acknowledge an ongoing surge of interest in artists seeking the invisible. And the afterlife of the occult manifesting in both artistic practice and institutional programming around the world. A transhistorical importance in the occult has always been present in the arts. We can see it as a medium connecting us to a better understanding of the consequences of magic and pandemics seen as division from nature. The ongoing wave of spirituality in arts is rooted in explorations of feminism, anticolonialism, and alternative power systems. And with this issue we are connecting fully to it. Magic is in the mind!
Krzysztof Gutfrański is a curator, editor, and researcher. His contextual research practice pivots on issues of social engagement, alternative education, theory of value, and non-functional thinking in the era of systemic and technological transformations. Krzysztof was a fellow at the Akademie in 2020 and is guest editor of this issue.
Denise Helene Sumi is a curator and editor based in Vienna and Stuttgart. As part of Akademie Schloss Solitude’s Digital Solitude she is editor-in-chief of the Solitude Journals. She is a founding member and co-director of the exhibition space Kevin Space in Vienna.