“Bright Morning Star”

Galeria Zé dos Bois (ZDB)

The art world continues to rediscover Kenneth Anger, most recently through the survey of his films this past summer at P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center in New York. In Portugal, too, his work has attracted fresh attention. In an unusual initiative—given its location, experimentalism, and scope—Galeria Zé dos Bois, an alternative space in downtown Lisbon, sponsored a number of events dedicated to Anger. Among them was the exhibition “Estrela Brilhante da Manhã” (Bright Morning Star), curated by Natxo Checa, which brought together eleven Portuguese and foreign artists, including Alexandre Estrela, Jannis Varelas, Markus Selg, Brian Butler, and Anger himself.

The exhibition’s title has a biblical echo but more specifically cites “A Hora do Diabo” (The Devil’s Hour), a fantastic tale by Fernando Pessoa. In one passage from the text, the Portuguese modernist writer declares: “I corrupt but I illuminate. I am the bright morning star.” The esoteric tone of this expression echoes Anger’s short video Brush of Baphomet, 2009, based on reproductions of recently discovered paintings by the legendary occultist Aleister Crowley, one of the primary influences on Anger’s own practice and a recurrent reference for underground culture in general, which was projected in the stairwell between the gallery’s two floors, connecting the remaining works on view.

The exhibition opened with Dein “ich” ist keine MUPPETSHOW, DU SAU, später erschien “Du Keintier” leider (Your “self” is no Muppet Show, YOU SOD, later appeared “You No Animal” unfortunately), 2008, a painting by Jonathan Meese, whose eccentric symbology simultaneously evokes individual introspection and collective self-analysis. This work echoed the paintings Manuel Ocampo showed here, such as Redemption, 2007, which was replete with gothic motifs such as a human skull, a fist, an ashtray with lit and spent cigarettes, and a clock. Ocampo criticizes contemporary society by means of political allegory, appropriating religious iconographic traditions and folk techniques to do so.

Tamar Guimarães presented A Man Called Love, 2009, a slide show based on archival images tracing the life of Chico Xavier, a Brazilian psychic well-known during the military dictatorship that ruled his country from the mid-1960s to the ’80s. Xavier used automatic writing to transcribe the séances he conducted. Guimarães makes connections between this odd pop-cultural phenomenon and the class, race, and gender politics of her country in the second half of the twentieth century. In John Bock’s video Zezziminnegesang, 2006, a small apartment crammed with useless objects is the setting for bizarre activities performed by a man and a ghostly figure who mimics his actions. Bock thus links the theater of the absurd that characterizes his performances to a reflection on the growing relationship between the sacred and the profane in daily life.

Upstairs, the exhibition reached its climax with works by António Poppe and Joachim Koester. For his untitled piece, 2009, Poppe wrote a mystical text on a wall and poked holes in the adjacent wall so that light entered, projecting surrealist forms whose power of enchantment generates a sensorial universe. Koester’s silent film Morning of the Magicians, 2005, recounts his visit to the Abbey of Thelema, a dwelling in Cefalù, Sicily, named as such by Crowley and his followers in 1920, where until mid-1923 they practiced an unusual philosophy that mixed communitarian living with magic. Consisting of a sequence of images that are largely out of focus, this work unveils the invisible history of Crowley’s idealistic utopia—an act of revelation that constitutes a perfect metaphor for the exhibition itself, enunciating a hidden existential dimension and an uncanny vision of the world.

Miguel Amado

Translated from Portuguese by Clifford E. Landers.