These Artists Believe Aliens are Real, Satan Lives, and the Apocalypse Is Coming
A growing number of creatives are investigating alternative spirituality and paranormal phenomena in anticipation of the End of Days.
View of Vector Gallery, 2018. Photo: Paddy Johnson
The belief that the end is nigh is perhaps the only non-partisan position left in America. Whether you’re watching Fox News or MSNBC, corruption scandals, accusations of treason, and impending world wars are all in the headlines, and the cultural fallout is significant. Over the past five years we’ve seen a resurgence of TV shows—including Stranger Things, Dark, and the revived X-Files—that channel this profound uncertainty through tales of the apocalyptic. But perhaps the art world, with its purportedly more critical take, is an even better place to gauge this cultural shift.
Fringe spirituality has often associated itself with the end of the planet, and art’s resident expert in the field is VENUS LA creative director Aaron Moulton. Over the past five years, Moulton has curated numerous shows on this and related themes at Gagosian, the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art, the Prague Biennale, and elsewhere. Talking to GARAGE, he agreed that art and the End Times were natural conceptual bedfellows. “The art world is like a secular cult and has no connection to true religious purpose or real spiritual thinking,” he admitted. “But for me, it’s interesting to take an audience that’s not expecting any opportunity for transcendental experience, but which is expecting one by walking through a white cube, and to use that to help it experience something spiritual.”
For his group show The Basilisk at LA’s Nicodim Gallery, Moulton worked with the Unarius Academy of Science, a group founded by Ruth and Ernst Norman, who believe that extraterrestrials will visit earth to “improve” humanity. The show included Ruth Norman’s lo-fi special effects masterpiece The Arrival—a public-access show that explores the group’s outré beliefs. In a ritual at the exhibition’s opening, members released 33 white doves from their “Space Cadillac.” “It was fucking religious, and it was fantastic!” Moulton exclaimed.
Moulton has worked with many artists, several of whom claim to have been contacted by aliens. Monarca Lynn Merrifield, for example, makes paintings from images she says she was shown during an alien abduction that depict Biblical stories as paranormal events. Moulton also described a cult-like group called the Summum who, while not asserting direct contact with aliens, do insist on a connection to “higher beings." The Summum employ a “wet mummification” process, drink special nectar, and manufacture their own lubricant for tantric practice.
Of course, an interest in UFOs is just one aspect of the paranormal as it relates to end-of-days scenarios, and not all of the artists canvassed by GARAGE have time for it. “I have zero interest in UFOs”, sniffed R.M. Vaughan, for one. Vaughan is a critic and artist who is also in the process of gauging his talent as a medium through Tarot card readings and channeling processes via a performance series titled Entreat. “I don’t think I can reach aliens through my cards or remote viewing,” he explained. “I’m not saying they’re not out there. But I live on this planet and I would rather know about the entities around me.”
In a 2014 performance, Vaughan sat behind a screen at Toronto gallery Videofag offering readings to invited viewers and asking them to rate the accuracy of what they were told. And in a 2016 action at Berlin’s GlogauAIR Gallery, he attempted to channel the performances of five other artists through drawing, later posting the results alongside the artists’ own cellphone photos. Vaughan described the work as physically draining, but did note an apparently genuine relationship between the two sets of imagery. Vaughan’s interest is informed by his upbringing: “I grew up in Atlantic Canada,” he related, “and all the conversations I heard from adults included ghosts at some point. People talked about them in very natural way—the way you might talk about the weather.”
Asher Hartman, an artist who’s also a professional psychic, says that training is the key to dredging up one’s latent psychic abilities, and describes his job as “revealing people’s relationships to themselves.” In his art, through which he develops roles for actors, Hartman says he makes use of clairvoyance and shamanic practice. And while this method of crafting scripts for his theater company Gawdawful National Theatre is unconventional, it ultimately results in something closer to traditional drama—even if the plays' plots tend toward the absurd. Sorry, Atlantis: Eden's Achin' Organ Seeks Revenge (2017), for example, tells the story of two lizard men who fall from the sky to an island, only to find their minds ravaged by memories of war, incest, and parricide.
Hartman’s practice is rather different, however, to what Moulton describes as trending art-world takes on the uncanny. “It’s a kind of DIY spirituality, an appropriation,” Moulton said, “and while it might be sincere, our particular system is set up to make us question apparent authenticity or sincerity.” Most artists questioned by GARAGE can’t be said to practice quite what Moulton describes, though perhaps Vector Gallery—the "official gallery of Satan"—comes close. How sincere about its devilry can the gallery be when its founder, JJ Brine, is so friendly? Then there’s the gallery’s aesthetic, which evokes a hipster project mimicking a millennial cult—it’s covered in reflective mylar and filled with spray-painted mannequins under a sign reading “ALL ARE WELCOME IN POSTHUMAN BETHLEHEM.”
“Vector is not a cult,” said Brine, well aware of the potential for misinterpretation. “We’re a group of friends who share a religion and we practice our religion by making art.” Unlike most belief systems led by a single figure, however, this one has had many iterations. Previously, Vector had been defined by installations of naked baby dolls and signs reading “Butcher White Americans for Art.” Now, in its latest incarnation at 951 Grand Street in Brooklyn (the gallery has moved five times), Brine claims, ironically or not, that he’s spreading the word of Christ—a wall text claims to viewers that the Vatican recently pardoned Satan (which GARAGE could not independently confirm).
"Culture unfolds in layers," concluded Vaughan. "We have artists who are sincerely engaged in the occult and then we absorb that iconography and then that floats up into greeting cards. That’s just the way everything goes. But I don’t think by saying that I’m going to go down to this nifty coffee shop and get witches brew that that means that an artist who is exploring the occult, or witchcraft is insincere. I don’t think one follows the other.” And that’s a good thing, because all of us—scientists, artists, alien abductees, and mystics—are looking for a few answers before the world ends.