Magick: Talking with and thinking about Brian Butler

"Union of Opposites" at Art Los Angeles Contemporary, Brian Butler performs with Annakim

Brian re-presented Aleister Crowley's Ritual of the Mark of the Beast as "Union of Opposites" at Art Los Angeles Contemporary

Our conversation about the occult quickly delved into the arcane (and forbidden) knowledge of this art-based science of the unknown – I think Brian Butler saw me flailing and trying to keep up and took pity on me, “…widdershins refers to a counter-clockwise motion, and in the context of Aleister Crowley’s Mark of the Beast Ritual, use of this reverse motion enforces the upside-down nature of Crowley’s Heliocentric practice. Changing one’s perspective like this can have the effect of making everything new and allows us to suspend disbelief for a time.”

Butler performed a version of Crowley’s Ritual of the Mark of the Beast at the Art Los Angeles Contemporary (ALAC) fair, and his interpretation he titled Union of Opposites. Butler spoke of this performance as a multi-sensual union of two and three dimensional experiences, with time and an additional dimension of magick thrown in. The audience experienced first a film, then two performers entered the stage through nondescript onstage doorways. Butler and and Anna Kim wove their spell to the accompaniment of music and low, nearly sub-audible sound waves that shook the chairs and were felt more than they were heard.

"Union of Opposites" with Annakim

Annakim and Brian Butler in Butler's Mark of the Beast Ritual at ALAC

Thus magick is made and a spell is cast. Butler’s wish is that his audience will leave the theater with feelings similar to having had achieved a deep meditative or hypnotic state – peaceful perhaps, with less ego and a more intense awareness of the universe.

Butler’s presentation of his new work at ALAC was fortuitously timed, as it became a complement  and counterpoint to the Pacific Standard Time Performance and Public Art Festival programing that bookmarked the fair and continued for two weeks. During the historical period attended to by the Getty’s city festival, several artists and scientists were engaged in the practice of magick. To me it is interesting that underneath or alongside the translucence and transcendence that we associate with some of the PST period LA art existed also this exploration/celebration of darkness and what might be termed other-oriented transcendence. Butler draws on several established histories – from Aleister Crowley to Medieval alchemists to Cameron to Kenneth Anger – and in a sense his recent performances have offered viewers a retelling or advancing of these artist’s work. This is a broad extension of the scope of Pacific Standard Time, which was focused on Los Angeles artists working between 1945 and 1980, but his effort fit in with several other private endeavors to mine and exhibit other pasts during the time attention would be drawn to Los Angeles. (For further references as well as brilliant objects see (through May 20) Michael Duncan’s also brilliant exhibition at the Pasadena Museum of California Art, L.A. RAW.)

Brian Butler performs with Kenneth Anger at MOCA

Sculpture from Butler's "Images and Oracles" performance and exhibition at LAXART.

Installation view, "Images and Oracles" at LAXART

Magick can be a metaphor for art, and indeed magick itself has a place in artistic practice, this has been part of our experience for a century and more: Aleister Crowley made paintings, Cameron also was both mage and artist, Kenneth Anger brought film into the conversation and Angus MacLise added sound to this increasingly hybrid set of practices.  Brian Butler comes to contemporary art as an experimental film maker as well as through magick and music. With his recent exhibitions at LAXART, Annie Wharton Los Angeles and ALAC he is staking out territory in the world of contemporary art, and is making clear to us existing lines of communication which he plans to employ – among them are occult theory, spectacle, mysticism, historical nostalgia, the carnal allure and wild nature of the dark side, and art. I am curious to see where this leads.

Butler’s website:

L.A. RAW exhibition:

LAXART Images and Oracles:

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *