City Gallery City Gallery Wellington

New Zealand Sends Occult Anthropologist to Venice

8 November, 2017

Our current exhibition, Occulture: The Dark Arts, finds Auckland artist Dane Mitchell entangled with the occult.

His work in the show is part of a broader investigation into the visible and invisible, the material and immaterial, the conjuring of seen and unseen—the stuff of magic and art. Conceptualism meets mysticism.

As an artist, Mitchell works with occult practitioners, including mediums, shamans, and astrologers. The ceremonial magician Aleister Crowley (also featured in Occulture) takes the opposite path. He started painting in the early 1920s as a way to bring the Will into being, to manifest the invisible, finding his guide in French painter Paul Gauguin. Mitchell calls himself an ‘anthropologist of the occult’; Crowley is sometimes described as an ‘outsider artist’. Both terms feel correct, but inadequate.

The air around Mitchell’s work always feels charged (he has used dehumidifying technology to literally rip water from the air). For the last week or so, that air has been charged in other ways—with palpable excitement, following the announcement that Mitchell will represent New Zealand in the 2019 Venice Biennale. He’s used to big gigs. Occulture brings together bodies of his work made for two biennales in Asia, and he was in the last Biennale of Sydney. But going to Venice as our chosen one is of another order—something his ambitious practice will certainly rise to.

Mitchell’s Venice work will take shape over the next two years, but we know it will involve radio transmissions broadcast across Venice. Investigations into invisible phenomena, threshold spaces, and speech as a material—themes that run through Mitchell’s work in Occulture—will also be in play. This will not be business-as-usual for New Zealand at Venice. We have tended to send spectacular large-scale installations, often with strong connections to New Zealand. Mitchell’s work, however, is likely to be materially slight, dispersed across multiple sites, and more responsive to the Venetian context than to our own. (Before then, at Tokyo’s Mori Museum, Mitchell will be exhibiting new work based on our phenomenological experience of the iris, in all its forms.)

City Gallery offers its congratulations to Dane Mitchell—and to his project’s curators Zara Stanhope and Chris Sharp. Occulture runs until 19 November.

–Aaron Lister, Curator