Pentecostalism and Mormonism may be the world’s fastest growing religions but it’s Art that we turn our attention to today, folks: The art of Connecting to others, creating Community, transcending our Selves and Time. Put your hands together with those of your neighbor, give a squeeze and believe (at least temporarily) in the mystical joy showered upon you inside a white room in Highland Park at the ephemeral bethel of Signify Sanctify Believe! This interview of the entity summed up as SSB by Drew Denny.
What is SSB? Who is SSB? How did y’all get together?
Signify, Sanctify, Believe is an artist-led spiritual organization focused on experimenting with gentle, temporary, semi-fictional religious practices. Our organization has two main branches: The Library of Sacred Technologies, headed by Angelic AnArchivist Tanya Rubbak, which features contemporary articles of faith, religious pamphletry, and video sanctification from a couple dozen artists, mostly from Los Angeles – plus dozens of found and historic religious publications. Our other branch is the Saints and Servants of the Order of [Con]Temporary Religious Observance, which is hosting over 17 artist-led services, sermons, and workshops spread out over two weeks (4/21-5/5). Little Dipper Adam Overton and Spirit Conductor Claire Cronin have been heading up this sacred initiative.
What are your religious backgrounds? Artistic backgrounds?
We are experimentalists and seekers with backgrounds in conceptual art, visual art, performance art, graphic design, experimental and popular music, and writing. Religiously, Tanya and Adam are half-breeds – raised between religions, and allowed to mosey, attracted to some and repulsed by others. Claire was raised in a devout Catholic family, with a mother who believes in exorcisms and the end of the world, an early religious fever that has left an indelible mark on her. We are all devout Dabblers, having learned that patchworking the gentle, poetic parts of our favorite religious forms has seemed to both interest and benefit us the most.
Do you believe in god(s)?
Of course. But only temporarily.
What is the mission of SSB? Are you trying to start a cult?
We are already a part of a cult of artists and performers who each week invite both friends and strangers to join in our temporary, sacred revivals in the form of concerts, exhibitions, and happenings. Those in our community engage regularly with playful religiosity, whether intended or not. We like to regard the “suspension of disbelief” as rather a state of “temporary belief,” and so see ourselves going to artistic church(es) several nights a week – we all beckon each other to join us, to bear witness, to believe, and then to continue with one’s day or night as each wishes, hoping only that there might be a nice new conversation or brainstorm or sex magic ritual that follows with yet another friendly brother or sister.
What are y’all up to over in Highland Park?
We are in residence at The Free Church of Public Fiction, run by the divine seer, Lauren Mackler. She has been hosting religiously creative artists and artwork since February, featuring a new residency every two weeks. We are the final inhabitants of this spiritual vortex. The space is raw and empty, yet so full of potential. During our time, artists are filling it with ritual, and using it for sacred purposes… and then just as quickly emptying it again, leaving it a clean slate for our next day of devotion.
What sorts of events and performances have you curated? What’s still coming up?
To be clear, we haven’t hosted any events or performances. Rather, we are only hosting artist-led religious services and sermons. (They may appear similar, but we feel the difference is palpable). So far we’ve hosted the Church of Despair, the Church of the Red Marble, the Eternal Telethon, an Experimental Meditation Marathon, The AutoSanctification Bureau, and more, which have all involved rituals, sermons, experimental musical arrangements, and other forms of creative religious discourse. Coming up is a shamano-artistic mapping of the 1st infinite realm of consciousness with Amanda Yates and The Mystery Project (4/28); assisted embodiment of source energy via The Art of YES! with Hannah Henderson and the Angel Gabriel (4/29); devout, hay-filled worship and sacred rest with Alexis Disselkoen and the Church of Slumber (4/29); astral temple development for sigil awareness with Johnnie JungleGuts and the Coven of Elk and Swan (4/30); microtonal vocal convocation with Geneva Skeen, Mathew Timmons, and members of the Killsonic Choir (4/30); the charting of post-silicon-based networks of revolutionary potential with the aid of Ecstatic Energy Consultants Inc. (5/1); a viewing of sacred films with guest L.o.S.T. researchers Alyse Emdur and Michael Parker (5/4); a parallaxial gait around our blind spot, in an attempt to become this unfathomable center, with Brian Getnick and Elijah Crampton (5/5); and the sipping of margaritas as we celebrate the infinite unfolding of the being of apocalypse with Radio L’galot AM1700 (5/5)! Plus, the Coracle will continue to meet with seekers to engage in profitable discourse on Thursday evenings from 7-8pm (4/28 & 5/5). (A full schedule can be found here.) In addition to all of this, our Library of Sacred Technologies is open for visitors to peruse our incredible collection of texts and image! The L.o.S.T. Reading Room is open 1 hour before and after all evening services, and at various points over the weekend. About half of the library is also viewable online!
How are you transposing religious and/or spiritual behaviors to the gallery?
We aren’t transposing anything so much as uncovering, dusting off, teasing out, and/or amplifying the religious and spiritual tendencies underlying the work, practices and interests of those closest to us in our artist-community. While we are indeed inviting friends to invent various spiritual behaviors during our stay, we don’t in any way claim to be inventing what we view as a prevalent sensitivity among our ranks. In Los Angeles and elsewhere we regularly encounter only genuinely interested seekers, with whom we use art and performance to experiment with and challenge our belief systems, and our ability to perceive visible and invisible forces and forms. For example, whether intended or not, most of the experimental music, noise and rock we’ve witnessed here has proven far more “therapeutic” than the many official new age sound baths offered nearby. In addition, as far as our weekly calendars can see, we witness artists welcoming each other into their magic circles to meditate on their artworks and performative rituals, in galleries, project spaces, living rooms, and the street. These thresholds, these portals, these congregations have both intended and unintended effects on the fabric of our semi-secular, artist-community.
How much of this project is proselytism and how much is performance?
We’re not sure if there’s a difference, at least when considering the tradition of experimentalism and avant-gardism in religion and performance. Both propose to offer either a new system of belief, and/or the desire to chip away at one’s previous set of beliefs, and present to us a queer landscape full of unknown potential. Proselytism itself is an aesthetic form of address, often delivered via oration or literature, shaped in order to maximize its ability to transmit and connect. As both performers and proselytizers we all ultimately hope that people will listen, understand, and engage. We want to connect.
What kind of community do you want to create?
The community already exists, though this predilection isn’t always placed at the forefront of artists’ work, and it needn’t be; it’s usually more subtle. We at Signify, Sanctify, Believe instead intend to wear our religiosity on our sleeves, and to openly harness it as our guiding, creative force – or, alternatively, to look to our creative spirit as our guiding, spiritual force. In addition, we believe it’s important to give artists the opportunity to facilitate meaningful experiences for others within our community, under the banner of Temporary Belief, so that all comers may enter full-fledged, without any need to commit or believe beyond the end of the night. It is here, within art and religion, where we might then rehearse, perform and celebrate together, and then be ready to engage a new magic and celebration the day after.
Do you enjoy being nomadic or would you like to settle down someday? Start your own space to host regular services, etc?
We needn’t plan for such a future – we believe in reincarnation, rebirth, and so forth, just as much as we believe in immortality. We are a center full of centers, with homes in the hearts and minds and spirits and studios and living rooms and galleries of experimental artists. We are part of a tradition in Los Angeles that has embraced temporary forms that come, and then go. We are only one of many realizations of this compostable movement, and yet it is inevitable that the energy of all of this will live on in various forms. We believe in ripples. In our afterlife, whether manifest as an organization or not, our existence will likely live on in the viewer as a practice of reception; it is she and he who hold the ability to see and feel the sacred within an art scene that is occasionally derided as secular, goddess-less or profane. In the meantime we look forward to continuing to join the various magic circles around us, several nights a week. For this we look to L.A. Record for guidance. Oh, and of course the Library of Sacred Technologies will live online.