Gallery 400 Blog

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Can you get to that? Jason Robert Bell's mystical inspirations

For Gallery 400’s current exhibition, I THINK WE’RE READY TO GO TO THE NEXT SEQUENCE: THE LEGACY OF HALFLIFERS, the HALFLIFERS—the collaborative team of Torsten Zenas Burns and Anthony Discenza—present a re-edit of their entire video history as well as an alternative self-portrait that catalogs key materials, sources, influences, and other touchstones in a new book. Alongside the HALFLIFERS’ works are sculptures, videos, drawings, installations, photographs, and paintings by a number of invited artists who have affinities with the collaborative and who have produced new works mining the HALFLIFERS’ oeuvre. As his contribution, artist Jason Robert Bell created The White Feathered Octopus Tarot Card Deck, a full tarot card deck inspired by the HALFLIFERS, whose title is taken from a novel the artist published in 2012. On June 13 at 7pm, Bell will use one of his decks to perform a “Multi-Mystical" Tarot Card Reading.

Having worked on the exhibition, I was keen to learn more about Bell, his practice, and the piece included in the show. In an earlier conversation about his work, Bell wrote to the Gallery: “The artwork I make is not a conceptual twist on content, or an exploration in transitive forms, or anti-social pop surrealism. My artwork is the wave I surf across this reality. Everything is at once serious and silly.” Reading Bell’s answers, one can begin to understand how true this statement is.

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Image: Jason Robert Bell, The White Feathered Octopus: The Painting, 2012, ink and acrylic on canvas. 

Leonard Cicero: What is your relationship to the HALFLIFERS and how did you get involved in this exhibition?

Jason Robert Bell: The Time was 177666 and the place was Horned Beast University, where I spent many a night getting “Philip K. Dicked” around by two tons of fun, known as The DAFTKNIGHTERS.1 They, along with their ever-faithful Gynoid Glamazon, the Great Gatzke, were right there with me in the C.R.C. Charismatic Metafaun program.2 It was there, in the Thoughtorium, that the old girl got up the gumption, if you know what I mean. Full and total UniMindPenis Collective Life form achieved, the four humors realized the White Feathered Octopus, crawling off the dirty futon to change the station of Hypertexcube and see what the C.R.C. had fully loaded into the Interfaith Orpheus Terminal.

LC: How does The White Feathered Octopus Tarot Card Deck fit with your previous works or practice?

JRB: I have made a number of decks. The first was when I was a senior citizen at the Windycity Country Club. A fellow camper there—LuRa Kino, a local Thothist in her own right in Windyonion—left a random book in my person. Thothic Chamber was a series of stage magic tricks based on the Arthur Lee of Love Deck that the Divamom had around the old Shit Shack in the sub-urban apartments of Rocketcityutopia. I made the cards on paper I stole from Windycity Country Club's Orpheus Terminal Laboratories, as was my duty for four years of attendance. I did the entire seventy-eight in all the Major Arcanna. The first twenty-two cards, the classic archetypes, were strongly ripped off of Arthur Lee of Love Deck. But, after showing them to my Beloved Master, Dr. John "Twisted Roots" Kimsey, I began the Lesser Arcanna with the pursuit of a singular and personal vision. I still have the Deck, they were exhibited at the Windycity Country Club's Fart Gallery, in their "throw a dog a bone and finally exhibit some mother fucking student's work again" seminal exhibition "EL Cheapo." It was a big deal because a noted future Windyonion fart dealer was working there at the time, and I was confused because he thought I was a loser. But I showed him! He never had a full MindPenis activation! There have been a few more decks created over the years, mainly finding their way into the storage spaces of ex-girlfriends and a few noble fart collectors’ hypertextcubes.

As for how this current deck came about, the DAFTKNIGHTERS asked me to create something for this sexhibition and sent me a blank do-it-your-own-damn-self Tarot Card Deck. It came in the mail and sat on my desk for a few days inside a box of over thirty different tarot decks that I have collected over the years. I went for a walk here in beautiful Greenberg, my home of the last thirteen years since I left Windyonion. There, on the side of a Boho Collective Flop den that was next to the fearless bike, was a fresh patch of "The Sons of Zeus." I quickly dug the yellow flesh from the turf and injected it directly into my MindPenis. Upon going home and removing my exoskeleton, I spent the next fourteen hours drawing The White Feathered Octopus Tarot Deck, using only my departed father's leftover art supplies. The images in the deck deal with the same "reality" that I wrote about in my sci-fi novel of the same name, THE WHITE FEATHERED OCTOPUS. I will be releasing the first edition of the paperback at Quimby's Bookstore, there in Windyonion on the 11th of June at 7pm. The book will cost $17.766.

Within the book, there is a section about humanity’s first contact with intelligent life, the Emergent Mothers—a "race" of octopod creatures that float about a meter off the ground and communicate with a biological thought-crystal hologram projection. There, at Ice Station Liger on the Moon of an Extra Solar Planet, two clones of the Mercury Seven Astronauts have sex with the creature and the three fuse into a new single entity, which becomes the new human race, the Alphaflight'n Primitives. They are the next phase of reality.

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Image: Jason Robert Bell, The Orpheus Terminal 7, 2011. 

LC: What have been your own personal experiences with tarot card readings?

JRB: I sat on my father's lap at the Tejas Yestermorrow fair when I was five, the reader told him everything he wanted to hear. That is really what is going on here: the Tarot is a method to speak to the Bi-cameral MindPenis. That inner and true self within each of us that can never speak aloud.

LC: For your closing reception performance, you intend on using the cards you have created in a mystical reading involving a dozen individuals, each of whom will represent one of the twelve signs of the zodiac. I am more familiar with one-on-one readings. Why and how will you be using the volunteers at the White Feathered Octopus Tarot Card reading on June 13?

JRB: We will be doing a variation of the "MindMirror" Reading, using multiple decks in unison in keeping with the standard "Chance" King Wen Sequence of the IChing's elemental change. We are no longer One-on-One; we are digits in a thirteen-fingered hand of a God.

LC: Is there a connection between the tarot card reader and the artist? Do either exist because we believe they do?

JRB: I consider myself a mystic. I use visual arts, the tarot, the Internet, and the random events of my personal and public life in order to access higher planes of existence.

LC: I read much of the HALFLIFERS’ video work and zombie aesthetics and the other pieces on display in THE LEGACY OF HALFLIFERS as commentary on the anxieties and uncertainties related to the current state of economic hardships, technological advances, and capitalism’s demise. Is your work in any way meant to be political? Do you consider yours a social practice?

JRB: As far as I can tell, we are all apes that are carrying around biochemical hard drives. Our programming is the result of generations upon generations of dynamic living information parasites that primarily exist in the form of sound-waves, the solid state architecture of the hypertextcube, and the Interfaith Orpheus Terminal transmissions.

Can you get to that? The Old Candy Corn Jackhammer that is this here Untitled Snakes of Assyria is a Shuck and Jive, the Jefferson Davis brain fuck. Those names on the map are not really there when you zoom out on Google Earth.

There is no such thing as a country or as society, but rather it is a bunch of apes that figured out if we hunted in a pack we could kill more Wooly Mammoths and get the sexy wives and daughters of those bastard Goat People that live down river.

Capitalism will never die, as long as there is one last needledick bughumper weasel out there that wants to "profit" and is willing to kill his brother for property. As long as people live under the illusion that they are any less than chattel, foodstuff for the oncoming C.R.C Overlord's dinner plate. As long as we are breeding a massive underclass of workers/soldiers/prisoners for their ongoing Warworld Three. As long as we are living the allegory that Frank Herbert warned about—with a hydraulic resource wasteland battlefield where there will one day be the Radiant City of Tomorrow—there will be the Pig Snout of Capital showing up drunk to take the Bird Footed Bitch Goddess of Babylon to the Prom.

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Image: Jason Robert Bell, The Fire Inside, 2009, acrylic, epoxy, metallic pigments, collage, and sand on canvas. 

LC: What preparations are you making to enhance the reading and connect with the audience members who will be participating in your performance?

JRB: Every day I awake at dawn without a clock. I go to my roof and both Thor's Stoned Zeus Burns and Anthony "REDRUM" Distcenzaaaaxax come out of the clouds all Zion King and shoot a laser directly into my MindPenis via my Pineapple Gland. Then, it is your standard day in the life of most people: 25 mile run, 1000 handstand push-ups (500 each hand), and a standard doctor allowance of NN-Dimethyltryptamine, all in unison with Binaural music and an hour-long reading of the Book of the Law.

Beyond that, there is no need for preparations. The Thothist travels without tools and uses whatever is on site or they happen upon during the journey, in order to create the Masterpiece. That, and my square-jawed, three-fisted Tejas know-how, charisma, and dreamy bedroom gray eyes do the trick every time.

1. Bell refers to the HALFLIFERS, calling them “The DAFTKNIGHTERS” several times throughout the interview. Furthermore, Torsten Zenas Burns and Anthony Discenza are called Thor's Stoned Zeus Burns and Anthony "REDRUM" Distcenzaaaaxax. 
2. C.R.C. stands for Clandestine Reptoid Conspiracy.
Jason Robert Bell was interviewed by Leonard Cicero, who is currently a student in the Museum and Exhibition Studies program at the University of Illinois at Chicago.