Occulture: The Dark Arts

Simon Cuming,  Untitled , 2010. photograph and audio. Courtesy of the artist.

Simon Cuming, Untitled, 2010. photograph and audio. Courtesy of the artist.

Published in:
Artlink Australia Magazine
Online Review
18 October 2017


Within the City Gallery Wellington there is a portal to another realm. Measuring an invisible radius of no more than half a metre, it occupies only a small amount of space in our dimension but is powerful enough to transmit an audible signal from the astral plane. It sounds like a radio dropped down a drainpipe with the tuner dial stuck between stations, but listen closely and you might hear the pained drone of a spirit entity calling out amongst the electronic static. This wormhole to the other side is actually a work of art, Untitled (2010) by artist Simon Cuming, and features in the exhibition Occulture: The Dark Arts curated by Aaron Lister.

Occulture canvases the complicated terrain that thinly connects aspects of contemporary art, popular culture and spiritual belief. The term “occulture” is a catch-all category encompassing all forms of beliefs and cultural pursuits that range from stereotyped representations of the occult through to corporatised new age spirituality and the search for paranormal activity. By opening up the breadth of this topic, the exhibition brings into question the different roles and personas of artists ranging from the allure of the artist as a bohemian mystic, avant-garde shaman, sceptic and carnie-style trickster. The exhibition also questions the bias of rational modernist narratives in art history by considering the more speculative spiritualist legacy of abstract painting and new media art.

The latter is present in Cuming’s work and while only a modest contribution it is one of the most compelling in the exhibition. The portal radio static is created by a directional speaker and is placed to draw your attention to a photograph of a gravestone at night. There is nothing really to see in the image. It is hard to see what lingers in the dark behind the tree-encircled grave but it is hard to resist being drawn in to look closer just to make sure. Coupled with the audio there is certainly a suspense created that is similar to the thriller like anticipation that typified the low budget 1990s horror film The Blair Witch Project famed for its POV camcorder and flashlight aesthetic.