by Jonathan Griffin
In occultism, the verb ‘to see’ usually refers not to the ordinary processes of visual apperception but to psychic insight. ‘Seers’, as those gifted in this area are known, sometimes adopt the practice of scrying – an ill-defined process of divination that uses repetitive gestures around substances such as crystals, mirrors or water to conjure visions from beyond.
Jen DeNike’s exhibition ‘The Scrying Trilogy’ referenced this arcane practice with little discernible irony, through two installations that were activated on the opening night by durational performances. In Hydromancy (all works 2010), a nude female figure held a circular mirror against her face so that glimpses of water, in bowls at her feet, were cast back at the viewers. What exactly was being divined, however, remained murky.
This was in a rectangular space in the rear of the gallery; the audience stood at one end as if looking onto a stage. Inside the main gallery they were afforded no such distance. A ballet dancer, in white leotard and tutu, occupied the centre of the small room while the audience pressed itself against the walls. Videos (Another Circle and Another Circle II) of the same dancer pirouetting endlessly were projected against two walls; in a corner an arrangement of white crystals (Bird in Space, for Damien) became a kind of altar before which the dancer held an almost ceremonial sequence of positions.
Apparently the artist herself mined these crystals from a site in Arkansas; she then, the press release says, ‘infused each with magick to be used as a conduit for scrying’. The implied sincerity here is confusing. The insights conjured by the performance were not supernatural but prosaic, and raw: the physical size of the muscular dancer, the grim effort required to hold each position, and the power of her movement felt at such close quarters. It was this that upset the psychosexual clichés of DeNike’s iconography, and it was this that was lacking in the less complicated dynamics of Hydromancy.
First published: Flash Art, Nov-Dec 2010