Recently a resurgence of the spiritual in art can be identified in the popular appeal of exhibitions such as Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future at the Guggenheim Museum (2019), Emma Kunz: Visionary Drawings at the Serpentine Galleries (2019), and in the Tate’s acquisition of Ithell Colquhoun’s archive.
Parallelly, neoteric creative trends seek to employ emerging technologies of mixed reality, AR and VR, and various forms of cybernetics to investigate or retrigger our inborn capacity for awe, empathy, and holistic relations with the environment and nature. Instruments of advanced technologies are utilised in collaborations of artists, filmmakers and indigenous people of Australia and the Amazon to take us on shamanic journeys through visioning in order to trigger an altered perception of the world we live in.
In my forthcoming paper and presentation at the International Network for the Study of Spirituality (formerly BASS) Conference, I explain the reasons for the resurgence of the spiritual and occult in 21st century culture and technology. The renewed interest in the spiritual in art through the artworks of previously unacknowledged women artists as well as in current creative trends is interwoven with gender and environmental issues. It includes the cultural impact of the #MeToo and Extinction Rebellion movements.
Moreover, we can identify a shift in the incentive of the spiritual in contemporary art especially in technoetic arts, involving an integrative approach to the body, including the cyborg body, awareness of body-mind relations, and application of holistic technologies. These developments indicate the over century-long influence of New Age and alternative spiritualities on Western culture.
I demonstrate the shift by observing the artworks of a number of contemporary women artists. The cyborg artist and dancer Moon Riba uses advanced technology to empower her connection to the Earth. In my article on Techno Spiritual Horizons (Moore 2017) I wrote:
When Moon Ribas dances with the earth’s rhythms that she receives through her enhanced seismic sense, she trespasses these western culturally ingrained boundaries of separation between humans, machines and nature. Ribas became a cyborg after a chip, which sends seismic readings from all over the world, was implanted in her elbow. When there is an earthquake, the chip vibrates to indicate the scale of the quake, which Ribas feels in her body and converts it into a movement. Her dance choreography is made and performed in coordination with conditions inside the earth. She moves only when the earth moves and her movements correlate with the intensity of the earth’s motions; otherwise, she remains still. The earth is her dancing partner and co-choreographer that determine the rhythms. It is a joint enterprise of woman and earth made possible through a technological device.
Ribas describes the vibrations of the earth as a heartbeat and her close connection to the earth’s heartbeat as a unity of two hearts: ‘so I feel like now I have two heartbeats: my own heartbeat and the Earth’s.’
The spectators of Ribas’ performances can only view her external responses and imagine how she may be feeling. Even though we, as spectators, cannot fully comprehend her somatic experience, it ignites our imagination. Her dance movements inspired directly by motions inside the Earth lure us back to mud and dust of planets, moons and meteorites, making us feel as one through a glimpse of planetary and cosmic communitas.
Other artworks are by Daniela de Paulis, who explores the Overview Effect and the mind/body dualities in the Cosmos and Degard, whose paintings study auras as conscious entities.
I also highlight two artworks from the SIGGRAPH 2018’s exhibition: The Urgency of Reality in a Hyper Connected World. The Kabbalah inspired artwork: Through the Aleph by Jing Zou and Manifestos of Strange Becoming by Seeker_ of _True-files (aka Lila Moore).
To validate the interdisciplinary cultural and technological context of 21st century spiritual and occult aesthetics, I draw on my teaching experience of BA and MSc courses that explore the aesthetics and transformative power of spiritual, imaginal and archetypal themes and concepts in modern and contemporary art. Yuval Harari’s statement, that in our technological age experience of art and the spiritual is necessary for our survival, amplifies the function of education on the intersection of arts and spiritualities as fundamental for humanity’s lasting existence.
I am looking forward to sharing with my students the fascinating trend of the spiritual in art, and the imaginal and archetypal cosmos that it opens for our consciousness. It’s a young universe in which holistic art and technology grow in unison and envision the next evolutionary frontier.
Lila Moore, The Resurgence of the Spiritual in Art: Spiritual and Occult Aesthetics in 21st Century Technological and Cultural Contexts, Spirituality in Research, Professional Practice and Education Conference, International Network for the Study of Spirituality (British Association for the Study of Spirituality), York St John University, UK, 7-8 June 2021 (online)