Sunday, November 29, 2015

Dave Hickey interview by Bill Powers

BILL POWERS — Does the title of your new book, Pagan America, come from the idea that once art is divested of its religious content then it becomes pagan? Does that also mean secular?
DAVE HICKEY — No. Secular doesn’t exist. Art’s still a religion, just a pantheistic religion in which we sacrifice rather than are sacrificed for. Anytime you pay more for an object than it’s worth, that’s a sacrifice to the power of the object. When you buy an Armani, what you are paying for is the power of that suit. Basically that is a pagan sacrifice. Christianity doesn’t have as much leverage anymore because it’s built on guilt. You’re born and somehow you already owe this guy for killing his son for you. Jesus, I’ve got a mortgage already?
BILL POWERS — How do you see religion in America?
DAVE HICKEY — America has some very peculiar aspects that make it congenial to paganism. There are 2,800 Protestant denominations. How many gods does that require? Also, America has no culture. It’s a mercantile society that isn’t very big. It’s got about six cities and a whole lot of really boring small cities. But all the small cities are virtually the same, so we form cults around stuff. When I was in school the world was divided between Beatles people and Rolling Stones people. Now, we didn’t speak to each other, but among Rolling Stones people you could speak about Rolling Stones shit. That was the objective correlative. The best thing about these cults in America is that they are nonexclusive. You can belong to as many cults as you want to. I belong to the Warhol cult, the Miles Davis cult — all these different cults.
BILL POWERS — In the art world, it’s easier to gain membership if you have cash.
DAVE HICKEY —  Not really. You do need good judgment. There’s a rule in the art world that the person who contributes the least to the value of the work gets the worst deal. In other words, if you are a great big collector and Larry Gagosian is a little bitty dealer, then you get the best deal. If you’re a little bitty collector and Larry Gagosian is a great big dealer, then he gets the best deal.
BILL POWERS — Would you agree that the first rule of art dealing is that you have to get off on something personally if you expect others to buy into your product?
DAVE HICKEY — You can sell anything. When some of the galleries were complaining about Conceptual art, my friend Max Hutchinson said, “If you can’t sell a handful of air with an idea in it, then you’re not a fucking art dealer!”
BILL POWERS — By the same token, if there aren’t people you won’t sell to, you’re not really an art dealer either, right?
DAVE HICKEY — That’s the definition of being a real art dealer, as opposed to a merchant. Popular art is defined by the size of its market. High art is defined by the exclusionary quality of its market. It doesn’t really do you any good to sell a good piece to a nobody.
BILL POWERS — Rudolph Stingel says that great art is generally made during an empire’s decline. Do you agree with that assessment?
DAVE HICKEY — Yes, but most of the great art I know achieves its complexity because of the presence of repression. How did Shakespeare write? How does John Dryden get around the fucking king? You know what I mean?
BILL POWERS — John Currin says American art is doomed to be folk art because no real masterpiece can be made in a democracy.
DAVE HICKEY — Well, I think the John Chamberlain sculptures being shown right now are a pretty great example of masterpieces being made in a democracy. And besides, John Currin is a Republican. I loved John when he was painting babes with big boobs, but once he went into nymphomania he lost me. Also, I don’t like a picture of anything, period.
BILL POWERS — Unless it’s a babe with big boobs?
DAVE HICKEY — You are correct about the folk art thing only in this sense: Braque and Picasso were outsider artists.
BILL POWERS — I get the feeling that outsider artist today has been reduced to those with either severe drug problems or emotional instability.
DAVE HICKEY — Or you live in some little bitty town and you paint the American flag with the entire text of the bible scrawled in the white stripes. Outsider art is basically a naive form of high art. Outsider art is usually na├»ve Rauschenberg or naive de Kooning.
BILL POWERS — What do you mean when you say, “Don’t bore us, get to the chorus!”?
DAVE HICKEY — That’s from Tom Dowd, who produced “Layla” — and also produced Coltrane.
BILL POWERS — Could that apply to art criticism? Or is the real problem in American culture that we are, in fact, only interested in choruses and not verses?
DAVE HICKEY — That’s a reasonable presumption, but if there’s no verses, there’s no chorus except for maybe “Bang a Gong” and a few other songs. I wouldn’t say there’s no art in America because it’s democratic. I would say there’s no art in America because it’s all school-marm art and stupid. I hate student art. I hate student writing. I hate student basketball. I hate student football. I hate anything that isn’t fucking professional.
BILL POWERS — Isn’t that a troublesome position to find yourself in as a teacher?
DAVE HICKEY — That’s what I’m fucking teaching them! I try to tell them stuff that’s useful.
BILL POWERS — Why did you leave Las Vegas for New Mexico?
DAVE HICKEY — Because my wife got offered a tenured job in Albuquerque. She was working for Steve Wynn and all these gangster types in Vegas, where she did well because she’s tough, but she just got fucking tired of it.
BILL POWERS — And were you tired of Vegas?
DAVE HICKEY — No, I never get tired of gambling and staying up late.
BILL POWERS — So what’s your game: poker, blackjack, roulette?
DAVE HICKEY — Lately I play video poker, mostly because when you play Texas Hold’em in casinos you eventually learn that half the people there are raptors who want to win and the other half are just herbivores who want to sit at the table and lose. Also, It’s hard to play with people who don’t know how to play. That takes a lot of the fun out if it.
BILL POWERS — What are you after?
DAVE HICKEY — Hell, I want to win, but I want to win the way you win at bridge, which is by knowing shit. When you play Hold’em at a casino in Albuquerque you deal with a lot of people there who have money, who will always stay in the game to see the flop, which means the flop doesn’t mean anything so you never know what the fuck you’re up against! I’d rather play with Doyle Brunson than some fucking hillbilly. It’s like golf: you want to play with people who are approximately as good as you are.
BILL POWERS — But not, like in tennis, with people who are better than you?
DAVE HICKEY — You can learn from people who are better than you are, but you still want to win. Also I don’t have a great face — too many tells. My business is expressing myself, which isn’t great when it comes to poker. For cards you want to be like a fucking Navajo.
BILL POWERS — Did you once say that history happens because people save the things they love?
DAVE HICKEY — I probably did. When I was at Southern Methodist University, I used to study differential equations with these two Zuni guys. They were off the reservation. Their tribe had been sent to engineering school to learn how to build roads back home. They couldn’t understand why you would ever need art in a museum because Zuni art hasn’t changed in five thousand years. We are historical people and the crisis of criticism arises from the basic fact that we get bored. When you’re bored with it, it’s over. That’s what drives the machine: ennui. What survives and still eludes ennui, survives — the live pattern and adaptability of a painting over time. I have a bunch of Ellsworth Kelly paintings at home and they don’t get old. They are just the way they are.
BILL POWERS — As a counterpoint I would argue that some things survive because they can go it alone. For about a century the Alhambra, in Spain, was basically a homeless shelter before the Spanish figured out it could be a tourist trap. That’s an example of a culture surviving without any custodianship.
DAVE HICKEY — They degraded the Alhambra because they were Christians, but they didn’t have the balls to tear it down. Think about the hierarchy of street tagging where you measure the value of a tag by how long it is able to stay intact. If it stays untouched for a week, that’s fine. If it lasts two weeks, that’s great. If it lasts a month, you’re fucking Raphael.
BILL POWERS — In the noir writing class you taught, you pointed out that the protagonist in most of, say, Raymond Chandler’s stories, is actually a void, an empty suit. Some people have made that same observation about the Don Draper character in the series Mad Men.
DAVE HICKEY — My theory about all genres of fiction — and noir fiction especially — is that we’ve gotten to the point culturally where serious literature is defined as such if it’s about your mother or your sister or your drinking problem. Genre fiction is defined by people who deal with strangers. That has nothing to do with literary quality. I read this book recently, The Emperor’s Children, about the family of some famous New York journalist and it was so boring, all this family shit. I don’t think people have families anymore — except poor Mike Kelley, who died of an apparent suicide at 57 in February 2012. Someone should have warned him that memory lane is a one-way street. He just drove himself back into nothingness.
BILL POWERS — I heard someone define self-acceptance as the ability to stop wishing for a better past.
DAVE HICKEY — I really don’t do the past.
BILL POWERS — You’ve made a correlation between Cindy Sherman and Andy Warhol, saying that Cindy Sherman doesn’t ask what comes after Warhol, but what should have come before him.
DAVE HICKEY — What is the precedent for Warhol? The publicity still. I think Cindy is the closest thing we have to Andy today.
BILL POWERS — Should there be a moratorium on Andy Warhol? Is he too ubiquitous in conversations about contemporary art today?  
DAVE HICKEY — Andy was my friend and one of the primary reasons for my being here, but people still don’t understand that Andy was talented. He was an artist. A lot of people don’t understand that Kobe Bryant is talented because they never saw him play. A lot of people don’t understand George Washington was talented because they never saw him ride a horse. There is a physical gift that saves these creatures and that comes from another place.
BILL POWERS — So in your estimation we aren’t oversaturated with Warhol?
DAVE HICKEY — We are oversaturated with popular culture. The mistake people who try to follow Andy make is to assume that Andy’s exploitation of popular culture was what his work was all about, when actually his painting was really closer to mimicking 18th-century portraiture.
BILL POWERS — My friend says that he likes Warhol but hates seeing his influence in other artists’ work.
DAVE HICKEY — I agree. Ed Ruscha warned me that you can’t forget that you may be living in a real bad time and that everything people value is crap.
BILL POWERS — Maybe the whole 20th century is a wash? It’s all one long 1970s.
DAVE HICKEY — Which was great and theatrical for rock and roll. It was crap for art, so art could be going through a sandy patch. There’s really no way to be certain.
BILL POWERS — Would you say that an artist is someone with the ability to embed thoughts or feelings in material?
DAVE HICKEY — There’s nothing embedded in art I like. I would say art is largely defined by its ability to transgress the patterns of contemporary culture and still offer a new pattern in it that might change the future, because pattern is visual survival. Pattern is the mother of memory. David Hume said culture is that which outlasts the lifetime of its maker, and I think that’s a pretty good definition. I also like my friend Morris Peckham’s assertion that what happens with a species is that you become so safe that you forget how to confront disorienting behavior. So we have invented art, which has rules designed to be broken and then we break those rules and come to terms with that rupture and that’s our way of going out to fight the tiger. Art is there to train people how to deal with disorientation, that’s its primary social function.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Female Shamans and Medicine Women- via Eric Edwards

Eric Edwards Collected WorksFemale Shamans and Medicine Women

mongolian shamanka
Mongolian shamanka
Female Shamans and Medicine Women
In some societies that practice shamanism there is a preference for the practitioners to be female. Evidence from archaeology in the Czech Republic indicated that the earliest Upper Palaeolithic shamans were in fact women (Tedlock, 2005). Descriptions of female shamans describe these women “…as invokers, healers, herbalists, oracles and diviners, ecstatic dancers, shape-shifters, shamanic  journeyers, and priestesses of the ancestors.” (Dashu, 2006).  Female shamans or ‘shamankas’, are located among the Tungus people, the Buriats, Yakuts, Ostyaks, and among the Kamchadals “…the place of the shaman was usually taken by especially gifted old women.” (MacCulloch, 1918).
Altay shamanka with drum. Kharkas ethnicity, circa 1908.
In Siberia, in the steppes and central regions, the female shaman possessed greater power than the male shaman and “…in general the feminine element plays a very prominent role in sorcery among the Yakuts.2 (Maddox, 1941). Female shamans are found in Tibet and Afghanistan, with female mikogami in Japan, and an Aleut ivory statuette (1816) depicting a “…woman shaman wearing an animal mask.” (Dashu, 2006).
shaman woman
Female Shaman
Female shamans are dominant in some cultures where they ate to the forefront of the cult practice. Whether in ancient China or Japan, or Korea, South Africa, Okinawa, the Philippines, from northern California to southern Chile, female shamanism  is a widespread tradition “…from Buryat Mongolia to the Buriti religion in Gabon, that the first shaman was a woman.” (Dashu, 2006).
female shaman
Reconstruction of a Mesolithic female shaman, 7000-6500 BCE, Bad Durrenberg.
shamanka decs
The Ekven burial of a female shaman was found at Chukotka on the Russian side of the Bering Strait. Some 2000 years old it was the grave of an elderly woman with a wooden mask at her knees as well as other ritualistic and shamanic artefacts.
Ekven burial
The Ekven burial. Source: public domain.
Recurrent artefacts and examples of female shamanic practice are amulets, medicine bags, mirrors, and head-dresses shown by excavated regalia, as well as drums. Examples can be seen in southern Chile where female shamans of the Mapuche Nation use drums called kultran. Korean female shaman drummers use mudangs. Drumming would be accompanied by chants and invocations as is shown by the Mexican Indian shamans.
The Mesolithic interment at Bad Durrenberg occurred some 8,500 years ago. It was a woman around 25 years of age accompanied by a child of some 6 to 12 months of age. The grave goods and artefacts comprised those assumed to have a ritualistic and shamanic function.
Bad Durrenberg burial.  Source: public domain.
Evidence of the primordial origin of female shamans is shown by the excavated burials. Such burials have been found dating from the 5th century before the present. These include the Priestess of Ukok ( as well as remains from south Kazakstan, and the basin from the Ukraine to the Tarim. Archaeologists have determined that these ancient female interments in central Asia were shamanic priestesses. The mummified remains of a female shaman was from the 5th century BCE, and a kurgan of the Pazyryk Culture of ancient Altai.
Mummy of the Ukok princess
Discovered and excavated in 1993 (Polosmak, 1994; 1997)) she has been dubbed the Siberian Ice Maiden. This woman is also variously known as the Princess of Ukok and the Altai Princess, or Ochy-bala after the Altai heroine.
Ukok burial
Illustration of the Ukok shamanic burial
The burial of a female Natufian shamans discovered in a cave site at Hilazon Tachtit (in Israel) was dated to circa 12,000 BP (Grossman, 2008). The Natufians of the southern Levant of 15,000 to 11,500 BP were a nomadic people who lived along the east Mediterranean (Tharoor, 2008).
The excavated remains were those of a diminutive, disabled ‘shaman’ woman of advanced years, in a specially constructed grave. The interment represents the ritual burial of one of the oldest human spiritual figures.
The interment ritual and technique indicate a shamanic burial with especially placed animal bones, some 50 tortoise shells, the tail of a cow and the wing of an eagle. The grave suggests that the people living with and around this woman of some 45 years held her in high regard. As a shaman she would have been a mystic imbued with animist powers and revered social status.
Among north Amerindians medicine women are as common as medicine men, especially among the Dakotas and the Creeks (Maddox, 1941), with both occurring among the Inuit. As with shamans the medicine womanand the practice of healing is not restricted to members of the male gender.
Native American Medicine Woman in prayer
North American Medicine Woman in Prayer
In ancient Greek mythology, in the temples of Argos, , the goddess Hygeia was the daughter of Aesculapius. The fact that the great Mother Goddess Hera, as Lucina, propitiated at or presided over childbirth, and that the original goddesses were probably real medicine women indicates “…in remote antiquity women were engaged in the practice of medicine.” (Maddox, 1941).
Blood Medicine woman, Calgary circa 1900.
In central Australia the medicine is ranked equal to the medicine man just as the female shaman is the equal of the shaman. Women shamans as medicine women propitiated the spirit world and practised the healing arts towards their own sex. Medicine women were thus equal to the medicine man. Not only in the way they became such but also in social status, their role and function, but in all other respects.
medicine woman
Medicine woman
The role of the ‘witch detective’ was often combined with that of the medicine woman and in central east Africa the medicine woman was also a witch detective and prophetess. Menominee-Medicine-Woman-206x300
Menomonee medicine woman
As has been shown by both female shamans and medicine women in many times, climes and cultures “…it not infrequently happens that the female idea of the Shamanate prevails to such an extent that the most powerful shamans are women…” (Maddox, 1941). The antiquity of the shamanic role of women is illustrated by the evidence of surviving rock and cave art which can be interpreted in terms of shamanism, fertility ritual, and rites of passage.
Rock art in southern Africa can be analysed from two approaches (Eastwood, 2005), one that incorporates women issues within a framework of shamanism, and secondly one that treats it as outside the understanding shamanism. Depictions on cave walls can be interpreted in terms of the shamanistic nature of the puberty rites of girls (Lewis-Williams, 1998; Lewis-Williams, 2004).
A distinction has to be made between the meaning of the terms ‘shamanic’ and ‘shamanistic’. The word ‘shamanic’ refers to the and practices and experiences of shamans, whereas ‘shamanistic’ refers to general beliefs and practices (Whitley, 1998). The analysis can be, and has been, extended to an interpretation of cave paintings claiming that the art was the work of women.
A recent study by Dean Stone of Pennsylvania State University produced results that “…indicated prehistoric female artists also helped create the famous ‘spotted horses’ cave mural and various others.” (daily Mail, 2009). The hand prints on the mural were dated to 25,000 BCE.  Many of the hand prints were smaller than female hands as established by analysis of digital ratios.
peche merle
The ‘spotted horses’ at Pech Merle, France.  Source: public domain.
The evidence appears to show that a large number of Upper Palaeolithic cave artists were women  confirming that  the “…women’s role in prehistoric society was much greater than previously thought.” (Daily Mail, 2009). It is most likely, considering the role of women in primordial society as shamans, that ancient art was mostly the work of women (Webb, 2013).
Hand prints on cave walls were analysed by Dean Snow who showed that there was a gender difference between relative lengths of fingers. Men and women’s finger lengths are different. Even though another theory claims the hand prints may be those of adolescent boys some 75% of cave art hands are female.
   el castillo
Hand prints from Cueva de las Manos, Santa Cruz, Argentina
Examples of hand print art in caves have been found in southern France, in Australia, Argentina, Africa and Borneo. In northern Spain hand prints were believed to be some 40,800 years old (Subbaraman, 2013) where of 32 hand stencils 24 were female.
Gargas caves
The hand prints from the Gargas Caves in the Pyrenees, 27,000 years ago.
Hand stencils support the theory that, not only were women actively involved in cave art, but that they were in their role of shamans leaders in ritualistic, fertility and magical practices, many of which were also linked to rites of passage for other members of the community.
References and sources consulted
Balzer, M. M.  (1996).  Shamanism.  In: Levinson & Ember, eds.
Daiily Mail.  (2009).  Prehistoric Cave Paintings Made by Women as well as Men.  6.7.2009.
Dashu, M.  (2006).  Suppressed Histories. On web.
Eastwood, E. B.  (2005).  From Girls to Women: female imagery in the San Rock Paintings.  Before Farming.  3 (2).
Grossman, L.  et al.  (2008).  A 12,000-year-old Shaman burial from the southern Levant. Proc.Nat.Acad.Sci.  105 (46). USA
Hastings, J. (1918-28).  Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics.  Edinburgh.
Levinson, D. & Ember, M.  eds.  (1996).  Encyclopaedia of Cultural Anthropology.  Henry Holt, New York.
Lewis-Williams, J. D.  (1998).  Quanto.  South African Archaeological Bulletin. 53.
Lewis-Williams, J. D.  & Pearce, D.  (2004).  San spirituality roots.  Double Storey, Cape Town.
MacCulloch, J.  (1918).  Shamanism.  In: Hastings, J. ed.
Maddox, J. L.  (1941). The Medicine Man.  Yale UP.
Polosmak, N.  (1994).  National Geographic.  October.
Polosmak, N.  (1997).  BBC Documentary.
Subbaraman, N.  (2013).  NBC News.  15.10.2013.
Tedlock, B.  (2005).  The Woman in a Shaman’s Body. Bantam, New York.
Tharoor, I.  (2008).  12,000-tear-old Shaman Unearthed in Israel.  Time, 11.11.2009.
Webb, S.  (2013).  Earliest artists were women.  Mail Online, London.
Whitley, D. S.  (1998).  Cognitive neuroscience shamanism, and rock art of Native California.  Anthropology of Consciousness. 9.