Varg Vikernes was a Norwegian black metal musician best known as the leader of Burzum, until he killed his bandmate, the guitarist for another group, Mayhem, named Euronymous. That made him something of a cult icon, his myth obfuscated and magnified by his erratic, vaguely Nazi musings on race and sexuality. Vikernes was released on parole this year, and re-appeared in the news. It was his voice and his status as an obscure, solitary icon that provoked the interest of artist Kai Althoff and music writer Brandon Stosuy. In response, they organized their first collaborative exhibition, Mirror Me, an installation in three movements at Lower East Side gallery Dispatch.
The first movement paired a matrix of collages by musician Philip Best with video by musician and writer Peter Sotos. Both have made art in the past, but are not full-time artists. As with any mirror, subject and reflection are on unstable footing here: For the second movement, Althoff and Stosuy had the gallery's floor and walls painted half-turquoise, half-beige—not colors typically associated with black metal. Lionel Maunz contributed drawings and resin sculptures cast as relics, which delicately straddle the gallery's bifurcation. For the third movement, which opens tomorrow, Althoff imports his own work, and Stosuy brings in materials accumulated. They won't specify the contents further, although the emphasis is on physically moving their "stuff."
Collage image by Brandon Stosuy and Kai Althoff. Courtesy of Dispatch.
The project began inadvertently when Althoff asked Stosuy to contribute an essay to a forthcoming catalogue. Discussion of music, and a friendship, ensued, although the catalogue essay remains unfinished. Stosuy is at work on an oral history of American black metal and organizes monthly shows in Brooklyn with black metal bands. Stosuy says his initial conversations with Althoff concerned the seductiveness of Vikernes myth, and the inability to know him beyond his voice. Documents of statements by Vikernes, reproduced by Stosuy in the show, have him recently expressed that he wants to live on a farm. The project has revealed the untenability of myth upon pursued interest, describes Stosuy, "Now he's a typical, grown-up guy. The Varg who was purporting to be satanic disappeared and was replaced with this kind of guy that you could imagine going to work on a subway."
The third movement will open with a performance by New York black metal band Liturgy, led by Hunter Hunt-Hendrix, a Columbia graduate who, like the exhibition's organizer's, probably has a more sophisticated take on immersion in black metal culture than the average participant. Stosuy says he picked up on Hunt-Hendrix's nuanced approach to black metal music and culture through the latter's approach to the figure of the solitary band leader: "There's a tradition of a one-person band, a man so misanthropic he can't collaborate. Liturgy started out that way, then Hunter built a band around himself so now he can play live with a full band." He'll perform here alone. Stosuy also highlights Hunt-Henrix's interest in transcendentalism, a very Northeast American (and not very black metal) philosophy. Liturgy's imagery includes white clouds, and references to religious sacraments and prophetic poems. But, reminds Stosuy, "If you didn't know any background and just stumbled upon a Liturgy song on Myspace, then you would not necessarily be able to differentiate that and Burzum." (LEFT: LIONEL MAUNZ, ‘no incense for your body’ FROM MOVEMENT II.COURTESY OF DISPATCH)
Black metal music overlaps with artwork in an unstable way, and often through the elements of kitsch—witness the dramatic lines, and the retro, cultish imagery that informed the organizers here, and has played into the work of Matt Greene and Banks Violette. Stosuy visited with Snorre Ruch, the accomplice to Vikernes' crime, who received eight years in prison as a result. After a long, nervous trip through the Norwegian forest, Stosuy was greeted at the house by two works by Violette. Stosuy locates a similar tension, involving a sense of permanence in the artwork, in Althoff's paintings: "You will have seen him paint right in front of you, but the second the painting is done it looks it was made a hundred years ago... there's a use of color that looks classic, but that you would stumble upon in a place that you weren't necessarily looking for art, in a music shop or a thrift shop."
In the spirit of the Romantic wanderer, Stosuy warns against a singular interpretation of Althoff's work, or the exhibition: "I don't want to speak for Kai. We're coming at this in some similar ways, but we're also coming at it in a million different ways. Everything I said today is my side of things and not his..."
Mirror Me, Movement III, opens tomorow, July 30, at 8:30 PM. Dispatch Gallery is located at 127 Henry Street, New York.