Gifts of the Spirit: Prophecy, Automatism and Discernment

214 S. Main St.
Los Angeles, CA 90012

“I made an extreme turning-fifty performance, which was both in line with, and against, Kusama’s “Self-Obliteration” concept. Rather than the erasure of oneself, the gesture is also grand: erasing the singular emphasis and using infinity as a texture. Gifts of the Spirit takes that nugget further: expanding the ‘I’ of my memoir into the randomness of collectively authored text, set with the bloat of an opera.” —Ron Athey

Gifts of the Spirit: Prophecy, Automatism and Discernment is Ron Athey’s vision for an “automatic writing machine” brought to life in collaboration with the composer Sean Griffin as a performance/installation made up of 16 writers, six typists, a hypnotist, vocalists, and musicians. In this work, the artist “completes” his memoir (“Gifts of the Spirit”) together in ecstatic communion with his collaborators. This living machine makes a tightly choreographed and scored visual spectacle bringing together writing, reading and listening into a layered performative action resulting in a collectively authored text and sound score. 

Athey has been writing his memoir since 1980 when he moved away from the Pentecostal and Spiritualist practices in which he was raised. His writing describes the experience of having been raised as a living saint within an environment of abuse, vibrating with the energy of the otherworldly, but doing so without faith. The deconsecrated cathedral of St. Vibiana provides the perfect venue for this work, which strips faith from ritual and presents the orchestration of ecstatic states as art. 

Gifts of the Spirit is co-produced by The Broad, and has been made possible in part by a grant from the Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts. Guest-curated by Jennifer Doyle. 

About The Artists

Los Angeles-based artist Ron Athey has been working at the vanguard of performance art for 25 years. Self-taught, his work developed out of post-punk/pre-goth scenes, and begins with Premature Ejaculation (PE), an early 1980s collaboration with Rozz Williams. Their approach to performance art was informed by the club actions of Johanna Went and the formulation of Industrial Culture (the idea of psycho/neuro acoustics in sound performance). Athey’s work often experiments with performing in a trance state, not unlike the Pentecostal spirit states he attained in his childhood religious experiences. In the 1990s, Athey formed a company of performers and made Torture Trilogy, a series of works that addressed the AIDS pandemic directly through memorializing and philosophical reflection. This work is characterized by the physical intensity of 1970s body-art canon (e.g. COUM Transmission, Carolee Schneeman and the Viennese Actionists). These performances toured internationally. The trilogy’s final chapter, Deliverance, was an Arts Council England commission and premiered at the ICA London. In the 2000s, Athey developed genre-stretching theatrical works like Joyce and The Judas Cradle, and a series of major solo performances such as The Solar Anus (which draws its name and spirit from a Georges Bataille essay, and from the action photographs of Pierre Molinier), Sebastiane (which plays with martyrology), Self-Obliteration Solo and Incorruptible Flesh (a series of solo performance that reflect on Athey’s collaborations with the late Lawrence Steger). With this new series, Gifts of the Spirit, Athey returns to his Pentecostal roots and expands his practice into performance anchored not by the artist’s body, but in his spirit.

Sean Griffin lives and works in Los Angeles. Encompassing many languages, styles, media and forms, Griffin’s unique compositional works rely on interdisciplinary incongruities positioned at the intersection of sound, image, performance and the archive. His works manifest as music, large and small-scale operas, collaborative installations, complex numeric choreographies and historically weighted musical/performance works. His works have been commissioned and presented internationally by venues including REDCAT, the Hammer Museum and LACMA in Los Angeles; June in Buffalo; Volksbühne in Berlin; Secession Vienna in Vienna; Royal Academy and the Tate Modern in London; Festival d’Avignon; Taipei City Arts Festival in Taipei City; Walker Art Center in Minneapolis; Centre Pompidou in Paris; Festival BOM 2010 in Seoul; and EMPAC, The Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center in Troy, New York. He received an MFA from CalArts and a Ph.D. from the University of California, San Diego. He studied with Mel Powell, Chaya Czernowin and George Lewis.