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Maya Gurantz and Art21: Casting Spells over Los Angeles

originally posted on: Art-21 Magazine by Carol Cheh
January 6, 2015

The imminent possibility of magic seems to perennially hover over Southern California, an area long known for its experiments in alternative spirituality and its visionary optimism. Gurus, healers, psychics, and witches are common in Los Angeles, and their worlds often intersect with the world of artists; after all, both are engaged in probing the boundaries of life as we know it.

In October 2014, a retrospective of the work of Cameron (1922–95), an influential counterculture artist and practicing witch, opened at the Museum of Contemporary Art’s Pacific Design Center, generating excitement and substantial media coverage. Not well known outside of Southern California, Cameron has exerted a mythical pull on local artists, occult enthusiasts, and historians for decades. Her drawings and paintings, often depicting fantastical creatures engaged in mysterious rituals, are suffused with an otherworldly energy while her appearances in underground films such as Kenneth Anger’s Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (1954) reveal her personal charisma—still potent even now, years after her death.

The idea that magic is possible is always a seductive one, and many are no doubt drawn to Cameron because of the legends that surround her. As the story goes, the rocket scientist and occult practitioner Jack Parsons, who became Cameron’s husband, believed that she was the elemental—the spiritual energy in human form—that he had summoned through a ritual invocation performed with his friend and fellow spiritualist, L. Ron Hubbard. Called the Babalon Working, this spell was one of the few Parsons performed that, he believed, had actually worked.1

Today, younger artists in Los Angeles are continuing to engage with alternative forms of spirituality. Rather than perpetuating a certain mythos, however, some of them are appropriating occult tools within a larger progressive agenda. Two artists, Maya Gurantz and Amanda Yates Garcia, utilize rituals and spells in ways that are socio-politically inquisitive and, ultimately, activist.

photo: Cameron. West Angel, n.d. Graphite, ink, and gold paint on paper; 23 3/4 x 36 3/4 inches. Courtesy the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles and the Cameron Parsons Foundation, Santa Monica. Photo: Alan Shaffer.

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