Rites for Gods and Dogs by Luna Montenegro & Adrian Fisher at Cecilia Brunson Projects

Luna Montenegro and Adrian Fisher, Cecilia Brunson Projects

The opening performance by Luna Montenegro and Adrian Fisher, Rites for Gods and Dogs, Cecilia Brunson Projects, photo by Patrick Dodds


 Luna Montenegro & Adrian Fisher, Cecilia Brunson Projects

The opening performance by Luna Montenegro & Adrian Fisher, Rites for Gods and Dogs, Cecilia Brunson Projects, photo by Patrick Dodds


In 1471, after obtaining leave from the Pope to live in solitude and focus on his studies in Hermetic Art, George Ripley wrote The Compound of Alchemy. In his treatise, Ripley describes the twelve ‘gates’ necessary to make the ‘Philosophers Stone’, the legendary substance that can turn base metals into gold and silver, and possess the ability to confer long life or immortality.

Last week, at the opening of their exhibition Rites for Gods and Dogs at Cecilia Brunson Projects, Luna Montenegro and Adrian Fisher enacted a performance, which contemporized elements relating to each of Ripley’s twelve gates. In essence viewers or participants were immersed in a kind of rhapsody of the visceral, or a momentary exoneration of the ‘Real’. Enacted outside the gallery in the cold, dark night, the performance took a ritualistic tone with actions such as the virile dance of a martial arts movement, a feather brushed against the swollen belly of a pregnant woman, the ingestion and regurgitation of sustenance to form a transformative concoction, and milk being egested from a mouth down a breast. These actions were set to the improvised melody of musicians, which mingled amongst the audience, the sound drifting through the night like the soft rustling of the wind.

Like Ripley’s The Compound of Alchemy, ancient rituals – as well as more contemporary cultural practices – inform the artists’ work. Their practice, a collective known as mmmmm formed in 2000 by the two artists, explores presence and consumption through the body, identity and desire. Their work involves performance, sculpture, video and photography; the latter often the starting point of their investigations, with objects and documentation from past performances reordered and reconstituted to form new works.

As such, Rites for gods and dogs, is a kind of reliquary from previous performances, but also entity in its own right. Works appear disparate, consisting of eclectic array of materials and objects: a mélange of ties coiled like snakes, a mass of cast index fingers arranged in a circle, hair suspended from the ceiling arranged as beards, to cite a few examples. They constitute a cornucopia of the uncanny; everyday objects with their meaning displaced. Here the transformative element of the artists’ performances is present somehow, infused into the materiality of these objects like creatures from an animist world.

Luna Montenegro and Adrian Fisher, Cecilia Brunson Projects

The Possibility of a Revolution, 2010, Luna Montenegro & Adrian Fisher, Rites for Gods and Dogs, Cecilia Brunson Projects


Luna Montenegro & Adrian Fisher, Cecilia Brunson Projects

Aurora, 2012, Luna Montenegro & Adrian Fisher, Rites for Gods and Dogs, Cecilia Brunson Projects

I caught up briefly with Luna Montenegro and Adrian Fisher after the opening performance:

1) You mentioned that the exhibition is a record of previous performances. Can you tell me briefly about some of them e.g. Hairetikos?

Yes, it is a trace of a presence, a residue of a moment. The works in the show are also separate entities, they might also be framed as how to document a live performance, how to make an archive of a particular presence of the body in time. We are investigating the possible forms that this documentation could take. Each work in the show explores its own form, away from traditional ideas of representative video and photography, the performance extends into another process, it is a state which transforms into other states and questions the aura of the object, what is left from the live moment.

‘Hairetikos is a work derived from a performance we made last year in a group exhibition curated by Cedar Lewisohn in a working hairdressers in Soho. The performance explores the visceral in relation to gender and sexuality. We had collected our hair over the past 2 years. The hair became removable genitals and were used in the performance. It is a visceral representation of the real, it creates a moment when as Jacques Lacan said, ‘the fishbone’ (in this case the hair) ‘gets stuck in the throat’, this breaks the symbolic and forces a moment of the real to appear.

2) Your work explores presence and consumption, and the placing of ancient cultural practices within a contemporary context, could you tell me a little bit more about this in relation the performance ‘Twelve Gates’.

‘Twelve Gates’ is a text from George Ripley’s ‘The Compound of Alchemy’. It was used as a ‘recipe’ for transformation of matter and illumination. The text explores a process of passing through 12 states to reach a state of spiritual illumination. We made a live performance in relation to each gate and its material possibilities (Calcination, Solution, Separation, Conjunction, Putrefaction, Congelation, Cibation, Sublimation, Fermentation, Exaltation, Multiplication, Projection). The presence of the body in the performance is marked by ritual and the live moment. We explored forms of performance, structures that allow the body to be present as individual and as a collective.

3) Could you also expand on the significance of the use of elemental materials like milk, salt and olive oil in the performance?

The Ripley text combines the materiality of elements with the body and spirit. Alchemists of the 16th century were exploring the limits of materiality and the human condition. The elemental materials create a direct relation with the domestic, the everyday. Their combination in the performance derives from the processes in the text. The ordinary becomes transformational, possessing the power to invoke different states, to define new territories, to make new solutions. The use of the materials is to disrupt the conventional uses of the everyday consumables to make the ordinary somehow spiritual, or ridiculous, or beautiful.

Salt, is a base material for beginning the alchemical process. It is earth, it absorbs water, it has ‘purity’. Milk is a symbol, a sustainer of life, as a relation with the mother and the newborn infant. The oat biscuits are transformed in the mouth into a dry powder, it is transformed in structure through the act of mastication; it forces a dehydration of the body and becomes a substrate for the solution. Olive oil separates in water. It was traded as a commodity in The Ancient Greek culture and represents a medium of exchange. Its diverse uses bring a material wealth; it acts as a currency for speculation, accumulation and ultimately in scarcity causes starvation. These elements are multifunctional, they are symbolic base materials that can be mixed and transformed, they carry an aura, a symbol for community and society; they are traded and consumed and transformed.

4) Could you explain the significance of the martial arts action in the beginning?

This is a collaboration with Kiran Murzzello, a biologist and martial artist. He performed two Katas: Kanku and Hangetsu. Martial Art as a historical tradition passed from master to master through history in the same way as Alchemy was practiced and handed down through scripts and forms. It has a mystical quality, it exemplifies the control of nature, the dog with rituals for the god. Its practice invokes a focus and concentration, a state from which to prepare the body of the artists for the action.

The martial art creates a tension, it makes an edge in the space and defines the limits of that space in a ritual, a preparation, a training for transformation, an energy that brings the body to a state of alert, a presence. The thought in this action is to have ‘no thought’, to be present. The vocal sound (kiai – spirit) is unique to each martial artist, it is a release of that energy from the animal inside to the exterior, an utterance, a statement, I am here, I am present, a focus. The martial art creates an aura through movement, it reminds us of the physicality of the body, it brings us close to the destructive force of the body, the potential for death and the control of that energy and form that makes a ‘civilisation’, harmony, understanding, humanity.

Luna Montenegro and Adrian Fisher, Cecilia Brunson Projects

Luna Montenegro and Guy Brett at the opening of Rites for Gods and Dogs, Cecilia Brunson Projects, photo by Patrick Dodds


Luna Montenegro and Adrian Fisher, Cecilia Brunson Projects

From the opening of Rites for Gods and Dogs, Luna Montenegro & Adrian Fisher, Cecilia Brunson Projects, photo by Patrick Dodds

5) Music played a significant role in the performance, yet you mentioned that the musicians improvise in your performances, and that they had never played together. What effect do you feel this creates in your performances?

Music, sound and voice contribute to the state of transformation we are trying to achieve through the performance – to pass through a range of experiences and emotions – from the individual to the collective, from concentration to the ecstatic. The instruments used were acoustic and percussive: the triangle, an elemental mathematical shape that resonates within itself; the charango, a native Latin American stringed instrument, made from an armadillo; and the tambourine, made of animal skin, used in religious evangelical and trance ceremonies. Improvisation opens new spaces of communication between the musicians, the performers and the public, and finds a harmony between elements. It makes a communication. It is derived from the context, a reaction and visceral realisation of the moment, an unpredictable movement that comes from the people, from the place, the location, the actions – a collective sound that merges with the actions in tandem. It translates and relates the bodies in the space, it can reach the sublime, the vibrations from the sound waves are corporally transformational, they change perspectives, they create an excitement, an encounter, a sharing and understanding that is unique and unexpected.

6) Where do you look to for inspiration for your work?

We are inspired by contradiction. Meeting people engaged in their work, obsessions, the more absurd – the more inspiring. We look to things that make us feel and break the numbing conformity. We are inspired by objects that begin a particular trajectory for a performance. We are inspired by the poetic, by the philosophical, the unexpected, by the reordering and re-imaging of how language and text can create a physical action. We are inspired by political moments whether tragic or revolutionary and their consequences. We are inspired by difference, by indigenous cultures and their practices, by individuals and groups who seek change or defend their rights, by anthropological writings and recordings, ancient and obscure contemporary texts that create or tell myths. We are inspired by historical contexts and places and landscapes. We are inspired by people’s daily practices, mass popular domestic rituals like cleaning teeth, brushing hair and smoking.

We see performance as a fluid form taking different strategies depending on the idea and concept. The performance we made for the exhibition was one type of form; another would be to make a collective sculpture, taking a trace of the presence of a thousand people in a significant location, a particular space and time. The performance becomes a one to one encounter with a person, for example making a cast of their finger. The participant becomes the performer, the protagonist in the performance. We see performance as an ever-expanding term that mutates and transmodifies according to the situation and place. Performances are daily practices that we all make; it’s the context that defines them.

7) When is your next performance?
Our next performance will be within our feature film we are making in collaboration with Gines Olivares working on ideas of transformation and alchemy http://www.mmmmm.org.uk/Films/indexfilms.html

Luna Montenegro and Adrian Fisher, Rites for Gods and Dogs at Cecilia Brunson Projects, London through 29 March, 2014

Leave a Reply

by Gowri Balasegaram
in Focus on Europe

Wed Development by THX88.net Digital Art Factory