Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Exhibition Review

A Critical Review of Matt Schultz’s Exhibition The History of The Division
by Adrienne Foster for Voice of Artist Magazine

During what could be considered as the busiest showing season for artists in Southern Illinois, this year, one particular exhibition seemed to garner special attention from the community. The Southern Illinois University Museum of Carbondale held a truly unique exhibition this past March. From a museum whose exhibits tend to focus on selections of artifacts from the museum collection used for student study, local craft artists, student MFA thesis exhibitions, and traveling shows by well-known artists such as Anselm Adams and Joseph Albers, what I did not expect was an exhibit that would actually seek to transform its audience. Unlike the ceaseless run of postmodernist art that fills most contemporary art galleries and museums—art that has deconstructed the art institution and contemporary society to death without any significant opportunity for rebirth, I was quite refreshed to experience an exhibit that I can only really relate to a spiritual journey. This was titled The History of The Division, an MFA thesis exhibition by SIUC graduate student Matt Schultz.

Upon entering the University Museum, a friendly greeter sits at a long table covered with a heavy black cloth. Upon approaching the greeter, he directs me toward an array of merchandise that has been neatly laid out for display. Black t-shirts with a modified red cross on the left chest, coffee mugs, CDs, stickers, and buttons with the same color scheme and insignia fill the table, as well as brochures, post cards and portable CD players marked with this same familiar, though altered, symbol. The greeter encourages me to take the brief, 18-minute audio tour of the exhibition. He is wearing a t-shirt identical to those he is selling.
Next to him is a large red wall flanked with black banners that bear the insignia of The Division, an equilateral red cross similar to the one use by The Red Cross. Though, there is a significant difference from this common symbol used by those in the medical field. This difference is that the horizontal bar of the cross divides the vertical bar as if it is overlapping the latter. Not only does this illicit an association with medicine, but it also has associations with the Christian cross. So as I enter the space, these banners are the first to instill a sense of wonder as to the goals of this esoteric order called The Division. Not only am I about to embark on an educative journey through The History of The Division, but I can assume that this group is still active today, seeing as they would be the ones receiving the proceeds from the merchandise for sale and that I apparently just met one of their members. From the little that I have seen so far, it becomes clear that this organization has a definite purpose and following, but I am not quite sure of what that might be.

Before I actually enter the exhibit, posed in front of the large red wall with black banners is a strange, cloaked figure whose head resembles that of a raven. To the right, on the adjacent wall, is a small gray plaque that identifies the figure in front of us as the Trickster Crow.

This costumed figure stands about six feet tall and is wearing a long black button-down cloak, and black leather mask, vest, and gloves. The mask covers the entire head, has a large black leather beak with a small tuft of black feather at its bridge, amber pharmaceutical bottles for eyes, and long, glossy black feathers sweeping back over the head similarly to hair. His vest holds two rows of five scrolls of paper. Each scroll has “word” repeated, covering each of the ten different scrolls, in ten different languages. The Trickster Crow is holding a long, meager peacock-feather quill in his right hand.

At this point, the intrigue is too much for anyone to turn and walk away. Who are these people? What do they do? What do they believe? Are they a cult? Why have I never heard of them before? Not only are these the questions that I am asking myself, but they are questions that seem to be scurrying about as whispers throughout the entire main entryway.

I, too, was getting caught up in the ambience, but I stopped myself to remember precisely where I was and what I was about to experience. This exhibition, The History of The Division, was in fact a Master of Fine Arts thesis exhibition completely created by one artist, Matt Schultz. This fact was actually notated in black vinyl lettering behind the Trickster Crow. But no one seemed to notice—the venue and presentation of this exhibition seemed to annihilate any interest as to the origins of such an organization.

Because of his choice of venue, the overall presentation of the exhibit, the diversity of artifacts included, and his meticulous attention to detail, Schultz successfully presents the history of a fake religious organization in a manner that is so believable that the viewer is convinced of its true existence. Schultz then exposes himself as the divine creator of this “reality” to point to the construction of social, political, and cultural belief systems in a capitalist and materialist society. These themes of reality and construction work together to present an intriguing exhibition that presents significant issues concerning our social and economic systems.

As I turn to enter the exhibit I see a typical museum setting. There are wax figures and other representations of important members within The Division, vitrines with artifacts belonging to these members, and dioramas that position these characters in their respective environments. The walls within the exhibit are gray with a wide band of red just before the wall meets the ceiling. This band extends around the entire exhibition space, thus extending the color scheme established at the entrance to the exhibit. This red band acts as a visual timeline that carries us through the exhibit, which is setup chronologically. The largest section of the exhibition space focuses on presenting The Division Past, as is demarcated by black vinyl lettering in the red band on the wall. There is a second, smaller area that contains contemporary artifacts, propaganda posters and a large dome structure that acts as a sort of sweat lodge for The Division Present. There is even an iMac set up to access the organization’s live website, TheDivision.org.

Throughout the exhibit there are a variety of different artifacts that show the many facets of this organization. Along with these artifacts, respective to each of the presented members of the organization, are plaques that coincide with an audio tour that gives a brief history of each character, including their birth and death dates, occupation, interests and other specific details pertinent to The Division.

The first artifacts on display are four fragments of cave paintings containing the first records of The Division. Though each fragment has a slightly different surface quality, color, and overall shape, the overall form of each fragment is the exact same, as is seen in a repeated crescent shape in the layers of chipped stone. The prominence of this repetition in form hints that the foundation of this organization, the first records of its history and mythology, have been constructed. But no matter, there are a plethora of other artifacts on display that may dispel my doubt.
The next artifact is a long muslin mask. It has a large canvas panel on the front that has The Division symbol stitched onto the front with long strips of worn fabric hanging down the sides and back of the neck. According to the audio tour, party members wore this mask during medical procedures early on in The Division’s history—much before scientists had discovered the air-born bacteria this mask was intended to block.

In the next corner is a large display of one of the organization’s most prominent members, Dr. Baron Klaus von Heidelberg, with a glass case that holds several artifacts having belonged to him. Amongst the artifacts included in this display case are a black physician’s bag, a book whose cover is embossed with The Division symbol, a box of 12 ceramic vials, as well as several other strange objects. On a large, painted circus banner next to the case, the Baron is depicted wearing a black suit, gloves, and top hat, and is holding a staff around which is coiled a white serpent—yet another allusion to the medical field. In front of this banner is an open trunk containing a shrunken mummy. The inside of the lid is a black and red painted sign that reads “Horus Cristo 2¢.”

Along the next wall is a second glass case filled with mysterious artifacts. Just to the left of this case is a life-size, clothed figure presented as Rudolph Stiener, a party member who infiltrated the Nazi Party during WWII. He is wearing a uniform similar to that of the Nazi Party, with the only differences being its color—the entire ensemble is black, from hat to boots to gloves—and it bears The Division insignia, stitched onto the lapels. It seems that Stiener is meant to be confused with famous Nazi Party member Rudolph Steiner.

The final display in The Division Past is a life-size diorama including a character referred to as The Unknown Soldier. The diorama includes the soldier’s medic motorized bike unit parked under a tree, with the soldier seated on the ground holding a box of ceramic vials. Each vile is labeled with one of 12 archetypes. The soldier seems to be searching for the correct vial, as there are two vials uncorked and strewn about the ground. Within a metal case attached to the motorcycle is a series of cream-colored boxes with the symbols of different religions printed on them. In another case is what seems to be a gauze and plaster mold of a hand, similar to a medical cast that has been removed. The hand forms the mudra often seen in depictions of Christ, the mudra of blessing.

Close attention to these types of details reveals the true nature of this organization. In fact, The History of The Division was absolutely constructed by an artist. As can be seen in the prominent chin, jaw line, cheekbones, and crooked nose of the figures and photographic representation of the party members, each character has a striking resemblance to Schultz. This resemblance can easily be seen as the artist himself mingles with the visitors throughout the exhibit. His red dress shirt and black slacks allow him to blend in seamlessly with the exhibit. It is almost as if he is a living character in this history.

Alongside the photograph of each character, on their respective information plaque, their approximate birth and death dates are given. Dr. Baron Klaus von Heidelberg was born in 1873 and “passed over” in 1908. In the same year, Rudolph Stiener was born. He was declared “Missing In Action” in 1943 during World War II, the same year The Unknown Soldier was born. The Unknown Soldier believed to have been “killed in action” on June 9, 1965 in an ambush during the Vietnam War. Considering the multiple visual clues pointing to Schultz as the creator of this organization, I think it safe to assume that Schultz’s himself was born June 9, 1965.

In fact, the birth and death dates of the presented characters and their likeness to Schultz are not the only evidence that Schultz is a sort of “divine creator” of this history. One of the gods presented in the mythology of The Division is a god named Brx, a “noble god with hands like ash and pumice,” who was left on the earth “to die many times over.” Each of the characters is presented wearing black gloves, which would be necessary for an otherworldly deity with hands of ash to prevent his appendages from getting blown away while on a strange planet. Schultz presents himself as the divine creator of this organization from its creation myth to present.

The sequence of birth and death dates are not the only allusions to reincarnation. Another is found in the audio tour in regards to the Trickster Crow—of the little information provided about the Trickster Crow is that he is related to reincarnation processes and is a sort of sly messenger. Schultz is Brx, the Baron, Stiener, The Unknown Soldier, and the Trickster Crow; he is the creator, the magician, the doctor, the priest, the shaman; he is the manipulator of tools, symbols and language to cast a spell on the viewer, to trick them into believing a constructed reality, but only to bring about a better end.

For the inattentive viewer it is easy to be fully convinced that this organization is real, and rightfully so because Schultz did a wonderful job of going to such painstaking detail that it is almost difficult to view the exhibit through critical eyes. This viewer, though, may be so inattentive as to miss the evidence of construction altogether. However, if upon entering or exiting the exhibit, the viewer were to have picked up one of the brochures on the merchandise table, he would be able to find Schultz’s artist statement. In his very brief statement, which is somewhat hidden on the back panel of the brochure, in almost-fine print, he states quite clearly his intentions. “My work addresses belief systems… Often we put faith in these systems without verifying their authenticity… Only by critically examining our world can we find the truth.” Similarly, only upon a critical examination of Schultz exhibit will the viewer be able to unveil this truth: this reality is a construction—his construction.

With a second look at the shrunken mummy trunk, Schultz’s intention is much more obvious. Horus Cristo refers to avatars from two different religions. Horus is an Egyptian god who was born to a virgin mother, was crucified, and then rose from the dead three days later. Cristo refers to Jesus Christ who shares this same history. The fact that these two names are put together brings to light the similarities between their histories and, within the context of this exhibit, suggests that the two religions that they are associated with are other forms of constructed belief systems. By placing this piece in the exhibit, Schultz is undoubtedly intending for the viewer to question the construction of his or her own belief systems.

Not only is Schultz calling the viewer to question his own religious belief systems, he is calling the viewer to question other systems as well. Painted next to “Horus Cristo” inside the trunk lid is “2¢.” While next to a circus banner, the viewer may be reminded of small booths set up at carnivals as side-show acts that capitalize on mystery and viewer’s gullibility in order to earn a living. Within this seemingly minor piece, Schultz implies that this same method is used by members of different religious organizations to make money.

By creating histories and belief systems that are mysterious, appealing, and convincing to on-lookers, the creator can make a few bucks (or many) off the unsuspecting believer. Ultimately, Schultz is presenting to his audience that there is someone out there making money off their beliefs, and that, most likely, the beneficiary created the whole gig just for that purpose.

As I exit the exhibition, I pass the merchandise table once more—now, with a better understanding of what I am being sold. Ideas, just like artifacts, are formed by humans, humans who are looking to understand the world they live in. At some point, some of these humans realized that ideas could be bought and sold for monetary profit just like material goods, but only at the spiritual expense of others. Of course, who cares if someone makes a quick buck off someone else’s vulnerability, right? Really, they were either too naïve or stupid to realize what they are buying into. Besides, capitalism is the best system ever. Right? Matt Schultz seems to say quite loudly, “NO!”

Over time, humans have lost touch with the world they were trying to understand, and have become completely involved in the world they have constructed—a world that relies on the exchange of material goods for profit. So much so that material objects are the only things humans rely on in recent centuries for proof and understanding of their own existence. In a society run by materialism, seeing is believing. Those who have control of what the masses see and consume, whether in science, politics, media, or religion, those are the people who have the power and control over anyone who is willing to accept and consume what is being sold to them.

Matt Schultz is putting his foot down, as is an entire emerging generation of artists, writers, filmmakers, independent thinkers and independent doers—people who are beginning to stop and say, “Wait! Where am I? What exactly am I doing? Why am I doing it? Why am I here? Why do I believe what I believe?”—people who are refusing to sit back and let themselves be consumed by a system that is taking over their money, their livelihood, and their beliefs.

The final section of the exhibit, which didn’t make sense to me as I walked through it, makes much more sense upon exiting the exhibition. A large felt sweat lodge filled the center of the room, with large posters on the surrounding walls. This lodge was used by members of The Division in healing rituals and can be interpreted as a sort of return to Mother Earth, as is suggested in an alternate version of the audio tour. One poster with the mysterious phrase “Solve et Coagula” sticks in my mind. These two words describe the deconstruction and synthesis processes used by alchemists in search of the Great Work, the search for the Self—the ultimate core of human existence that we all seek to be transformed into, the Godhead, as it were. This spiritual healing, this transformation, has been equated with the experience of art by several significant artists throughout history. Artists who held similar beliefs and who can be seen as having direct influence on Schultz include Marcel Duchamp, Joseph Beuys, and contemporary writer and “magician,” Alan Moore. These men worked to heal the spirits of their audience through their art, as Schultz does in this exhibit.
Schultz’s The History of The Division is calling his audience to critically examine the society we live in, to see the constructions, to question their belief systems, and, in short, to help bring us back to a more profound experience of the existence that we have in this amazing universe. So question yourself, question your leaders, question your world—not out of rebellion or disrespect, but to find our flaws as humans and contribute to the effort to improve our world instead of allowing ourselves to be consumed by an increasingly broken one.


Semiotics, also called semiotic studies and including (in the Saussurean tradition) semiology, is the study of signs and sign processes (semiosis), indication, designation, likeness, analogy, metaphor, symbolism, signification, and communication. Semiotics is closely related to the field of linguistics, which, for its part, studies the structure and meaning of language more specifically. However, as different from linguistics, semiotics studies also non-linguistic sign systems. Semiotics is often divided into three branches:

Semantics: Relation between signs and the things to which they refer; their denotata, or meaning

Syntactics: Relations among signs in formal structures

Pragmatics: Relation between signs and the effects they have on the people who use them

Semiotics is frequently seen as having important anthropological dimensions; for example, Umberto Eco proposes that every cultural phenomenon can be studied as communication.[ However, some semioticians focus on the logical dimensions of the science. They examine areas belonging also to the natural sciences – such as how organisms make predictions about, and adapt to, their semiotic niche in the world (see semiosis). In general, semiotic theories take signs or sign systems as their object of study: the communication of information in living organisms is covered in biosemiotics (including zoosemiotics).

Syntactics is the branch of semiotics that deals with the formal properties of signs and symbols. More precisely, syntactics deals with the "rules that govern how words are combined to form phrases and sentences." Charles Morris adds that semantics deals with the relation of signs to their designata and the objects which they may or do denote; and, pragmatics deals with the biotic aspects of semiosis, that is, with all the psychological, biological, and sociological phenomena which occur in the functioning of signs.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Savikalpa Samādhi

Savikalpa samādhi (Sanskrit: सविकल्पसमाधि) is a state of samādhi in which one's consciousness temporarily dissolves into Brahman.

In this state, one lets go of the ego and becomes aware of Spirit beyond creation. The soul is then able to absorb the fire of Spirit-Wisdom that "roasts" or destroys the seeds of body-bound inclinations. The soul as the meditator, its state of meditation, and the Spirit as the object of meditation all become one. The separate wave of the soul meditating in the ocean of Spirit becomes merged with the Spirit. The soul does not lose its identity, but only expands into Spirit. In savikalpa samadhi the mind is conscious only of the Spirit within; it is not conscious of the exterior world. The body is in a trancelike state, but the consciousness is fully perceptive of its blissful experience within.[1]
Beyond the state of savikalpa are the more immersive and lasting samadhi states of nirvikalpa and sahaja.

Saturday, February 16, 2013


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Animism (from Latin animus, -i "soul, life")[1] is the religious worldview that natural physical entities—including animals, plants, and often even inanimate objects or phenomena—possess a spiritual essence.[2][3] Specifically, animism is used in the anthropology of religion as a term for the religion of indigenous tribal peoples,[4] especially prior to the development and/or infiltration of civilization[5] and organized religion.[6][7] Although each tribe is unique in its specific mythologies and rituals, the term animism is often used to describe the most common, foundational thread of indigenous tribespeoples' spiritual or "supernatural" perspectives --- in a word, their worldview, or their "reality." Some members of the non-tribal world also consider themselves animists (such as author Daniel Quinn, sculptor Lawson Oyekan, and many Neopagans) and, of course, not all peoples who describe themselves as tribal would describe themselves as animistic. In fact the tribal animistic perspective is so fundamental, mundane, everyday and taken-for-granted that most animistic indigenous people do not even have a word in their languages that corresponds to "animism" (or even "religion");[8] the term is a purely anthropological construct rather than one designated by tribespeople themselves. Largely due to such ethnolinguistic and cultural discrepancies, opinion has differed—ever since Sir Edward Tylor's 19th-century popularization of the term—on whether animism refers to merely a broadly religious belief or to a full-fledged religion in its own right.[note 1]
Animism encompasses the beliefs that there is no separation between the spiritual and physical (or material) world, and souls or spirits exist, not only in humans, but also in all other animals, plants, rocks, geographic features such as mountains or rivers, or other entities of the natural environment,[16] including thunder, wind, and shadows. Animism may further attribute souls to abstract concepts such as words, true names, or metaphors in mythology. Examples of animism can be found in forms of Shinto, Serer, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Pantheism, Paganism, and Neopaganism.
Throughout European history, philosophers such as Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas, among others, contemplated the possibility that souls exist in animals, plants, and people; however, the currently accepted definition of animism was only developed in the 19th century by Sir Edward Tylor, who created it as "one of anthropology's earliest concepts, if not the first".[17]
According to the anthropologist Tim Ingold, animism shares similarities to totemism but differs in its focus on individual spirit beings which help to perpetuate life, whereas totemism more typically holds that there is a primary source, such as the land itself or the ancestors, who provide the basis to life. Certain indigenous religious groups such as the Australian Aborigines are more typically totemic, whereas others like the Inuit are more typically animistic in their worldview.[18]
Just as Christianity can be said to be the experience of being part of the living body of Christ, animism can be said to be the experience of being part of the living biosphere (or even the whole "animate" universe). In this sense, something that is "animate" is simply something that is "alive," and to be an animist is to believe things to be alive that others perceive as "inanimate."

Baron Poster