An intermedia work of performance art, sound, and movement, Spiritual Kingdom is an absorbing montage of psychological themes in homage to the 20th century science fiction writer Philip K Dick. This work strongly borrows from imagery described in Dick’s Exegesis, a roughly 8,000-page journal detailing an ongoing series of supernatural experiences from 1974 until his death in 1982.
An abridged version of the Exegesis was finally published in 2011, allowing Dick enthusiasts a chance to climb into the context of these experiences, many of which were detailed more succinctly in the well-known novel Valis. In a 1980 interview for the Denver Clarion, Dick elaborated on the themes in these writings. “It’s the theological study of the in-breaking of futuristic technology, established by supernatural intelligence, into the life of an ordinary, present-day man. It basically deals with this invasion from the future into the present, and the man’s attempts to cope with it.”
Spiritual Kingdom presents as a self-generating sound and visual installation. The work evolves over a seven-day period, culminating in two evening performances. Participation in the evening events is by mail-invitation.
The room was painted entirely gray, including floor and ceiling, and contained household objects, books, furniture, figurines, and framed photographs in a simple arrangement against two walls. A lone 70's style television set was placed at the center of the third wall facing the entrance and had projected from the screen, mediated signals that created random visual patterns of static. The room was meant to be intimate, homey--like a den in a 1970's American home, the time-period during which Dick wrote his Exegesis. A black timer on the wall denoted the ten-minute duration of each performance experience.
The color and surreal aesthetic of the room provided a "windowless universe" that referenced the many hidden worlds of the "true God" VALIS (the vast active living intelligence system). The furniture and objects, within this context, are artifacts transported from a different time-dimension, they experience form degradation (as in UBIK) during the course of the one-week installation. They also represent the phenomenal world of the demiurge, a 'solid' space and closed system, the Black Iron Prison. The Black Iron Prison is the supra-trans-temporal constant, a total mode of social control; everyone is inside it, yet none of us knows it. The timer is an artifact of "the Empire" or "Black Iron Prison" described by Dick as the unseen tyranny of linear time under which we all live.
The Gray Creatures
The gray creatures are a camouflaged personification of the hidden activities of those early, persecuted Christians (the Gnostics of early Rome or of Nag Hamadi), the Dogon People, Thomas (PK Dick's early Christian identity) and other characters throughout modern and pre-modern history that "possessed the truth" (i.e., VALIS) as referred to in the Exegesis. While the gray creatures personified this activity, they are not stand-ins for these figures, or even human at all. Rather, the creatures are the noise created by these figures' illicit work in the shadows of society and between the bars of the Empire.
The gray creatures did not have much or any interaction with participant audience members during the Spiritual Kingdom performances. This is because the creatures did not occupy the same space-time as the participants, but belonged to the continuum of illicit activities prohibited by the Empire. They did, however, send messages into the phenomenal world via radio signals, writing, pink laser beams containing information, and object-movement between different fields of time. These messages revealed schisms in the false continuum of time that represents the phenomenal world of the demiurge. The timer kept track of how long a participant could experience "anamnesis" (loss of forgetting). Gnosis (knowing) was brought to participants by these 'messengers of light.'
Cats were depicted as objects (figurines) or in photographs throughout the room. The cat, an important daily figure in the real life of Dick, was an object animus, a being endowed with special awareness. Dick had a close relationship with his cats (including Pinky, whom he refers to in his Exegesis), who were his constant companions.
Individual 10 minute Performances
Each of the ten-minute performances was for an audience of one in order to facilitate a unique, time-limited, experience of the cosmology described in the work. This was important for three primary reasons:
1. To provide the participant with an unfiltered experience of the installation/performance that was not influenced by the actions, observations, or presence of another human being (I.e., a companion).
2. To absorb the participant into the world created such that the outside world and it's referents disappeared.
3. To create an abrupt ending signifying the ephemeral and unpredictable nature of religious experience.
The performance ended abruptly, signaled by a buzzer on a visible timer.
The audio environment simulates leaking of the living information into the phenomenal world that we can observe. The television, the 6 channel speakers, and radios within the room all leak this material which is both directed and disorganized. The reception is imperfect; some audio appears at the wrong speed, are distorted, or in the wrong temporal order.
Sound material includes period music, contemporary radio broadcasts, direct readings from the exegesis and abstract electronic sounds. Manipulations to the source material simulate that which naturally occurs during imperfect reproduction or radio broadcasts. The many layers occasionally overwhelm the listener, parallel to Dick's experience in which he was bombarded with information faster than he could process it.
An ambient electronic sound bed permeates the vestibule leading into the installation. This environment separates the spiritual kingdom from the outside world and mentally prepares the participant during any wait time to be more receptive to the experience.
Concept: Sara June and Max Lord
Performed by: Sara June and Jane Wang
Sound by: Max Lord
Costuming by: Jane Wang