More than 40 participants huddled against the cold of an early December day to help Norm Girardot, professor of religion studies, and a small group of local artists consecrate the outsider art enclave on South Mountain.
The group’s hour-long sacred ritual took place Thursday afternoon in a clearing in the woods about halfway up South Mountain, where works such as the “Throne of Regeneration” and the “Glass-Shard Shrine of Elvis” were honored in a colorful ceremony that was both solemn and light-hearted. The ritual—as well as the field itself—is the result of several semesters of work in the class “Raw Vision: Creativity and Ecstasy in the Work of Shamans, Mystics and Outsider Artists,” that is taught by Girardot.
The ritual, which started at precisely 2:42 p.m., opened with a procession led by Girardot and the local artists who contributed to the enclave: Mr. Imagination (also known as Mr. I), Sue Small, and Loly Kinney. Many of the participants wore red headbands with an eye in the center, in honor of Mr. I. Others pounded on drums, banged a gong, dispersed bubbles or “mass-hummed” kazoos
“Cosmic forces are at work,” said Girardot of the confluence of events that led to this moment. “This is a wonderful feeling, particularly because others are joining in this celebration of creativity.”
Each of the artists discussed the motivation behind their individual works of art, which are now added to the body of work created by the shamans, mystics and artists that Girardot refers to as “technicians of spirit.”
“They’re the creative entrepreneurs of human culture who expressively create and produce something new in the world as a revitalization of forgotten aspects of our world,” he said. “They’re the creative masters of visionary experience that journeyed to other worlds for their own sake, and for the sake of the larger community and the environment.”
Students in Girardot’s class also contributed to the outsider art enclave, such as art major Ed Williams ’05, who wove black, white, and yellow ribbons to imply a universal connectivity between the races.
“I feel the black may also represent death, the white, life, and the yellow may represent ascension into heaven,” Williams said. “It’s not possible to have one without the other two—they are all of equal importance. These notions of relatedness and connectivity help us move into the alternate reality we’ve created here.”
Girardot added that the ritual revived not only the spirit of the plateau, but the spirits of the student body as well.
“It shows that human beings are capable of doing anything, especially with their imaginations.”
and Linda Harbrecht
Photos by John Kish IV