In 2012 Min Wong was awarded The Qantas Foundation’s Encouragement of Australian Contemporary Art Award, which included substantive Qantas airfares. The artist had, for some time, been fascinated by notions of arcane belief systems and variations of occult arcana. Now she had the opportunity to visit the hotbed of contemporary New Age beliefs, the home of Charles Manson and Heaven’s Gate: California.
When Italian theorist Umberto Eco discussed California he cited Dashiell Hammett’s The Dain Curse (1929) with its central figure, a charismatic prophet who has established a Holy Grail cult; “naturally set in California — where else?” (Umberto Eco, Faith in Fakes, Essays, (Secker & Warburg, London, 1986) pp.97-99). Eco in fact echoes Hammett whose central character notes that: “They brought their cult to California because everybody does….” (Dashiell Hammett, The Dain Curse, (Alfred A. Knopf, 1929) p. 89).
Cults and/or utopian communities have been legion in America’s history. This history is particularly byzantine in Los Angeles. As Mike Davis notes in his book Ecology of Fear; “Kooky religious cults and (un)natural disaster… became pea and pod in Los Angeles fiction after 1930. The initial coupling of the two had, however, been made nearly a century earlier, when, according to the Reverend William Money, Jesus Christ accosted him on a New York Street corner and ordered him to go west, to Los Angeles” (Mike Davis, Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster (Henry Holt and Company, 1998) pp.304-305).
This was, after all, the Los Angeles of bizarre cults. A zone where “physics and metaphysics continued to rub shoulders in a variety of weird circumstances,” writes Davis. A land where “Luciferian Magick” met “Cal Tech and the founders of the American Rocket State, and then, through an extraordinary ménage á trois, to the first world religion created by a science fiction writer”(Mike Davis, City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles (Verso, 1990) p. 59). Davis was referring to the strange confluence in the 1940s of rocket scientist Jack Parsons, occultist Aleister Crowley and science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard who founded Scientology.
Wong’s explorations have thus far led to The Innocents – a group of works that hint at the strange world(s) of belief systems, faith, rapture and seduction that alternate religions inspire. The works clearly question how we desire transformation and how we come to believe and hope for a greater power, even, at times, at the hands of charlatans.