The Ulysses Black Initiative
“One thing is needful: To give style to ones character - a great and rare art! It is practised by those who survey all the strengths and weaknesses of their nature and then fit them into an artistic plan
until every one of them appears as art and reason and weaknesses delight the eye.”F. Nietzsche
The Ulysses Black Initiative began as a series of magico-artistic operations in which the artist sought to find himself through a campaign of ritualised art practices. The term 'Initiative' has been used to designate this work as operating along principles of Initiation ('initiative' = 'the power of initiating'). Initiation is a specific branch of ritual that concerns the (experiential) presentation of something new, with the aim of inducing shifts in perceptual alignment, thereby causing significant and lasting change and is part of a linear process of transformation (which is to say, the principle with initiation is that it cannot be 'undone'). The work covered by the Ulysses Black Initiative all carries personal magical significance through artistic practices and is not immediately representative of any established 'magical path', with an additional aspect of the dissemination of the ideas with to audiences.
In its current phase, the Ulysses Black Initiative is focused on the development of the Ritual research, and seeking new ways for the artist to embody ritual.
The bulk of the first phase (2008-2009) is covered in the publication The Voyage of Ulysses Black (1st and expanded 2nd editions). Material following that detailed in that book has not at this time been gathered for publication. details appear below. What follows is a reverse chronology of work that forms part of the Ulysses Black Initiative:
RITUAL RITUAL RITUAL
A Performance Lecture on the Practice of Ritual
Over the past two years Ulysses Black has sought to find different ways of presenting information on his research into the practice of ritual to audiences that combine both ritual practitioners, artists, and otherwise interested performance patrons. In this latest work, the artist sought to create a lecture on the subject of ritual practice that avoided any specific ritual contexts, instead drawing on the lecture format itself as a context. Added to this, the aim was to create a journey for audiences that would through repeated motifs enable an audience of different experience and knowledge, to engage with and even directly participate in a performance experience that would begin as a lecture, and gradually become increasingly encoded, until such a point that the audience found themselves as instrumental participants within a lecture of ritual that had somehow become itself a ritual of a lecture on ritual practice.
The structure followed three distinct 'lectures' which ran in sequence and which used complex repeating motifs to orchestrate the conditions of ritual within a lecture context, leading the audience through an external induction, and resulting in full immersion within a ritual. While drawing on seven specific 'lessons' on the practice of ritual being detailed on seven different free-standing, self illuminated blackboards.
A communication and exploration performance created for a 1-to-1 performance festival in Munich. The work consisted of a game ostensibly without rules or aim. Between the two participants, Ulysses Black and a guest, a non-linguistic dialogue is entered into through the deliberated placing and composition of objects and actions. Meaning is rapidly derived through contemplation, and acted on triggering further apparent meaningfulness. From random objects and the freedom to move and act as desired, a system of rules is established and challenged.
Apophenia was initially designed to be a performance in response to the invitation to perform at the festival. It was during one specific game that its relevance within the Ulysses Black Initiative became apparent when the guest bent three tickets and placed them emulating 'chase the lady'. In retrospect the work forms a direct evolution of the Magician card from the tarot and concerns the manipulation of objects within a perceived 'game space' while drawing direct and indirect observations on the wider world.
The subject of this work and its magical applications are specifically discussed within two forth-coming publications, one being prepared by the Munich venue, and the other by Ulysses Black.
An Invocation of Ritual
As part of my own campaign process of invoking ritual, adhering to my own threefold methodology, the transition from 3rd Perceptual Position to 2nd was marked by the devising and performance of a ritual that addressed the matter of invocation (and in this case, the invocation of ritual).
This was in essence a 'meta-ritual' - a ritual to affect ritual. In doing so the ritual entailed numerous congruent aims which formed a matrix that directly reflects the complexity the unfolds within ritual in general. The aims were:
1) For me to formally mark the invocation of ritual through ritual action. This meant using not only invocatory practices, but also referencing general ritual practices as a means to identify 'ritual' as the object of devotion.
The ritual included: contemplation, attention direction, repetition, divination, adoration, sacrifice, and circumnavigation.
2) Alongside the ritual seven spoken word audio tracks play out in sequence, timed with the seven revolutions that form the body of the ritual. These detail the process of invocation, describing my developing notions of the tripartite formula of Priest, Lover and God. This ritual marks a transition point from Priest to Lover.
3) by way of content, the ritual employ ed my own biographical details as they relate to my life with ritual. This formed the visual substance of the ritual by way of artefacts and fetish items. This included: the sequential donning and removal of seven Ulysses Black T-shirts, indicating the repetition of the seven days of the week.
These when removed were 'sacrificed' in a heap within a salt circle that surrounded the suspended 7-foot chart that details my ritual research. This chart became the 1st-stage (Priestly) object of devotion and veneration. It signified the god-made-word.
A salt 'triangle of summoning' in the centre of the room marked the locus of evocation. within this was my black circular mirror (as featured in the Summer of Love work, and numerous other operations dating back to the Exploration phase of the Initiative). Upon this, in the centre was a small mound of salt with a single chicken egg as the ovum (Atu 14) awaiting the fertilizing (Atu 15) arrival of the god. Within this egg, which formed the focal point of the ritual, the 'god' 'ritual' would be summoned.
Opposite the chart, and facing it across the black draped room, was a table upon which was a silver bowl filled with black paint, creating yet another black mirrored circle. This was the skyring surface. Next to it was a paper pad onto which the recieved sigils were drawn. Opposite the pad was a stack of the seven magical diaries i have filled since i began my MA in Ritual Performance (which were the ‘greater days’ in fractal reflection of the t-shirts of Ulysses Black).
These various objects conspired to produce a ritual sequence that was both a cyclic invocation in its own right, but also formed a biographical account of the invocatory campaign in the greater.
At the climax of the ritual, the egg was uplifted from its place on the black mirror void, within the triangle of salt (an ‘eie’ in the triangle, signifying ‘god’ was a pun buried within the centre of the work) and carried over to the skrying bowl. The egg was then cracked into the bowl and the paint was stirred. In this action the egg as receptacle for the ingress of the godform, was now added to the black paint, (in a manner that recalls the use of egg tempera within renaissance painting).
Within the rubric of magical ritual, the egg, charged with the evoked godform (evocation being distinct from invocation), when added to the paint transmits and charges it also. The paint was stirred with the papers on which the sigils seen in the paint had been drawn, again bringing its own outpourings (as mediated by Ulysses Black) back into the paint.
The bowl of paint, that black mirror from which the name Black hails, is taken to the large suspended diagram, and upon which is now daubed the outline - head and shoulders and flanks - of a faceless figure. From the text of the chart, through the mediation of ritual and ritualist, the god ‘ritual’ is beginning to emerge... to arrive...
Jan 2013 (ongoing)
Sallis Benny Theatre
Brighton Dec 2012
The Conservation of Angular Momentum as a Theoretical structure within the Practice of Ritual.
A presentation delivered at the Under Construction performance showcase for the Performance & Visual Practices MA at Brighton University. The aim of the presentation had been to convey a specific theory of ritual practice under development by the artist, concerning the rotation and the structure of a vortex as a means of describing the affect of acceleration of ritual, and the slowing down of time that accompanies competence.
The presentation also offered the chance to test means of delivering information. In this case, all of the tables were covered in paper tablecloths, allowing the artist to linger at different table at different periods, and draw specific diagrams to illustrate the different points being made. Doing this granted different tables degrees of 'privilege' with a hope of bringing them further into the performance.
Ritual Research: Padstow Mayday and the Catalyst Club
This piece of work took the form of a field investigation of the Padstow Mayday celebration in Cornwall. Ulysses Black is fortunate enough to have immediate family living in Padstow who are of the Old Blood, and who take central roles in the famous Mayday festivities. The purpose of the trip was less to document the celebration, and more to discover and experience the subtleties of the ritual from as close to an 'insiders point of view' as possible.
Besides adding general information to the Ritual Research, the results included a short monograph on the ritual practice itself, a series of images and a presentation delivered to the Catalyst Club in Brighton (a monthly event in which interesting people talk about interesting things). Unfortunately there are no images of the talk, although a review of it can be read here.
Mayday (May 1st)
Scarlet Imprint: Summer of Love
Durational performance followed by talk at the 'Summer of Love' event/conference organised by Scarlet Imprint.
"I arrived at the venue with several items I would need for my days activities. A fresh new kilner jar into which I decanted four jars of honey. Under one arm was a circular black mirror, and under the other a red altar cloth upon which is emblazoned a gold silk star of babalon (made for me by the delectable Stevi Jelbart of Ophelia Fancy). I had a moment to catch up with Peter Grey and Alkistis of Scarlet Imprint, followed by a quick introduction to the other speakers of the day. I then moved and set up my performance space: a small table against the wall upon which was placed upright the mirror. In front of this was the kilner jar of honey. I sat on a child's chair and began to stare into the mirror. I had informed Peter that I would be doing this continuosly from now until i was due to take the stage. I had not really considered that, as a result, I would miss every single talk of the day. As with my performance at the Scarlet Imprint 'Diabolical' book launch at London's Horse Hospital, I managed to be entirely present and yet completely removed. An attitude, I suppose, that reflects my own presence in the so-called wider 'esoteric community'.
Slowly the day wore on. Let's not beat about the bush, staring at your own reflection for 6.5hrs is not as narcissistic as you might think, and is really a rather profound and unsettling ordeal.
Eventually, Peter came to find me and, following a sprint to the toilet, (yes, crossed legs for well over 2hrs) I took to the stage. From staring at myself in silence, I now stood and looked out over the crowd and began to speak.
This was going to be an 'off the cuff' talk about myself and identity within magical practice. I had a few key words on some post-its, but other just delivered a 40minute talk while my eyes swam and my mind kept finding itself performing double-takes. Delivering a free-style presentation straight after such an ordeal is really rather a challenge as the mind struggles to free itself from the strangeness of its previous task.
This was the occasion when the artist acknowledged publicly that author on sorcery, Jack Macbeth, was a mask for artist Ulysses Black. The presentation drew to a conclusion with the tipping of a large kilner jar of honey over his head.
A film of the talk was made by sittingnow.co.uk and is viewable here.
Brighton Aug 2010
Ritual Research (Practice): Hunting Bison
In collaboration with artist Matthew Delahunt, Ulysses Black embarked on 24hr continuous ritual action in the Forest of Dean. The aim was to get 'back to basics' in regards to art practice through the continuous performance of some 54 meaningless actions each lasting twenty minutes. Accompanying this was a 24hr fast with only water and sleep deprivation.
The structure was devised by oscillating between circular and linear processes combined with a revolving sequence of action, mark making and environmental transformation. This included the marking of trees, the patrolling of stations, the repetitive scraping of sticks... whatever repetitive tasks the artists could conceive that adhered to the conditions set. The process of continuous action rapidly took its toll as energy levels plummeted, night fell and rain penetrated the tree cover. By the end, both artists were delirious, hallucinating and profoundly confused. The entire work concluded, in its fifty-fourth phase with the destruction of all created forms and the concealing of personal tracks.
The purpose of the ordeal had been to stalk and trap the 'bison' - a cipher for an unknown subject relating to art derived from the famous cave paintings of Altimira (Spain). And yet we had never really settled on a precise identity behind the analogous bison. It was while stood in the pitch dark, listening to rain dripping sporadically into the leaf litter, as both artists patrolled back and forth between two trees, that we realised, perhaps the only way to track and find an unknown thing, was to become lost in the darkness while doing meaningless things... It seemed to work.
The entire operation is detailed and documented in a small book, currently being prepared for publication.
Friston Forest, Sussex Aug 2010
Exploration in Mythology 9: A Return to the Point: To Hit the Nail on the Head
The final performance ritual in the Explorations in Mythology series took the form of an exhibition in which the various films, artwork and relics of the previous explorations where presented on immaculate white plinths. Ulysses Black sat motionless on the central plinth, blindfolded for the duration of the exhibition. With twenty minutes before the official close of the exhibition, he was helped from the plinth, and as his assistants dismantled the exhibition about him, he stripped of his clothing revealing on his torso the 'as below - so above' axiom that had driven much of the work.
Moving to the plinth that was designated Exploration 9 he retrieved a ground polished nine inch nail and a boxwood mallet returning, still blindfolded to his central plinth. Kneeling behind this he began to draw a continuous circle some 1001 times. This was the 'eye of the cyclops' and recalled both the eclipsed sun of 1999 and the subsequent circular black mirrors that have been part of his symbolic and practical ritual arsenal. Trance was induced, while careful use of contact microphones within the plinth gave rise to a surround sound amplification of the marker on wood, filling the space with a droning sound.
When the climactic moment arrived the blindfold was removed the nail was driven into the heart of the circle, and the Cyclops in effect, vanquished. The reference to 'returning to the point' that formed the name served to close a period of work that began with the magical operation described in the essay 'Getting to the Point' published in Scarlet Imprint's 2008 book Howlings and concerned a working performed in 1999 underneath the total solar eclipse above the island of Alderney.
A more in depth account of this and the other explorations is found in the publication The Voyage of Ulysses Black.
Exploration 8: The Voyage of Ulysses Black
This exploration took the form of the book of the same name. It concerned the documentation and capturing of ephemeral ritual performance, and concretizing the mythology that was emerging as a result of the UB-Initiative. Where ritual practices allow the participant the chance to develop meaningfulness, Exploration 8 sought to chart and plot the developing meaningfulness within the life and mission of Ulysses Black. This recapitulation of the work thus far enabled a deeper grasping of the entire schema of the practice.
THE ULYSSES BLACK LAMEN
The three part design that makes the whole of the Ulysses Black Lamen has its origin as a motif created by Ulysses Black and initially executed by Adrian Dobbie as the symbol for the 'Silver Star Associates' a collective of magical practitioners around the end of the previous century founded by and including among others, Ulysses, Adrian Dobbie and Peter Grey.
Since that Time the motif has been directly appropriated by Ulysses Black as a result of his constant wearing of the imagery in different guises including on his iconic black t-shirts during various performances within the Ulysses Black Initiative. Over the years, and in response to reflection on experiences undertaken within the UB Initiative, Ulysses has come to a deeper understanding of the nature of these symbols within his life and artistic mission.
While the subject is more specifically covered within the book The Voyage of Ulysses Black and The Complete Voyage of Ulysses Black, the following form a brief synopsis of the symbols. Perhaps if you find yourself in agreement you may be interesting in taking part in the UBInitiative
All words and images on www.ulyssesblack.com copyright 2014.