The Prophet of the Lovely Star famously defined magick as “the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will”, including both mundane acts done via any level of deliberation (clicking the FB icon on yr smartphone) as well as arcane OR mundane acts achieved via ritual (winning the lottery; conjuring a spiritual entity to visible/audible/sensual manifestation). Safe to say the coolest magick is to make something out of nothing — say, make a bowl of boiled kale greens suddenly pop into existence in front of you (better yet, in front of an enemy!); or or make up a song, improvise a movie, write a poem.
There is plenty of documentation that Manhattan in the 60’s and 70’s was filled with people doing just that, meaning ALL the above… understanding that is was pretty much all the same. They knew each other, went to each other’s performances, screenings, gallery openings etc. You can flip through a copy of The Equinox, III:10, the book of essays on Harry Smith, American Magus, Simon’s Dead Names. The same names keep popping up: Ira Cohen, Angus MacLise, Herman Slater, Allen Ginsberg, Harvey Bialy, Larry Kirwan…
Stephen Varble was part of that milieu but one who’s work was pointedly ephemeral and consciously underdocumented. He created moments and when they were over, they existed strictly in the consciousness shifts of his audience. The Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art in Manhattan mounted the first retrospective of this evanescent canon of the 21st century which recently ended. The New York Times gushed:
“The 1970s, when New York City’s budget tanked and trash piled up in the streets, was a golden age of downtown performance art. And no artist shone brighter, or better commanded the street as a stage, or made more transformative use of trash, than Stephen Varble.
“If you happened to be in SoHo on a Saturday in 1975 you might have seen him suddenly appear, dressed in a robe made from chicken bones, tea bags and six-pack holders, for one of his “Costume Tours” of art galleries. And if you followed him — and you did; he was magnetic — as he led you from Leo Castelli to Holly Solomon to some poster shop or other, swooning with mock-delight as he went, you knew you were seeing something you wouldn’t forget.
“Then, within a few years, he was gone — rumored, when he was remembered, to be living uptown, reclusive, attached to a mystical cult until he died in 1984. Soon, for the amnesiac art world, he was gone entirely from the historical record, to which he has now, at long last, been restored by the exhibition “Rubbish and Dreams: The Genderqueer Performance Art of Stephen Varble” at Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art in Manhattan.”
Read the whole article
And here’re some videos: