TONIGHT: Art show at Cairo, Swahili LP release show at Chop Suey

•May 14, 2015 • Leave a Comment

So much exciting stuff going on tonight!

I was recently appointed as the new co-curator of visual art exhibitions with Katherine Humphreys at Cairo in Capitol Hill. Tonight our first exhibition opens from 7 to 9 pm, featuring fiber art by Colleen RJC Bratton, painting and installation by Isabel Blue, and ceramics by Brier Kaik (aka Kiln Witch). Please stop by!

Isabel Blue

Isabel Blue, Fault Lines #8. Monoprint, grease pencil on paper, 2015

After that, tonight is also the Seattle album release party for AMOVREUX, the new LP by Portland-based experimental pop quintet Swahili, which has just been released on Translinguistic Other. Swahili has been one of my favorite bands for a very long time, and we put out their 2012 debut album as well. I’m so excited to be sharing this gorgeous new record with the world. It comes with two original tarot cards and a download code! (Stream / order here.)


Midday Veil plays Swahili’s LP release show tonight at Chop Suey with Newaxeyes and DJ Explorateur.  Show starts at 8 pm. Hope to see you there!

swahili lp release poster


•February 22, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Tonight is the opening of my exhibition Drawing God from Direct Observation at Seattle University’s Hedreen Gallery. A snapshot of an ongoing project that has been many years in the making, this show includes music, video, drawings, an installation of a miniature version of my library, and a slide lecture about just a few of the artists throughout history who have experienced “visions of eternity” and attempted to render them in physical form.

Kelton Sears recently interviewed me for Seattle Weekly and posted a preview of the show here. See you there!


Emily Pothast, "Nova (Noumenon)." Prismacolor and collage on paper, 2015.

Emily Pothast, “Nova (Noumenon).” Prismacolor and collage on paper, 2015.


Why Islamophobia is Never Just About ‘Religion’

•January 11, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Last Wednesday, I awoke to the horrible news that twelve people in Paris had lost their lives in a militant Islamist attack on the headquarters of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical newspaper known for their irreverent comics about religion, which included unsavory depictions of the Prophet Muhammad. Around the world, millions of people took to the streets in protest, grief, and indignation.

And why wouldn’t they?  Freedom of expression, that sacred cornerstone of free, democratic societies, had been violently assaulted by an act so egregious, so unimaginably heinous, that many turned to the word “barbaric,” a word we’ll examine more closely in a moment.

Protesters hold a vigil in Paris in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks, January 7, 2015

Protesters hold a vigil in Paris in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks, January 7, 2015

News and social media outlets responded to this tragedy at a pace that some deemed insensitive, given the cold reality of the murders. Artists around the world responded by publishing defiant, at times poignant cartoons in solidarity with the magazine, championing them as martyrs of free speech. Others asserted that the crudely blasphemous humor of the cartoons represented a right that was perhaps better off not being exercised. Still others, notably Rupert Murdoch and Richard Dawkins, contended that until peaceful Muslims “destroy the growing jihadist cancer” in their ranks, all of Islam must be held accountable for the killings.

Indeed, the idea that “all of Islam” must be held responsible for acts of terrorism; or even that Islam is a target which should be unequivocally open to ridicule is not a marginal one, but a rather mainstream view that has been espoused by Christians and atheists alike. Atheists like Dawkins, Sam Harris and Bill Maher extend this sentiment into a blanket condemnation of “all religion,” or at least religion as they identify it.

Here’s where things get sticky.

Yeni Cami  - New Mosque, Istanbul

Yeni Cami (New Mosque), taken on my recent trip to Istanbul

When a contemporary atheist starts talking about religion, he is almost invariably referring to a formal institution of faith such as Christianity or Islam. He is forgetting, as the great culture theorist Walter Benjamin has asserted, that “capitalism is a pure religious cult, perhaps the most extreme there ever was.”

Indeed, when we consider that human beings have been “religious” longer than we’ve been fully human—there is evidence that Neanderthals engaged in burial rituals before we had even evolved the linguistic apparatus necessary for forming speech—the boundary between what constitutes “religion,” (Latin re+ligare, literally “to bind”) and what constitutes culture at large starts to get a lot fuzzier.

In a 2014 interview with Slate, religious historian Karen Armstrong reminds us that

“Every state ideology before the modern period was essentially religious. Trying to extract religion from political life would have been like trying to take the gin out of a cocktail. Things like road-building were regarded as a sort of sacred activity.”

She goes on to assert that the separation of church and state borne of the modern era has given rise to a more subtle form of religious activity, the nation-state as quasi-religious cult:

“If you regard the sacred as something for which we are willing to give our lives, in some senses the nation has replaced God, because it’s now not acceptable to die for religion, but it is admirable to die for your country.”

Jon McNaughton - Stand Your Ground

Jon McNaughton, “Stand Your Ground”

According to a definition used by many religious studies textbooks, “a religion is an organized collection of beliefs, cultural systems and worldviews that relate humanity to an order of existence.” Contrary to popular belief, neither gods nor magical thinking need enter the equation for a religion to qualify as such.

In a sense, we are all religious beings, in that we all operate within some worldview or narrative framework that creates a context for our experiences and gives us social cohesion with our peers. Dismissing “religion” as purely primitive superstition is dangerously reductive, because it allows us to contextualize religion as something someone else does, rather than something we’re all doing, all of the time.

Thus, it is my humble opinion that this conversation will never progress until we develop the tools to effectively critique our religions—which includes all of the built-in assumptions we hold sacred—rather than reflexively dismissing the entire category of religion out of ignorance of what it may contain.

The first step to offering a critique of Islam is to understand its context, and here’s where the cries of “racism” that have been posthumously lobbed at Charlie Hebdo’s editors come in: When it comes to Islam, issues of race and political power are always a subtext.

This is not to say that Islam is a “race” or should be taken as such, any more than it is one monolithic institution. But as Palash Ghosh noted in a lucid 2012 op-ed for the International Business Times,

“While most anthropologists and ethnologists would regard many Middle Eastern peoples as “Caucasian” (or, in the popular vernacular, “white’), Western media and the general public do not accept that notion. Instead, they seek to “exoticize” and “stigmatize” Middle Easterners (particularly Muslims) as something “foreign” and representing the “other.”

Thus, we live in a bizarre Twilight Zone world where Greeks, Armenians and Israelis are generally considered “white” (because they are Christian or Jewish), while Turks, Persians and most Arabs are considered “non-white” (because they are mostly Muslim or non-Christian). This, despite the fact that there are virtually no substantial physical differences between any of these aforementioned peoples.”

Ingres - Odalisque with a Slave

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, “Odalisque with a Slave,” 1842.

From its adoption as the state religion of the Roman Empire in the 4th century CE, Christianity has been engaged in the unfortunate practice of impressing its identity on whomever it happened to come into contact with in the guise of saving the “heathens” and “barbarians”—both concepts with racist, imperialist undertones—from themselves. While the post-Christian secular mythologies may have done away with this God in theory, the idea of the West’s privileged position atop a global hierarchy of objective correctness remains thoroughly unchallenged among today’s most vocal popular atheists. (One need only read the mad, egocentric ramblings of the once-brilliant Richard Dawkins in his old age to discern that while God might be dead, fundamentalist Western exceptionalism is alive and kicking.)

Islam, on the other hand, aims to hold submission to Allah as its highest virtue. Whether this “submission” plays out as Sharia Law or Sufi ecstasy is dependent upon a whole host of other factors, however the West’s problems with racism and oppression have given Islam a unique opportunity to stand as a magnet for those oppressed at the fringes of global hegemony.

In his 1992 essay and book Jihad vs. McWorld, Benjamin R. Barber contends that the struggles that define our era are not about religion versus non-religion, but rather a political struggle between tribalism and globalization. Tribalism manifests itself as the Jihadists’s struggle to preserve an increasingly marginalized “old way of life” that is under threat of assimilation into the Great Satan, i.e. the Borg of Globalization, a battle that is perhaps as old as the mythical battle between the sons of Adam and Eve: Cain the industrialized planter and his brother, Abel the nomadic shepherd.

In America, the power of Islam to attract the economically and politically disenfranchised as an alternative to the white man’s God has manifested itself in the Nation of Islam, the black power religion that gave us Malcom X and Louis Farrakhan. To that end, I just rewatched Spike Lee’s 1992 biopic based on the Autobiography of Malcom X. I highly recommend a revisiting of Malcom X’s story for its crucial insights into the context of racial, social, and political oppression that underlies so many current events, from Ferguson to Al Qaeda.

Malcom X

Malcom X

While it’s true that some of the world’s wealthiest countries are Muslim, it is worth noting that these powerful regimes are the beneficiaries of alliances with the US and Europe. Meanwhile, more Muslims have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan since the beginning of the so-called “War on Terror” than the US lost in World Wars I and II combined. The atrocities of war do not justify the moral scourge of terrorism, of course, but it is a mistake to read terrorism as purely a response to religious offense when Muslim writers like Asghar Bukhari would like for us to understand that for the Muslim world, terrorism occurs within the context of a state of war and instability cultivated and perpetuated by the West, and from which the West benefits.

In conclusion, I would like to reassert my viewpoint that while obviously no one working for Charlie Hebdo deserved to be killed for any reason, religious, political or otherwise, we must also understand the killing and oppression that is being undertaken in the Muslim world every day in our name, and condemn this killing as vociferously as we condemn the acts of terrorists.  Only when we begin to unravel the global context of the lure of Islamic extremism do we stand a chance of combating its influence and ending the perpetual reign of fear.

Parallel Trajectories: U N I V E R S E S at Vignettes + Midday Veil at Hypnotikon

•November 13, 2014 • Leave a Comment

File under: Burning the proverbial doobie at both ends…

Emily Pothast - Quasi

Emily Pothast. “Quasi,” Collage and drawing on paper, 2014.

I’m busy a lot, but this week has been one of the most exciting weeks I’ve had in recent memory. Not only have I been working my day job at Cairo and creating works on paper for U N I V E R S E S, my first solo drawing show in over 5 years at  Vignettes, which opens/closes tonight (November 13) from 7 – 10 pm; my bandmate David and I have been spending every night this week working with a wonderful group of singers to adapt three songs from the upcoming, unreleased Midday Veil album for a vocal ensemble.

In the gnostic poem the Thunder: Perfect Mind, the cosmic speaker who has identified herself as both The Whore and the Holy One declares,

“I am the voice whose sound is manifold.”

Midday Veil + Apocalypse Singers

Midday Veil rehearses with the Apocalypse Singers, 11/12/14

How can I even begin to explain the feeling of having these songs, to which I served as midwife as they wrestled themselves into existence, sung back to me in the form of a glorious lady hydra, with all its implications of eternity?  I can’t; thankfully music moves freely where words fail.

We perform at the Triple Door tomorrow night (November 14) at 8 pm sharp to kick off year two of Hypnotikon: Seattle Psych Fest. I’m excited to share all the images I’ve been working on, both musical and visual. Hope to see some familiar faces at Vignettes tonight and Hypnotikon tomorrow!

Emily Pothast - drawings

Sneak peek inside my flat file at drawings for the show at Vignettes

Midday Veil's Apocalypse Singers

Midday Veil’s Apocalypse Singers, left to right: Kate Ryan, Emily Stoner, Rachel Green, Rachael Ferguson

Midday Veil and Swahili Fall 2014 Tour Dates

•September 28, 2014 • Leave a Comment

My band Midday Veil and our friends and labelmates Swahili from Portland are doing a run of West Coast dates together in October 2014.

Midday Veil + Swahili Fall tour 2014

Midday Veil and Swahili’s Fall 2014 tour dates:

10/3  Swillery Whiskeybar, Bellingham, WA w/ Spider Ferns, Urban Fantasy
10/4 Art Signified Psych Fest at Red Gate, Vancouver, BC
10/5 The Northern, Olympia, WA w/ Total Life
10/6 Kenton Club, Portland, OR w/ Coronation
10/7 Siren’s Song Tavern, Eureka, CA w/ White Manna
10/8 The Hemlock, San Francisco, CA
10/9 Del Monte Speakeasy, Los Angeles, CA w/WHQLES
10/10 Holland Project, Reno, NV
10/11 1078 Gallery, Chico, CA

The Mysteries of the Mystic Lamb, An Introduction

•September 19, 2014 • 1 Comment
Jan Van Eyck, The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb

Jan Van Eyck, The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb. The Ghent Altarpiece, 1432.

Those who know me well are aware that I am very nearly obsessed with the Ghent Altarpiece by Jan Van Eyck;  specifically the lower central panel of the interior, also known as The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb. The mystical, geometric, and apocalyptic properties of this painting are exceedingly subtle, however once we are initiated into its mysteries, we discover a strange, miraculous painting-within-a-painting that is, like the Kingdom of Heaven it portrays, “hidden in plain sight where men do not see it.”

To be clear: the geometric properties to which I am referring are neither obvious nor visible with the naked eye, at least not immediately. Rather they emerge, to those for whom they emerge, like a three-dimensional stereogram from the picture plane (not unlike an infinitely more sophisticated version of those “Magic Eye” posters that alternately delighted and confounded suburban mall-goers in the 1990s).

In 2009, upon spending several tightly nested eternities absorbing the ecstatic splendor of this strange painting, I managed to codify some of my observations regarding its esoteric optic properties in the form of a blog post called Eyes All Around Five years later, I consider this post among my favorite things I’ve written, so I recommend getting caught up if you haven’t yet read it, since it is foundational to the paragraphs that follow.

Last night I attended a lecture on the Ghent Altarpiece by art historian Rebecca Albiani at the Frye Art Museum. Ms. Albiani is an adept speaker, and her insight into the art historical significance of the altarpiece was well worth the price of admission. I was somewhat surprised to note, however, that while she spent several minutes talking about the figures of Van Eyck’s donors that adorn the exterior panels of the altarpiece, she spent almost no time at all on the “Mystic Lamb,” the glorious climax of the altarpiece and arguably the single finest achievement of Northern Renaissance painting, if not the history of European painting.

Jan Van Eyck, The Ghent Altarpiece (closed)

Jan Van Eyck, The Ghent Altarpiece (closed)

After the lecture, I asked her about this oversight. Was it because she was running out of time? Or was she simply less interested in the more esoteric aspects of the altarpiece’s interior?

“I’m kinda less interested in it,” was her honest reply.  Her response did not come as much of a surprise, nor did I find it particularly disappointing.

Art history is—or at least aspires to be—a sober, secular subject. As James Elkins explains in his essential text, On the Strange Place of Religion in Contemporary Art, this is because the category of “art,” as defined by museums, institutions and the existence of an “art world,” is a fundamentally modern construct. Participation in this construct assumes a certain intellectual impartiality, even transcendence of the limited structures of traditional belief systems.

Art historians don’t often expound on the “mystical” properties of mystical paintings for the same reasons that most people don’t tend to walk around in their day-to-day lives preaching wisdom gleaned from ecstatic, prophetic states. Either (1) they aren’t gleaning wisdom from ecstatic states (2) they are, but they don’t want to seem insane.

(Indeed, perhaps it is prudent to leave the cultivation of true insanity up to the artists!)

The slippery nature of transcendent experiencelike the one encoded in the mysteries of the Mystic Lambis such that it is notoriously difficult to capture in language. Images often fare better, and so we are blessed as a species with a deep and wonderful lexicon of visual roadmaps of transcendence that rival the even the greatest esoteric texts in their cosmic profundity.

In his midcentury study Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy, religious historian Mircea Eliade drew the distinction between the “cool,” outer, physical and exoteric components of ritual and the “hot,” inner, subjective component of the ritual as lived experience. While the former may be readily communicated, the latter must be directly experienced and felt.

Bas-relief on the Great Porch of Notre-Dame, Paris

Bas-relief on the Grand Portico of Notre-Dame, Paris

Eliade’s distinction between the “cool” outer shell and the “hot” inner experience reminds me of a passage in Fulcanelli’s Le Mystère des Cathédrales, in which the reader’s attention is drawn to a bas-relief of the Virgin on the Grand Portico of Notre-Dame in Paris. In her right hand, she holds two books. One is openly displayed for all to read, while the other is sealed, its contents an impenetrable mystery to the uninitiated.

The Ghent Altarpiece is structured as a physical illustration of this very idea. For most of the year, except for special religious holidays, the altarpiece would have remained closed, its pseudo-architectural trompe l’œil niches barely hinting at the vivid, red-hot visual ecstasy contained within.

Jan Van Eyck, The Ghent Altarpiece (open), 1432

Jan Van Eyck, The Ghent Altarpiece (open), 1432

As an artist, I am particularly fascinated by the mysterious, generative relationship between ecstatic spiritual practice and the codification of visual forms such as the ones implied by the “hidden” geometric properties of The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb.

I am returning to this personal blog after a long hiatus in order to begin collecting thoughts for a series of public lectures that I will be giving next Spring at Seattle University’s Hedreen Gallery in conjunction with an exhibition, which will run from February 18 – April 4, 2015. The heart of this exhibition will be a radical, multimedia expansion of my lecture “How to Draw God from Direct Observation,” which was first performed in May 2014 at Portland, Oregon’s Xhurch as part of PSU’s Portland Center for Public Humanities “Visions” Series.

For the Hedreen exhibition, I will be converting the gallery into a Divine Observatory that will come to life in the context of a series of public lectures and events. This project in particular is something that has been slowly developing as an idea for many years and I’m very excited to see it come to fruition.

The details of this exhibition are still very much up in the air, however I am fairly certain that the mysteries of the Mystic Lamb will be invoked, for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear.

More soon.

Introducing TEP ZEPI, an object / experience by Hair and Space Museum

•June 27, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Hair and Space Museum - TEP ZEPI

A few months ago, Sharon Arnold of LxWxH Gallery asked if David and I would contribute a piece to the June 2014 installment of the gallery’s Subscription Project, a curated box set of editioned art objects.

Since around 2010, David and I have been collaborating on multimedia installations and performances as Hair and Space Museum. We have performed a 12-hour improvisation to overnight audiences at Seattle University’s Hedreen Gallery, contributed a sound and video feedback installation to Bumbershoot 2012, and even performed at a book release party at Family Business Gallery in New York, but as of yet, we have been too busy with our other project Midday Veil to give HSM a proper physical musical release. The LxWxH box set seemed like a great forum for creating a handmade, short run physical release that could also serve as an art object.

Hair and Space Museum - TEP ZEPI

TEP ZEPI is an edition of ten lathe cut 7″ records featuring a 5-minute improvised composition on each side. Inspired by the Voyager 1 Golden Record, as well as a recent re-watch of the 1997 film adaptation of Carl Sagan’s Contact, we decided we wanted to make a special sculptural package for the record that contained instructions for the assembly of an object of unknown origin to accompany the musical experience.

To produce the object, I designed and executed my first ever bookbinding project: a 6-fold, fabric bound, hand silkscreened case for the record that transforms into a freestanding three-dimensional pyramid. The title TEP ZEPI, which translates as “First Time,” refers to an ancient Egyptian creation myth in which key aspects of civilization were handed to the Egyptians by visitors from space.


Hair and Space Museum - TEP ZEPI

The Wave Length box set is currently available in an edition of 10 via LxWxH Gallery. A release party is scheduled for this evening, June 27, at Vermillion Gallery and Bar in Seattle from 6 to 9 pm.

Ambitious projects tend to make you thankful for the talents and generosity of your community, and I would like to extend our gratitude to Mike Dixon of who cut these gorgeous, amazing-sounding records for us; to Jonathan James Carr, who helped me cut out the boards for the covers; to Shaun Kardinal for giving me a refresher course in the Pen Tool while I was designing the covers; to the Vera Project’s silkscreen studio; and to Gala Bent for bookbinding and material advice.