“We’re going to do a lot of things the museum said we can’t do.” That we did. Last Saturday, Prince Rama held court at the Brooklyn Museum. It got spiritual. There was also glitter.
The Brooklyn band’s life-philosphy/religion/
“The Now Age cannot be named, for once named, it becomes part of a fixed moment in time, and is thus lost. It is not to be confused with the New Age, because there is nothing new about it. It is, always was, and always will be. In the process of writing this, the Now Age will have already eluded itself. The process of reading will vanquish it entirely.” - Prince Rama
Though their aesthetic draws on tropes familiar to those that New Age practitioners trade in – Eastern-influenced music, themes of enlightenment and personal growth, spandex, lots and lots of reverb, etc. – unlike the New Age movement whose focus has dissolved over decades, the Now Age is specific to our modern experience. Taraka and Nimai believe we should be living a spiritually post-apocalyptic lifestyle.
According to the Now Age, the 21st century problem is this: We’ve left the post-modern era behind, but culture today has become something undead, constantly haunted by the past. They dub it “ghost-modernism.” We’re living in an era that provides us access to our whole cultural past simultaneously (thanks to technology) and this makes it dangerously easy to be stuck and fester in nostalgia. It makes it dangerous for symbols (like the ✞) that once had meaning to descend into fashionable kitsch, which Prince Rama pontificates by splattering witch house imagery on cue at their lecture. This part of the doctrine is very reminiscent of Simon Reynolds argument in Retromania, particularly his discussion of “hauntological” culture: Art in which the past is an otherworldly specter.
Prince Rama’s conclusion is that we must live fully in the present moment, accept the past and the future as one, and embrace the potential we all have to live our fullest lives through communal artistic experiences. The disco ball is the new religious symbol (“the mirror ball”) or anything glittery for that matter, as helping to enlighten us to the potential in ourselves and those around us, reflecting and casting light on what’s important: The energy and creativity inside ourselves and those around us. Peace, love, unity, etc etc etc. Just add enough glitter. Of course, they’re aware of the degree of silliness of such incantations. That doesn’t make their message less earnest, just more fun.
So, what’s happening here?
Last week, I participated in Prince Rama’s Now Age lecture at the Brooklyn Museum. After accidentally stumbling through a packed classical performance and the “Herstory” exhibit, I found Nimai Larson and about eight girls dressed in all reflective everything giggling around a bathroom mirror on the fourth floor, applying body glitter with more purpose than any middle schooler I’ve ever met. I quickly learned the band has very specific aesthetic intentions when it comes to face glitter. “Does this look wack or cool?” another volunteer asked. “Wack,” Nimai replied. Self-adhesive face jewels are nothing to fuck around with. I spent about forty minutes getting appropriately sparkled, as Nimai occasionally tried to run down what we’d actually be doing, which in the hectic environment was pretty much a lost cause. “Just keep dancing until the Enya loop stops,” was repeated ad nauseam.
My part in the performance ended up amounting to aggressively glitter bombing a room full of unsuspecting museum-goers who seemed, at best, quite unsure about kids these days. The performance commences with a long droney synth layed under Taraka’s explanation of the Now Age, but soon becomes a dance party involving “future stretches” as the Prince Rama song “Welcome To The Now Age” plays. Our main function, other than dispersing more glitter than any museum janitor will ever be able to remove, was to kneel down before our co-participant who was wearing a silver helmet and holding a disoball – the chosen religious symbol of the Now Age. Finally, as the depraved party climaxes, Taraka was somewhat inexplicably “killed” by being smeared with red velvet cake (the museum wouldn’t allow their usual fake blood.
More than a year ago I started a Tumblr with my bandmate we called Pseudo-Profound Electronic Artists. New Age was creeping its way back into underground culture, and we found a lot of what the artists involved were doing pretty ridiculous. Though we were fans of almost all the artists we poked fun at, we felt someone needed to keep the Brooklyn scene from becoming an unadulterated “hippy free for all,” as Mark Corrigan might call it. As my partner in snark and I ended up becoming our own quasi-new age band, and identifying more with those making culture around us, our blog eventually fizzled out. We realized the worst had happened — we’d become the pseudo-profound artists we once derided, and that was probably ok. This is what I believe Prince Rama accomplish in the Now Age, by making us question why all of us take ourselves, our art, and our beliefs so goddamn seriously. Really, what is keeping you from wearing gold spandex more often?
The spectacle was followed by a Q & A portion — some art-related inquiry, followed by Taraka responding with “what to you think?” in a tone that was winking but sincere. At least one question about the use of humor in their performance was very on point.
It’s clear that though Taraka and Nimai are dead-serious about their philosophy, a big part of why it works is they recognize how silly it seems, and play this up to the point of absurdity, getting people who’d rather die than admit to liking anything Enya had touched to at least laugh, and let the performance in, a little bit. Who could truly not enjoy a group of gleeful sequin-clad dancers rapturously flinging shiny stuff everywhere while Taraka Larson discusses “the mirrorball as panopticon?”
“Do you think real conceptual art can still exist or is everything just about partying and having fun now?” asked someone who did not seem to much approve of ‘fun.’ “I think the best kind of art is the kind you don’t realize is happening because you’re experiencing it,” Taraka replied with a smile.
Personally, I am awed by anyone committed enough to their performance to piss off an institution of art as much as Prince Rama probably did last Saturday. Thank god, or whomever, that there are there are still those out there willing to fuck shit up in the name of transcendence.
(Images: Courtesy Prince Rama and Prince Rama’s Now Age presentation at Clocktower Gallery in 2012 by Sophie Wiener. Video: Aymann Ismail/ANIMALNewYork)