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John M F Casey: The Sanctuary

Enter a staged religious cult on Halloween at The Wayward Gallery in exploration of mystical practices, hallucinogens, and apocalyptic myths

Known for his immersive performance art exploring the internal workings of religious practice, London-based artist John M F Casey (Le Gun / Bare Bones) who has exhibited at galleries like 20 Hoxton Square, Arbeit, and JaguarShoes returns with 'The Sanctuary' presented by NO-WAY & The Wayward Gallery.

Devised as a window into the world of a semi-fictional underground cult, The Sanctuary is Casey's reconstruction of a place of worship that will culminate in a nocturnal performance (on October 31st no less) of a religious ceremony by pharmacist and mystic, Dr Voynitsky. Delving into the links between mystical practice, psychoanalysis and entheogenology (the use of drugs in spiritual practices), the performance will see Dr Voynitsky 'treat' the initiated public visitors - considered as patients as well as disciples. Here we speak to Casey about mystics and alchemists in the 60s and the background to his work...

Dazed Digital: What is it in particular about ceremonies in cults that appeal to you?
John M F Casey:
Obscure cults are the foundations of civilisation, they are where new ideas are experimented with and formulated, for propagation into the wider world, or not as the case may be. The vast edifices of the established religions today all began as a handful of guys and girls sick of the current order and wanting to establish new ways of living and thinking. Ceremonies at their best are an intense, multi-disciplined aesthetic response to the ideas of these thinkers, temples and churches were the first public galleries, so I am very thankful to them as an artist.

DD: Who is Dr Voynitsky / Who inspired the character/figure?
John M F Casey: Dr Voynitsky is a former research psychopharmacist who became a mystic in the 1960s. She was inspired by a vision of the great alchemist Hermes Trimagus who taught her the formula for the mythical substance known as Nigredo. Afterwards she left her scientific career to establish The Sanctuary, which has been operating beneath the radar of history ever since.

DD: How much truth/scientific basis does the ceremony have in terms of the psychological aspects? Is it more about personal beliefs? Or is it purely an experiment in art?
John M F Casey: To begin with “Truth” is eternally elusive, and neither I nor Dr Voynitsky would ever claim to have obtained it, secondly mysticism by its very nature is irrational and thus incompatible with empirical study. The ceremony is not purely anything, as I fail to distinguish between mysticism and art.

DD: What or where would you say is your personal Sanctuary?
John M F Casey: Heroin, ha, no not really, my sanctuary is currently the desolate moorlands of Derbyshire...

The Sanctuary - Private View 25 October 2012 7pm / Halloween Performance: 31 October 2012 8pm / Exhibition visits daily 26 - 31 October; The Wayward Gallery, 47 Mowlem Street, London, E2 9HE