Brian Butler’s Magick Act

For the Los Angeles artist BRIAN BUTLER, magic (or “magick,” as the case may be) is as modern as technology. Certain teachings may be ancient, he notes, but that doesn’t make them any less relevant. “In the modern world of computers, the same energies are still operating,” he says.

BUTLER was premiering his film, “The Dove and the Serpent” at the LAXART Annex in Hollywood, and a gritty, glamorous crowd had gathered to watch a live musical performance featuring the legendary underground filmmaker KENNETH ANGER. Initially drawn together by a shared interest in Aleister Crowley and the occult, BUTLER and ANGER have worked together for more than a decade, BUTLER producing ANGER’s last few films and acting as creative director of the trippy short he made for Missoni’s fall 2010 campaign. ANGER appears with VINCENT GALLO in BUTLER’s film “Night of Pan,”

… and the two also formed the band Technicolor Skull. On Wednesday night the spry 84-year-old ANGER accompanied his guitar-playing protégé, teasing ferocious sounds from his theremin as BUTLER’s film screened behind them. (And no, the man in the black hooded robe wasn’t ANGER; the auteur was wearing a purple T-shirt emblazoned with a prismatic skull, orange pants and a matching baseball cap.)

A still from BUTLER’s new film, “The Dove and the Serpent.”

Part of “Images and Oracles,” Butler’s first solo exhibition, “The Dove and the Serpent” is a meditation on alchemy; the title references the Hermetic principle “as above, so below.” Filmed at a castle in Normandy, France, with some friends he rounded up during Paris fashion week last fall, including Dash Snow’s sister Caroline and the cinematographer Edouard Plongeon, whose family provided the locale, the two-and-a-half minute piece is beautiful, hypnotic and vaguely sinister. Shadowy figures shape-shift and meld with the elements, occult symbols flash and fade, and there is some covetable fashion on display, including a Masonic robe and an ivory silk gown by the London designer Qasimi.

The film screens on a loop in the gallery, projected between four cubes covered in alchemical symbols and standing on pillars. “People often think of a goat’s head or these pagan ideas, but these are cubes,” BUTLER says. “I felt like it was an interesting way to blend these arcane teachings with a modernist setting.” He compares the forms, two black and two white, to “machines or maps of the astral world,” adding that they can “get rather complex, like a Rubik’s Cube. Once you turn it, it can be difficult to get back to where you were.”

“Images and Oracles” is up through June 18 at LAXART Annex, 1520 North Cahuenga Boulevard, Los Angeles;

Steffie Nelson
The New York Times Magazine