Members of pseudo Utopian cult THE NOW AGE were in child’s pose, spread around Brooklyn’s ISSUE Project Room‘s floor. In glittering gold belts and headbands, founders of THE NOW AGE Taraka and Nimai Larson, also of the musical group Prince Rama, walked among the cultists ringing bells and misting the air with fragrant water. They looked like aerobics wood sprites in leotards and leg warmers. Chants rung through the air. Swaths of Mylar hung from the walls; plants hung from beams. Two altars displayed sparkly skulls, tinsel, and beads surrounding a monitor on which images of Taraka and Nimai were broadcast. “Now open your eyes,” Taraka said, cutting through the soporific vibe. “Close ‘em. Open. Close. Open. Close. Head to the right,” she said, as the image of her face doubled and separated from itself like a ghostly kaleidesopic apparition leaving her body.
It was 6:20pm on a February evening, and this was the third “exorcise” Prince Rama had done thus far. The group was doing 15-minute sessions every hour on the hour from 4:00pm to midnight. After midnight, the cult would disperse until the next session.
Taraka and Nimai Larson were staging UTOPIA = NO PERSON, the first part of a three-part series they’re presenting at ISSUE Project Room as part of their Artist in Residence appointment. Prince Rama, the pscych band known for creating ritualistic immersive environments at their shows with tribal drums, bells, and Sanskrit chants, used the opportunity to take ritual one step further. They’ve created a pseudo-apocalyptic cult called The Now Age, and with three shows at ISSUE, they will be taking the cult to the end of the world – using the medium of American exercise.
“There’s this weird utopian concept of coming into this gym on a regular basis and going into this usual, ritual space with these other strangers,” said Taraka after the performance.“You’re all forming this bond together. Forming this pact to get this new body. Or get out your anger.” Taraka is interested in how the concept of “eliminating person” can be achieved through music. According to Prince Rama’s proposal, UTOPIA=NO PERSON focuses on the body “as a vehicle for utopian experimentation, encouraging willing participants to undergo a confrontation with personal demons and shedding of individual identity through the physical exhaustion of the body.” Taraka said she was inspired by films on voodoo, particularly those of Maya Deren, and how those mystical elements “sift their way through kitsch and banal activities…. Again, I’m not usually that into exercising. I recently got interested in just the music aspect, and was listening to the background music in a lot of videos. It’s really hypnotic…. but there’s this beat and the whole point of it is to sync your bodies up,” she said remembering the moment she first thought in a deeper way about workout tunes, “exercise music is really weird.”
“Exhaling and clapping hands over head…five, six, seven, eight…we’re all going to make it hotter,” said Taraka half-way through the first performance. People jogged in place, put their arms over their heads, clapped their hands and danced ecstatically. The music was stygian and the room was awash in orange light. “We’re all going to become the flame. Hah! Hah!” It sounded like Taraka and Nimai were in a fire. “Arms up over your head. You are the flame…. Good. Withstand the fire. Five, six, seven, eight…. You’re losing your body…. Burn. Burn. Burn.”
Through the creation of THE NOW AGE, whose name is a conflation of “new age” and “the now generation,” the band explores music as ritual and the connection between music and utopia. And while the band (their last album was put out by Paw Tracks, the label of Avey Tare of Animal Collective), originally included a third member, keyboardist Michael Collins, Collins moved down to Florida. The Larson sisters are heading for utopia on their own.
“Prince Rama performed at ISSUE in early 2010 and we were very impressed with their music and their creative vision,” said Zach Layton, Chief Curator at ISSUE Project Room about selecting Prince Rama for the Artist in Residence program. The program, which is offered in three-month stints, with some flexibility, provides recipients with access to ISSUE’s facilities, its space, equipment and staff, and spiritual and financial nurturing.“After discussion with members of the staff and other curators,” Layton said,“they were invited to send us a proposal which described their vision for the residency and we were extremely impressed with their creativity, the openness of their imagination, the participatory nature of their events and their ideas about new ways to activate the space….I actually took a yoga class with them this last spring where they played live and loved the experience.”
For Prince Rama’s second installment at ISSUE this June, they’ll present UTOPIA = NO PLACE, a 24-hour jam session inspired by 70s Kraut rockers Amon Duul and the power structures of their communal living. Taraka was curious about how the #1 hits relate to their idea of the apocalypse. “With Heaven’s Gate cult,” said Taraka referring to the cult, which in 1997 had 39 suicides, “the #1 song was Hanson’s mmmbop.” Prince Rama will present Karaoke as another “possession ritual.” “I have a version of mmm-bop that’s 24-minutes,” Taraka said. “Chopped and screwed.”
The third installment, UTOPIA = NO TIME, will take place on November 11, 2011, the date that some people are predicting will be, based on interpretations of ancient Mayan texts, the end of the world. “11/11/11 is a date we chose because there is already some hype about it being a sort of ‘end time’ of sorts. So we decided to go with it.” Larson believes in the Apocalypse – “I believe in the Apocalypse as much as she believes in Utopia. You cannot have one without the other.” But her interpretation is a little more positive than those predicting some cinematic natural cataclysms.“In the most literal interpretation of the word… Apocalypse is a Greek word meaning “lifting the veil” or “revelation.” So in this sense, because I believe utopia is a “no-place” embedded in the folds of physical space, I believe the apocalypse is that which has the power to lift these folds, or ‘lift these veils’ to reveal the ‘no-place-ness’ or ‘nothingness’ of the world we are in. This is not a negative thing. Apocalypse gets a bad rep by many as some doom and gloom ‘end time.’ But I see this abolition of time to be a good thing as well…and a cyclical thing. Where there is ‘no-time’ and ‘no-place,’ a new metaphysical meta-chronological space makes itself felt, and this is the closest I can come to comprehending what a mystical experience must be like.”