Lucas Ajemian, From Beyond, 2006 10" vinylskiva upplaga om 1 000 ex. Courtesy the artist and kirkhoff, Copenhagen

Lucas Ajemian

The American artist Lucas Ajemian was born in 1975 and lives and works in New York. He was not yet born when the British heavy metal group Black Sabbath wrote and launched the track Into the Void on the album Master of Reality in 1971. That track is said to have triggered the doom metal genre in the mid 1980s.

At the time, Lucas Ajemian was around ten. Doom metal is even heavier and slower than other metal genres, and like Black Sabbath’s tracks the lyrics are crucial to the atmosphere of darkness and hopelessness that it evokes. Many accusations have been launched over the years at the type of music Black Sabbath represents. One dominating claim is that it influences the subconscious of the growing generation, luring them into occultism, mysticism and Satanism. And perhaps there is some justification for these fears: if we Google Into the Void we come across links to the dark underside of the internet, signed by young birds of woe who claim to belong to Satanic groups. For some time, it was even rumoured that Into the Void contained secret Satanic messages if played backwards. Reading a text backwards is elementary witchcraft. But even reading the verses from beginning to end delivers a clear message: The final lines are:

Leave the earth to Satan and his slaves / Leave them to their future in the grave / Make a home where love is there to stay

Together with his brother, the jazz musician Jason Ajemian, Lucas Ajemian transcribed the music and text of the track to create a new version, a project called Out of Nowhere/From Beyond. In the new version, the track is played backwards by a ten-piece orchestra. Vocals are performed by Lucas Ajemian himself, and Jason Ajemian conducts. The first performance of the piece was in a church in Chicago, and it was video-taped and edited into an art video. For the exhibition Eclipse. Art in a Dark Age a new version has been recorded at a public concert in the deconsecrated church on Skeppsholmen, neighbouring on Moderna Museet in Stockholm. The video from the concert is shown together with the transcribed score.

The Ajemian brothers’ piece has a surging backward pull and solemnity to the discerning listener. The church atmosphere ministers the sacral marriage between the sombre musical intensity and vertical upward striving of the church architecture towards celestial spheres. The casual dress and look of the musicians adds a feeling that this is an ordinary musical event that could have taken place anywhere. The backward lyrics create their own singular grammar and sound like secret formulas from some mystical recipe. Lucas Ajemian’s powerful tenor mewing enhances the new words. Everything blends into an ordered jumble of art musical data that can be interpreted at various levels or simply experienced as an unusual and suggestive piece of music inspired by one of the most influential bands of the heavy metal era. Black Sabbath still has a strong reputation and performs with the original members.

Lucas Ajemian’s art is about translating and/or annexing the property of others. He breaks down and reconstructs the existing to create new public property. Like the god Shiva in Indian mythology who divides and destroys in order to recreate. Creativity in Lucas Ajemian’s world, moves between heaven and hell, but often lands on earth and in music mass media. The Quiet American (2003-2004) is one such work. Through his collaboration with MTV Networks he came across the final edited version of the music video Madonna had made before George W. Bush’s attack on Iraq, in which she appears in rags and presents herself as a rebellious and fashion-conscious Che Guevara. The video featured a protest song against the war everyone knew was brewing. Jonas Åkerlund directed, but only a few days before the release, Madonna decided to withdraw the video. She and her advisors were afraid of being misunderstood, and the video was stopped so nobody would think she wanted to discredit the American armed forces. Hence Lucas Ajemian’s title: The Quiet American.

Catrin Lundqvist

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