October 22 – November 20, 2022
While goddess worship is often associated with 1970s feminism and easily dismissed as upholding essentialist notions of womanhood, interest in the subject has re-emerged over the last few years. Such attention is part of a larger revival of the spiritual and the occult in art and culture—particularly within the queer community. Undoubtedly, this speaks to the queer search for a higher power outside of traditional religion, which notoriously tends to center patriarchal and homophobic beliefs. And as we find ourselves on a burning planet, at a loss for “rational” solutions, it’s becoming more and more tempting to have faith in divine powers.
On view at FiveMyles gallery in Brooklyn is a compelling three-person exhibition titled Hekate’s Grove. Featuring works by sculptor Elizabeth Insogna, painter Karen (Karsen) Heagle, and performance artist and folklorist Kay Turner, this show pays homage to the ancient Greek goddess Hekate, a rather obscure patron deity of witchcraft who is commonly associated with crossroads and entryways, and capable of both good and evil.
Walking into the gallery space, a visitor might feel as if they are entering a place of ritual. Resting directly on the floor are a series of Insogna’s amorphous ceramic sculptures, together forming the two-part installation, The Peristyle and The Well (Hekate’s Cave) (both 2022). Composed of sensuous curves and spirals, the forms appear as if liquid frozen in motion, with shimmering surfaces that reveal a wide array of symbols and inscriptions. While primarily abstract, the sculptures strongly evoke the body, its entryways and exits, porous as it is. Occasionally the body manifests itself in more clearly representational form—we find, for example, a human head turned upside down in Sacrifice (2022). Placed in circles around some of the sculptures are crystals, palpably shifting the energy in the room, as well as ceramic snakes, an animal Hekate was often depicted alongside.
Adorning the walls are Heagle’s signature paintings of animals, marked by vibrant colors and loose brushstrokes. Heagle has been working with animal imagery since 2008, and has primarily featured predators and scavengers such as hyenas and vultures (notably both examples of queerness in the animal kingdom). Particularly striking are three adjacent arched panels, reminiscent of a stained-glass triptych in a church. This religious or sacred quality is only heightened by Heagle’s use of gold leaf. The panels all depict a vulture engaged in acts of consumption: In Consecration and Preparation (2022), the vulture sits looming over a severed cow’s head, as if saying a prayer before digging into its meal. Another vulture picks into the lower side of a deer’s belly in [To Make] a tincture of gold (2022), the careful placement of body parts implicitly evoking a sexual act. Finally, Divination by Fire (a Love Spell) (2022), shows a vulture’s beak partly immersed in an undefined carcass. The bird’s piercing eyes hauntingly convey mingled hunger and satisfaction.
Activating the gallery space is a soundscape created by Turner (in collaboration with Terry Dame and Jenny Hoyston), who is also staging a series of ritual performances throughout the run of the exhibition. The track is a compilation of upbeat rhythms overlaid with robotic or mechanical voices calling to “light the match” and “burn it all down,” accompanied by Turner and Insogna taking turns reading epithets that illustrate the multifaceted and paradoxical nature of Hekate, who traditionally occupied spaces of in-betweenness. This is precisely what the three artists featured here—who refer to themselves as “Trivium,” a term derived from Hekate’s epithet “Trivia,” meaning “three ways”—strive to highlight. Moving away from essentialist or prescriptive conceptions of womanhood, the works in the exhibition speak to ways in which the goddess occupied spaces between and beyond gender. Depicted throughout art history as tripled-bodied, triple headed, or both, Hekate’s body was inherently other—as Insogna’s work suggests. The goddess not only maintained close relationships with animals, but was sometimes described as having animal qualities herself—as Heagle’s work evokes. She moved between binaries, such as good and evil, and her exact place of origin, still debated by scholars, remains mysterious.
All these qualities, of course, apply to many Greek goddesses (and gods)—Hekate is by no means an exception. Here, Insogna, Heagle, and Turner explore the potential of revisiting goddess worship generally, instead of disregarding it as an interest no longer in tune with our time. As Sara Ahmed wrote, there is a great deal of possibility in holding on to “the promise of that word” feminism.1 What can goddess worship tell us when we look at it from a queer feminist perspective? What are the threads that have been assigned to a binary gender in translation, but actually exist in a nonbinary space? In Ahmed’s words: “To live a feminist life is to make everything into something that is questionable.”2
- Sara Ahmed, Living a Feminist Life, p. 1.
- Ibid., p. 2.