Artist: Justin Rightsell
Gallery: Dr. Maxine Merlino Gallery
Exhibition: An Evocation, an Altar, a Relic, and an Obelisk
Media: installation, photography, audio
Justin Rightsell is currently a second year graduate in the department of the arts for photography at CSULB. He earned his BFA in photography in 2010 at the same school. Rightsell mentioned that he has had strange occurrences ever since he was small, such events like abductions by spirits and physic interactions. This is more commonly known as sleep paralysis. Rightsell is a firm believer of cultism that is rooted in ancient philosophy and the paranormal. His sense of distrustfulness towards western culture branches from the political nature of the culture itself, and also its dominance in the status quo. Rightsell’s particular art traces events from his life, events from the past, present, and even in the future. Through art, he explores his sexuality and identity in a peculiar way.
Rightsell has about three art pieces in the exhibit alone. His obelisk, altar, and pendulum intrigued me the most of the three. All three of these pieces were put together at the far end of the room, typically where most altars are located. Beside the altar was a list of materials that he used and other information about his exhibit. However, the printed list was ripped into slips or parts and pinned onto the wall in a particular order. Unfortunately, I wasn’t tall enough to see the list from the top, but the paper that I saw at eye level seemed to be a list of words that seemed related to what we believed cults had been associated with. Words such as renewal of life, dimensions, shadows, and demons were present and somewhat evident in the dimmed room. The artist specified exactly what materials he used,and where he recorded his audio, another part of his exhibit. The altar was mainly made up of wood fixed in an interesting order. Above a frame, was something that looked like a metal sheet with black sprayed outlines of his hands. Under that, was an eerie looking picture of perhaps a dark room with a large window that looks out to a forest. At an angle, the lighter parts seemed to be a silhouette of a person. The altar also had a ledge that held a bottle with soil in it, perhaps an offering. The “branch” on the right had a small object dangling from something that looked like a metal wire. I did not understand what that could have represented, but would like to know. In front of the altar was a black -painted obelisk, something he mentioned that represented his self-internalized view of masculinity. It wasn’t fully painted, but I perceived it to be his soul, surrounded by shadows. The pendulum that is suspended in front of the obelisk was something that he said was used to communicate to spirits. There is a lot of meaning and representation found in his art pieces, however, I needed the understanding of cultism to get a sense of particularly why Rightsell chose this kind of set up.
I found Rightsell’s exhibit to be quite intriguing. I don’t think I have that close of a connection to the paranormal or to his particular belief, however, little bits of knowledge that I have gathered so far in school or outside of school allows me to understand his art at the very least. His altar has similarities to the altar I have at home, such as photos, its height, its place in the room, as well as an offering. The eeriness of the atmosphere, after hearing a bit more about his beliefs and background, reminded me of perhaps my own encounters with the supernatural. I had experienced sleep paralysis before, a terrifying situation to be in. I had no control of my limbs and seemed to be suffocating when I tried to breathe. My eyes often play tricks on me as well, but I usually brush it off due to the fact that I don’t sleep as much as I used to. These events often include seeing things and then looking again to find them gone, or seeing shadows that disappear. I just have a superstitious view on things but found his exhibit very intriguing.