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Jose Alvarez @ Ratio 3 Gallery

Looking for Ixtlan

During his 1988 tour of Australia, performance artist-turned-faux-psychic Jose Alvarez became a national obsession. Commissioned by Australian television through infamous paranormal investigator James Randi, his performance at the Sydney Opera House was intended to question the notion of supernatural channeling, then a national craze. Alvarez's alter ego channeled the 2000-year-old spirit of "Carlos" for massive crowds of devotees, but rather than question his motives, the Australian media propelled his act forward by inflating a hoax into urban mythology. Alvarez no longer performs as such. However, the spirit of Carlos presides strongly over his current show, Looking for Ixtlan, at Ratio 3 Gallery.

Alvarez worked in the spirit of New-Age anthropologist Carlos Castaneda, whose rather dubious studies under the Yaqui shaman Don Juan Matus -- and his endorsement of psycho-active drug use as a shortcut to enlightenment -- earned him a following in the 1960s, after his findings were published in a series of autobiographical books. Like Castaneda, Alvarez had discovered humanity's willingness to believe, firmly and wholeheartedly, in what it perceives to be true. In the following years, Alvarez developed his character on global network television and in front of many audiences, including an appearance before a crowd of ten million Chinese citizens, as organized by their government to warn against popular cults such as the Falun Gong.

As it responds to Castaneda's seminal book, "Journey to Ixtlan", Alvarez's body of work crosses the realm of the shamanistic interior with the more concrete worlds of science and space exploration, searching for points of intersection between the two. While Don Juan, Castaneda's guru, chronicled the use of mineral crystals, porcupine quills, and feathers as "objects of power", Alvarez utilizes them here to create so-called "magical" assemblages, invocative of the elements -- crystal orbs, rocks, and beads -- once fervently clutched in the hands of his own followers.

A graph-like collage formed of said porcupine quills and crystals lines one wall of the space, above which a giant telescope looms, printed on a silk banner not unlike one found in a church or temple. This, we find, is the Parkes Radio Telescope Observatory in Parkes, Australia; it's the largest telescope in the Southern Hemisphere, and served as the site for an Alvarez performance in 2001, after which the data recorded by the tower during his lecture was rendered into the chart seen here. Though the data's distinct purpose is not made clear to us, Alvarez has managed to imbue it with a mystical sort of significance -- we don't know what it is, but might assume that it is important.

Three "paintings" hang opposite of the telescope, each composed of variously colored mineral elements, peacock feathers, and the like. Cleanly composed, and meticulously made, they command our belief in their mystical potential as objects, or runes. Alvarez does not consider them as much, however. As during his channeling of "Carlos", he only delivers a convincing performance, or product, in the hopes that we will buck against convention, questioning our own belief systems before adopting new ones. In this respect, the works here fall closer in line with the earliest goals of painting, searching for personal and universal truth through physical action and creation.

Jose Alvarez: Looking for Ixtlan
July 18- August 21 2005
Ratio 3 Gallery