The intertwining of fine arts with old knowledge and mystical rites is nothing new. The beginnings of art are tied to rituals, and the phenomenon of the fine artist as a shaman is an unavoidable experience in contemporary art. Nevertheless, in recent years, there has been a noticeable interest among artists in the spiritual sphere. Jeremy Shaw and Ernesto Neto are just some of the successful artists who delve into special sensory experiences or altered states of consciousness, and they have long established themselves in that realm. Marina Abramović, who has always believed in the connection between art and the spiritual, introduces audiences to various forms of meditation without hesitation. Interest in higher states of consciousness and different knowledge is considered by many to be a universal human need, and it is especially relevant today, not only in art.
Vice Guru is an elaborative art project in the realm of alternative science, as alternative science can be seen as a form of contemporary art. I assumed the role of a New Age guru for a year, and surprisingly, many people believed I helped them. I served as the director of Basma - Institute of Complementary Medicine and Holistic Energetic Healing, which was essentially an exhibition, performance, and multimedia project. I pretended to take certain principles and procedures of alternative teachings seriously, such as the homeopathic principle of dilution or the memory of water, the movement and transformation of orgone energy, the theory of vibrations of morphic fields, methods of spiritual healing, the principle of sacred geometry, and more. With the aid of new technology, I perfected the field.
Scientifically unverifiable areas of reality encompass vast possibilities. Both art and pseudoscience utilize this potential to create virtual values that can be relatively easily monetized; it only requires knowing how to market the "product" to eager consumers. I am even tempted to believe that contemporary art is just another cult, or perhaps even a religion, but with this work, I do not want to directly problematize this hypothesis, at least not yet.
Through my installations, I studiously explore the mechanisms by which various spiritual teachings and well-being practices engage the audience, noting their preference for scientific terms, analytical explanations, extensive facts, and trust in the character of teachers/gurus. Sometimes, merely changing the name of a method or encompassing it under a broader term is enough to instill more confidence (e.g., using "lithotherapy" instead of "crystal healing" or "epigenetics" instead of "energy of thought"). Alternative teachings often draw on principles established by scientists or scientific heretics (e.g., biologist Rupert Shaldrake, the creator of the theory of morphic fields, or Wilhelm Reich, who coined the term "orgone energy"). Some of these theories and knowledge may have been studied by artists (e.g., Leonardo da Vinci's study of sacred geometry). However, it is important to note that these theories and knowledge lack scientific foundation.
Today, certain alternative treatment methods have vied for legitimacy alongside so-called complementary medical teachings. The paradox is that they were initially accepted as alternatives to expensive medical treatments and pharmaceutical dominance, but they have now become part of an expanding industry themselves. When describing their effectiveness, the key point often emphasized is the absence of harmful consequences, although a more thorough examination of this claim would be worthwhile. The contemporary phenomenon of social acceptance and the growing interest in various alternative teachings and knowledge forms the central theme of the Vice Guru project.
While constructing the work, I employed vocabulary identical to that used in the spiritual industries. Embracing the rules of the game, I delved into specific knowledge and information, presenting my own research through graphs and exhibits, and creating collections and new practical products, such as the idea of morphogenic improvement of the cities of Split and Zagreb. The world presented in Vice Guru's teachings aims to be more than just a depiction of a distant, fantastical alternative world since it is already perceived as real and treated very seriously. The complete discourse goes a step further and seeks to convince the observer of the authenticity of the presented techniques as part of their own spiritual practice, thus adhering to the concept of exposing the so-called mockumentary and transmedia storytelling techniques. After exhibiting the Basma Institute in Split and Zagreb as pharmacies, I was interviewed for the largest Dalmatian newspaper, Slobodna Dalmacija, and Vice Guru appeared on the full cover of the printed edition. That's when the hysteria began, and I realized I had gone too far. Expanding the story to other media platforms aims to enhance the persuasiveness of the fictional narrative, adapting it to different communication channels while blurring the line between fiction and reality. In addition to creating the character of a successful guru on Instagram, I supported my presentation with gallery mimesis, encouraging the public to contemplate the sources we place our trust in when it comes to knowledge. Do we trust information from media platforms and social networks, or do we consider it a work of art within a museum collection or gallery exhibition?