Marina Abramovic is a contemporary artist, which many people will read as a pejorative. Contemporary artists are often weird — it’s part of the gig, and Abramovic lives up to the billing. Her most famous bit of performance art is a series called “The Artist Is Present,” in which she sits across from various people and they look at each other for an extended period of time. I’m confident that there’s some emotional power to this and I imagine that many of those who participate feel as though there was a transformative quality to it. Sure. But it’s weird.
Anyway, it turns out that Abramovic is actually a witch and she cast a spell on Hillary Clinton or something.
At the other end of the scale of weirdness and extremism from Abramovic is Alex Jones, a performance artist in his own right. Jones’s canvas is the American political system and his paint and brushes are the wildest conspiracy theories he can muster. There’s an active debate over whether he’s sincere in his wild and varying accusations of cults and brainwashing but, as with Abramovic, the effect on the viewers is not insignificant.
On Friday, Jones’s website InfoWars seized on one of the emails stolen from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta and released by WikiLeaks. In it, Abramovic extends an invitation to Podesta’s brother Tony, a well-known art collector, to come to “the Spirit Cooking dinner at my place.” Tony forwards this to John, asking if he can attend. No response is recorded.
InfoWars’ analysis? After calling Abramovic a “top occultist,” the site helpfully explains that “spirit cooking” is “an occult performance during which menstrual blood, breast milk, urine and sperm are used to create a ‘painting.’ " The site goes on to speculate further, suggesting that there are probably encoded messages in the types of food discussed in Podesta’s email that link back to an international kidnapping conspiracy.
It’s all completely unhinged, to the point that one hesitates to mention it. But then it ends up on the front page of the widely read Drudge Report (on a day when proprietor Matt Drudge appears to be employing a throw-the-spaghetti-against-the-wall strategy).
And then Sean Hannity adds a new tatter to his reputation by hosting an article about it on the website for his radio show.
Within hours, #spiritdinner was trending on Twitter.
So let’s step back for a second and look at the lunacy of the accusation.
First, calling Ambramovic a “top occultist” is a bit like calling someone who prays a lot the pope. We cannot speak to Abramovic’s personal spiritual habits, but it’s pretty clear that her explorations of religion and ritual inform her artistic work. She has pointedly embraced a variety of religious traditions.
Second, it’s unclear what the “Spirit Cooking” dinner is. In the 1990s, Abramovic had a piece called “Spirit Cooking,” which is not a literal cookbook but rather a sort of poetic exploration. (It’s impossible not to sound pretentious talking about this stuff.) One entry reads:
one grain of cooked rice
one grain of fresh pollen
one spoonful of tears
grind to a paste
with the paste
fill the space under the nail
of the small finger
of your right hand
Okay, got it.
There’s a video on YouTube showing another set of weird, artsy stuff: A snake on Abramovic’s head, her painting on a wall using a reddish-colored liquid. Images from this accompany the InfoWars article. For example:
The default assumption should probably not be that Tony and John Podesta were being invited to Abramovic’s house to enjoy a cocktail of “sperm milk” on an “earthquake night.” It seems far more likely that a contemporary artist — whose fame spiked in New York City a few years ago thanks to the sit-and-stare performance — was inviting influential people over for a dinner party with an artsy flair. Those who chose to assume that invitations to dark occult gatherings are sent from Gmail accounts are welcome to do so, but I prefer to dwell in the realm of believability.
But now, see, we’ve fallen into InfoWars’ trap. There is no evidence that John Podesta even went to this dinner, much less that the dinner was some exotic pagan ritual. My colleague Abby Ohlheiser confirmed with the artist that John Podesta didn’t attend — and that the dinner itself was thoroughly innocuous. How innocuous? It-was-a-Kickstarter-reward innocuous.
Ohlheiser also notes that another email in the WikiLeaks cache makes clear that John didn’t show. Yet fervent opponents of Clinton decided instead to loop her and Podesta and Haiti (don’t ask) and all sort of other things into a truly baseless and truly ridiculous conspiracy theory.
Never — never! -- ask how bizarre this presidential election can get. We’ve still got about 100 hours to go.