Occult Hands, Frozen Heads
Ten years into the Vietnam War, a new secret society was born in America. The origins are a bit unclear but according to most accounts it all started sometime in 1965, the same year that an enigmatic Dylan took the stage at the Newport Folk Festival and plugged in.
And so it happened; the Order of the Occult Hand quietly disrupted the world of print media. They slipped past editors at The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, and The Washington Times. Between 1984 and 1999, The Los Angeles Times was infiltrated on eight separate occasions. For decades the informal group announced their presence by publishing a single phrase: It was as if by an occult hand. The words masqueraded in plain sight. Few took notice.
The Order of the Occult Hand exist as a decentralized group. This is to say they’re a little like the Weather Underground without the explosions, or that they’re simply human beings bound together by common interest rather than county lines.
Such is our present condition.
In April of 2009 I received an e-mail that read, “TAKE A PHOTOGRAPH OF YOUR HEAD INSIDE A FREEZER. UPLOAD THIS PHOTO TO THE INTERNET (LIKE FLICKR). TAG THE FILE WITH 241543903. THE IDEA IS THAT IF YOU SEARCH FOR THIS CRYPTIC TAG, ALL THE PHOTOS OF HEADS IN FREEZERS WILL APPEAR. I JUST DID ONE.”
The author of that e-mail, David Horvitz, was born in 1982 in Los Angeles. For almost every day of 2009, he shared an idea with the world; messages were sent, blog posts published. Providing a capstone to the year, Horvitz wrote, “DO SOMETHING EVERYDAY REGARDLESS. NOTHING WILL HAPPEN UNLESS YOU FIRST INITIATE A PROCESS OF CAUSE AND EFFECT. THIS STARTS WITH AN ACTION. REAWAKEN THE POSSIBILITY OF POSSIBILITY. REAWAKEN IT WITH PLAY.”
At present, a Flickr search for “241543903” returns over one thousand unique images. Some results feign creativity or show off technical prowess, but mostly the photographs are as direct as the prompt which inspired them. Heads inside freezers, uploaded and tagged as if by an occult hand.
In a broad sense, Horvitz’s instructions recall the distorted human skull which ominously looms at the bottom of Hans Holbein the Younger’s 1533 composition, The Ambassadors. Rendered in anamorphic perspective, the skull is both ever-present and wholly concealed; only upon careful scrutiny does the object come to light. This starts with an action.
Consider for a moment the possible depths of the Internet, the vastness of it all. Horvitz, like Holbein and The Order of the Occult Hand, encourages an engagement with the world that goes beyond a mere cursory glance. From the confines of a small cabin near Concord, Massachusetts, Thoreau wrote “to be awake is to be alive.” Wake up; there are occult hands and frozen heads to be found.