If you live in a major American city you’ve probably seen 7-Day Candles stacked under the magazine rack at the bodega, or arranged in front of memorial sites by friends and family of the recently deceased. You might see one devoted to the Virgen de Guadalupe, the Mexi-Catholic remix of the standard Virgin Mary, dubbed by the pope in 1999 “Patroness of the Americas, Empress of Latin America, and Protectress of Unborn Children.” Maybe you’ll want one anointed for a more specific purpose, like the Helping Hand candle, “for help with any situation.” Or maybe you’ll pick a Saint Jude candle. He is, after all the “patron saint of the impossible,” and he might be able to get you out of a tough spot. Now thanks to a few New Yorkers with active imaginations and web-enabled lives, and a new project studio headed by Dutty Artz label-man Taliesin Gilkes-Bower, you can light a candle to Saint Google to keep your surfing safe and your data private. Taliesin tells Cluster Mag’s Max Pearl about what’s going on behind the Saint Google candles.
Max Pearl: Tell me about where the Google candle idea came from. It seems like one of those funny hypotheticals that you might joke about with your friends, except you actually executed it.
Taliesin Gilkes-Bower: The Saint Google Prayer Candles are the first object to launch from my new project studio, Hello Bad Mind. They reach back to my roots in New Orleans and bridge the divide between a networked push-notification consensus world and my belief in a non-physical reality we can access and manipulate to effect change here on Earth.
When I was growing up in New Orleans my stepdad used to take me down to F&F Botanica on Broad Street. He’s into chaos magick and is an IOT member and F&F was his go-to spot for supplies. It’s the sort of place you can get crushed frogs eyes, 100% genuine Virgin of Guadalupe spray, and candles for just about everything from Ogun to beating a murder charge. I always imagined there was a lot weirder shit you could get if you asked. Anyway–so in my own ritual practice, candles have always been really important to me. And from a pure aesthetic tip, I’ve always loved the vernacular design sense of the 7-Day Candles.
So, a few years ago Kaye and Alexis and I started kicking the idea around for some Saint Google candles. Alexis crafted the prayer and then we bounced between a couple designers before landing on Diego. He designs everything for me at Dutty Artz and is just a complete boss, and since he’s Mexican he understood the whole botanica vibe we were going for. After talking to a bunch of people in Florida and California, we finally found a manufacturer right in Brooklyn.
You know, Saint Isidore of Seville was declared the patron saint of the Internet and computers by the vatican. You can imagine confession as the ultimate data-mining and blackmail tool. The church had to coerce people with the idea of infinite hell to get them to confess, and they could still lie if they wanted to! Now we just give away access to every single piece of ourselves for free. So the need for protection from Saint Google is very real.
Max Pearl: So I live right across the street from a discount box store called Savers. It’s in a little strip mall with a Staples and a McDonalds and an auto parts store in a low-income, mostly Latino corner of eastern Greenpoint. They sell the iconic prayer candles in a few different colors with a few different saints and religious figures or spiritual concepts featured on each. Anyways I was in there loading up on candles for my bedroom and I had my little cart all stuffed with Virgins and baby Christs and I walk up to the cashier and start sliding stuff onto the conveyor belt and there are these older Latina women checking me out like, ‘why the fuck is this artfag gentrifyer buying Spanish-language prayer candles at the strip mall?’
…or at least that’s what I was thinking they were thinking, and I realized how confused and self-conscious I am about my relationship to spirituality. Not only because my little ironic display of mantle candles is a mockery of other peoples’ spiritual convictions, but because I can’t figure out what these things really mean to me. So that is for me part of what makes these candles so compelling. It’s the ambiguity of the message. To ask a religious figure for help with something as mundane as keeping our data private or helping streamline our use of search engines adds an element of humor to this whole thing because you’re calling into question this distinction between the sacred and the profane.
What does it mean to frame the everyday banality of Internet use in terms of the sacred or the spiritual? Are you deliberately asking us to see Internet use and our relationship to these technologies as religious?
Taliesin Gilkes-Bower: The Internet is flooded with arcane knowledge right alongside the kittens and kiddy pr0n. For me, on larger scale, it’s just been an ongoing process to expand my understanding of what media is and what it can do to amplify our visions of the future. Corporate logos are sigils that create a mythology and force around their directives. I use the Internet to charge my own sigils and to create my own counter mythologies. We all do. The Internet is definitely a space that opens up the possibility for deep meditation. Everything in your life should be a ritual and get treated with that level of care. But really the Internet is just infrastructure, it’s as sacred or profane as you make it… You can always use a bible just to prop open a door, or use a freeway to invoke a demon.
I don’t care so much about the technology itself as the culture that emerges out of and around it. As I talked about in Bomb last month, I think the Internet, and particularly the explicitly social parts of it, foster an insanely shallow culture and a constant need for exterior validation. It’s dehumanizing, makes us all worse people, and essentially just a marketing wet-dream. Fuck that, all we need is more life, not more likes. Hello Bad Mind is a catalyst for living.
Max Pearl: So are there other saints? Will there be a collection?
Taliesin Gilkes-Bower: Right now I am looking for shops to carry the candles, since shipping them is so expensive individually. There are definitely some plans for future candles, but I can’t really talk about them yet. We just dropped the Dubious Prey Tank Tops, and I think the next Hello Bad Mind product is going to be a photo series of postcards focusing on sound system culture from my work in South America, Africa, and Jamaica. Until then, the Saint Google candles are available hand-to-hand in New York and exclusively at this Friday’s Dutty Artz Change the Mood Party at Glasslands. If you want them, or want to stock them, just get in touch.