In 2019, artists Holly Graham, Erin Hughes and Amba Sayal-Bennett of London-based collective Cypher BILLBOARD, invited soft/WALL/studs (sWs) to participate in their ongoing Billboard program, which commissions site-specific artworks for a billboard space in Bounds Green, London.
As part of sWs, Weixin Quek Chong and Luca Lum worked to create the multi-pronged work, 65goddex65 , in response to Cypher’s invitation. The work encompasses the billboard artwork which was installed from 8 to 30 July 2019, a ritual event performed with Marcus Yee on 14 July 2019 titled Day of crypt0fferings , and a digital webpage commission for the online project space SKELF which ran from 17 July to 22 October 2019.
“Wouldn’t you like to move in a different direction? The Goddex is a biotechnical entity composed of drill bits, surveillance, globes and an orchidaceous shell, operating as a digital cottage industry and advertising services, from karma laundering to the spiritual righting of wrongs. Let the Goddex listen to your desires: direct message your wishes to 65goddex65 on Instagram now."
I. How do we invoke a Goddex? What does a deity invoke in return?
Weixin Quek Chong (X): : Ideas about the Goddex grew out of early conversations we had around kim zua  — the burning of effigies and simulated objects, their process of transcendence and re-mattering, and their leanings towards materiality and accumulation. We also mused over the thought of kim zua as a kind of cryptocurrency, which then evolved into discussions around codes and rituals both physical and digital.
Luca Lum (L): : The billboard form had to be used in a resonant way, so I suggested looking at roadside advertising imagery for homespun and folk spiritual services and businesses which offer ways to right wrongs, balance accounts, fulfil desires, obtain protection and increase attractiveness. More interesting than the imagery of those forms, perhaps, is the loose community of clients and adherents that arise from it, and what is invoked by these forms of belief and wishing. Given the themes, we needed to extend the work beyond the localised confines of London’s Bounds Green to resonate across geographies.
I had noticed an uptick in the visibility of personalised spiritual services and accounts online since 2018, usually centred around astrology, witchcraft, folk beliefs or direct reparations and on popular platforms like YouTube and Instagram. In the months since the project launched, these portals of spiritual advice, as well the appropriation of powerful mainstream platforms for reparative aims (ranging from community-based coordination of mutual aid to streaming ad revenue to generate donations) have gone into overdrive with the ongoing collapse of long-eroding global systems of racial capitalism. The billboard form offered a space to announce a call towards that kind of hope or wish, accompanied by an online persona that ran an account for the enterprise.
X: Forms of advertising we usually encounter now are more embedded, seamless and screened (YouTube ads, audio ads via Spotify, sponsorship for “free” access); we thought that perhaps we could approach the billboard form as an opportunity to enact a kind of media archaeology.
We were conscious that the billboard would be viewed in passing. Would it, as a result, appeal to the subconscious? Would it have subliminal effects? We wanted to layer its effects.
We also wondered if commercialised, digitally mediated and advertised spiritual services were forms of psychological care. Needs and services; detachment and the safety of seeking and receiving these services via transactional e-business-type forms; reduction and commercialisation of attending to very integral and innate impulses and feelings; huge corporatised aspects to religion and spiritual services… These are some of the things we thought about.
We initially toyed with the idea of making our own kim zua or integrating it somehow in the Goddex Imagery. The ritual event Day of crypt0fferings is where these thoughts about offerings eventually manifested. Making our own symbols of value was an underlying theme from the start — constructing and subverting value, as well as parodies or alternatives to it.
Another one of our pivoting points was the particular framing of the Singapore Bicentennial, which brought about questions related to the dynamics between a colonised past and a coloniality that remains very present — leaving traces and roots very much alive not only in structures and effects, but in perspectives and attitudes. At the time, our musings also included the hashtag and artwork #sgbyecentennial by artist Fazleen Karlan in response to the Bicentennial discourse and how the arrival of British imperialism is framed in mainstream narratives about Singapore.
We were conscious that the billboard would be viewed in passing. Would it, as a result, appeal to the subconscious? Would it have subliminal effects? We wanted to layer its effects.
L: With this context in mind, some of the questions we asked ourselves were: what are some ways of wishing that would connect subjective or small wishes to world-change? How do groups make and mark their wishes for another world, and how might these wishings form networks of desire, fantasy, mourning, survival and dreaming? I was interested in how communities and the contemporary imbricated across online and offline spaces might form millenarian arrangements; how cruel optimisms and actual tools of relation-building and imagining might emerge from them; how the creation of a deity to marshal these wishes and transmissions might be borne of bizarre and contradictory parts; and how that figure, in being invoked, might also invoke something else within its adherents.
Historical millenarian social movements include the Taki Unquy, a 16th century Peruvian movement in opposition to Spanish arrival and Christian expansion through the repossession of indigenous persons by wak'as , Andean spirits. An existing millenarian movement involves the so-called “cargo cults” of Melanesia (the term “cargo cults” is deemed outmoded by many), which emerged from contact between local populations and military personnel from the Pacific theatre of war, and involve the ritualistic burning of biplanes, runways, and figures associated with “cargo” (i.e. supplies, material goods). The cults also conducted parades that seemed to celebrate American imperialism and military might in the hopes of receiving “cargo” in the future. Some of these millenarian movements, like the “John Frum” and “Prince Phillip” movement in Tanna, Vanuatu, append the arrival of plenty with a white messianic figure who protects their “kastoms”, their traditional way of life. Cargo has a plethora of social significance, and can encompass material wealth or social goods, often with the tenor of the transformative horizon attached — cargo will arrive and a new epoch will begin. Other infamous examples of millenarianism include the Jonestown Cult and the Heaven's Gate Cult, which manifest starker world-rejection elements; others like the Way of Highest Peace (Tàipíng Dào) in ancient China, culminated in the Yellow Turban Rebellion, a peasant revolt against the Han government.
X: We settled on Instagram in part due to its increasingly overt commercialisation as well as it being the hothouse for influencer culture. We also discussed the existence of porn-bots (hello @amanda1565788.88!) and other automated Instagrammers that had proliferated on the platform. Algorithmic artificial intelligence (AI) posing as individual social presences to scam and sell has its correlations with the carefully curated “personal” feeds of successful influencers who often have to achieve and maintain specific blends of marketable traits, frequently relying on analytics apps to divine the best times and ways to carry out online engagements.
How do groups make and mark their wishes for another world, and how might these wishings form networks of desire, fantasy, mourning, survival and dreaming?
II. Possession by the Goddex
L: Some of the DNA of 65Goddex65 stemmed from a previous workshop for Sim Lim Square Art Residency (SLSAR), called Future Address . Participants navigated the socio-technical geography of Geylang, Singapore as a counterpoint to the modular, phased and platform-based, techno-utopian and cartoonish solutionisms of state digitalisation plans. What address are we making towards “the future”, and towards whose concept of futurity? What is the projected location? Forms of technology in this geography are embroiled with local vernaculars of spirituality, the erotic, and the classed and racialised surveillance of migrant populations. One of the stops along this route was a medium and amulet business evolving around the figure of the fox demon spirit where blessings and other personalised rituals are conducted through Facebook Lives and video calls, a vernacularisation of platforms and devices.
What address are we making towards “the future”, and towards whose concept of futurity? What is the projected location?
X: The Goddex may have been sending its tendrils out into our art practices in some ways, like a parasite or virus. There are times when I found myself thinking about how creating a system of belief or drawing up a fictional world becomes something of its own, taking off or sprouting in very different ways — moving from an original host body into possibly many others. I was thinking about the entomopathogenic fungus Cordyceps militaris  — the way it takes over the body of an insect and programs it to take very specific actions, perhaps to go somewhere with optimal conditions, plant its head into the ground and then die in order to transform into a strange hybrid. This spore-containing “fruiting body” is part of the fungal life cycle’s sexual phase, its state of propagation and proselytism which reminds me of religious concepts of “dying to self” in order to unite with a divine or spiritual consciousness — a sublimation of the individual to become part of a communal whole.
III. Change Your Luck, Change Your Life
As part of BOUNDS, Cypher BILLBOARD’s online exhibition with SKELF, 65goddex65 occupied a webpage within a map of Cypher’s ongoing season of billboard projects. The webpage became an extension of the deity’s presence, a portal to her. The @65goddex65 Instagram feed is linked to it, as well as a series of YouTube videos:
1. The Ellen Show, “ Kim Kardashian West Answers Ellen’s Burning Questions ", YouTube . Kim Kardashian talks amid a backdrop of virtual flames.
2. Pretty Boss TV, “Ancestor $ Changed My Life”, YouTube , introduces the usage of Chinese paper money offerings to improve fortune and purchase luck.
3. A documentary made by a student of Nanyang Technological University (NTU), “ The Burning Question about a Dying Practice ”, YouTube . This documentary on the practice of paper offerings in Singapore features interviews with the owners of local kim zua or paper offerings stores.
IV. Day of crypt0fferings
Day of crypt0fferings was a live-streamed ritual performed at Bounds Green by Marcus Yee and Weixin Quek Chong, and simultaneously in sWs in Singapore by Luca Lum.
X: The London side of Day of crypt0fferings took place in the private salon in Bounds Green, belonging to friends of CYPHER who kindly hosted us for the ritual. It was a home-salon setting, which reminded me of the meetings of home-churches and house-temples. Along with food and a live orchid plant, the setting for the ritual also included temporary Goddex tattoos prepared with Holly, Amba and Erin, and large round goblets from Martini reminiscent of libations when filled.
Marcus and I faced the multiple screens — a large TV and two smaller laptop screens — channelling in Luca on the roof of sWs’ studio. The soundtrack and the burning incense made for a bit of a sensory overload. There was a strange tension in knowing we were moving simultaneously while all but completely blind to each other. In the Bounds Green salon, we could only see the scene at sWs through the perspective of the camera; the sudden blurring of movement and zooming in or out imparted a role-playing game quality.
With the beginning of the soundtrack and the fire that appeared onscreen, the ritual took on a suspended feeling. We offered sticks of incense in acknowledgement of items being burnt in offering on the sWs roof. We moved in response to the live-stream from sWs, at one point improvising off facial massage rolling — Luca with a stone roller and I with a carved piece of marble. Smoke and perfume filled the space, melding with textures, objects and gestures hazily discerned through the screens. The wielding of the camera itself was also very much about the rituals of capturing specific moments for social media — that selfie, influencer gaze and movement.
L: The soundtrack was created by feeding the image of the billboard from an audio programme. This programme translated the image — full of echoes and purloined parts — and the scene of possessions and dispossessions sonically into an atmosphere. We ran a stream of the ritual on Instagram Live.
Working within the digital allowed for the bleedings or hauntings of the various components of the work onto one another. The process we undertook to derive components of the audio track were similarly used to alter the visuals themselves, as an experiment into varied understandings of particular data through its transmitted image and sound.
Even though this particular deity was woven together as a prank almost as much as an artwork, the intensity of the ritual’s multi-sensorial aspects placed me in a temporary suspension of belief.
X: I remember myself comparing the sensations of being an active part of the ritual to previous religious experiences. Having been part of a deeply religious community, I retain a visceral, very bodily memory of the sensation of creating spiritual or psychological togetherness — how one can be suspended or connected through an event, a concerted attempt to access or participate in a plane of mutually-constructed ideological space. Even though this particular deity was woven together as a prank almost as much as an artwork, the intensity of the ritual’s multi-sensorial aspects placed me in a temporary suspension of belief. In the strange culmination of the project, my body remembered modes of worship and spiritually-driven communal connections. I recall the powerful magnetism of this means of becoming collective — organism or organisation; belief systems as technologies, as companies, as currencies, as constructions of ideological space; emotional architectures in which to move and dwell together in; housing, farming, expressing and nurturing collective ideas, sensations and beliefs.
With many thanks to Holly Graham, Erin Hughes and Amba Sayal-Bennett of Cypher BILLBOARD for the warm invitation and support in realising 65goddex65.
Addendum: Alongside Lum and Chong, another artist was involved in the making of this project. Due to ethical breaches, he is no longer a part of soft/WALL/studs, and has agreed to have his name removed from this project.
CYPHER Billboard, https://www.cypherbillboard.com/
Weixin Chong // art, https://www.tropicalghosts.net/
erratic light, https://luxerrata.cargo.site/
“Marcus Yee is an art worker from Singapore, currently pursuing studies in History and Earth Systems Science in Hong Kong.” See “out of isolation: artists respond to covid-19 Marcus Yee,” National Gallery Singapore, October 2, 2020. https://www.nationalgallery.sg/magazine/out-of-isolation-covid-19-marcus-yee-words-into-compost-pullulations-against-cascades-of-crises
“Day of crypt0fferings,” Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/events/458856018275963/
“65goddex65,” Instagram, https://www.instagram.com/65goddex65/
“Day of crypt0fferings.”
Kim zua or joss paper, also known as ghost money, are sheets of paper that are burned in traditional Chinese ancestor worship ceremonies during special holidays. See "Joss Paper”, Nations Online, https://www.nationsonline.org/oneworld/Chinese_Customs/joss_paper.htm
“Singapore Bicentennial,” Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/sgbicentennial/ See also http://www.bicentennial.sg/, which appears to be down at the time of publication.
“#sgbyecentennial,” FAZLEEN KARLAN, https://www.fazleenkarlan.com/work/sgbyecentennial2
Li Zhou, “Orchidelirium, an Obsession with Orchids, Has Lasted for Centuries”, Smithsonian Magazine, January 29, 2015, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/orchidelirium-obsession-orchids-lasted-centuries-180954060/.
Jim Doyle, “Black Market Orchids / A global underground smuggling network may drive some rare species into extinction”, SF Gate, February 5, 2012, https://www.sfgate.com/crime/article/Black-Market-Orchids-A-global-underground-3048840.php.
Julian Moll-rocek, “Diverse, deceptive, declining: orchids threatened by deforestation in South America”, Mongabay, September 26, 2014, https://news.mongabay.com/2014/09/diverse-deceptive-declining-orchids-threatened-by-deforestation-in-south-america/.
Also spelled “Taki Onqoy”. See Jeremy Mumford, “The Taki Onqoy and the Andean Nation: Sources and Interpretations,” Latin American Research Review, Vol. 33, No. 1 (1998), 150-65. https://www.jstor.org/stable/2503902
A cargo cult refers to “any of the religious movements chiefly, but not solely, in Melanesia that exhibit belief in the imminence of a new age of blessing, to be initiated by the arrival of a special “cargo” of goods from supernatural sources—based on the observation by local residents of the delivery of supplies to colonial officials.” The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, “Cargo cult,” Encyclopædia Britannica, April 19, 2017. https://www.britannica.com/topic/cargo-cult
“John Frum” and “Prince Phillip” See Brooke Jarvis, “Who Is John Frum”, Topic, April 2019, https://www.topic.com/who-is-john-frum, and Paul Raffaele, “In John They Trust”, Smithsonian Magazine, February 2006, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/in-john-theytrust- 109294882/
More recent scholarship emphasises the renewal of local social relations and customs as more important than actual receipt of goods, and tend to go beyond readings of these movements as straightforward cases of commodity fetishism and internalisation of colonial cultures and white saviourism. Highly localised rituals and forms of resistance to political and organising forces perceived as undesirable (modernisation, for example) are shaped around relevant mythological figures.
J Oliver Conroy, “An apocalyptic cult, 900 dead: remembering the Jonestown massacre, 40 years on,” The Guardian, November 17, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/nov/17/an-apocalyptic-cult-900-dead-remembering-the-jonestown-massacre-40-years-on
Michael Hafford, “Heaven’s Gate 20 Years Later: 10 Things You Didn’t Know,” Rolling Stone, March 24, 2017. https://www.rollingstone.com/feature/heavens-gate-20-years-later-10-things-you-didnt-know-114563/
“Millenarianism: Chinese Millenarian Movements,” Encyclopedia.com, last updated April 2, 2021. https://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/millenarianism-chinese-millenarian-movements
“Sim Lim Square Art Residency”, Inter—-MISSION, https://inter-mission.art/SLSAR.
An entomopathogenic fungus is one that acts as a parasite of insects, killing or disabling them. Cordyceps militaris is a species of fungus. My initial associations with these fungi involved the use of the caterpillar fungus, Ophiocordyceps sinensis or yartsa gunbu, as a medicinal mushroom in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Growing up, I saw advertised products and tonics labelled as containing Cordyceps or 冬蟲夏草 — their rather poetic Chinese name means “insect in the winter, plant in the summer”.
“Skelf Quarterly,” SKELF, https://www.skelf.org.uk/S_Q/ARCHIVE_PAGES/QUARTERLY/Archive_CypherBILLBOARD.html
The original video is no longer available. An alternative YouTube video is Sunny Brook, “What is Ancestor Money? How to use it & Does it really work?”
An interview with the boss of the family business Ban Kah Hiang Trading provides a glimpse into current evolutions of the kim zua . tradition in Singapore: Mardiana, “This 30 Year-Old Boss Shows Us How Kim Zua Has Changed Over The Years”, YP SG, August 8, 2018, https://www.yp.sg/ban-kah-hiang-joss/
The video of the event is available at “Crypt0ffering,” Vimeo, October 19, 2020.: https://vimeo.com/469722884
Martini | The Original Vermouth Since 1863 | Martini Global, https://www.martini.com/