Seated on a chair at floor level, face to face with a tall, soft-spoken blonde astrologer Morgan Rehbock, I feel my hands start to sweat. We're separated by a short table and fake candles in a breezy tented resting area in the center of bustling Art Basel Miami Beach. I start to really worry about my future, which was right there, laid out in his hands. As part of the art installation "Swamp of Sagittarius," Morgan charted out my life's events before I arrived — with the help of the stars, planets, and an email I sent him with the time, date, and place of my birth. He was ready to answer only financial questions related to the contemporary art market, as that is the focus of this project by occasional collaborators, Naomi Fisher and Agatha Wara.
The "Swamp of Sagittarius" safe haven is a Hidden Bar in the NOVA Section of the Convention Center and you can sniff your way there by following the smell of essential oils that they used to infuse large rectangular wax sculptures. The work is both performative and a service to those who come by, and most importantly, Wara explains, "It's about wisdom."
The two wanted to bring "Astro-driven Forecasting Solutions for Contemporary Art " to this largest annual U.S. art market by offering individual astrological readings by two of their talented and trained friends, Marty Windahl and Morgan. Both astrologers are also artists working in L.A. who pen horoscopes — Morgan has written for DIS Magazine and hip clothing company Opening Ceremony. Neither are what you'd call financial astrologists, but this week, they are employing that type of planetary analysis for the love of art.
This is Fisher's third year showing an installation in this somewhat secret space in the Convention Center — first, she hosted a tropical bar with Jim Drain and last year, brought in dancers to interact with her paintings. "Agatha and I both have shared interests in how we exist in the world with technology as it is and still is attached to esoteric practices like astrology, tarot, meditation, and yoga," she explains of their motivation. "These are things I'm interested in as a person for well-being, and then it kind of comes in conflict with how we live in a technological society."
Wara specifically addresses finances in her work and even coined the term "Goth finance." Of their target audience, she says, "This really responds to the context of Art Basel Miami Beach," Wara explains that this is geared at collectors who are roaming the stalls looking to invest. "The art market is a very speculative field and then you have all these businesses and jobs that are designed to predict how the market is going to fluctuate — whose careers are going to rise and whose careers are going to fall. People are hired to do this, they are kinds of oracles, these art advisers. Then you have the businesses who use computer generated algorithms to figure who to invest in."
No one knows the future for certain, but both algorithms, speculation, and astrology are about watching patterns and cycles in the digital realm, actual market, or the cosmos. She says it's all just different data, a different language. Financial astrology remains on the fringe of both traditional financial and astrological sectors. "It's not a tangible thing," she admits, but mentions that especially in a down market, people will generally turn to this and other kinds of divination systems to guide their money matters.
Though oft pooh-poohed, there are many financial folk who have used this method of cosmic orientation to deal with their dollars in an advanced way. The press release notes that, "In 1988 John Pierpont Morgan, the founder of the large bank who had a personal astrologer on staff, was famously quoted saying, 'Millionaires don't use astrologers, but billionaires do.'"
She explains that her practice often relies on "canonized sources of knowledge that the art field accepts as part of their critical apparatus," like critical and political theory and art history. She uses other perspectives like astrology, "It's about pushing those boundaries of what types of data we're allowed to tap into and which we're not," Wara explains. And to be fair, theory is just as esoteric than an ancient, "tried and true" format for seeing past the present moment.
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Fisher hadn't had her reading by the time I left the booth. "I'm dying to," she says excitedly, "I think everyone wants to know how to function better. I've had really important astrology readings, especially resonant with hindsight, and I'm curious what their take will be."
Morgan tells me that the two people who he consulted before me had very specific questions in mind. My approach to the reading was to examine my own financial path in relation to my creative pursuits, which was allowed according to the parameters of this project. He sees things in my chart and looks knowingly into my soul noting what an intense and confusing but creative year I've had. He explains in a soft voice that when you look at a birth chart — where the planets were when you were born — it's like the radio and the present time is like the station you tune in to. All the the static that exists in the universe at this moment is expressed through that radio.
In that overwrought, pricey art souk, "Swamp of Sagittarius" is an orienting force, offering a physical reprieve and both purpose and opportunity to know where in the universe your stars line up and what that means for your future. When I left the tent, I felt a surge of energy and all the nervousness was set aside, at least for a moment, I knew where I was at in the universe.
Swamp of Sagittarius
Art Basel Miami Beach, NOVA Section - Hidden Bar, entrance between booths N26 & N27, from December 3 to 6.