Q&A: Psychedelic art visionary GMUNK
SEPTEMBER 30, 2022.
Bradley G. Munkowitz, a.k.a. GMUNK, is a visionary. As a visual artist, his work as been exhibited in fine-art galleries. As an art director, his work for major clients like Microsoft has been viewed by billions of people. As a designer, he’s contributed sci-fi concept art to films like Tron: Legacy and Oblivion. Now, GMUNK is bringing his latest vision to our exhibition. Created with a talented team—comprised of Munkowtiz himself, technical director Harvey Moon, composer and sound designer Robert John Malone, and sculpture and fabrication director Joshua John Pipic—Totem is a stand-out artistic centrepiece of The Psychedelics Show. More than just an art-piece, Totem uses sound, light and refraction to lead participants through a trippy, futuristic psychedelic ceremony.
We chatted with GMUNK and his team about the piece, the limits of psychedelic art, and his hopes for the future of mind-expansion.
So tell us a bit about your installation for the exhibit.
We’re calling it the Totem. And it's kind of this giant geometric shape, that has a six-sided mirror base. It's stretched canvas along this form, and then you go on the back of it, and it has all of these spires. And then in the middle of it is a brain, in the form of this mirrored geometric shape. It kind of exists in this cage, if you will. So it's this 360-degree experience, where you can walk around it, and see lasers on the back, projection on the front, and then we also have all these room lights interacting with the mirror, interacting with the shape. It’s good fun!
How have psychedelics shaped your art, and your approach?
I've done a lot of psychedelics. Like, a lot. I had incredible chapters in my life. In 2008 with DMT, I had about a four month journey. Just constantly, constantly going in. When I was a kid, I was in Native American ceremonies: Sun Dances, sweat lodges, pipe ceremonies. It started at a very young age. And I feel like there's two different ways to look at a psychedelic experience. One is, you know, take a bunch of LSD, and let everything melt in front of you. And the other is to actually go through a ceremony. And to have a guide take you places, and transform you. Rather than just honing in on the visuals, it's more about a transformational experience from the inside, from the subconscious.
When we talk about psychedelic art, the irony is that it's not really psychedelic. If someone someone drops acid in a movie, it’s always the same kind of depiction. Is your work a deliberate attempt to create a different aesthetic framework? To not get locked in those same patterns?
I think about the mood and the vibe, and the the hypnotic quality… when it draws you into a moment, and you kind of get lost in a moment…that, to me, is psychedelic. It draws you in. It doesn't have to be just fractal geometry all the time. It has to be about a moment; has to be about a feeling, a mood that you're drawn into. I use a lot of mirrors. I use a lot of optical distortions. I think that also can be very psychedelic. People’s definitions of what psychedelic is, are very different. I think there's the baseline definition. And I think there's more complex definitions of what makes something psychedelic.
What would that more complex definition be?
I think it's a feeling. I think it’s…it's looking inward. It’s experience. It’s something that causes you to self-reflect in a moment of pure focus. And I think that, in that moment, when you get lost in thought and focus? That, to me, is psychedelic.
To get back to the Totem: it's kind of the climax of the whole exhibition. You get into this space and—BOOM!—there’s the Totem. It’s the centrepiece. What do you hope people can get out of it, especially as they’re leaving the exhibition?
I think it gives that taste of ceremony. That's what we're trying to do. Now, granted, it's through the language of light. It’s not traditional. Usually in a psychedelic ceremony there's a fire. You’re usually in nature, in an outdoor area, either in the jungle or in the Redwoods or somewhere outside with a fire. People are sitting in a circle. We're doing a very geometric take on that with light. The light is our nature.
What excites you about the future of psychedelics? What turns you on about where mind expansion might be heading, and what the possibilities might emerge as more people get turned on to these compounds?
I think it's gonna benefit humanity. People will be kinder. My three prescriptions for survival: everyone goes vegan; we ban plastic; and everyone uses psychedelics. If we did those three things, there'd be no war, there'd be no killing of animals. It would be nice. We could swim in the ocean. Through psychedelic usage, peoples’ egos get destroyed. People become kinder, become gentler, become more aware of their feelings, and more aware of, and respectful of nature. So I'm most excited for just the effect that would have on humanity.