Surreal Senses // Depicting Psychedelia in Geometry and the Occult

by Ambika Nuggihalli, Roski Mag staff writer

I. Surreal Senses

I remember being 7 years old, sat in front of the computer, hypnotized by the Windows Media Player visualizations: kaleidoscopes of gyrating color streaking across the pixelated surface, bouncing one way and then the next with no warning, mixing and separating, images there one moment and gone the next. 

I remember junior year of high school, the first time I listened to Rihanna’s Same Ol’ Mistakes, body falling into the couch cushions like Alice down the rabbit hole, mind silent, synthesizer waves riding my veins, a feeling all over me, a feeling in me. 

I remember just last night, watching Euphoria, and feeling as though the room was spinning around me the way it rotated around Rue, like any minute I would have to walk on the walls, like the air was being sucked out of my lungs, like I was the color purple, like everything was shimmering.

I have been chasing warped realities for as long as I can remember, so here at Gbenga’s art rave, Don’t Trip, I feel right at home. 

I’ve never actually taken psychedelics. Partly because I’m a pussy. Partly out of regard for my mental health. Saul Singleton, a sophomore studying film at USC, had never taken psychedelics either. Then, last summer, his friend Gbenga invited him to take part in Don’t Trip. Gbenga asked Saul to make a film representing a psychedelic experience he had. Saul, who had never so much as hallucinated a flea. So Saul did what anyone would do–he texted his mom, and she told him to do shrooms. 

And then he did.

II. Depicting Psychedelia in Geometry and the Occult

Geometry and the Occult is a film embodying the fever dream Saul lived that August day in the woods behind his backyard, wading for a mile in the creek after taking shrooms. To recreate this experience, Saul uses space. He explains that space is a recurring theme in his films: “I take normal concepts of environment and put people in a space and create art by breaking what the normal idea of what a space represents or is used for.” In Geometry and the Occult, he also explores the experience of the color green, or “green energy,” as Saul puts it. Through these two themes, Saul provides a new take on representing psychedelia in art.

At Gbenga’s art rave, Saul plays with the color green and the physical space a viewer exists in with his installation. Projectors breathe a haze of light through the dust of a dimly lit room. Mannequin heads, button up shirts, textured jeans, and worn out Adidas–all spray painted neon green–dangle from the ceiling, disembodied: curious, but not haunting. Some parts of the projection are “missing” from the cement wall, appearing instead on corners of a pant leg or a mannequin head placed in front of the wall. Saul brings viewers into his trip, painting the picture of an experience that can happen in different spaces at the same time, simulating the disjointed logic of a psychedelic trip. 

Don’t Trip, installation view. Photo courtesy of Saul Singleton

In the film itself, Saul takes a more subversive approach in his use of space and the color green. The film itself is set in the Maryland woods, full of lush, loud plant life–literal greenery creating space. You might also notice that in some scenes, people wandering in and out of shots appear to be missing body parts. Saul achieved this by painting their skin with green and then editing parts of their bodies to be transparent, a technique called chroma keying (the most popular application being green screens). Through chroma key, Saul brilliantly uses green as not only environment or space, but as an absence of space. By creating and then hiding space, he presents an interpretation of a psychedelic trip where contradiction and blurred lines take center stage. Saul’s vision of “green energy” and his love for distorting space come through wonderfully in Geometry and the Occult. He brings viewers a pooling, a melting, a blurring of sensation that stumbles onto itself. He takes individual threads of feeling and weaves a tipsy tapestry, providing a revolutionary perspective on the way psychedelia is represented in art.

Geometry of the Occult, film still. Courtesy of Saul Singleton

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s