V.I.T.R.I.O.L., Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions, 2018

V.I.T.R.I.O.L. began as a research project into a rumored ‘secret’ performance- likely apocryphal- supposedly occurring intermittently on the myth-haunted Sublevel of Calarts and featuring the oracular cryonized head of Walt Disney. The existence of the head, a persistent myth for generations of Calarts students, seems to be a contemporization of the ‘Baphomet’ of the mythohistorical Knights Templar, rumored to have been the disembodied head of John the Baptist, employed by the Templars as an oracle in the fashion of Greco-Roman ‘herms’.

Disney, near the end of his life, does seem to have developed a fascination with cryonics; however, his biographers insist that he never acted upon his interest. While it is reported that he was buried whole at Forest Lawn, the myth persists that his head was preserved in a specially constructed secret chamber at the time of Calarts’ groundbreaking. That the building wasn’t completed for a decade after his

death and that no evidence of the chamber or head has ever come to light hasn’t allayed the myth.

To this day, rumors persist that rituals modeled on those of George Bataille’s ‘secret society’ Acephale and drawing upon Disney and Calarts’ complex ideological history are regularly conducted by generations of Calartians under secretive conditions.

Clues can be uncovered through a careful reading of certain works by some of Calarts’ outstanding graduates and faculty- in Mike Kelley’s Sublevel; in elements of Barbara Bloom’s The Collections of Barbara Bloom; throughout Douglas Huebler’s Crocodile Tears; in Stephen Prina’s memorial to Michael Asher and Tim Martin’s band Pre-Stressed Concrete; and permeating the oeuvres of Jim Shaw and Laura Owens.

Some of the known facts behind the evolution of the ritual are these-

Harry Marston Haldeman arrived in Los Angeles at the beginning of the 20th Century. Already a rich man from his patented design for ‘A bowl for a water closet’- what is now called a toilet-bowl- Haldeman was an afficionado and member of so called ‘men’s clubs’ -now regarded as ‘secret societies’- specifically the Bohemian Club of San Francisco, and The Bugs, a club founded by Haldeman in Chicago.

Following his arrival in Los Angeles, Haldeman founded The Uplifters, another secretive, outwardly ‘beneficent’ men’s club, with L. Frank Baum, author of the Oz books. Another midwesterner relocated to Los Angeles, Baum was a former newspaper publisher, longtime Theosophist, and recently successful author, who quickly became the Uplifters designated songwriter and scribe. He wrote the club’s early theme song, titled simply ‘Haldeman’.

The Uplifters originally met at the Los Angeles Atheletic Club downtown, sometimes staging their complex theatrical productions or ‘low jinx’ at other facilities. Soon after the formation of the Uplifters, Haldeman and Baum, with several fellow Uplifters, formed The OZ Film Manufacturing Company.

Other notable early Uplifters included Harry Chandler, President of the L.A. Times Publishing Co. and Robert Andrews Millikan, the founder of Caltech. The decidedly rightist political bent of the membership is reflected by their outside projects- Haldeman formed the Better America Foundation, a right wing propaganda and education advocacy group, and Chandler and Millikan founded The Human Betterment Foundation, a eugenics group that would guide the implementation of experimental sterilization policies in California that ultimately influenced the Nazi eugenics program.

In 1921, Haldeman’s Better America Federation published Woodworth Clum’s Making Socialists out of College Students, an early redbaiting attack on academia, and began contests in schools across all levels of education designed to promote patriotism and expose ‘Red’ influence.

The Human Betterment Foundation published Paul Popenoe and E.S. Gosney’s, 28 Years of Sterilization in California, a major and highly disturbing work of the eugenics movement that advocated for and documented the implementation of the enforced sterilization of the mentally ill and disabled.

As the club grew in size and influence, The Uplifters relocated to Rustic Canyon in the Santa Monica mountains, buying up massive swathes of property, much of which now comprises the park named after fellow Uplifter Will Rogers.

During the decades following the Uplifters’ relocation and rapid metastasis within Rustic Canyon, another compound took shape just up the hill. The Murphy Ranch’s roots are shrouded in mystery and disinformation but appear to have been secretly commissioned by an outgrowth of a massive fascist underground in Los Angeles and surrounding areas during the 1930’s. Based on initial designs by famed African American architect Paul Williams and later modified by Welton Becket and Associates, the compound was nicknamed ‘Hitler’s home in Los Angeles’ and seems to have been laying the groundwork for the eventual triumph of the Third Reich within America.

Walt Disney, as a child, was a charter member of the first chapter of the Order of Demolay, a youth group begun as a farm club for Freemasonry in Kansas City. Named for Jacques Demolay, the head of the Order of the Knights Templar, who was burned at the stake in 1314, the Order of Demolay was a youth benevolent society modeled on early 20th Century youth organizations like the Boy Scouts.

Certain lodges within Freemasonry had, for centuries, been tracing their roots to the Knights Templar. Demolay, as head of the Templars, was accused by the Inquisition of blasphemy and engaging in weird rites including the worship of an unusual relic, a disembodied head rumored to be that of John the Baptist. Denouncing Christ, homosexual rites, and other transgressions against the church were among the allegations and across Europe Templars were tortured and killed by agents of the Church in what most historians believe was essentially a power and land grab by King Philip IV of France, but with the lingering problem of seemingly corroborated evidence of the strange rites and relics.

According to the Freemasonic legend, while outwardly disbanded, surviving Templars fled to Scotland, Portugal, Spain, and eventually America, gradually reconstituting themselves as the Freemasons.

Disney never outwardly joined the Masons but continued supporting the Order of Demolay throughout his life. A number of Mickey Mouse cartoons functioned as recruiting tools for Demolay and refer to the Order explicitly. Disney named the secret, exclusive restaurant/club at Disneyland Club 33, a number associated with the secretive highest degree of Freemasonry, reserved for U.S. Presidents and other exemplars of worldly power.

Disney’s level of involvement with the Uplifters is murky, as are many of his involvements. Even within renegade biographies, one has the sense of a thorough

and expensive ‘sheepdipping’ or ‘scrubbing’of his life.

For several years at minimum and likely much longer, Disney was a member in good standing of The Uplifters, even developing a brief fixation on polo and playing at the Uplifters grounds in Rustic Canyon before witnessing a horrific polo accident which killed several Uplifters on the field.

Julian and Aldous Huxley were British expats in Los Angeles and the scientifically minded grandsons of T.H. Huxley. The elder Huxley, nicknamed ‘Darwin’s Bulldog’ for his defense of Darwin and his theory, was also an originator with his cousin Francis Galton, of what would come to be known as eugenics. Julian and Aldlous relocated to Los Angeles in the early 1920’s and began years of high profile advocacy of certain ‘scientific’ views. Aldous, who achieved fame with A Brave New World’s dystopian medicated society, went on to write The Doors of Perception, advocating for psychedelics somewhat ahead of the curve, while Julian coined the term ‘transhumanism’ and founded or headed a number of influential thinktanks and international organizations including UNESCO.

Both brothers are thought to have been Uplifters and Disney’s relationship with each was longstanding and complex. Aldous, like Disney, was an afficionado of Lewis Carroll, who had photographed Aldous and Julian’s mother when she was a child. Aldous developed a ‘mixed reality’ script for Disney’s Alice in Wonderland which was never shot but set the stage for the ‘mixed reality’ of Mary Poppins and other later Disney films.

Julian Huxley and Disney completed several documentary films and books together following Julian’s scientific ‘consultation’ on the dinosaur sequences in Fantasia.

In the months following Kristallnacht in 1938, the German actress turned director of both Olympia and Triumph of the Will, Leni Riefenstahl, known as ‘Hitler’s filmmaker’, found herself in Hollywood being snubbed by the vast majority of studios and directors. Only Disney would meet with her, thus beginning a decades long willingness to engage with or champion Nazis and former Nazis, culminating in Disney’s Man in Space, hosted by NASA founder Werner von Braun, former director of the Nazi V-2 program at Peenemünde, who was secretly brought to the U.S. under Operation Paperclip after the war, and later revealed to have been an officer in the SS knowingly employing slave labor from the camps in his massive rocket installations.

Disney’s longstanding relationship with the FBI and its near omniscient head, J. Edgar Hoover, similarly put him in strange circles. His extensive FBI files indicate that he was a special contact for the Los Angeles Special Agent In Charge, as well as a personal friend of Hoover’s. In the early days of the cold war, he seems to have acted as a go between, double agent, and possible agent provacateur on several trips to Latin America and Europe, reporting back to Hoover on ‘Red’ activity.

Following Disney employees’ labor strikes in the early 40’s, Disney commissioned Ayn Rand to write the anti Communist, anti Union Screen Guide for Americans, 1947,

published by the newly formed Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals, president, Walt Disney.

During his college years, H.R. Haldeman, the grandson of H.M. Haldeman, was heavily involved with fraternal organizations at UCLA, and went on to sit on the boards of numerous Southern California education institutions. Landing a role as account executive for J. Walter Thompson advertising agency, widely believed to be a C.I.A. front organization, Haldeman headed campaigns for 7up and Disney.

Tapped by Nixon to chair his first failed Presidential campaign followed by his winning California gubernatorial bid, and then his successful Presidential campaign, Haldeman followed Nixon into the Whitehouse. Before his death, Disney, a Nixon ally and former member of the ‘men’s club’ begun by H.R.’s grandfather, tapped H.R., with his extensive knowledge of college boards, to sit on the first board of the California Institute of the Arts. At the time of the Groundbreaking, already working in the Whitehouse, he ascended to President of the Board of Trustees.

In the late 1960’s, mounting tumult on the left and fear on the right of ascendent Black Power and student and antiwar activism led to the implementation of a counterterrorism program within CIA examining ties between domestic activism and foreign money. The program, implemented secretly by the CIA due the injunction against operating domestically, eventually became a fullblown domestic surveillance, counterterror, and assassination campaign codenamed Operation Chaos. Chaos was run by CIA operatives returning home from a terror and assassination campaign against the Vietnamese citizenry known as Operation Phoenix. A subproject of Operation Chaos codenamed Project Resistance charged with surveilling students and faculty on college campuses began infiltrating student groups with agents provocateurs. There is mounting evidence that the former J. Walter Thompson adman and likely CIA operative Haldemann, then chief of staff to Richard Nixon as well as chair of the Calarts Board charged with hiring administrators and faculty, was also an agent of Project Resistance.

Haldeman was later convicted and served prison time for his role in the Watergate coverup.

Walt Disney, nearing the end of his life, developed a fascination with cryonics. While the official orthodoxy is that he was not cryonized but buried at Forest Lawn, rumors persist of his cryonized head, preserved in a secret chamber specially constructed at the time of the groundbreaking, on or below the Sublevel at Calarts.