Black Thorns in the Black Box is a touring screening of experimental film and video by eleven contemporary artists whose work resonates with the heavy, dark, and mystic obscurity of Black Metal music.

Based throughout Northern America and Europe, the participating artists include Annie Feldmeier Adams for Locrian (Chicago), Gast Bouschet & Nadine Hilbert (Brussels, Belgium), Una Hamilton Helle (London, England), Devin Horan (Brooklyn), Hunter Hunt-Hendrix (Brooklyn), Semiconductor (Brighton, England), Chris Kennedy (Toronto, Canada), Marianna Milhorat (Chicago), Jimmy Joe Roche (Baltimore), Shazzula for Cultus Sabbati (Brussels, Belgium), and Michaël Sellam (Paris, France).

This screening of Black Thorns in the Black Box is organized into three chapters —the underground, the earth, and the heavens—according to the branches of Medieval concepts of music—musica mundana, musica humana, and musica instrumentalis—to explore how Black Metal has permeated all known spheres of creation.

This program is directed by Amelia Ishmael. It was co-curated in December 2011 by Amelia Ishmael and Bryan Wendorf.


• March 1, 2012 at FOKL (Kansas City, KS)
• March 24, 2012 at The Nightingale (Chicago, IL)
• May 6, 2012 at Spectacle Theater (Brooklyn, NY)
• August 1, 2012 at the Hammer Museum (Los Angeles, CA)
• August 5, 2012 at Artists' Television Access (San Francisco, CA)
• April 11, 2014 at J. A. De Sève Cinema, Concordia University (Montreal, Canada)

Please contact me if you would be interested in screening the program at your venue.

The Program
(download PDF)

Chapter 1:
Subterranean: musica instrumentalis

Director: Devin Horan (USA/Latvia)
DV, 16:46 min, 2009
Boundary is the first installment in a tetralogy of films that explores Sadeq Hedayat’s confession: “In life it is possible to become angelic, human, or animal. I have become none of these things.” Shot during twilight among an isolated community near the Latvian-Russian border, this video is an ambiguous, ahistorical documentary of the dark inertia that seeps through any elucidation of divisions between nature, man, and psyche.

One Roll in the Blackness
Director: Chris Kennedy (Canada)
16mm on video, 3 min, 2011
Heads thrash and dissolve in photodynamic nods of light as the guitar shreds a thick noisy pitch-black. Time, space, and sonic waves are distorted through the trajectory that is motion. Evanescence is everything. Featuring Keiji Haino.

Cultus Sabbati - Mouth of the Beast
Director: Shazzula (Belgium)
DV, 9 min, 2011
“The skies they were ashen and sober; / The leaves they were crisped and sere - / The leaves they were withering and sere; / It was night in the lonesome October / Of my most immemorial year: / It was hard by the dim lake of Auber, / In the misty mid region of Weir - / It was down by the dank tarn of Auber, / In the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.” Edgar Allan Poe This video is a segment taken from Shazzula’s feature-length video “Black Mass Rising.”

Days of Death Without Sorrow
Directors: Gast Bouschet and Nadine Hilbert (Belgium)
DV, 6:21 min, 2011
Antonin Artaud: “We must not seek a logic or a sequence which things do not contain, we must interpret the intimate meaning of the images, the inner meaning which moves inward from without.” And also: “The clash of objects and movement produces psychic situations which wedge the mind in and force it to find some subtle means of escape. Nothing exists except in terms of shape, volume, light, air—but above all in terms of a detached and naked sentiment which slips between the paths paved with images and reaches a sort of heaven where it bursts into a bloom.”

Chapter 2:
On this Earth: musica humana

Locrian - Elevations and Depths
Director: Annie Feldmeier Adams (USA)
DV, 10:43 min, 2010
“The light—have you noticed it? Is there an eclipse expected? The sun seems unable to make up its mind.” J.G. Ballard

Director: Una Hamilton Helle (UK)
DV, 3:58 min, 2010
Immersed in dense woods and dampened by snow, an eldritch voice tells of encounters with eerie creatures that live beyond the thresholds of our mortal world. Are these the Northern forests of Ydalir, the misty abode of the sorcerer Ullr—Norse god of winter and death?

This Is Not An Anchor, This Boat Is Not An Anchor
Director: Marianna Milhorat (USA)
16mm on video, 11:10 min, 2007
Dense fog, boat motors, crickets and frogs. Sharp flashes of disorienting dream images bite throughout a solitary journey through abysmal American marshlands. But what sinks to the core is the faint fuzz of pre-Black Metal’s Appalachian folk music. According to Greil Marcus this sound “is simply a singer’s insistence on mystery as inseparable from any honest understanding of what life is all about; it is the quiet terror of a man seeking salvation who stares into a void that stares back.”

Genesis Caul
Director: Hunter Hunt-Hendrix (USA)
DV, 40:42 min, 2011
Genesis Caul is a montage of video and text documenting the artist’s process of writing the “Transcendental Black Metal” essay. We witness the artist navigating the transitional space between ordinary subjectivity and creative work, undergoing great struggle, and resolutely overcoming the self and giving form to Idea. This video reveals the affirmative parallels between the creative process and the reorientation that the individual listener experiences when encountered with Transcendental Black Metal music.

Chapter 3:
Extraterrestrial: musica mundana

Brilliant Noise
Directors: Semiconductor (UK)
DV, 10 min, 2006
Made at the NASA Space Sciences Laboratory at UC Berkeley, Brillant Noise comprises scores of photographs of solar astrology rendered into time lapse sequences according to their spectral frequencies. This visual noise is accompanied sonically by digitally sampled recordings of solar natural radio, determined by readings of light intensies within the video. The result is a raw solar symphony of energy particles and solar wind.

Beam Splitter
Director: Jimmy Joe Roch (USA)
DV, 1 min, 2011, Long tangled black hair descends and melts into dark clothes, the glean of a spiked mace echoes in spiny nailed gauntlets, a blood smeared sneer lurks through greytones: when a modern Viking warrior poses for a suspenseful screen test spectral sorcery attacks the director’s lens with supernatural glitches and distortion.

Black Metal Forever
Director: Michaël Sellam (France)
DV, 7:30 min, 2010
This video is a documentation of Sellam’s sound sculpture Black Metal Forever, a 16-foot tall hydraladder swathed in a black membrane and outfitted with diverse audio sensors. The massive machine’s aerial operator orchestrates its long arm throughout the vast architectural space of Paris’s Le CentQuatre arts center. Each extension is detected, amplified, and remixed into a brutal industrial black metal.

Snapshots, Press, and Responses

preparing the programs for the first screening

Kansas City

the venue

setting up the venue, with original Christophe Szpajdel logo drawing displayed above threshold

A silent and attentive audience, not popping Bud Lights. In the room, a boreal chill. I had to go get my sweater.
Infoduct, Kansas City


Curated in conjunction with a related art exhibit at Western Exhibitions, this awesome-sounding experimental film and video program features work inspired by and related to black metal.
Time Out Chicago

Weekender with Alison Cuddy, WBEZ 91.5

The Nightingale (1084 N. Milwaukee Ave.) presents two tantalizing shows this weekend: on Friday at 7pm, the group show Black Thorns in the Black Box (Video Projection - unconfirmed formats), curated by Amelia Ishmael and Bryan Wendorf, features shorts that complement the work in the current Black Metal-themed gallery exhibition "Black Thorns in the White Cube" (on view March 16 through April 14 at Western Exhibitions)...
CINE-FILE listing

the venue

setting up the venue

Brooklyn, NY

Black Thorns in the Black Box is coming to Brooklyn … being “a touring screening of experimental film and video by eleven contemporary artists whose work resonates with the heavy, dark, and mystic obscurity of Black Metal music.” I caught it in Chicago and thought it pretty awesome; you should go...


Organized according to the medieval typology of music — musica mundana, musica humana, and musica instrumentalis — this film and video program explores how the mystic obscurity of black metal music has permeated all known spheres of creation. Curated by Amelia Ishmael and Bryan Wendorf.
Hammer Museum summer program magazine

No, Count Grishnackh, Euronymous, and King Diamond aren’t obscure Sesame Street characters. They’re the avatars of Scandinavian black metal, which has expanded its fan base far beyond angry teenage boys. This film and video program explores the music genre’s grim and hilarious history, from corpse paint to blast beats.
Los Angeles Magazine
[I don't think they received the correct press release...]

the venue

posterboard at the Hammer Museum (accompanied by Cultus Sabbati played throughout their plaza speaker system)

my best impression of Gaahl receiving a question, during the Q&A

Screening Review
by a young blogger who hates experimental music and video

Black Thorns Scare Me
Marisa Mostek, Voyage
Tsk, tsk, Hammer Museum! As Stephen Colbert says, a wag of my finger to you (previously, it only recieved a tip o' my hat). Instead of leaving the venue with an expanded, uplifted mind, I ran away with a splitting headache. The lack of audience members and use of the smaller public program space should have immediately tipped me off. Had I been in Sherlock Holmes mode and analyzing my surroundings, one glance into the designated room would have sent me back to the bus stop.
Hammer Museum, you let me down. This is strike one.
Experimental films never appeased me in the way they do film students. When 15 minutes of a previous film course I took were dedicated to viewing a piece of tape with parts of dead insects roll across a camera lens, I knew it wasn't for me. I like cinema that entertains, not cinema composed of scenes likely to creep into my dreams and cause irreperable mental trauma. The film clips in the Hammer screening put on tonight fell squarely into the latter category.
The confusing event title "Black Thorns in the Black Box" misled me. By the description on the website, it sounded like it was a documentary about metal music. As I would soon discover, that was not the case.
I met my friend in the screening room where we could barely hear ourselves speak over the eerie metal music. Once again, something which should have tipped me off that this would be a weird event. "Watson, what kind of events do this music genre generally precede?"Had I been thinking logically, that is the question I would have asked. I still had to give the Hammer the benefit of the doubt.
The event began at the typical five-minute-late mark of Hammer events. A woman came up and informed us that she would show three sets of short films. Vague. Should have been another warning sign. The first short film began with a nature scene. Cut to creepy, sallow-faced old man who possibly uses meth. Cut back to other nature scene. Cut to weird angle of a much younger sallow-faced man who appears to have already developed cataracts. Cut to some elk grazing. And so on for 9 minutes.
Thankfully the next clip ran only about 3 minutes. Filmed by a camera man who seemed to be having a seizure, I would not have been able to last any longer than that. The third clip convinced us to leave. The screechy guitar acting as a "soundtrack" to a visual string of events I cannot even attempt to describe, I ran out of the room clutching my ears.

San Francisco

the flyers

the venue

setting up the projector (we had a print of Chris Kennedy's 16mm film at the two California screenings!)