I “I’m a man without a shadow / in a room without walls” is a song lyric that could easily describe Hunter Bell’s existentialist self-concept. The lyric is from Omni-Morphist’s first EP, “We may be a joke. But it’s a joke you can believe in.” Hunter Bell and Aaron Slaughter formed Omni-Morphist when a sound check resulted in a 28-minute song. Creating something from nothing – a song from a sound check, or visual art from broken watches found in a junkyard – drives Bell’s intensely spiritual, eclectic life-force.
Bell creates in many mediums, including music, visual art, and writing. “When I say ‘art,’ I mean music, I mean writing, I mean visual art, I mean journalism,” Bell said. “I don’t like it when people label ‘art’ as visual art only.”
Labels, words, concepts, and images are essential to Bell. His unique use of them urges you to rethink their traditional definitions so that you can think for yourself and deconstruct their accepted meanings.
A solid example of Bell’s multi-dimensional universe and personal mythology he has created for himself is the Omni-Morphist EP. Hearing it for the first time is like hearing a techno-industrial soundtrack to a nightmare. Bell’s spoken words such as “anti” and “omni” and phrases like “not then, not now” are layered over synthesized instrumentation, resulting in a sound likened to electronic lasers incessantly drilling into you. But once you’re inside the musical universe that Bell and Slaughter have developed, new thoughts are provoked and the mind is expanded, much like when talking with Bell about art, symbology, mythology, and philosophy.
Bell’s “omniverse” was born in the late 1990s. He’s returning to Birmingham from Pell City to the same apartment buildings where he birthed this concept. Having never heard the word ‘omniverse’ before, I asked Bell to explain it so I could understand the world Bell has created for himself.
“Sun Ra spoke of the omniverse,” Bell said. Birmingham native Sun Ra was an experimental jazz musician who named many of his band projects “the astral omniverse.” “The omniverse is every universe, every possibility, and every impossibility,” Bell said. “It can get really hairy. I ’m writing an almost academic essay on the omniverse, an essay that is closely related to my philosophy studies.”
Bell is developing this essay, “Encompassing the Omniversal Instant,” into a book, which will include drawings of personal symbols such as his “Omni Family” from another dimension and the “Omni ball” he created in 1998, an image that combines yin and yang. “It’s supposed to be an energy-generating source but it also has decay in it,” Bell said. He’s talking with a publishing company, TTA Press, about his book. Several journals, such as Parabola, also are interested in Bell’s theories.
Bell received his bachelor’s degree in philosophy while matriculating through UAB’s honors program. During his philosophy studies, he delved into existentialism. “A lot of my early poetry contains themes of isolationism, self-loathing, and existentialism,” he said. Bell’s existentialism has manifested itself in both his tangible creations, featured at the City Stages Spoken Word Festival, the Improv Festival, and “Spaceship Saturn,” a Sun Ra tribute event, as well as his intangible, abstract creations like the omniverse.
“The omniverse can be all arts; even the term ‘con-artist’ is included,” Bell said.
“You have to have nothing before you can have everything. The omniverse also encompasses tragedy.”
Tragedy is a concept especially familiar to Bell. Not only has he had to fight for visitation with his son through the bitter battles of his divorce, but when Bell was only 11, his close friend from Coosa Valley Academy was murdered. Bell recently visited the house in which his friend used to live. “The murder of my friend has affected me more in the past 10 years,” Bell said.
After experiencing such immense tragedy, Bell chose to move away from the negative into the positive. He had a media pass to the murderer’s execution, but decided not to go. “I had the opportunity to see the man executed, but I went to an Amnesty International meeting instead,” he said.
“Creating art has saved me,” Bell said. “The omniverse gives me a way to escape the hereafter. Meditation also has helped me.” After being shot in 2003 in front of his apartment, Bell developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). “Art has been the only effective ‘treatment’ for my depression,” he said. “It’s fun creating my own little world, a world that saved me because I created it through my art. I no longer think about suicide, and I’ve not stopped creating.”
Bell captures what he calls “the instant” through transcendental meditation, which allows him to travel the multiverses encompassed by the omniverse. “It’s not a moment; it’s less than a moment, and it’s incalculable,” Bell said. “You cannot calculate it whatsoever – the moment of birth, of death, and of experience. Everything else is history. There’s really no future. Everything has already happened.”
The transition from creating strictly for himself to save his life to publicly exhibiting his artwork and selling his pieces has been tough for Bell. “I found that in order to exhibit artwork in Birmingham, one must know the right people and have the ‘right’ art in most cases. But not in mine!” he said.
Nevertheless, “Into the Infinite Instant: The Omniversal Art of Hunter Bell” will open at Rojo on Thursday, March 1st, at 7 p.m. “Rojo has always been so supportive of experimental arts and has allowed me to use its space for many experimental art events over the years,” Bell said. “Birmingham is, sadly, vapid in too many ways to comment on. However, I do feel a creative force here unlike few other places. That’s why I keep coming back. I guess a lot of suffering just begets a lot of art.”
While tragedy might stop or hinder another artist’s creative process, the stuff of which Bell is made can’t be stopped by something as pedestrian as suffering. “I am constantly creating within every moment, while awake and asleep,” he said.
When Bell’s own creative process is blocked, he said he usually has to learn which ideas he creates with -- and from -- trial and error. “I get frustrated when I spend hundreds of hours on a visual or written piece and it doesn’t pan out,” he said. “I have, however, spent many hours of frustration on a piece only to finally produce my most wonderful creation ever. Funny thing is, few people would ever know how long such a piece takes me to complete, whether it’s the intricate lines, hidden messages, or images few will ever notice, or the many grueling hours I’ve spent staring at a piece or thinking about it.”
“In the end, every piece works itself out,” Bell said. “The most frustration I’ve experienced stems from not realizing that my subconscious and the work and the idea ITSELF will all work together and BECOME.”
Perhaps the knowledge that art, in the end, will create itself without forcing it can be gained only by living in the omniverse. “Nietzsche said everything has been done,” Bell said. “Matter can only construct itself in a finite amount of ways.”
Open your mind and explore the concepts embraced by this thought-provoking artist-philosopher by visiting Bell’s blogs and web sites. As he stated in a Facebook post titled “Open letter to ARTISTS of ALL TYPES in Birmingham/Alabama from myself AS and with a bro from another dimension, another planet.” “Why would anyone choose to distance themselves from potential enlightenment and even prevent others from the chance to experience a world unlike the one we are currently ‘living to death’ via insipid, overdone arts and outdated attitudes?” Take advantage of Hunter Bell’s return to Birmingham by attending his art exhibit at Rojo, listening to Omni-Morphist’s first EP, and/or reading his provocative blogs.