Mark Dean’s Scorpio Rising 2 (The Gospel According to St Matthew / Hells Angels on Wheels) was produced in 1997 as a kind of remake of Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising, 1963, a seminal work in the history of both appropriation and the use of popular music in film and video. Scorpio Rising mixes Anger’s own biker gang footage with found imagery, including a Bible movie which, according to Anger, was misdelivered to his doorstep while he was in the process of editing. Anger’s work was informed by his engagement with the occultism of Aleister Crowley, and thus his appropriation of religious imagery was a deliberate inversion of meaning.
Scorpio Rising 2 mixes biker and biblical footage by presenting two entire films (Richard Rush’s Hells Angels on Wheels, and Pasolini’s Gospel According to St Matthew) simultaneously, on a split-screen. By making no edits to this source material, apart from the split-screen process, Dean intended to return the balance of interpretation towards the median, as compared to Anger’s polemical intercutting. In doing so, he was not taking a neutral position as regards meaning; the choice of subject matter was specific, as registered by the text of the subtitles. However, the artist is interested in the kind of meaning that can arise when authorship is surrendered to a process.
Dean is not the first artist to reference Scorpio Rising in a contemporary religious artwork; Andy Warhol mixed images of Jesus and motorcycles in this painting from his Last Supper series (1986).
But before Warhol’s painting, or even Anger’s film, there was the 59 Club, founded by The Revd Bill Shergold in London in 1959, and now the largest motorcycle club in the world.