The English word evidence is based on the Latin verb videre: to see. Familiar phrases such as seeing is believing or the assurance that something must be true because ‘I saw it with my own eyes’ are everywhere. Such observations and many others all bear witness to a well-established European connection between seeing and truth. 1
Today we live partly in a virtual world. We communicate through invisible channels, spending invisible money. Many of us even have an invisible self, countless fragments of actions scattered across a network of computers. And yet despite this intangible realm there are physical consequences – products through our letterbox and the joy of speaking to distant family. Material consequences obtained through immaterial means. It is perhaps no surprise then that this tension between the visible and the invisible – this ‘virtual crisis’ – would spark an interest in exploring the boundary further.
One of the ways for contemporary art to tackle these issues often produces confusion between notions of invisibility and emptiness. To mystery and curiosity it opposes intellectual rigour. The number of empty rooms we have endured is perhaps incalculable. White cubes devoid of art, feeling and mystery. So it is perhaps no surprise that ideas of spirituality in contemporary art seem increasingly relevant – and with them notions of spirit-entities.
The idea that feelings are embodied in god-forms and spirit-entities is hardly new in esoteric traditions. In the 15th and 16th century the spirits of the planets were assumed to influence moods, passions and emotions. Agrippa tells us that ‘wise men conceive it in no way irrational […] to draw new virtues from above’ (Agrippa, Book I). This implies a relationship between spirit and practitioners that is based on experiencing the effect of feelings on the body. Later still, in the 19th century, spiritualists termed ‘drawing mediums’ channelled artworks that brought attention to issues of remembrance, nostalgia, empathy and generational links. James Jackson Jarves advises us to understand ‘art as a vehicle of feelings about human destiny and not simply an instrument of routine aesthetic enjoyments’. 2
Thus, the concept of spirit-entities allows us to experience through the body again, and so re-introduces the idea of feelings to contemporary art. For the most part, spirits are felt or made contact’ with – tact being one of the original meanings of ‘to feel’ – rather than seen. Many of the artists exhibiting here note this,
I feel a nervousness arising accompanied by a feeling of immanence. Then there is a turning inwards and a disconnection from external perceptions. It feels like an ongoing initiation in perfect trust. [residue]
Thinking, looking and analysing will not work when faced with a canvas by Residue, Anne Crossey or Francesco Parisi. These works seem embedded in the here and now and the artist who experiences them can only do justice to it by capturing the immediacy of the moment. And as a viewer, we cannot expect to gain from these works unless we are willing to let go of any intellectual pretence. We must surrender, just as the artist has.
The idea of communication with spirits also offers another perspective for the world of fine art; it provides the means to return to subjective rather than abstract thoughts.
…[aesthetic] methods should be supplemented by the mysterious test of feeling; which takes cognizance of the sentiment of an artist, his absolute individuality, by which he is himself , and none other 3
In this guise, the artist becomes a singular translator. From spirit to artist, the whispered vision is intimate, exclusive. In turn, the artist reveals to us his deepest secrets, fears and ecstasies. Thus through otherness the artist discovers his sense of ‘I’ – an idea often lost within fine art.
Here then, once again, we find the artist as magician, a conjurer of new worlds.
Artist, you are a priest: Art is the great mystery and, if your effort results in a masterpiece, a ray of divinity will descend as on an altar. Artist, you are a king: Art is the true empire, if your hand draws a perfect line, the cherubim themselves will descend to revel in their reflection. Spiritual design, a line of the soul, form of understanding, you make our dreams flesh. Artist, you are a mage: Art is the great mystery, it only proves our immortality. 4
So with these ideas in mind we are delighted to introduce I:MAGE 2014, a two week festival of art, lectures, talks, performances and publications. It is intended as a focus for ideas surrounding the relationship between artists and spirit-entities. The exhibition itself offers over 65 works from a select group of international artists that display a great diversity of approach. To aid the visitor we have therefore created three categories – the social, the spatial and the personal – in the hope that they might help us explore ideas of embodiment, feelings and individuality. The catalogue you are holding is also arranged on this basis.
Robert Ansell & Livia Filotico
October 11th 2014
1. Maurice Bloch, ‘Truth and Sight: Generalizing without Universalizing’, in Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 2008.
2. Jarves quoted in Colbert, Charles, Haunted Visions, Spiritualism and American Art (Philadelphia : Penn Press, 2011) p. 185.
3. Colbert, p. 217.
4. Joseph Péladan, L’Art Idealiste et Mystique, 1894. Translated by Sasha Chaitow, http://peladan.org/?p=1407 (accessed 11th October 2014).
I:MAGE Opening Reception
Cob Gallery, 6pm – 9:30pm
The Colours of Western Esotericism
Cob Gallery, 7:30pm – 9:30pm
Thursday October 23rd
Jesse Bransford and Max Razdow
The Veil of Dreams
Cob Gallery, 7:30pm – 9pm
I:MAGE at the Warburg Institute
Warburg Institute, 10am – 6pm
Caroline Wise in conversation with Liz Insogna
Cob Gallery, 7:30pm – 9pm
Black Mirror Volume 0
Launch Party and Performance
Cob Gallery, 7pm – 10pm
Embodied Spirits and Fetishes
Cob Gallery, 7:30pm – 9pm
Abraxas Special Issue No. 2
Launch Party and Screenings
Horse Hospital, 7pm-10pm
Travelling with Unfamiliar Spirits
21cm x 21cm
XX colour images