We Are Witnessing The Dawn of An Unknown Science
An exhibition of contemporary photographic works by a number of artists each displaying a preoccupation with the supernatural, paranormal or occult.
This exhibition was shown between 21st September – 28th October 2007
The show’s title is taken from a 1869 essay by the French spiritualist Camille Flammarion. And as it suggests, all the photographers featured share a certain investigatory spirit. Their work is informed by a peculiar convergence between science, the occult and photography. This alliance can be traced to the nineteenth century origins of the photograph. Spiritualists and psychical researchers harnessed the supposed objectivity of the camera to help prove paranormal phenomena, be it the presence of spirits, levitating objects or strange emanations.
The artists featured in this exhibition are drawn to similar methods and subjects as much for what they say about photography as for what they demonstrate about the occult. Each is influenced, in different ways, by a sense of the intangible – those aspects of experience that lie outside the normal confines of photographic representation – as well as by the technical means through which these phenomena might be lent concrete or visual form.
In her recent series, Photism, Clare Strand has deployed a contemporary aura camera to hint at the supposed psychical potential of her adolescent subjects and the often-assumed capacity of the photograph to accurately record non-physical phenomena. The instructional tableaux of her Kirlian Studies present a series of peculiar and enigmatic experiments, the artist’s personal investigation into the absurd.
Victoria Emes has manufactured similar laboratory-style conditions in her Illustrations of Hypnosis. Inspired by August Strindberg’s nineteenth century experiments using a pinhole camera, Emes’s images of young women under hypnosis explore the metaphysical potential of a lenseless photography. In herPyschomanteum Studies, Emes’s subjects are photographed in an equally trance-like state, mirror-gazing in a specially constructed apparition chamber designed to facilitate certain visionary experiences.
Shannon Taggart’s project, The Spiritualists, is the result of more than five years photographing Spiritualist communities in England and the U.S. The unsettling and ambiguous images featured in the show, representing the ‘channelling’ experiences of psychic mediums, seem to allude to the possibility of an unseen presence.
The psychologist Richard Wiseman has contributed a rich and varied collection of images to the exhibition, the result of his personal research into the paranormal. These photographs – rooted in rational investigation – acquire a strangely aesthetic quality when re-presented in a gallery context, offering a telling counterpoint to Strand and Emes’s playful embrace of a quasi-scientific rigour. This contrast is extended by a digital projection of amateur images downloaded from the internet. Stripped of their original context, the pictures – purporting to document seemingly inexplicable phenomena – acquire a highly visual and, at times, absurdly comic dimension.
The exhibition was produced by The Permanent Gallery, Bedford Place, Brighton in association with Photoworks.