Friday, 8 February 2013

Manifestations of GHost IV

After a break in 2011, to participate in Folkestone Triennial, GHost returned to St Johns to haunt this wonderful John Soane's church for the fourth time.  The exhibition and program of events, as in previous GHost shows,  featured moving image installations, performance and film screenings, but this time with the addition of live sound performances.
Artworks in the exhibition were selected in response to a programme of interdisciplinary seminars - the Hostings - held at the University of London throughout 2012.  The Hostings together with GHost's programme of visual arts exhibitions are designed to make manifest, and by extension examine, the aesthetics of ghosts and haunted spaces. This year GHost explored two themes: absence - haunted landscapes and presence - manifesting ghosts.

A separation between presence and absence was created by installing works that interrogate the idea of ghostly manifestations in the atrium and belfry and haunted landscape works within the gallery and nave.

Thanks to all at St John Bethnal Green for being wonderful hosts.
Thank you to the GHost artists and to all the guests for making this such a memorable event.


PRESENCE


Calum F Kerr's, epic performance Threshold Figure bridged the space between presence and absence.   Positioned across the imposing doorway of the nave of St Johns he demanded, in a doom-laden voice, that guests offer a sacrifice in exchange for a coin thus gaining passage through the wings of his expansive gate-like cloak.  Many made that crossing,  feeling their way through the darkness and cloying draperies of The Threshold figure's cloak, to emerge blinking in the light from the movie screen beyond, perhaps reflecting on the wisdom of their sacrifice.


Mario Lautier Vella has experienced an actual haunting at his home and made the work Domestic in response to this. Vella draped the left wing of the atrium with curtains; falling the whole length of the high curving stair well they created the distinct  feeling that something was hiding behind them.  In the corner, a mirrored box sat on top of a mirrored cabinet casting  rainbow reflections all about. Inside the box a film featured a sinister masked figure with what could be either its double or a reflection.  The drawers of the cabinet contained the paraphernalia of ghost hunting, exorcisms the séance room and the two masks from the film – is this an invitation to be both ghost and ghost hunter?


Anne Robinson's An Occulting Light was projected onto a large screen in the right atrium of St Johns. The screen,  draped with white cloth, was reminiscent of a ship's sail.  Robinson's eerie and mesmerising film featured footage from the 'the cruel sea' slowed down to such a degree that each frame seemed to melt and slide into the next, the image breaking down into a surface evocative of shimmering reflections on the ocean at night.  The accompanying soundtrack featured the artist singing sea shanties and nautical hymns in a voice so distorted and inhuman that it sent shivers down the listeners back as they listened on their cordless headphones.


Paul Coates observes that ‘both film and the Spiritualist materialize the dead’ (Coates 1984: 121)8*; or at least they give the illusion of doing so. Artist Birgitta Hosea's performance Medium  powerfully demonstrated both these 'illusions'.
 In the cavernous belfry space the artist performed the actions of a medium in trance state, producing automatic writing onto an electronic drawing tablet upon her lap – the contemporary equivalent of spirit slate writing. Behind Hosea the marks appeared simultaneously on a large screen whilst she voiced the question, “is anybody there?” Rapping noises issued from concealed speakers, seemingly in response. Images, in the projected film, made using digital animation techniques, featured the artist enacting the roles of notable female Victorian mediums and an array of spectral figures, fading in and out, against a backdrop of swirling cotton wool - a substance favoured by Victorian spirit photographers to simulate ectoplasm. The insubstantial projected images appear to be emanating from the artist whilst at the same time she attempts to merge her corporeal body with their illusory presence.
*Thanks Tom Ruffles, whose excellent book Ghost Images: cinema and the afterlife was invaluable for me own research and in which drew my attention to Paul Coates article in New Left Review.

ABSENCE

Artists Arabella Lee and Pauline Thomas frequently collaborate in the creation of moving image installation within buildings and other architectural structures. Both Lee's and Thomas's work was installed in the Gallery space, with projections made direct onto a doorway (Lee) or wall (Thomas).


Lee's works Illion East portrayed the landscape, as a haunting presence, with respect to both the notion of tragic memory embedded within a specific locale and within the dreamlike image sequence leading the viewer deeper into a landscape of overgrown pathways and mossy ruins. The film is accompanied by a narrative constructed through the voices of two elderly neighbours from the area. They talk of the places tragic past and their stories haunt the images.

photograph by Pauline Thomas
In Thomas's film Loomings  the ghost-like outline of a ship emerges through sea-fog. The presence of a vast ocean is conjured up within the modestly sized frame of the projected image. For the viewer, the effect is one of disruption to spacial perceptions, as the materiality of the underlying structures absents itself beneath the illusory presence of the seascape projected onto its surface. The half concealed ship, suddenly making an appearance, gliding though the fog, is more insubstantial than a sea mist, the only concrete presence is the stone wall into which it is projected.
The landscape, in both Lee's and Thomas's installations, becomes a threshold space; a portal into an uncanny vista into which the mind may travel and the body feels it could almost follow.


Phillip Raymond Goodman's moving image installation Homeward shared the gallery space with Lee and Thomas and also made use of the infrastructures already in the building. Goodman placed a small portable DVD player upon a music stand he found in the Gallery. The piece could only be viewed and listened to by one person at a time, which together with the screen's small scale, gave the work an intimate and personal quality. The looped film featured footage, shot from the top deck, of a bus journey at night. The landscape here was urban and banal, yet rendered wondrous and otherworldly by 'the noise' and distortions created by the digital camera and the bus windows. The disembodied , recorded voice, announcing the names of the bus stops, gave the work a rhythmical, hypnotic quality which worked conceptually with its placement on the music stand.

HAUNTED LANDSCAPES SHOWREEL

Throughout GHost IV a programme of artist films on the theme of Haunted Landscapes was show on the big screen in the nave.


Sharon Kivland's Reisen: The limped waters of mountain lakes, The snow on alpine peaks and The smoke of steam trains consists of three landscape image sequences, organised thematically. For some time, Kilvand has been collecting found photographic images and postcards. The Reisen trilogy features re-photographed, antique black and white landscape photographs from this collection. Re-photographed from old postcards, each film is subtitled ‘Every year Sigmund Freud went on holiday with his brother, Alexander’. The suggestion is that the viewer is receiving postcards from Freud, direct from the past. The images may be a reference to Freud's own neurosis around trains and train journeys.  These sublime landscape are also archetypal symbols loaded with psychoanalytical meaning. Projected on such a large scale and framed by the imposing architecture of a church nave, Kivland's films took on an epic and theatrical quality – a sermon on the haunting nature of photography.

Neil Wissink's Pugwash plays with documentation and fabrication. Footage, of an abandoned farm in Nova Scotia belonging to Wissink's ancestors was payed to a medium, whose live reading of the footage was recorded and subsequently used as the soundtrack for the film. Other sound effects such bird song, possibly from field recordings or live sound from the locations, merges with the mediums high, sing-song voice. The landscapes are empty of people, only gravestones, or abandoned buildings remain as evidence of human habitation, and, all the while the medium suggests ghosts - absent beings in a distant place.


Sally Waterman's February is one of a series of short poetic films; documenting the artists experience of death and loss, it serves as a visual diary. A sea voyage to the Isle of Wight, to attend a funeral of a close family friend, is portrayed via a series of images shot through the boat's window.   It is a world of water.  The waves beyond the window,  the Water droplets on its glass,  read as a metaphor for grieving – tears in an overwhelming ocean of grief. Donna McKevitt's haunting musical score adds to the feeling of sorrow. The final frame shows the pier as the boat is about to dock - the sudden ending of a journey.

 Tall towers in an otherwise empty landscape, stand ominously silent in the twilight. This was GRUNSKE, by Sabine Schöbel, a portrait of the Palace of the Republic in Berlin which once a symbol of nostalgia for the GDR. The towers have since been demolished and so watching the film could was something like viewing their ghosts. Skeletal already at the time of filming, they never -the-less seem impenetrable and eternal. The film switches between shots of the towers and passages where the screen is black and empty. During these 'black-outs' the noise recorded on sight could be heard at a high volume. The noise was displaced from it's corresponding image and effect was a jolt to the viewers senses and the ghosts of the towers entered the void space of the screen via auditory channels.

The landscape in Hayley Lock's Blue Light is a vast presence, serving as a stage or backdrop,  to the action played out by five awkward  characters inside a stately home. The house is Cromer Hall on the North Norfolk coast where Arthur Conan Doyle stayed and drew inspiration for his tale 'The Hound of the Baskervilles'. Lock draws on stories of the ghost of The Black Shuck, a demon dog that is said to run the coastal and corpse paths from Sheringham to Overstrand and merges these with Enid Blighton's Secret Seven in the most delightfully creepy way. The narrators silken and somewhat sinister voice imbues his words with a magical quality. Together with the drone of the sound track and deliberate yet dream-like actions of the characters it makes for a bewitching experience. This enchantment was further enhanced by the smell of incense, which always pervades st. Johns. The motif of the dark glass which Lock refers to as her talisman, makes regular appearances, its dark reflective surface seems to hide impenetrable secrets.

ADRIFT – HAUNTED SOUNDSCAPES

On the night of Friday 7th December, GHost hosted an night of sound performances in the nave of st Johns.


Jude Cowan Montague opened the night with a wonderful improvised score upon the church organ. The old church organ is in clear view from the nave and organ music was swirling up into the rafters, but where was the organist – it looked as if the organ was uncannily playing itself? The old church organ is in fact defunct and Cowan Montague was concealed behind the altar playing the new one. Her playing - otherworldly carnival meets church processional - evoked the spirit of the film Carnival of Souls and drew served to summon the audience to take their seats in the pews and prepare themselves to be transported by haunted sounds-capes.

When the organ music ceased members of MYSTERIUM and myself slowly processed up the aisle of the nave – the processional performance has become a sort of GHost tradition introduced by Marc Vaulbert de Chantilly in 2008. Our processional route completed, the nave was plunged into darkness and STASIS 73 began their 30 minute live audio installation, LIVE_TRANSMISSION. 

In the darkness shadows, cast by the city lights outside, danced across the ceiling whilst STASIS 73 transported the 'congregation' into a haunted landscape conjured up from field recordings and live sound interventions. The work had a narrative feeling; it felt like experiencing a journey to someone else’s memory as so many good stories do. The sound-scape filled the nave as did the listeners own 'thought pictures'; the parameters of both space and time inside the church and without coming into question.



Through their performance, a musical evocation - to the self-portrait painting by the artist SAMUEL PALMER, MYSTERIUM embodied the role of correspondents between the spiritual and material world – a role which Palmer himself believed in. A projected self-portrait of the young Palmer gazed soulfully back at the audience. Combined with the sublimely spiritual sounds of Kevin Quigley and Christos Fanaras, Palmer's image become an almost material presence. MYSTERIUMS beautiful performance grew in intensity, coming to a euphoric crescendo which resonated through the both material and immaterial presences.

Anne Robinson's Alive Alive-O was given its debut screening and provided the perfect climactic ending to the night - its nautical theme following on perfectly from the Haunted sea film screening. In Alive Alive- O the film has been shot almost as if from the perspective of a ghost trapped inside the hull of an empty ruined ship. A familiar folk song provides the soundtrack, made in collaboration with David Cross, formerly of King Crimson, it is sung with powerful emotion by Anne herself. The shape of the boats hull is mirrored in the hammer beam roof of st Johns and, as Anne's ghost vocals culminate in a wailing cry of grief, we could all have been passengers in a ghost ship, lost souls adrift in the ocean.   






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