Georgiana Houghton, The Spiritual Crown of Annie Mary Howitt Watts, 1867, watercolour on paper on board 33 x 23 cm, courtesy
Georgiana Houghton, The Spiritual Crown of Annie Mary Howitt Watts, 1867, watercolour on paper on board 33 x 23 cm, courtesy

From séances and Spiritualism, to Surrealism and the subconscious

2 mins read

Hayward Gallery Touring and Drawing Room, London, presents ?Not Without My Ghosts: The Artist As Medium?, a major exhibition of artists and works inspired by mediumistic methodologies and their deep cultural history. Bringing together more than 30 international artists from the 19th century to the present day, it explores the changing historical and aesthetic terms of artistic engagement with mediumship, from perceived spiritual inspiration and creation during séances and trances, to practices of automatism, channelling, and paranormal investigation, whilst also considering clairvoyant practices in relation to the history of feminism.

The exhibition takes as its starting point the visionary work of William Blake and the largely forgotten Victorian spirit artists Georgiana Houghton, Anna Mary Howitt and Barbara Honywood, whose work based on experiences and communication with the world of the spirits was strikingly at odds with prevailing traditions of artistic expression. The exhibition progresses onto Surrealist experiments with automatism, and moves through the 20th Century where work by artists Austin Osman Spare, Ithell Colquhoun and Cameron draws on techniques of automatism combined with an interest in ritualised forms of occultism.

Pia Lindman, GL 28 (Naivete), 2016, pen, China ink and felt pen on archival paper, 29.5 x 21 cm, courtesy the artist.
Pia Lindman, GL 28 (Naivete), 2016, pen, China ink and felt pen on archival paper, 29.5 x 21 cm, courtesy the artist.

Concluding with works from artists such as Suzanne Treister, Bonnie Camplin, Lea Porsager and Louise Despont, ?Not Without My Ghosts ?demonstrates how contemporary artists are using the power of the unseen and the ghostly to explore the radical ambiguities of the world around them.

Acting as a primer rather than a definitive treaty, ?Not Without My Ghosts ?addresses 200 years of medium art by exploring how artists have been inspired or directly influenced by forces beyond those accepted by the modern world.? In the context of this exhibition, the creation of art is understood as a process of opening up to receive and channel forces that expand the limits of human experience. For some artists, their works function as evidence of another realm of existence, for others the mediation between the hidden and the visible world is utilised as a response to the complexity and strangeness of life. With a large proportion of work by female artists, the exhibition illustrates how it has been primarily women who have engaged with and interpreted spirit art and the mediumistic.

At Drawing Room, where the exhibition opens, the focus is on drawing and its potential to reveal what lies beyond the confines of the visible. The exhibition then expands to include painting, film and installation when it tours to Blackpool, Sheffield and Swansea, while also connecting to the rich legacy of Spiritualism in these towns and cities: the seaside clairvoyance of Blackpool; the legacy of the Victorian art critic and social reformer John Ruskin in Sheffield; and the renowned political activist and Spiritualist Winifred Coombe Tennant, one of the most significant early patrons and official buyer for the collection of the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery in Swansea.

Participating artists:? William Blake; Cameron; Bonnie Camplin; Ann Churchill; Ithell Colquhoun; Louise Despont; Casimiro Domingo; Madame Fondrillon; Chiara Fumai; Madge Gill; Susan Hiller; Barbara Honywood; Georgiana Houghton; Anna Mary Howitt; Victor Hugo; Augustin Lesage; Pia Lindman; Ann Lislegaard; André Masson; Grace Pailthorpe; František Jaroslav Pecka; Olivia Plender; Sigmar Polke; Lea Porsager; Austin Osman Spare; Yves Tanguy ?and? Suzanne Treister? with ?The Museum of Blackhole Spacetime Collective. Noviadi Angkasapura; Robert Barry; Vidya Gastaldon; Jock Macdonald and Emma Talbot will be included in the exhibition tour.

Brian Cass, Senior Curator of Hayward Gallery Touring? says: “?Acting as mediators between a hidden and the visible world, the artists in? Not Without My Ghosts? create compelling realities of unusual intensity and originality. They invite us to think beyond the bounds of conventional experience. We are delighted to be collaborating with Drawing Room and working with our partners around the UK, connecting to their rich histories of Victorian Spiritualism, to their collections and audiences?.”

Kate Macfarlane and Mary Doyle, Co-Directors of Drawing Room?, say: ? “?200 years on from Blake, drawing continues to be the principal vehicle for artists to process and express alternative ways of being in the world.?”

Not Without My Ghosts: The Artist As Medium? is a Hayward Gallery Touring exhibition developed in collaboration with Drawing Room, curated by Lars Bang Larsen, Simon Grant and Marco Pasi.

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