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The Wonders of the Invisible World.

Preview: Wednesday 13 July 6:00 - 8:00pm
Exhibition dates:
Part I: 14 July - 8 October 2011
Part II; 27 October 2011 - 4 February 2012

 

Artists in part I:
Charles Leadbeater, The International Necronautical Society, Peter Doig, Susan Hiller, Jane & Louise Wilson, Clare Strand, Siobhan Hapaska, Kerry Stewart, Catherine Payton, Matthew Donnelly, Nicolaas Hartsoeker, Ove Kvavik, Nils Guadagnin, Dunja Herzog, Victoria Skogsberg, Anna McCarthy, Chris Cornish

"This is a call to revolution... We need to escape the straightjacket of the Modernist worldview".
H.R.H. Prince of Wales, 'Harmony: A New Way of Looking at the World', 2010

"Artists are Gnostics: they practice things the priests think died out years ago."  Hugo Ball, 1917

'The Wonders...' is an exhibition in two parts. It brings together a new generation of artists across Europe who have taken an abiding interest in the areas of human experience that are beyond ready explanation or beyond plain sight. Here, artists from London and Glasgow to Oslo and Berlin attempt to bring to sight that which by definition cannot be seen. The two exhibitions bring together artists who explore ideas that transcend mere instrumental reason.

The works echo the Prince of Wales' recent call to "revolution" in our worldview - a call to see the universe holistically rather than in baldly scientific terms. Put another way, the artists make visible what one renowned public figure recently called "known unknowns" and "unknown unknowns". The artists here have coaxed objects to levitate, facilitated autosuggestion, photographed apparitions, or foretold the future. Though echoing pre-scientific ideas, their approaches are curiously timely, and might collectively be described as ones of 'irrational exuberance'. For many of the artists, their works are allegories for the workings of an intangible and mysterious world propelled by illusions and suspension of disbelief: those of the economic marketplace. As here, much of the material world seems to defy the laws of gravity, as though objects were suspended 'in a bubble', or else held aloft by a so-called 'invisible hand'.

The exhibition takes its title from one of the strangest works ever committed to print, by the cleric Cotton Mather, who helped instigate the Salem witch trials. Mather's text exhibits an exemplary 'cognitive dissonance', which could similarly be said to be characteristic of the political and financial elites of our own time. Mather's poetic diction suggests that the problems of his time are the result of "spectral exhibitions" or "spectral representations", sent by the Devil to torment New England. Do his words, three centuries on, ring true: "That which most threatens us in our present circumstances, is the Misunderstanding, and so the Animosity [that] has Enchanted us."


Cotton Mather, detail from the book 'The Wonders of the Invisible World'.


Clare Strand, 'Suspension', 2009


Ove Kvavik, 'A Closer Void', 2008


Dunja Herzog,'Praying Mantis', 2010

The artists:
The International Necronautical Society, founded by novelist Tom McCarthy and philosopher Simon Critchley, present their First Manifesto, which begins by forwarding a gloriously counterintuitive proposition: "Death is a type of space, which we intend to map, enter, colonise, and eventually inhabit."
The International Necronautical Society, 'First Manifesto', 2000
If the INS investigate what happens after life ends, the Dutch scientist Nicholaas Hartsoeker investigated how it began, using the earliest powerful microscopes. His 1694 prints expound his hypothesis that each individual spermatozoa contains a miniature humans, trapped inside its spaceship-like head.
Nicolaas Hartsoeker, known as 'little animals', 1694
The Theosophist Charles Leadbeater's 1895 drawings of 'thought forms' give shape to the workings of the spirits that animate the world. Leadbeater wrote that every single thought we generate "becomes for a time a kind of living creature" - a life form with an identifiable shape that we can 'see' through his artworks.
Charles Leadbeater, from the book Thought Forms',1895 Lithographs, printed 1915
Peter Doig's work conjures an otherworldly atmosphere in which humans are part ghost or spirit, part material being. Here, a charming bride and groom, strangely without facial features, stride towards us.
Peter Doig, 'Masqueraders', 2006
Susan Hiller's two-screen video work 'Wild Talents' reveals some of the strangest sights ever committed to celluloid - in which we are asked to suspend disbelief, or to reply that there are not more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy.
Susan Hiller, 'Wild Talents', 1997
Jane & Louise Wilson's early video work 'Hypnotic Suggestion 505' reveals what tricks the mind can play on itself, and what unspoken connections twins have.
Jane & Louise Wilson, 'Hypnotic Sugfestion 505', 1993
Clare Strand's photographic series 'Conjurations' presents magicians' well-known tricks in a forensic light- with women performing alarming illusions, whether suspended in mid-air, or sawn in half.
Clare Strand, 'Girl in Two Halves', 2008
Siobhan Hapaska's sculpture 'Saint Christopher' sits solemnly on the gallery floor, as the physical manifestation of a former martyr, brought back to life through the artistic imagination.
Siobhan Hapaska, 'St. Chistopher', 1995
Kerry Stewart's sculpture 'This Girl Bends' reveals a seemingly ultra-normal individual in the throws of possession, levitating and gazing heavenward.
Kerry Stewart, 'This Girl Bends', 1996
Catherine Payton's work explores how the familiar and ordinary world can be transformed by incorporating unlikely and strange scenarios. Her objects and videos require viewers to suspend disbelief completely.
Catherine Payton, 'Ghost', 2011
Matthew Donnelly is a self-proclaimed 'Celtic Shaman' who can forecast the future of anyone he encounters - his 'Fortune Teller' booth enables you to fulfill your destiny.
Matthew Donnelly, Fortune teller, 2011
Ove Kvavik's 'Witness from the Drowned' is a box that makes an endless, vertiginous hole appear in the gallery floor, threatening to plunge us into hell.
Ove Kvavik, 'Witness from the Drowned', 2009
Nils Guadagnin's 'Hoverboard' and 'Levitation Platform' float happily in mid-air of their own accord - the former finally makes real Michael J. Fox's means of transport in 'Back to the Future II'.
Nils Guadagnin, 'Levitation Platform', 2010
Dunja Herzog's 'Prolog' is a door to the underworld, installed offsite in the centre of Sunderland, allowing any mortal sinner to get an advance preview of what awaits them in the next life.
Dunja Herzog,'Prolog', 2009
Victoria Skogsberg video works explore the tenuous relationship between science, technology and the prevailing human need to find significance where none exists.
Anna McCarthy presents an 'automatic' drawing, which furthers her investigations into both the legacy of Surrealism and that of spiritualists like Leadbeater. Her entitled 'Drawing by Aleister Crowley' was created under hypnosis, when the artist was instructed to contact the spirit world to channel the spirit of Crowley.
Anna McCarthy, 'Line drawing with Aleister Crowley' 2009
Chris Cornish's sculptures 'Module 07, Portal' and 'Sample and Hold' allow us to view or enter other dimensions; 'Sample and Hold' is a spherical mirror, traditionally used to prevent evil spirits from entering houses, and now used in computer graphics industry to similarly 'capture' light to create virtual universes.
Chris Cornish, 'Module 07 Portal', 2011