SPELLBOUND CONTEMPORARY ART
At the heart of our current exhibition Spellbound are the very emotions that determine how we, as humans, relate to the world around us and to the inescapable fact of being alive.
The inclusion of contemporary artists in the exhibition created space to reflect and wonder on ideas of a conventional history of magic. Historians and artists were brought together to allow for different interpretations of the crucial concepts of magical thinking and magic as practised to emerge, thus providing a fresh approach to the subject matter.
Ackroyd & Harvey’s work evokes the medieval cosmos where humans navigated the competing forces of good and evil spirits.
Set against a vivid backdrop of angels, a figure cast in aluminium potassium sulphate is lumi-nous and semi-transparent, solid yet fragile. Its correspondence to the crystalline sphere – a rare medieval addition to ancient cosmology – connects the earthly body to the heavens and suggests the discarding of corruptible flesh and the perfection of blessed souls.
Below a demon of molten sulphur and iron squats before crystals forming flowers of sulphur. Demons were rebels against God, fallen angels. They took many forms, and fear of their worldly incursions joined anxiety about malign planetary influences on the body.
The installation takes place inside a symbolic chimney, and possibly also inside the heads of viewers wanting to protect their homes. The sounds in the dark room suggest the presence of unseen creatures, imagined to be concealed in the fabric of the walls. On entering the dark space, the viewer may experience the feeling of being surrounded by mysterious forces and by scurrying beast-like demons. The red shadows on the wall point to the piercing of the witch’s heart.
Katharine Dowson has long been fascinated with what goes on inside our bodies, and with the symbolic objects and actions that are linked to healing body and mind.
To watch a video about the making of this installation please click here. The film was made by Thomas Hogben.
Catrell's work consists of a series of marks or drawings burned into found wooden objects attached to the wall. These are shown alongside the filmed projection of a flame contained within a glass recepticle, recalling the purifying power of fire as well as fires linked to the rituals and fantasy of witches.
The installation refers to aspects of Malcolm Gaskill's research concerning the demonisation and branding of women as witches. The swaying of the flames echoes the rhythm and pattern of witchcraft accusations as they rippled and swirled, not just within individual psyches but also throughout early and modern communities. Fringe murmurings and isolated suspicions could suddenly flare up (reflected literally in Catrell's installation) into full scale panics before calming down again. The marks burned into wood show the long lasting branding of the term witch on the women that were accused.