Friday, 30 November 2007

A ghostly mongoose invades the Photographers' Gallery in London

With separate entrances at 5 and 8 Great Newport Street, the two exhibition spaces of Leicester Square's Photographers' Gallery are divided by 6-7 Great Newport Street, a block of posters for the adorably weird-looking The Gruffalo's Child, and the ultra contrasting content of the two show currently on display. For most visitors, this is pretty easy to figure out, as the two entrances are clearly signposted and regularly attract small groups of men who look like Jarvis Cocker. Most visitors--yes--but not me. Maybe I was distracted by the Gruffalo ads, maybe it was the minimal amount of coffee I had so far consumed that day, but as soon as I darted into 8 Newport Street it became evident that I had made some sort of miscalculation.

Now,as you may or may not realize, my brain has a veeeeery high amount of selective attention going on. If you were, to say, usher me into an empty room adorned with three pedestals, one holding a stack of $100 banknotes, one holding the keys to a Malibu dream home, and one holding the original Japanese import version of Siouxsie and the Banshees' Tinderbox, I would invariably scream "Siouxsie!!!!" and disregard everything else. This is what happened Wednesday on Great Newport Street. Seeing as my innermost soul is for all intents and purposes trapped in a Bauhaus promotional video, I was aware of the gallery's "Seeing Is Believing" exhibit of paranormal photos and not so much aware of the Antoine d'Agata "Insomnia" showing.

I didn't want to come off like a prude to the dozen or so Jarvises sipping coffee in the "Insomnia" portion of the gallery, so my friend and I were about halfway through Mr. D'Agata's austere collection of celluloid sex scenes and perturbing nudes before I quietly told her, "Um, I was thinking there was a different exhibition on." And there was! At 5 Great Newport Street!

I was way more into checking out pictures of alleged spirit mediums than immersing myself in the visual equivalent of the Swans album Body to Body, Job to Job, but you know, watching "ectoplasm" come out of a young girl's mouth is on some level much more disturbing! Ectoplasm, the mystery substance said to materialize when otherworld presences enter a room, is actually rolled up cheesecloth that fraudulent spiritualists store inside their mouth until the time comes to manifest the wraith. This knowledge does not make the video any less jarring or really, really gross.

"Seeing Is Believing" features work from several contemporary photographers as well as selected items from the wonderfully named Harry Price Library of Magical Literature. The new works include Clare Strand's aura photos, Tim Maul's eerie snapshots of New York buildings alleged to be haunted, and Fred Ressler's photos of what happens when shadows and light combine to look like creepy ghostly faces. The back portion of the gallery is devoted to Harry Price's photo documentation of his work in the 1920s and 1930s with the National Library of Psychical Research. From what I can gather, Price was more Agent Scully than Agent Mulder, traveling around England to unmask false mediums and call out little boys who were faking possession by poltergeist. The photographs on display range from still lifes of the tools used to fake a séance to pictures of spectral presences to an unexplained creature described only as Jeff, the talking mongoose. The exhibition is more about intellectual inquiry than making you afraid to sleep with your feet uncovered tonight, and in case you're more interested in what's going on with Jeff than how someone can fit an entire roll of cheesecloth ectoplasm inside their mouth, here's the only piece of information I could dig up on our talking mongoose friend.

"Seeing Is Believing" and "Insomnia" are on display from 23 November to 27 January 2008 at the Photographers' Gallery near Leicester Square. Do not be distracted by the gruffalo.

1 comment:

Gertrude said...

Alison! I googled Lydia Lunch and your blog came up. Very cool, very appropriate. I really like it! Keep up the good work.

Katie P.