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OAF Talks

Beyond Art, the Art of the Afterlife

Paris 2016

OAF Talks
OAF Talks


Emmanuel Dayde

“We have to take spiritualism seriously,” prophesied Michel Thévoz, and rightfully so, as some form of modern art (automatism, game, abstraction, surrealism, etc.) originates from spiritualism. At a time he pretends that “I is someone else,” Arthur Rimbaud, in a letter to Paul Demeny in 1871, says that “one must be a seer, make oneself a seer.” The mediumistic creation, almost as old as the spiritualistic movement itself, did not wait for Rimbaud to “make itself a seer.” Mediums have always produced writings and drawings in order to transcribe messages from the afterlife. But it was two distinguished literary and artistic personalities, Victor Hugo and Victorien Sardou,that helped the mediums enter the world of art as highlighted in the exhibition “Entrance of the Mediums” at the Maison Victor Hugo in Paris in 2012. “If science does not want these facts, ignorance will take them up,” said the author of the “Contemplations.” Later on 1911, Augustin Lesage, a miner from Pas-de-Calais, was 35 years old when he heard voices from the pit of the mine predicting that he will one day become a painter: “I am not the one who paints, the spirits do,” he said cautiously. His success inspired many in the spiritualistic circles of the North, such as Victor Simon and Fleury Joseph Crépin. The most emblematic mediumistic artist however remains Madge Gill, a British contemporaneous of Lesage who, for thirty years, produced hundreds of drawings in a state of trance.

The paradox today is that the 20th century seems to have been the era of the media as much as of the mediums. The exhibition “Traces du Sacré” at the Pompidou Center in 2008 revealed the work of Hilma af Klint, although it had been exhibited in the United States in 1985 - some 50 years after her death. As she was interested in the paranormal world, Hilma came into contact with a  spirit who gave her the mission to make “mediumistic” paintings at the turn of the 1880s. Those paintings, produced in a state of trance, sought to transmit a spiritual message to mankind. They were an integral part of what she called the Temple: Hilma dedicated most of her life to that mission. In 1906, after 20 years of artistic work and at the age of 44, Hilma af Klint painted her first abstract series, which she later bequeathed to her nephew on the condition that he doesn’t display any of them until 20 years after her death. She has become today the favorite artist of the Serpentine Gallery which organized a major exhibition entitled “Painting the Unseen” in the spring of 2016. 


In the 1950s and 1960s, the Beatnik generation experimented new ways of being for the sake of perceiving an invisible spirituality: meditation exercises and transcendentalism sessions for a better self-awareness and self-fulfillment are the leitmotif of the Beat generation under the literary auspices of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs. In this new form of spiritualism, spiritual exercises, Sufism, introspection, psychotropic drugs and narcotics allow people to reach Knowledge.

But what is the relation today in the 21st century between contemporary art and the mediumistic art? While mediumistic art is still immensely popular within the Outsider Art movement and is the subject of some very successful research in psychiatric circles, it has invaded the more cautious world of digital and contemporary arts. For instance, the Lille Métropole Museum of Modern, Contemporary and Outsider Art (LaM) has been holding since January 2014 nearly 3,500 documents (paintings, drawings, writings, etc.) collected by the French Psychopathology Society for the Expression and Art Therapy. The multimedia artist Stéphane Blanquet weaves his dreams into large electric tapestries, and Myriam Mihindou highlights the presence of an invisible spirit after solarizing and inverting her photographs. In the 2012 exhibition Les Maîtres du Désordre (The Masters of Chaos) at the Musee du Quai Branly, the mediumistic artists were compared to shamans: “Chosen by the spirits, the outsider, the other, the often uncivilized world, the masters of chaos attest the legitimacy of their inspired vision and the endless game of chaos and order,” wrote Jean de Loisy. Invited this summer to show his video installation, L’intervalle de résonnance, about the Inuits’—scientifically impossible— perception of the sound of the Northern lights at the Palais de Tokyo, filmmaker Clément Cogitore is today producing films in which he explores the rational and the irrational of intangible phenomena. And in a spectacular way last June at the Monnaie de Paris institution, Bertrand Lavier, apostle of the ready‑made, invited spectators to a Spiritism session entitled “Thank you Raymond from Bertrand Lavier,” in order to “grasp the world of the ghost of Raymond Hains.” He wanted to pay tribute to the connections that the artist had weaved between daily life, art, sciences and the world of sub‑consciousness. Spirit, are you there?

What if the instauration of a reasoned consumerism leads to the revival and blossoming of insanity?

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