Magazine article Art Monthly

The Wonders of the Invisible World

Magazine article Art Monthly

The Wonders of the Invisible World

Article excerpt

The Wonders of the Invisible World

NGCA Sunderland 14 July to 9 October

Have you noticed a preoccupation with the supernatural lately: college degree shows featuring tea lights and invocations of things otherworldly, a revived interest in the early 20th-century spiritualist Charles Leadbeater and so forth? If so, you may find this typically lively, thought-provoking NGCA theme show timely.

Generally it's an inclusive, broad-church affair which allows for various levels of belief and disbelief. You are greeted by the First Manifesto of Tom McCarthy's International Necronautical Society ('Death is a type of space, which we intend to map, enter, colonise, and eventually inhabit' etc) painted on the wall like the Lord's Prayer in a Victorian church. Then there is a little collection of objects gathered together by self-styled 'Celtic Shaman' Matthew Donnelly: a drum, bees-wax horses and willow wands, inevitably triggering vague thoughts of Joseph Beuys on Rannoch Moor.

By contrast, most of what comes next seems more obviously to allow space for a bit of scepticism. Certainly this is the case with Wild Talents, a 1997 compilation of fragments from corny old European and American films featuring children with 'special powers' by Susan Hiller, contemporary art's high priestess of all things spooky, irrational and marginalised. And the same space for disbelief is offered by both Clare Strand's photographs of magic show turns (girl cut in half, girl levitating) and Jane & Louise Wilson's justly renowned early video of themselves under the influence of a professional hypnotist.

Yet even here, a sense of magic is evident. Partly it is the persuasive quality of lens-based imagery, and partly, in the case of the Wilsons' Hypnotic Suggestion 505, 1993, the probably unscientific notion that mysterious bonds exist between twins. As a result, I found it hard not to keep on trying to believe.

And that was my response to many other works in the exhibition, for example Nils Guadagnin's objects (a child's skateboard and a Sol LeWitt-like white cube) hovering seemingly unaided in thin air and Ove Kvanik's Alice in Wonderland-type rabbit hole in the floor which appears to go down and down without end. I tried to get up close to figure out what manner of trick with lights and mirrors or whatever was being used, and I started trying to sort out what it is that makes me want to believe in such things anyway. But my initial feeling of amazement never quite went away.

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All in all, therefore, this is a useful zeitgeisty charting of a perhaps still not fully acknowledged area of contemporary art and one which, thankfully, keeps jokiness to a minimum. …

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