Not Without My Ghosts: The Artist As Medium at Millennium Gallery, SheffieldMaja Lorkowska, Exhibitions Editor
Shrouded in mystery and embracing the idea of the artist as a medium and communicator with forces beyond our realm is Millennium Gallery’s exhibition Not Without My Ghosts: The Artist as Medium.
Featuring the work of 26 international artists from the 19th century to the present day, the show delves into the ways that artists have engaged with spiritual practices and rituals such as séances, channelling and other paranormal research throughout the years.
The pieces range from intricate, careful ink drawings and giant animated owls, to textile sculpture featuring paintings on silk. Amongst the more decisive, refined pieces there is an in-between, unfinished quality to some of the works as if they were notes recording a process, caught in the middle of a séance and transcribing the artist’s experience in a hurry before the vision ends.
Displayed across two rooms with powder-pink walls, the Not Without My Ghosts has the cosy feeling of being mildly enveloped by the work, with the spectral pieces casting a spell on the viewers.
Highlights include Ann Churchil’s fantastical landscape painted on smaller pieces of paper and stitched together to create one enormous piece that can be examined for hours, filled with minuscule details and surprising additions hiding in every panel.
A series of Madge Gill’s signature ink drawings is a delightful addition, with repeating lines and floral patterns so recognisable in the artist’s now well-known style.
A large oil painting by Augustin Lesage is similarly entrancing. Lesage was a coal miner who became a painter in his mid-30s, led by the belief that he could hear the voice of his little sister who had died at the age of three. Intricate and harmonious, the piece seems to depict architectural forms with repeating patterns and lines in subdued colours.
Many of the artists followed practices that have now come to be associated with Surrealism, like automatic writing. Susan Hiller’s scribbled, illegible text is displayed in an L-shaped frame alongside transcribed versions of the words. The pieces possess an otherworldly quality, with the transcriptions being a lot more unsettling than the original scrawled flow of words.
The works in Not Without My Ghosts result from the process of translating otherworldly energies to expand the limits of human experience and perception, and ultimately, create art. The display features famous names like William Blake and Sigmar Polke, yet the sheer number of female artists’ work clearly highlights the role of women’s contributions to spirit art and investigation.
Whether or not you are a believer in the power of mediums and their ability to channel unknown forces, Not Without My Ghosts promises to broaden your perspective and perhaps even alter your ideas about all that may exist beyond our visible world and the artists’ role in opening it up to a larger audience.