Tai Shani: The Neon Hieroglyph – Online with Manchester International Festival Virtual Factory, online, 31 2021–31 March 2022, free entry - Visit now
Can psychedelic drugs offer more than ‘just’ a trip? For artist Tai Shani, such mind-bending substances have the potential to open a powerful imaginative space from which new visions of society and alternative possible futures can emerge. For her major new online commission as part of the Manchester International Festival Virtual Factory series, the joint 2019 Turner Prize winner is inviting audiences to accompany her on a (strictly virtual) hallucinatory journey across time and space, drawing on forgotten histories, folklore and myth. Buckle-up.
Titled The Neon Hieroglyph, the nine-part episodic artwork is rooted in the story of ergot – a fungus that grows on rye and other common grains from which LSD is derived. There have been outbreaks of ergotism (caused by long-term ingestion and which led to bouts of mass-hallucination) throughout history, with suspected references stretching all the way back to a great plague in 857 AD. The convulsive symptoms it causes may have played a role in the accusations of bewitchment that spurred the Salem witch trials. The last reported incident in the UK was during the late 1920s in Manchester.
The intergalactic odyssey will unfold through a rich combination of lyrical monologues delivered by a spectral female narrator rendered in trippy CGI visuals, set to a haunting soundtrack by the Manchester-born composer Maxwell Stirling. The piece draws upon a wide array of source material, from Palaeolithic cave markings to hyper-sexual mushrooms. We’re in safe hands with Shani as our guide, however, the artist having been brought up around ‘LSD evangelism’ and esoteric/occult practices and forms of knowledge.
The Neon Hieroglyph forms part of Shani’s ongoing creation of a feminist mythology of psychedelics and will continue to develop through 2021. Prepare to have your consciousness expanded.
Tai Shani: The Neon Hieroglyph – Online with Manchester International Festival Virtual Factory, online