Phenomena of Materialisation
Phenomena of Materialisation is based on photographs of Spiritualist mediums from the early 20th century. The idea that it was possible to contact the dead (as a performance) took off around this time. Each medium had ardent followers, the numbers of which exploded in the aftermath of the first world war. Being able to speak to and receive messages from dead loved ones through a psychic was very appealing to those suffering loss and longing. Ectoplasm, which was often brought forth from somewhere in the body of the medium represented the border between the living and the dead. It was material and ethereal at the same time.
The vast majority of psychic mediums were women, and the experts who studied and photographed them (with the intention for the most part to prove they were frauds) were 100% men, often doctors. The seance sessions sometimes included intimate examinations to make sure that no objects had been hidden in clothing or orifices. The medium was then sewn into a dress or bag, sometimes covering her entire head and hands. Photographs were taken during the séance and used to either prove or disprove the medium’s authenticity. Photographs taken with flash reveal more to those who view them than the participants would have witnessed during the medium’s performance in the dim, candle lit seance room.
The series title is from Dr Albert von Schrenck-Notzing’s (1862-1929) book of the same name published in 1920, which serves as a study and critique of well known European mediums of that time. He was a physician, psychiatrist and psychic researcher who believed that ectoplasm was a genuine manifestation from the body, but he did not believe that it came from the spirit world.
The genesis of this series came from my research into Ruth Serlachius’ (1882-1963), involvement in European Spiritulaism and the Occult.