‘INVOCATIONS: A collective investigation into otherness’, is a group show, whose opening is tonight - Friday, April 19, 2013 - in the Hall at Roseangle Arts Cafe. The show has been co-curated by David Fyans, who is on the MFA with Kate. Actually, Dave, like most of them, is a full-timer, and consequently has the weight of an upcoming deadline for a 6000-word Positioning Paper on his back. Good that he’s felt able to shoulder this curating burden as well, albeit with help from Norman Shaw who Dave has been doing a placement with. A placement being concerned with the Futures module on the MFA.

Twenty-odd artists responded to the open submission invite, and in the above image they - and other visitors, such as me - are being treated to a live performance investigating ‘the idea of the modular synthesiser as a ritual device’. Apparently, it’s a re-imagining of the ‘traditional drums and polyrhthymic structures of Voudon ceremonies’. Voodoo music? I think so, and I also think it’s appropriate to listen to a recording of the piece while viewing this blog. Which is what I’m doing as I write the blog just a few days after the event. The track is the third one down on the Invocation exhibition
webpage, called ‘Voudon Invocations’. You might have to get it up on a separate page on your browser in order to click back into Strange Bundle. But it’s worth getting it playing for the incessant sense of otherness!


There is a very different kind of sound piece in the show, and that’s Kate’s. You listen to it through headphones, cutting off the listener from the voodoo beat, and that’s what Jonathan Baxter is doing in the above photo. He is holding a bottle of beer, looking at a framed picture that is part of Kate’s installation, and listening to Gaga talking about an incident that happened to her in an art gallery, circa 1960. Gaga got approached by a Voodoo priest who had a doll into which he stuck pins? No, wait for it, as I’m having to... Come on, Jonathan or I’ll stick a pin into that hand innocently holding the bottle of beer...


Okay, Jonathan’s vacated the spot and it’s my turn to put on the headphones. So I do that. And I’m immediately transported into another time and place. It’s Gaga that’s talking (though it sounds like Kate). And she’s talking to Kate (who Gaga always called Kathy):

“Hello Kathy…I’ve been thinking…Do you remember that story I told you?…The time I went with – oh, what was her name? - One of my lady friends who used to accompany me when I went abroad... Percy wouldn’t come with me… He said he’d had enough of abroad in the war… Anyway, it was best, seeing the world with a friend who you could talk to... I could always talk to you, Kathy…But you were a little girl, too young to travel to Europe...”

The voice is almost a whisper. Quite intense. Underneath it, I can just about hear the voodoo drums. Or at least Dave’s electronic rejigging of them...

“The time I want to tell you about, we must have been in Austria or Switzerland… I would have sent you a postcard… I always sent you postcards when I went away, Kathy... I missed you and I wished that you could have been with me. Did you miss me?... Have you kept the cards I sent?... Do you miss me now, Kathy?”

There’s a sense of other-worldliness about this piece. I suppose that’s what makes it relevant to the show’s theme.

“I remember now, the gallery was in the Hague… I don’t remember its name but I remember that it was surrounded by water... First, we had a cup of tea and then we looked at the paintings. ..The museum had two or three pictures by Vermeer… One of the pictures that was in the museum I had on the wall of Brancote Lodge... Just a print, but it was lovely… Do you remember? ..So it was very interesting to see the original... Oh, it was more than just interesting... The picture was so….”


What am I looking at? Is it a Vermeer, as Gaga claims? Seen through a veil of time? The title of Kate’s piece - Pearls - first made me think I might be looking at Girl with a Pearl Earring. But the image I can just about make out is not that famous one. It looks as if it’s a woman wearing a white headdress and a billowing black skirt. It looks as if she may have her right arm raised...

“I don’t suppose I should have done what I did... I didn’t do anything really... I just wanted to…… I just wanted to touch the... What a fuss they made. Running up to me from all sides... I told them that I hadn’t done anything. I’d just wanted to……

“Back at home, I tried to tell Percy the story... Using the print on the wall as if it was the actual picture in the museum… He didn’t even look up from his steak and kidney pie… He never listened to much I said… You listened to the story when I told you… Or at least I thought you did... Do you still remember, Kathy?... Do you?

“After all these years – all those years ago - I touched the…”

I take off the headphones, turn away from the framed image and find myself back in the ‘real’ world (plus full-volume voodoo). Quite a turnaround; it will take me a second or two to adjust... In the middle of the photograph I take is Kathryn Briggs, also on the MFA, who is herself taking photographs of the soundsmith:


Kathryn also has work in the show. See below. Words are coming from the mouth of the Kathryn-like woman lying on the ground. At least that’s how I interpret the column of words which is difficult to read.


I notice a spot of blood on the ground that the woman is lying on. It’s not coming from her ear as I first assumed, but from a hole in her neck. Perhaps it doesn’t matter where in her body the blood comes from, the point is that the blood of the woman is entering the earth.

But now I really want to know what the column of words says. Let me peer:

‘I am the sacred ...... of the earth?’

The missing word creates a sense of anticipation. I suspect that if I continue to look at the letters, and the context, I will work out what the missing word is... Ah, yes:

I am the sacred smell of the earth.’

I seem to have reached some kind of understanding of the work. And I got there without having to touch the work! If only Gaga had been content to
sniff the painting in the Hague, just as I am sniffing the earth now. The sacred smell of the painting, and the sacred smell of the earth, are all one.

On the wall opposite Kathryn’s picture is a four-piece work by Susanne Lund Pangrazio, also from the MFA. The photographs that make up
Ghost I, II, III and IV, may be of the artist, but in this context I can’t help interpreting them to be four takes on what was happening inside Gaga’s head in the instant that she touched the Vermeer.


Is that fanciful? Well, it is, but can I control the subjectivity of my responses to art? And if I could control it, would the voodoo beat let me? I somehow doubt it.


At one end of Susanne’s work is a drawing by David Fyans, As Above, So Below, which I’ve shown in close-up below. Ostensibly abstract, it’s possible to read the piece, diagrammatically, as sound waves coming to a point at an eardrum whose spring construction is going to multiply the amplitude of the wave causing a pulsing rhythm inside the ear. Or I could be looking at, in plan view, the effect of the most delicate of acupuncture needles on a healthy human neck - a single spot of blood emerging from the tube of flesh at point of entry and point of exit. Or I could be looking at what happens when the finger of a grandmother touches a piece of impasto paint on the surface of an Old Master: an alarm bell rings.


Ah, here she comes: the voodoo-cum-Vermeer priestess!


Kate asks what I’ve been up to. I tell her that I’ve just downloaded
Black Mischief onto my Kindle. Partly because I’m working on an Evelyn Waugh website just now. But also in order to look up and enjoy the following quote, which I’m reading aloud so that Kate can relish it too:

“‘Basil drew back a little from the heat of the fire, his senses dazed by the crude spirit and the insistence of the music. In the shadows, in the extremities of the market-place, black figures sprawled and grunted, alone and in couples. Near him a glamorous woman stamped and shuffled; suddenly she threw up her hands and fell to the ground in ecstasy. The hand-drums throbbed and pulsed; the flames leapt and showered the night with sparks.’”

I tell Kate what happens next, speaking close to her ear so that she can hear me. “One of the chiefs drew something from his bosom and put it on his head. It was a beret of pillar-box red which Basil’s lover, Prudence, used to wear. Basil asked the chief where he got the beret from and the chief told him he got it from ‘the white woman’. ‘And where is the white woman now?’ asked Basil. The chief patted his stomach and Basil realised that she was the meat that had been stewed to a pulp among peppers and aromatic roots that they’d all been eating from a huge pot.”

“Charming!” says Kate, who may be looking at me as I take this photo, but has been looking over my left shoulder, no doubt clocking how her own work is being engaged with.


“Let me just read this last quote from the book,” I say.

“‘Round and round circled the dancers, ochre and blood and sweat glistening in the firelight; the wise men’s headgear swayed high above them, leopards’ feet and snake skins, amulets and necklaces, lions’ teeth and the shrivelled bodies of bats and toads, jigging and spinning. Tireless hands drumming out the rhythm; glistening backs heaving and shivering in the shadows.’”

Vintage Waugh, I can’t get enough of it. But enough!

Dave is still pumping out the music, as Kate and I take in some of the show together. We approach a piece by Samantha Jack, yet another artist from the MFA. I seem to be especially aware of that sub-group within tonight’s group show.

On the three sheets of paper that make up
A Thousand Disguises, I make out the vague outline of what I take to be a woman. I think of it as the woman in the Vermeer painting that Kate has put behind a mesh, possibly because the figure here is placed behind what looks like tracing paper. There are words, some printed in black, some in white. Let me read them in whatever order they come to eye: ‘...awakens...expected disguises...nowhere...illumine heart...out of...infinite forms...to open.’


The first sheet cannot be opened because it is pinned down at the bottom in the middle. But Kate has spotted that this is not so of page 2.

“Don’t touch the Vermeer,” is my advice. But Kate goes ahead and touches the work.


When she pulls up the semi-transparent sheet I can see that the words ‘illumine heart’ are printed in white on the image page. But the word ‘thousand’, printed in black, has disappeared, so that must be printed on the top sheet. Again I read aloud what I can see: “infinite forms...appears...nowhere.” Suddenly, Kate looks worried. I don’t think she can quite throw off Gaga’s experience in that gallery in the Hague. Or is it Prudence’s jungle destiny that she’s dwelling on?


Suddenly the light goes out. What’s that all about? The music is still pumping out, so it can’t be the end of the show. Can it?


On again! Kate is convinced that the lights went out because she touched the third sheet of Sam’s work. At least that’s what I assume she means when she says: “I touched the...” Her thumb is just by the words ‘out of’. Elsewhere on the sheet, the word ‘disguises’ crops up again, and ‘goddess’’. And finally the words ‘everywhere the’, rendered in white.


A single spot of wine has fallen from my plastic beaker onto the floor of Roseangle Arts Cafe. So how to sum things up?

Everywhere the sacred smell of the earth.

Everywhere the illumined heart of the ghost-goddess.

Everywhere the Voudon; everywhere the Vermeer.