In June 1890, at a seance in the North of England, a golden lily was summoned into existence by a medium going by the name of Elizabeth d’Espérance. The flower remained manifestly real for a whole week, then ‘dissolved and disappeared.’ I’ve been holding on to this snippet of information for a long time, captivated by the image of a golden lily – and its unnatural manifestation.
This piece, developed as a response to Diorama: Blackpool’s Hidden Theatres – seemed the right place for me to develop connections between the popularity of mediums and clairvoyants, and the many forms of spectacle or entertainment they put on show in Blackpool towards the end of the 19th century. The seance in particular always fascinated me. It is an inherently theatrical experience: the darkened room, the heavy, velvet drapes, the anticipation of the audience, the conjuring of apparitions out of thin air, and the multitude of voices inhabiting the body of the medium, who performed, as if on stage, even though they were actually situated in just an alcove or a cabinet, set apart from the normal crowd.
The medium, nearly always female, plays her role in what could be regarded as a liminal state – becoming a threshold, to speak the words of the dead for an audience of the living, and to make physical forms out of purely spectral messages. This act of manifestation mirrors that of photography, just as much as it mirrored and was associated with telegraphy, in the imagination of the Victorians: the latent image materialising in the darkroom, the message being received through the aether by a receiver – both seemingly magic acts. The medium’s body can also be likened to a camera, just as it’s been compared to a telegraphic receiver – capturing the uncapturable, and making visible things the eye couldn’t normally see.
My moving image piece offers a contemporary response to this long relationship between technology, spectacle and the nineteenth century medium. The work was presented as an installation – an image flickering on a piece of glass – viewed through a peep hole.