Friday, 27 May 2011

Ghosts and Apparitions

a butterfly, a breath, a nothing - Zoran Music

An unexpected follow-up to Music's words (quoted in the previous post) came at a special meeting of the Magic Circle at the Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge, today, where the topic under discussion was 'Ghosts and Apparitions in the Field'.

Piers Vitebsky, in a talk which carried forward themes from his research on loving and forgetting ancestors among the Sora, considered why Baptist ghosts in tribal India behave differently to pagan ones. Physical death - by tiger or smallpox, for example - is only the first of several stages of death among the Sora. The final stage, which releases the dead person's spirit from its duty to torment the living, comes when no one on earth survives who retains any memory of the dead person. Only with this liberation from memory can the individual die a final death in the underworld and the soul appear - as a butterfly.

The coincidental reference seemed worth considering in relation to the nature of creative work too. While some may aim for nothing less than immortality and consciously impose their ego on their art, Music's work achieves its (equally unmistakeable) character through its elusive style. Dull tones merge into one another and the viewer's attempt to focus on the equivocal forms depicted (faceless horses seen from behind or distant mountains, for example) is foiled. At their most extreme, these works might be paintings on linen turned to the wall, so that one only sees the bleed of paint through the cloth... was Music aiming for something or 'nothing'? Is his work a double bluff? And how is his painting technique related to his conflicting desires both to remember (and to testify) and to forget?

Other presentations, all splendidly stimulating, included Dr Shane McCorristine on the role of psychic messages obtained through mesmerists and clairvoyants in tracing Sir John Franklin's Arctic Expedition during the 1840s (a perfect complement to the work I've been doing on the actual correspondence this expedition attempted to send back to Britain). Dr Olga Ulturgasheva spoke about how young Eveny Reindeer people make their dreams come true by predicting the future (above). Dr Kostas Zorbas served Turkish Delight, which became less palatable once he began to tell the macabre tale of a Siberian albys who sliced off chunks of her own flesh to feed her lover. Dr Gilly Carr provided an eerie and very personal account of hauntings in the German Bunkers of the Channel Islands.

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