Modern Experiments

2016 / 2017
Touring Solo Survey Exhibition


The largest and most comprehensive exhibition of Susan MacWilliam's work to date.

Modern Experiments presents key pieces from the artist's career with a focus on works created since 1998 when the artist began working with video.

Modern Experiments  features 28 works, including 14 videos and video installations.
Susan MacWilliam
Modern Experiments

F.E. McWilliam Gallery, Banbridge
10 September − 26 November 2016

The Highlanes Gallery, Drogheda
18 February – 8 April 2017

Uillinn: West Cork Arts Centre, Skibbereen
9 September – 18 October 2017

Butler Gallery, Kilkenny
28 October – 17 December 2017

Download Exhibition Guide
Modern Experiments
Modern Experiments, Highlanes Gallery, Drogheda, 2017 | Photograph: Ros Kavanagh
Susan MacWilliam: Modern Experiments is the largest and most comprehensive exhibition of MacWilliam’s work to date. It presents key pieces from the artist’s career with a focus on works created from 1998 onward when the artist began working with video. Since then, MacWilliam’s work has investigated obscure and overlooked histories and cases of perceptual and paranormal phenomena.

Using anecdote, reconstruction, forms of portraiture and detailed editing, she has made work about mediumship, ectoplasm, x-ray vision, telepathy, table tilting, clairvoyance and dermo optical perception.

The work presented in Modern Experiments forms a unique and significant body of material exploring subjects that are on the periphery and beyond mainstream scientific and psychological study.

Consisting of twenty eight of Susan MacWilliam’s works Modern Experiments features fourteen videos and video installations including The Last Person, 1998 (Shortlisted for IMMA Glen Dimplex Artists Award 1999), Dermo Optics, 2006 (exhibited at 2009 Venice Biennale) and KATHLEEN, 2014 (Derry-Londonderry City of Culture Commission) alongside other aspects of her diverse practice, including photographic works, stereoscopes, neon and sculptural works such as Book Spheres, 2014.
Modern Experiments Interviews and Press Coverage

A Séance of Objects & Images, Susan MacWilliam reflects on Modern Experiments, Visual Artists Ireland News Sheet, May/Jun 2017, and Visual Artists' News Sheet Online, Read
Ectoplasm, seances and paranormal people: the art of Susan MacWilliam, Irish Times, 22 Mar 2017, Aidan Dunne, Read
Susan MacWilliam discusses Modern Experiments with artist and filmmaker Mairéad McClean, 18th Feb 2017, Listen
Susan MacWilliam chats about Modern Experiments, a retrospective of her video works investigating paranormal phenomena which is running at Highlanes Gallery Drogheda, RTE, ARENA, 16th Feb 2017, Listen
Susan MacWilliam – Modern Experiments, Perspective, Royal Society of Ulster Architects, Nov/Dec 2016, Marianne O'Kane Boal
Susan MacWilliam Conducts Modern Experiments, culturenorthernireland.org, 12 Sep 2016, Jenny Cathcart, Read
Susan MacWilliam discusses Modern Experiments, Collapse The Box, NVTV / Northern Visions TV, 2016, Watch
Modern Experiments, FE McWilliam Gallery, Banbridge, 2016
Book Spheres, 2013-14, Modern Experiments, FE McWilliam Gallery, Banbridge, 2016
Modern Experiments, FE McWilliam Gallery, Banbridge, 2016
Initiated and curated by Riann Coulter, Curator of the F.E. McWilliam Gallery & Studio, Modern Experiments has been made possible through the North South Touring and Dissemination Scheme, a joint initiative of the Arts Council of Ireland/An Chomhairle Ealaíon and Arts Council of Northern Ireland. In 2017 the exhibition will tour to Highlanes Gallery, Drogheda; Uillinn: West Cork Arts Centre, Skibbereen and Butler Gallery, Kilkenny.

Susan MacWilliam: Modern Experiments
F.E. McWilliam Gallery, Banbridge: 10 September − 26 November, 2016
The Highlanes Gallery, Drogheda: 17 February – 8 April, 2017
Uillinn: West Cork Arts Centre, Skibbereen: 9 September – 18 October, 2017
The Butler Gallery, Kilkenny: 28 October – 17 December, 2017
Book Spheres, 2013-14, Modern Experiments, FE McWilliam Gallery, Banbridge, 2016
Modern Experiments, FE McWilliam Gallery, Banbridge, 2016
Book Spheres, 2013-14, Modern Experiments, FE McWilliam Gallery, Banbridge, 2016
Explainging Magic To Mercer, 2005, Modern Experiments, FE McWilliam Gallery, Banbridge, 2016
Kuda Bux, 2003, Modern Experiments, FE McWilliam Gallery, Banbridge, 2016 | Photograph: Simon Mills
Modern Experiments, FE McWilliam Gallery, Banbridge, 2016
Modern Experiments, FE McWilliam Gallery, Banbridge, 2016
Book Spheres, 2013-14, Modern Experiments, FE McWilliam Gallery, Banbridge, 2016 | Photograph: Eddie Byrne
Kuda Bux 2003, Modern Experiments, 2016| Photograph: Simon Mills
Book Spheres, 2013-14, Modern Experiments, 2016| Photograph: Eddie Byrne
Where are the dead? 2013, and Faint, 1999, Modern Experiments, FE McWilliam Gallery, Banbridge, 2016 | Photograph: Simon Mills
Faint, 1999, Modern Experiments, FE McWilliam Gallery, Banbridge, 2016 | Photograph: Simon Mills
Faint, 1999, Modern Experiments, FE McWilliam Gallery, Banbridge, 2016
The Only Way To Travel, 2009, Modern Experiments, FE McWilliam Gallery, Banbridge, 2016 | Photograph: Vivienne Dick
13 Roland Gardens, 2007, Modern Experiments, FE McWilliam Gallery, Banbridge, 2016
Artist as Medium, 2008, stereoscope, Modern Experiments, FE McWilliam Gallery, Banbridge, 2016
Aldous's Eyes, 2014, Modern Experiments, FE McWilliam Gallery, Banbridge, 2016
Modern Experiments, FE McWilliam Gallery, Banbridge, 2016
Dermo Optics, 2006, Modern Experiments, FE McWilliam Gallery, Banbridge, 2016 | Photograph: Eddie Byrne
Dermo Optics, 2006, Modern Experiments, FE McWilliam Gallery, Banbridge, 2016 | Photograph: Vivienne Dick
Spirit Trumpet, stereoscope, 1999, Modern Experiments, FE McWilliam Gallery, Banbridge, 2016
Modern Experiments, FE McWilliam Gallery, Banbridge, 2016 | Photograph: Eddie Byrne
Modern Experiments, FE McWilliam Gallery, Banbridge, 2016
KATHLEEN, 2014, Modern Experiments, FE McWilliam Gallery, Banbridge, 2016

Susan MacWilliam: Modern Experiments
INDEX OF WORKS

AN ANSWER IS EXPECTED
2013, yellow gold neon
 
NOW
2013, flashing red neon
 
Kuda Bux
2003, installation with video, 10mins 40secs
Taking his act to variety shows and making appearances at Radio City Music Hall, the New York mystic Kuda Bux (1905-1981) gained fame and notoriety in the 1930s and 40s for his dramatic demonstrations of eyeless sight. Kuda Bux specialised in performing such feats as reading a newspaper or writing on a blackboard while blindfolded. Viewed from a 1930s armchair Kuda Bux's acts are restaged and played through a 1950s television within a theatrical open set.
 
13 Roland Gardens
2007, video, 22mins 30secs
Eileen Coly (1916-2013), daughter of Irish medium Eileen Garrett, describes her mother’s famous R101 airship séance in 1930 and their time living at 13 Roland Gardens, London, site of Harry Price’s Laboratory of Psychical Research.
Featuring: Eileen Coly, Lisette Coly, Dr Stanley Krippner (b.1932), psychologist and academic, Dr William G. Roll (1926-2012), parapsychologist and poltergeist investigator.


The Only Way To Travel
2008, video, 38mins 30secs
Irish trance medium Eileen Garrett first travelled to New York in 1931 on invitation of the American Society for Psychical Research. During the 1930s and 40s Garrett and her daughter, Eileen Coly, frequently crossed the Atlantic from Europe to New York. The Only Way To Travel reveals a world of 1930s high living, the cocktail hour, the rise of the New York skyscraper, and an era of glamorous travel, optimism and new horizons.
Featuring: Eileen Coly (1916-2013), daughter of Eileen Garrett, Lisette Coly (b.1950), granddaughter of Eileen Garrett. Eileen Garrett (1893-1970) founded the publishing house Creative Age Press in 1941 and the Parapsychology Foundation in 1951, both New York.

Library
2008, video, 14mins 10secs
Library is recorded in the Eileen J. Garrett Library, Parapsychology Foundation, New York.

 
Artist As Medium
2008, stereoscope
Self-portrait of Susan MacWilliam in the Eileen J. Garrett Library, Parapsychology Foundation, New York.

Medium’s Daughter
2008, stereoscope
Portrait of Eileen Coly (1916-2013), daughter of Irish medium Eileen Garrett.
 
Aldous’s Eyes
2014, video, silent, 4mins 15secs
Reflecting on the narrative explorations of Aldous Huxley's 1942 book The Art of Seeing, in which the writer discusses the Bates Method of improving eyesight, Aldous’s Eyes is a visual exploration of perceptual phenomena. ​It features glass eyeballs from the History of Medicines Collection, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina.
 
Dermo Optics
2006, video, 4mins 9secs
Dermo Optics is an account of the artist’s visit to the Dermo Optical Laboratory of Madame Yvonne Duplessis, Paris. Duplessis (b.1912), a senior researcher in Dermo Optical Perception is observed with her colleagues as they demonstrate the experimental apparatus in the cellar laboratory. The artist participates in the experiments with very good results.
Dermo optical perception (also referred to as eyeless sight or fingertip vision) is the ability to ‘see’ without using the eyes. Dermo optical perception is often observed under test conditions with the subject blindfolded or behind a screen. The subject identifies colours via non-visual perception distinguishing them either through touch or remotely from a distance.
 
Feelers Poster Series
2005, digital collage, Giclée print on cotton rag paper

Blind man's buff, remote viewing, the fainting girl, Kuda Bux, Kathleen Goligher, Helen Duncan, Rosa Kuleshova and Mollie Fancher make appearances in this series of images originally designed as artist pages for publication in Visual Artists Ireland's journal 'Printed Project'. Feelers Poster Series draws analogies between the parlour game of blind man's buff and the experimental demonstrations of dermo optical perception.
 
Living Room
Feelers Poster Series
2005, digital collage, Giclée print on cotton rag paper

 
Dancers
Feelers Poster Series

2005, digital collage, Giclée print on cotton rag paper


Feelers
Feelers Poster Series
2005, digital collage, Giclée print on cotton rag paper

Feelers
2006, stereoscope
 
Experiment M
1999, double-channel video, silent, 5mins 43secs
Between 1914 and 1920 Dr William Jackson Crawford (1881-1920), a lecturer in mechanical engineering at Belfast Municipal Institute and Queen’s University researched the mediumistic phenomena occurring at the séances of the Goligher Circle, Belfast. Experiment M presents textual excerpts from Crawford’s books and reconstructions of his experimental testing apparatus. Crawford's relationship to the table tilting medium Kathleen Goligher (b.1898) is explored.
 
Headbox
TV cubes with three videos
2004, Rosa and Collar Model, 14mins
Hands Through Screen Model, 12mins, 55secs
Woman Behind Screen Model, 13mins, 8secs
The remarkable ability to read with her fingertips, made the young Rosa Kuleshova the subject of intense observation in Russia in the 1960s. Blacked out goggles covered her eyes, large paper collars were placed around her neck, and screens with holes for her hands to pass through were used to ensure that it was Rosa’s fingers that were doing the ‘seeing’. Headbox explores the contraptions and devices employed by scientists to prevent Rosa from using her eyes during experimental testing.
 
The Last Person
1998, video, silent, 10mins 30secs

A strange substance, ‘ectoplasm’, emerges from the medium’s mouth; hands appear and spirits are conjured up. The Last Person reflects on the case of Helen Duncan (1898-1956), a medium from Portsmouth who in 1944 was the last person to be tried and prosecuted under the British Witchcraft Act of 1735. The artist poses as the medium and footage follows the séance room events described in the court reports (The Times, 1944) that followed the trial.

KATHLEEN
2014, video, 33mins

A childhood accident, the death of a beloved pet and a library of books provide the formative experiences of the young Kathleen. Using excerpts from Kathleen Coyle's books, manuscripts, personal letters, unpublished poems and scribbled notes, KATHLEEN is an exploration of the existential and the melancholic, an observation of life and death. It is a study of overlooked Derry born writer Kathleen Coyle (1886-1952).
Voices: Anne Craig, Jim Craig, Ken McCormack.

Ectoplasm
1999, stereoscope

Spirit Trumpet
1999, stereoscope
 
Pull Down
2016, video, silent, 3mins 10secs
Conjuring up the dark spaces of the séance room, Pull Down observes the repeated collapsing of a girl, through the focusing lens of a camera. Continuing the artist’s explorations of the phenomena of spiritualism Pull Down draws attention to the role of the camera as observer of the medium within historic psychical research studies.

Where are the dead?
2013, white neon
 
Faint
1999, video, 3mins 40secs

Faint presents images of a fainting girl (the artist) set against the sound of bird song. Shot at Powerscourt Gardens, Wicklow and in the grounds and interiors of the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, Faint refers to ideas about mesmerism, trance and hysteria.

F-L-A-M-M-A-R-I-O-N
2009, video, 17mins 13secs
In 1931 a ‘teleplasm’ spelling out the name Flammarion appeared on the wall of a séance cabinet in Winnipeg. Camille Flammarion (1842–1925) was a French astronomer and psychical researcher and his name appeared at Thomas Glendenning Hamilton’s sitting of June 10th, 1931. You could run these two paragraphs together. F-L-A-M-M-A-R-I-O-N features a reconstruction of Hamilton’s séance cabinet, the Belfast poet Ciaran Carson, Danish-American poltergeist investigator Dr William G. Roll and Arla Marshall, Canadian granddaughter of Hamilton’s Scottish séance medium Susan Marshall. Recorded in three cities across the globe Carson, Roll and Marshall come together in F-L-A-M-M-A-R-I-O-N and respond to the image of the teleplasm.
 
Can we explain the Poltergeist?
2009, stereoscope
Portrait of poltergeist investigator Dr William G. Roll (1926-2012).
 
N to Z
2009, stereoscope
Portrait of poet and writer Ciaran Carson (b.1948).
 
Explaining Magic to Mercer
2005, installation with video and two framed images, 10mins 40secs
A number of obscure historical figures possessing a variety of bizarre and extraordinary phenomena have been the subject of MacWilliam’s work. In Explaining Magic to Mercer the artist discusses the X-ray vision of Kuda Bux, the ectoplasmic materialisations of Helen Duncan, the multiple personalities of Mollie Fancher, the table levitations of Kathleen Goligher and the fingertip vision of Rosa Kuleshova, with her five year old nephew Mercer.

Book Spheres
2013-14, sculpture, installation, inkjet paper, plastic spheres
Using parapsychology book covers the artist imagines the book as telepathic device 'transmitting' information from writer (sender) to reader (receiver). Book Spheres employs imagery and titles from the Alex Tanous Library, Rhine Research Center, Durham, North Carolina and the artist’s personal book collection.