It’s taken me 4 years to try and articulate what this project is about, but I felt like I was repeatedly going back to square one, that is literally the case as well as metaphorically, to Malevich's black square. Until recently all I really knew was that I was blindly following a feeling that was coming to me from the ground up.
My current notebooks and test prints from the Gnosis series so far…
Above a page of one of my sketchbooks featuring The Angels Hovering Over the Body of Christ in the Sepulchre, c1805 by William Blake (on the left). Just below is my interpratation in my book of test prints.
Gnosis was originally about extrapolating the positives from religion and leaving behind the dogma or institution, trying to work in the tradition of iconoclasts such as William Blake (That is still the case) and at some extreme levels maybe even Georges Bataille who I’d been hugely inspired by as a student – his essay ‘The Cruel Practice of Art’ was very much part of my formative thinking and my BA thesis was an attempt to connect my practice to his vision. All this is me broadly trying to convey that I was trying to decant the consciousness raising aspects of religion, from its conservative social anchor to something – ungrounded/unearthed. In 2015 I realised the first set of images for this project on Easter day declaring it ‘Christ Consciousness’ I spoke about the collective unconscious but what I really meant was the collective, I didn’t know it at that point though. Over the course of the next few years I loosened my grip on making images and tried to figure out what it was I really wanted to get to the bottom of.
I haven’t ended this project, at least not just yet. I have a set of shoots to conclude in the works. And other parts of it will be folded into my PhD research.
I have many unpublished images for Gnosis but over time I began to focus on the landscape where that spiritual shift Gnosis triggered in me was based and it became something fictional and at the same time psychogeographic. Gnosis for me became a project about turbulent change in fact, perhaps spiritual change. And as I changed so did the UK and I wanted to capture that rupture.
There are enough images now for a book to be released however I just need to find the right funding/publisher and perhaps the right essayist to team up with as I’d like an alternative take to my own alongside the images (and more coherent). And the reality is, since that shift, catalysed by a nasty and emotionally vicious break up, I did lose an awful lot of confidence in sharing new work. However, with help and emotional support from Kaveh (my partner) and Ephyra (my long-term model and friend) I have carried on, but it’s taken a lot to do so.
The dark night of my soul so-to-speak came and left a mark on my personality, I feel a lot of that psychotic break on my part was poured into Gnosis as a project, and as a result it is heavy, laden with an energy of change. A pregnancy. Which is why this move to a new project is *so* important to me. It is not only a new start, it’s the start of what I was always meant to move forward towards as an artist and person.
I wrote on my social media pages recently that ‘I see my work as not so much a past but a future. These are the analogue feral women who stayed behind on earth after the inevitable digital upload of everyone else.’ And in many ways these two sentences encapsulate what I was always trying to achieve with Gnosis. A spiritual rift that looks and feels real, the departure from everyone, melting/uploading into the ethereal that I’ve always lived in and an analogue reason for me to stay behind, to learn my physicality. It’s the symbolic sum of my sentiments. And I hope that makes sense.
Ephyra's character here waking up after the spiritual/physical rupture Gnosis caused.
Something that’s always travelled with me since childhood is the idea of the earth wire in electronics. My father did and still does make a lot of silly electronic things (he was an army engineer), a moving table, countless amateur radios, and when he was into photography heavily I would watch him make electrical devices that would trigger a gun to shoot an apple at the precise moment the shutter would close and take a photo of the explosion. However, one such time he was experimenting, and I touched a live wire, it threw me across the room. Later on, that day I had a little lecture on the earth wire, a strange green and yellow caterpillar of a wire that looked like it was from my home town as it was the same colours as the Norwich City football club strip. The grounding (a literal connection to the earth) element that prevents shocks and other electrical reasons, is there more often than not for one’s own safety. Yet I’ve always been without one. I remain un-earthed. I think of myself as un-earthed, an ungrounded adult. Anti-physical, anti-bodily = Gnostic. Yet I continue to search for a way into the opposite, of all of this.
Gnosis started out about religion and spirituality but really became about anything but Gnosticism, it is about the dull earth, my attempts to add body to my spiritualism. It’s about materialism, analogue labour, the weight of human bodies, it’s about the physicality I so desperately wanted and needed in my ethereal ungrounded nature. It was about rebirth, rewilding, rupture, femininity and change. I should have called it Anti-Gnosis.
I wrote to Don Cupitt at the beginning of the project, a retired Anglican priest who taught theology at Cambridge University, he also made this wonderful series… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J396Lamxu9I
I told him about what I was trying to do and to my surprise he wrote back (all in letter form). He told me my work was really more like Matisse than Rodan and maybe I should question what that meant. I never quite got to the bottom of that.
But like Cupitt I think my quest may have been similar. He was extremely secular and founded a movement called ‘Sea of faith’ a movement of which was in essence formed of radical and often left-wing, atheist priests. He had become for me a sort of symbol of what I was trying to achieve.
Another spiritual mentor and bastion of joy appeared through the making of the project and that was getting to know and love Derek Jarman as a character and an artist. A man who as a guide forced me to see all the light in a dark writhing mass that was my own depression, a man who laughed and enjoyed the beauty in melancholy. His fingerprints invariably left on the work I made and as a tribute I emblazoned all my notebooks with his painted square, also recurring on his own notebooks. It was a way of connecting to him, feeling his presence and wanting him near as I too traipsed through the UK burning and tearing my clothes, screaming with the grim nature and my fellow fallen women.
I also begun to see the square as Malevich had, as a symbol of revolutionary change, as a 0, as a beginning, as rupture, as a new icon. The intention of that square was of course revolutionary, not ever unintentional, it’s a visual 0 rather than a ‘square one’, it as a concept sort to be used as a replacement of the religious icon – its goal wasn’t like mine, mine was to subvert (which I realise was something a little too reactionary), I wanted to contaminate the orthodoxy, his was to start again. There is great honour in what he achieved. The religious figure that hangs in the upper corner of a room looking down over you, is now blank. Until I’m fluent in the visual/revolutionary language the figures in this series seem to be coming out of the black square itself and disappear again.
For when there is no language or imagery for religion the blank square says it all, an utter and total encapsulation of minimal and maximal religious presence. A spirituality so full it has burst into nothingness. Malevich’s square is the revolutionary goal and my current works are the figurative steps I take in my own understanding that new form of consciousness.
For me it was also a symbol of Mark Fisher’s Acid Communism, another man I reached to, held on to and mourned as I made this project, many tears I wove into this project are all for him.
A test print vs me with the actual size print...
As I said, there are any many images I have compleetd for this series.
They begin as the black square in the darkroom I too begin from.
But in short, there is more work to come and I hope at some point a book.