Shana Moulton, 'My life as an INFJ' (2015) Photo: James E Smith Image: Courtesy of the artist and Primary

 

Dearest Shana,

I hope that this finds you in good spirits. You’ve been in my thoughts much of late. I’m curious to know about your time in Nottingham and wonder what Cynthia’s experiences have been? Have you had an opportunity to visit the Hemlock Stone? There are countless old stones of importance all over England, but that sandstone pillar on Stapleford Hill (just a few miles from Nottingham) is notable as one of the few to be mentioned in J.G. Frazer’s seminal book The Golden Bough. According to Frazer, a fire was lit atop the Hemlock Stone the night before Beltane as part of a ritual that had been taking place since time immemorial. Stones like the Hemlock Stone (and indeed man made megalithic edifices) have fascinated me for some time. Ireland has many of these and in parts of the country there are still people who believe these old stones possess supernatural forces, and conduct rituals around them. I have heard of one in particular, which consists of water being poured over the surface of a standing stone and then consumed or administered to areas of the body in the belief that this might cure illness. Like the layers of folklore that accrue around these abstruse old stones, the ritual described by Frazer exemplifies the degree of power such edifices hold over people, even in a rational and incredulous world.

I was delighted to see you again – albeit briefly – in The Hague last November. The performance that accompanied your exhibition was remarkable and more complex and multifaceted than I had anticipated. Before this, the last performance of yours that I had experienced was in 2009 at The Bluecoat in Liverpool. In the years that had passed since, I had forgotten just how much of an immersive phantasmagoria the live strand of your practice is. I was so glad to see that even though you are now utilising more sophisticated technological components than you previously were, the work retains a distinctive – almost handcrafted – quality, which is so vital. I was entranced by the tightly coordinated interplay between your physical movements and those of the projections that form the backdrop or ‘atmosphere’ of your performance. The merging of your body with spectral digital images is visually and conceptually arresting and representative of a phenomena that characterises the present. That is, the dissolution of boundaries between the human body and the technologies which we have come to depend upon, and the resultant loss of definition between the actual and the virtual.

Another aspect of your performance which I found captivating (and indeed representative of your practice as a whole) was how it vacillated between a critique and a celebration of the strategies used by self-help and alternative health industries to market their commodities. On the one hand, your work exposes the fallacy promoted by these industries that psychic or spiritual wellbeing can somehow be achieved by choosing the correct cosmetic or dietary regime. On the other hand, you underscore the fact that many of the ideas (as well as the signs and sigils) do possess a potency that speaks to us on some arcane level. I can still see you in my minds eye, standing in the beam of a projector with a yoga ball above your head. Your silhouette cast a shadow across the room the shape of which evokes the goddess Isis, identifiable by her sun disc headdress. This act of shadowgraphy was momentary, just one brief facet of a bewitching performance, but nevertheless it epitomises your unique ability to evoke ancient archetypes and sacred languages using the flotsam and jetsam of mind-body medicine.

Another related strand which recurs in your work that I find particularly compelling, is your exploration of the complex status of what might be termed ‘New Age Culture’ in contemporary society. Your position seems intentionally ambivalent. Your work reveals how faith in alternative therapies and self-help psychologies can prove futile and perhaps even destructive. However, you also demonstrates the fact many New Age doctrines that are viewed as somewhat dubious were borne from reputable sources and embraced – just a few decades ago – by those in search of alternative, and in some cases counter-cultural solutions. Using both humour and pathos you reveal why some of these ideas and practices which fall under the New Age rubric have acquired negative connotations in recent years. In your allusions to various occultic methodologies and techniques (such as telepathy, telekinesis, touch therapy, tarot etc.) you emphasise the important fact that they can, regardless of their accuracy or ‘authenticity’ provide an antidote to disenchantment and incredulity. The question must be asked: as long as these systems are not used to manipulate or exploit, why should they be considered incapable of facilitating some form of transcendence or enlightenment?

In today’s world, scientific theory and so called ‘logic’ are used to explain and defend the systems that surround us and dictate how we lead our lives. One of the results of our dependence upon these legitimised methodologies is a strengthening of the inconsistent boundary that separates science from the supernatural. I believe that we have descended too deep into the realms of the rational and have come to dismiss innumerable possibilities concerning phenomena involving the potential of the human body and brain. Although you are working in a different field, I see certain parallels between your work and the writings of Paul Feyebrand. In his polemical books Against Method and Science In A Free Society, he asserts that our perception of reality is hindered by a reliance upon repressive scientific ideologies. According to Feyebrand, many of the unanimously uncontested doctrines which dictate the way we lead our lives do not deserved their privileged status in Western Society. The corollary of this assertion is that conventional science should not be considered any more efficacious or reliable than the plethora of so called pseudoscientific systems that are familiar to anyone living in the contemporary world.

For a spectrum of reasons I am interested in investigating the work of some of those individuals who in the wake of the 1960s continued to propagate ideas that first flourished amongst the hippie movement and who are now viewed as proponents of the first New Age wave. One such individual is Marcia Moore, the celebrated yoga practitioner and author of several books on astrology and occultism. In the late 1970s Moore operated as an astrological counselor and developed a method of reincarnation therapy which she termed hypersentience. I became aware of Moore through her 1978 book Journeys Into The Bright World. This book is essentially an account of Moore’s experiments with ketamine (which she had been introduced to when she was in her late 40s) in which she declares her belief that the drug held profound potential as a catalyst for consciousness expansion. Moore was so convinced of the powers of ketamine that she devised a system of therapy within which its consumption (which was at that point used only for medical purposes, having not yet become a recreational drug) was a central aspect. This system, which comprised yogic exercises and sessions of Jungian psychotherapy punctuated by ketamine ‘trips’ is outlined in a chapter of Journeys Into The Bright World. From a historical perspective, Moore’s aspirations – and the book in which they are communicated – might be viewed as representing the last gasp of the Utopian doctrine which Timothy Leary had espoused a decade previously. But where Leary had pro- posed that LSD could precipitate an evolution of consciousness, Moore envisioned that it was ketamine that would bring about a religious renaissance. Whilst such ideas gained a degree of traction amongst a contingent in the 1960s they were no longer considered so permissible – or in tune with the times – when Moore’s book was published in 1978.

From the knowingly cynical perspective of today it is rather difficult to take the ambition expressed in Moore’s book seriously. Her idealistic mission seems deluded and doomed from the outset. Journeys Into The Bright World descended into obscurity soon after it was published and was unsurprisingly never reprinted. As a result the book is now difficult to acquire although copies do occasionally emerge on eBay. However, it was not simply the excess of whimsical idealism that led to the abandonment of the philosophy it propagated. The fate which befell Moore in the year following the release of her book cast a shadow over the esoteric system it explained. Precisely what happened to Moore remains a mystery but several facts are known about her tragic end and knowledge of these invariably alters how one reads and interprets Journeys Into The Bright World. What is known is that on the 14 January 1979 Moore disappeared from her Washington home and remained missing for two years. In 1981 her skull, identified from dental records, was discovered in a forested area some distance from where she had lived. The circumstances that led to Moore’s death are unknown, and although various explanations have been hypothesised (these are explored in Karl Jensen’s Ketamine Dreams and Realities) it seems likely that it was connected in some way to her ketamine use, which – if the book is anything to go by – was heavy and frequent. It would seem that while ketamine may have enabled Moore to tune into whatever cosmic channel was open to her at this time, it also undermined her connection with the plane of reality and ultimately proved to possess life-negative properties. I view Moore’s tragic fate as representative of the dashed hopes of many of those who invested so much into the New Age movement. Moore often enters my mind when I think of some of your works, many of which possess an extremely poignant quality. In fact, Moore came to mind during your performance in The Hague in which you used – to great effect – a sample from Todd Haynes film Safe. Despite the movie now being 20 years old it remains an incredibly succinct and relevant exploration of the melancholy – and indeed mania – that flourishes in a society that suffers from spiritual starvation. The privileged protagonist of Haynes’ movie exemplifies how the existential emptiness in the contemporary condition leads people to embrace psycho-spiritual systems that are built upon unstable, hollow foundations.

I do hope that we will have an opportunity to meet again at some point in the near future and discuss these matters in person. I’d like to tell you about the exhibition I’m currently organising, as some of the research that I’ve been carrying out toward this project may be of interest to you. The group exhibition refers to the Utopian commune of Monte Verità, Switzerland, where precisely a century before pioneers of modern dance like Rudolph Laban and Mary Wigman were practicing. Laban would orchestrate synchronised group dancing in the open air, believing that rhythmic movements in the elements would release repressed emotions and assist in the attainment of corporeal health and beauty. These Modernists were of course trying to reconnect with what they believed they had somehow lost: a primal connection to nature! Perhaps during your time at Primary you have also been summoning bodily energies and using rhythmic movement to reinforce realities of space and time? Do let’s keep the dialogue alive, for I’m truly delighted to have met you and expanded the circle of individuals in my acquaintance who hold precious the contemplation of the possibilities of the SUPERPHYSICAL!

Sending warmest regards,

Pádraic E. Moore

Pádraic E. Moore is a writer, art historian and curator, currently a participant atVan Eyck Academy, Maastricht. 

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