Ghosts stories have captivated the minds of people for generations–scaring young and old, rich and poor. They come from an age-old tradition of fears and tales of warning. Ghosts are also representative of the flickers of understanding that makes itself known as movements caught from the corner of your eye when you aren’t really paying attention.
As Avery Gordon in Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination states, “Ghosts are the empirical evidence that a haunting is occurring.” But who or what is doing the haunting? Why are individuals, places, and cultures sometimes haunted by the past? Spiral artists explored the ghosts in their lives and in contemporary society through artists such as Remedios Varo, David Wojnarowicz, Janine Antoni, Krystof Wodijcko, Christian Boltanski, Kara Walker, Alfredo Jaar, Francisco Goya, Chatchai Pupia, Janet Fish, & Merlin Carpenter. They considered why the notion of ghosts persists in the popular imagination by considering ideas from Avery Gordon and from Mary Roach’s Spook.
The Apparitions artists analyzed what ghost stories can tell about the values of the culture from which they emerge. The youth artists discussed various theories of what a ghost is and considered the reasons for ghostly manifestations–whether it was a ghost tied to a location through a tragic event or by the desire to care for a loved one. They also considered whether ghosts manifested in a visible or invisible manner. The youth artists considered the purported photographic evidence of paranormal activity called ectoplasm from séances in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, as well as how ghosts can be linked to social and cultural issues such as racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia.
Apparitions artists built their painting skills in representing what is visible, semi-visible, and invisible. The students experimented with manipulating the thickness and translucence of paint to render clear bottles and glasses. They honed their skills at observing shape and value, and then used gestural drawing and a rich range of values to create three-dimensional-looking fabric, draped in ghostly forms. After learning about ectoplasm as the purported evidence of paranormal and ghostly activity, the youth artists envisioned themselves as psychic mediums channeling ectoplasm and other worldly experience. Using chiaroscuro lighting, they created self portraits of an Artist as Medium, projects worthy of the best paranormal fakery. The youth artists then moved to experiment with color, using layering, and value and chroma variations of a hue to generate abstract compositions with some manner of a ghostly glow. In the final project, the Apparitions artists put all their skills into action to create a complex artwork that explored who or what they would haunt if they were ghosts.
Through the Apparitions group, youth artists explored social and cultural phenomena that is often unseen and unrepresented. The Apparitions artists understand that the artist can become a medium through which other people see the world.
2008 Apparitions faculty: Jamilah Adebesin, Edgar Gonzalez-Baeza, and Emily Moravec
with Spiral Workshop Director: Olivia Gude