by Elliot Davies.
By the river, they’re currently in the process of renovating the very ground itself. The brownfield site is all but hidden from sight by an opaque blue fence. Yet in the middle, visible to all, a black tower rises. Last weekend, it began to pound a gloomy rhythm, keeping time with the city’s bleak October heartbeat. It was so loud that it could be heard, faintly, from outside my house. I live 0.9 miles outside of town.
As I walked along the riverside to the Derby QUAD, I unwittingly matched step with the pounding, which grew louder the closer I got to town. At some points, the pounding acquired an echo as it bounced off the surrounding buildings. I found a spot where the pounding was bouncing back from three different places. Every pound was accompanied by three smaller pounds, which had acquired different tones on their travels.
It was quite musical, but it created an inescapable air of foreboding. Everyone I passed had a strange look on their face, a sort of steely determination to ignore the beast and carry on. It’s the sort of look you see on the faces of those who are trying their absolute hardest to not pay the slightest bit of attention to a loud argument on an otherwise quiet train. Had the pounding not ultimately ceased, I think the whole city would have lost its mind. Which can happen.
For me, though, the pounding was useful. More so than the overcast sky and the burnt orange leaves, it created exactly the sort of atmosphere I needed to get me in the mood for the spectral exhibitions at the QUAD – that big benevolent box in the centre of Derby, the place to go for good food, good films, acceptable beer and, occasionally, mixed media gallery installations.
Throughout October and most of November, the QUAD, is hosting a pair of exhibitions that address the paranormal and the supernatural. The very day I decided to take a look, the air was filled with that dreadful pounding. I love how everything just seems to come together sometimes. For that morning, I got to be Professor Parkins, hiding on a beach, terrified of my own bedsheets.
In the main QUAD Gallery is An Answer Is Expected, an installation by Susan MacWilliam. It’s a collection of sculptures and videos exploring the work of parapsychologist J.B. Rhine, who was interested in telepathy and extra sensory perception (ESP). Using a combination of exacting laboratory research and statistical analysis, Rhine was the first to treat parapsychology as an experimental form of psychology. There must be more to life than simply “matter in motion”. In a series of videos, MacWilliam celebrates this determination to uncover the hidden and delve into humanity’s hidden talents.
The remainder of the installation is comprised of sculptures that present books as conduits of telepathic communication. They line the shelves as Book Spheres, or else play an unspecified role in the mechanisms of static orrery devices; a tribute to the handmade apparatus used by Rhine in his studies.
The gallery is book-ended, as it were, by neon signs, one of which echoes the name of the installation in lurid pink. It’s hard not to think of Tracy Emin. Is MacWilliam here studying the effects of negative reinforcement on ESP ability?
MacWilliam’s installation has a subdued eery feel about it, one which, unfortunately, I wasn’t able to fully appreciate. Directly outside the gallery, a bunch of kids were screaming as they played with a big bin bag full of Lego. I’m not complaining. They’ve got to do something during half term. It just would have been nice to view the gallery in the sort of atmospheric quiet it so clearly demanded.
It would have been even better if the QUAD were slightly less well insulated, to allow for the noise of the industrial pounding outside to permeate through the gallery walls. This was one installation that would have benefited very well indeed from a distant knocking.
The rest of the QUAD – the Extra Gallery Spaces – is devoted to an exhibition called Beyond. There was an open call for submissions, and it seems that the brief was to “investigate and challenge our feelings for perceptions of the supernatural”. The result is a series of photos, etchings, found objects and videos that, taken as a whole, may have proven to be genuinely disquieting were it not for the aforementioned screaming kids. Never mind.
We begin, at the foot of the stairs, with Yvette Monahan’s The Time of Dreaming the World Awake. This is a collection of woodland photographs. In each picture is a figure, usually bearded, who is awaiting the 2012 Mayan Apocalypse. Embowered in nature, these people were ready for whatever the Mayan gods had in store. But of course, the world didn’t end. It feels quite cruel to place next to these photos a piece that exclaims, in stark, bold lettering, that The End of the World Has Been Cancelled. Suddenly, the devoted become the delusional.
Some of the works here are astounding. Wayne Burrow’s The Holcombe Tarot creates a whole new deck using strange collaged images. It renders something that many people find inexplicably sinister even more inscrutable. But for anyone who can read tarot, the deck opens up a whole new world of interpretations. To do a reading would be like falling down a rabbit hole.
Overlooking Burrow’s deck is a pair of videos. Jacqueline Drinkall’s Disco Ball Gaze takes place in a nightclub. The artist plays a fortune teller, using a glittering disco ball in lieu of a crystal ball. This is accompanied by a terrifying piece by Ingrid Ung, in which an eye stares ceaselessly from the centre of a swirling vortex, to a soundtrack of inhuman groans. Not the sort of thing to watch at night, alone. For once, I was glad of the sound of the gleeful kids. They somehow made it easier to stare back at the hideous eye.
Daisy Delaney’s GHOST is at once playful and insidious. It’s a till receipt, in which the carefully chosen items spell out the word “ghost” as an acrostic. The ghost is there for all to see, but it’s hidden in the midst of the everyday mundane. Did this occur by accident, or did Delaney insist that the cashier put her items through in a certain order?
Finally, Paula Chamber’s The Enfield Poltergeist plays upon a very real horror, one which caused a number of sleepless nights when I first saw it on an old ITV programme called Strange But True. I was eight at the time.
Chamber’s work isolates various items of furniture from the Hogsdon household, allowing them to take on a life of their own in the midst of stark white space. Could this be a reference to the objects that reportedly flew through the air during the haunting, or is there something even more horrible at play?
Anyone who’s familiar with this case will immediately associate these seemingly innocuous objects with the malign forces of the occult. The supernatural has a way of infecting the everyday, to the point that you can’t even trust the shadowy corners of your 1970s council house.
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