Madame Blavasky’s Victorian Séance 1855

1855 Madame Blavasky’s Victorian Séance

Mixed Media and Digital Print H 210 x W300 x D420 mm

“.. it is no accident that Spiritualism, a movement which privileged women and took them seriously, attracted so many female believers during a period of gender disjunction and disparity between aspiration and reality.  Spiritualist culture held possibilities for attention, opportunity, and status denied elsewhere. In certain circumstances, it could also provide a means of circumventing rigid nineteenth-century class and gender norms. More importantly, it did so without mounting a direct attack on the status quo. Spiritualism had the potential, not always consciously realised, for subversion.”  

 [The Darkened Room: Women, Power, and Spiritualism in Late Victorian England.  Alex Owen 2004]

Helena Pertrovna Blavatsky—informally known as Madame Blavasky—is described as a Russian Occultist, philosopher and author who co-founded the Theosophical Society in 1875.  An extraordinary adventurer she pursued a rich and colourful life, and at times resided in England: one of those times during a critical time of Victorian society’s fascination with Spiritualism.  The permeation of Spiritualism in the mid-nineteenth century, to even the most respectable sections of society is well documented.  

This ‘imaginarium’ of her Victorian parlour (itself a reflection of the Victorian’s preoccupation with dioramas) with it’s wallpaper and floor tiles—created from prints of digitally manipulated images of orchids—reflects the abstract, constructed, world of Spiritualism, the one of ‘smoke and mirrors’.  And yet, it also evokes the ‘smoke and mirrors’ world she created about herself, as she sought to deliberately confound and confuse, those who sought to chronicle her life; weaving in her own falsifications, providing dubious accounts of her own early history, and remaining somewhat of a mysterious character.

Commissioned for the exhibition:  Chinese Whispers/The Event, Birmingham.  (2007)

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