At the launch in Belfast yesterday of Susan MacWilliam’s contribution to this year’s Venice Biennale, and listening to MacWilliam herself describe her research process, I was reminded of some connections that had surprised me at first. MacWilliam’s work centres around the paranormal – mediums, psychics, séances, ‘scientific’ investigations of ‘paranormal’ activities. Much of her research is now outlined in a beautiful new book published to coincide with the Biennale.
The connections were with the activities of William James, brother of the more famous Henry. W James is the founding figure of Psychology as a scientific discipline in the United States. But he was also a very significant philosopher, a very shoddily trained doctor, and a sceptical researcher of the paranormal. To judge by some surviving sketches, James was also, briefly, a first-class artist – he trained in Paris before chucking it in.
MacWilliam and James and theses sorties into the paranormal reminded me that good art is in the end not about something ‘out there’; it’s about the mind.
(For some images from yesterday’s launch, click here.)