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The Object Of Attack

The artist Susan McWilliam talks about the spooky film she is showing at the latest exhibition curated by Five Storey Projects

Five Storey Projects is a  five-person strong curatorial collective consisting of artists, curators and writers who met through the East End art scene in London. Their latest project The Object of Attack takes place at the David Roberts Art Foundation and features this year's representative for Ireland in the Venice Biennale Susan MacWilliam, with whom we were lucky enough to grab some time out of mind...

Dazed Digital: Where does your interest in the otherworldly come from?
Susan MacWilliam: I’ve been making video works and installations based on cases of the paranormal and perceptual phenomena for over ten years. Ever since I saw a television programme about séance room photography, I became fascinated in the subject and in the oddness of the imagery, so I started researching historical cases and the accompanying photographs of materialisations. I began to ‘practice’ being a medium in front of the lens and made video images where I reconstructed séance room phenomenon.

DD: Your works seems to meld the old world and the new...
SM:The significant collision of modern spiritualism with the birth of modern photography, and the projection of images into other spaces is paralleled in my work because I started to work with photographic processes at the same time as I discovered the world of spirit photography. I am interested in the many levels of control – the psychical researcher controlling the medium, the medium being controlled by the spirit control, the audience being in effect under the control of the medium and so on.

DD: What is the inspiration behind Some Ghosts?
Susan McWilliam:  The subject of Some Ghosts is the Danish American poltergeist investigator Dr William G Roll. I first met Bill at the 2007 Parapsychological Association Conference, Halifax, Nova Scotia. In the previous month, I had been on residency at the Parapsychology Foundation, New York, where I was working with the family of the Irish medium and founder of the Parapsychology Foundation, Eileen Garrett. In fact, I was living with Garrett’s daughter Eileen Coly, who insisted I speak to the parapsychologists Stanley Krippner, Rex Stanford and Bill Roll. At the conference I met them all, and they feature in my film Eileen, in which they relay anecdotes about the extraordinary and charismatic Eileen Garrett. Spending everyday with Bill during my 2008 visit, I shot many hours of footage, from which Some Ghosts has been developed. I find Bill a compelling presence, I am drawn to his inquisitiveness, his desire to understand the peculiarities of the world, his drive, and his ever present humour.

DD: How do you begin to create one of these projects?
Susan McWilliam: I develop close friendships and working relationships with my subjects. The footage I record is watched over and over and logged in minute detail so that I can cross-reference and work out edits that bring together footage shot on different occasions – mirroring and echoing and repetition are often used. The subjects of my work are often in their 80s and 90s, and they connect to histories and to pasts that are unfamiliar to me, and that I find fascinating. They bring these into my world and I feel extraordinarily privileged. I feel an urgency to to capture images and stories before they disappear.

The Object of Attack at the David Roberts Foundation until December 19. Full programme on the website.
Susan MacWilliam is an artist based in Belfast, and a lecturer in Fine Art at the National College of Art and Design, Dublin. Her video works (1998-2007) are housed in the Drama and Literature Section of the Sound Archive, British Library. In 2009 MacWilliam represented Northern Ireland with her solo exhibition ‘Remote Viewing’ at the 2009 Venice Biennale.

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