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Elza Jo, something sacred in the woods, 2010

Ubi Sunt: Grace Morgan Pardo

The new group show at south London's The Old Chapel explores notions of the underworld and themes of enchantment

Opening at South London’s The Old Chapel, the collective new group show entitled, ‘Ubi Sunt’, bases itself around ‘meditations on mortality and life’s transience’. Working around this central theme, the exhibition will be featuring new works from a diverse selection of artists, photographers and filmmakers from the Berlin-based Oliver Pietsch who produces a piece about the history of death through cinema, Flemish artist Elza Jo who stages eerie photographs, and Alison Honey who explores the worlds of worship and enchantment.

Delving into the use of rituals, contemporary relics and votive objects, the artists also draw upon Día de los Muertos celebrations, rituals celebrating the deaths of ancestors observed by civilisations perhaps for as long as 3,000 years and are still used today. Minnie Weisz created a series of camera obscuras reinventing past histories of the Chapel and Peckham's neighbourhood, whilst through an installation of ephemera, video documentation and a series of performances, Chilean-Canadian artist Grace Morgan Pardo will experiment with a series of binding spells constituting in a performance on the preview evening - who we speak to before the launch...

Dazed Digital: How did you first get involved in ‘black magic’?

Grace Morgan Pardo:
Well first of all, I wouldn't call it ‘black magic’. Things like Voodoo and Santeria have often been interpreted as evil, and these practices can be used to cause harm, but they are more complicated than that and most often are used for protection and healing.  I'm not a Satan worshiper. The religious practices I investigate in my work are Voodoo, Candoble, Umbanda, Santeria, and other sorts of Latin American spiritual practices and folklore. 

My interest is recently shifting back to Africa, Benin specifically, the birthplace of Voodoo and the origins of most Latin American spiritual practices, which then fused with Catholicism in the new world and transformed and developed interesting synthesis.
But to answer your question, it all started when I was living in Mexico City and became involved with a Mexican man who came from a family of witches. A lot of Mexican witchcraft is basically mild poison. This man taught me some spells and I think he put me under a binding spell. He also introduced me to performance art. 

DD: What sort of sources did you find the 'binding spells' you'll experiment with?

Grace Morgan Pardo:
As expressed above, some kind of first hand experience. Over the years I've been developing a little library as well, so I have many books to turn to. My family is from Chile and I have spent a lot of time in South America and Mexico. Many spells are common folklore, you can buy them at the market and the knowledge is embedded in popular culture and passed down through generations. Others are more occult.

DD: How do you feel magic is viewed in the modern world? 

Grace Morgan Pardo:
I think people are fascinated by it, especially things like Shamanism. The idea is so remote from contemporary society, it's romantic I suppose. I think most the people interested in these things are agnostic or even atheist but wish they could believe in something bigger. I think a lack of religion, or a worthy cause, makes the soul suffer. 

DD: What has been your strangest experience working with magic and spells?
Grace Morgan Pardo:
Well, I guess it’s a story I have mixed feelings about. [With] my Mexican ex-boyfriend, magic was a part of every day life... He had two sisters who were jealous rivals, and one in particular had animosity towards the other. When one of the sisters became pregnant, the other tried to put a spell on her to make her lose the baby. The pregnant sister was haunted by horrifying dreams and was constantly ill during her pregnancy and almost lost the baby. Luckily, the girl and the child were saved through intervention on the mother’s part, but the child was born very sickly and the mother developed lupus. It was like a weird fairytale gone wrong. I don’t know if it was magic or bad luck, but there was something very sinister about it, that felt like something beyond misfortune. 

DD: What are the links between magic and art?

Grace Morgan Pardo:
I studied Art History and am very drawn to Paleolithic art, primitive art and religious art. I am drawn to it aesthetically, but I am even more drawn to its function. Things like fertility goddess figures carved from wood and stone that would be buried with the crops to bring a bountiful harvest. Simple objects entrusted with such grand tasks, objects imbued with powers.  I want my art to work in this way and that is definitely how I treat the work I make, contemporary votive objects and relics. Art objects and sacred objects are basically the same thing. We interpret the world through both.

DD: What projects are you working on now?

Grace Morgan Pardo:
I am currently in Manchester performing in two pieces at the exhibition 11 Rooms, as part of the Manchester International festival. Meanwhile I’m preparing for the exhibition Ubi Sunt. My family is very religious and I have an uncle who has founded an order in the Catholic Church and runs a small Monastery in Spain. They are very hermetic and medieval in a really fascinating way.  In the fall I plan to go shoot a short film there. Also, I am planning a group show with my good friends Kirsty Buchanan and Aukje Dekker.

Alison Honey, Elza Jo, Sophia Schorr-Kon, Grace Morgan Pardo, Oliver Pietsch, Samantha Sweeting, and Minnie Weisz will be showing at Ubi Sunt - The Old Chapel, Asylum Road, London, SE15 2SQ; Friday 29 July 2011 6-9pm. Exhibition continues 29 July - 14 August 2011, 12pm - 6pm. Thursday to Sunday or by appointment. Opening party 10pm-2am with dollop DJs at the Bussey Building sponsored by Pernod Absinthe.