Art Seen is delighted to announce that British artist Angus Braithwaite will present ‘A Home of Ghosts and Spirits’, his first solo exhibition outside of the UK. The show is curated by Maria Stathi and it will continue until the 24 of November.
For this new commission, Braithwaite has invited four Ghosts who inhabit constructed environments to spend six weeks in the Nicosia gallery.
This is the first time these haunted artworks can been seen together. Interestingly, each work of art has taken a different journey to the gallery – be that through the postal system, as a relations’ hand–luggage or by boat.
Although similar in construction and aesthetic, each opened box has its own logic of display, thus activating and encouraging the spirits living within them to perform.
The works have a physical and intellectual dialogue with one another. The oscillating theatrical lighting of one, affects the shadows on another. The soundscape composed to placate the ghost within a different work, drifts through the gallery confusing, or sometimes informing, the others.
Alongside these international deceased guests, Braithwaite has punctuated the gallery with another sort of spirit. Continuing his fascination with wood as a material and the power of trees in Western mythology, Braithwaite will present his Dryad series, small, self–contained temples and tombs, constructed for the Ancient Greek tradition of tree spirits.
> Tim Dixon, a Writer and the Deputy Director at Matt’s Gallery, in London, has been commissioned to write a text on Braithwaite’s first solo exhibition in Cyprus.
“As a child I poured over stories of ghosts. Not fictional stories, you understand – they never held much interest for me. What I sought out on the shelves of libraries were the books that recounted tales of real life hauntings. I was gripped by the photographs that accompanied them – shadowy black and white images that in a pre-digital time held a currency of facticity that we no longer attach.
One image that stuck with me was that of the so-called ‘Brown Lady’ of Raynham Hall, Norfolk, England, photographed in 1936. The image shows a figure descending a staircase. This figure is said to be Lady Dorothy Walpole, former lady of the house who was imprisoned at home by her abusive husband and who died there in 1726. She apparently appeared wearing a brown brocade dress, hence the name.
Ghosts in the UK, as the artist Angus Braithwaite suggested to me, usually appear in corridors or staircases. One such ghost inhabits his 2017 sculpture, The Boo. Like his other Ghost works, the piece is formally centred around a solidly crafted wooden box which contains a model of a site drawn from the artists memory. The sites selected relate to the artist’s firsthand encounters with spiritual entities.
In The Boo everything is laid bare, no artifice is hidden. We see the lighting that casts the work’s dramatic shadows. Behind this, a subtitled silent film recounts the story of ‘The Boo’ – the ghost so named by the artist’s mother. As the story unfolds we become uncertain how to position ourselves. The stories seem to come from real life, and though we may not believe in ghosts, we believe that the storyteller might and we don’t wish to deny their sincerity in recounting this story. We vacillate between skepticism and acceptance of another’s lived experience.
The ghost in this story dwelled in the staircase of the artist’s childhood home – a northern English house, built in the 15th century. A voice in his mother’s ear, a disembodied laugh and a dog’s unusual behaviour indicate the presence of something Other. After many years of living with the ghost – whose presence is not completely unwelcome – the family decided to move, and concerned for the wellbeing of their unbodied companion, the artist invited The Boo to habit this model of its home and come with them.
The work belongs to the artist’s mother and was brought to the show at Art Seen in Nicosia, Cyprus as her hand luggage. This exhibition marks the first time that this and Braithwaite’s other 3 Ghost works have be seen together.
Like The Boo, Under the door (2018) and This has happened once before (2018), each host their own respective spirits. Under the door depicts a doorway in the artist’s current home in East London, under which an eldritch interruption in light passed late one night. Like The Boo, This has happened once before also shows a staircase. A ghost story told through audio developed with musician Oliver Marchant, is drawn again from a haunting in the artist’s childhood. The sculpture depicts the stairs in the neoclassical Georgian wing of an 11th century National Trust property near where the artist grew up.
We are again unsure how to position ourselves: You see a shadowy figure looking down at you from a window – Braithwaite talks of the childish delight in being “… scared, [though] part of you is thrilled, as now you can tell everyone that you have also seen a ghost.” Marchant’s sweeping electronic music builds atmosphere and suspense as the artist’s voice echoes, layers and repeats. The work’s tone is more explicitly spooky and unsettling than in the other works.
These ghosts occupy the types of spaces referred to above – corridors and staircases. These threshold spaces align with those examined by Mark Fisher in his 2016 book The Weird and The Eeerie. Fisher identifies and explores these two “particular kind[s] of aesthetic experience” found in stories of encounters with the otherworldly. The Weird, in which he identifies amongst other things, the writing of H P Lovecraft, H G Wells and the films of David Lynch, draws its character from encounters with the otherworldly entering into our world. The focus of these stories is frequently the thresholds and transitional spaces through which beings travel in order to reach other worlds; doorways, gates, passages and curtains. Spaces like those we find in Braithwaite’s works.
Gwisin (posted) (2018) also hosts its ghost, but it’s slightly different. The piece was made while the artist was in residence in Korea and then posted to Matt’s Gallery, London for exhibition. Posting is intrinsic to the work and for exhibition at Art Seen it was posted again, from London to Nicosia. Ghosts in Korea are everywhere and paradoxically for that reason, seemed harder for the artist to find. Korean Shamanic traditions centre around assisting a ghost to conclude unfinished business so that it can pass on from this world. While searching for a ghost during his residency, the artist went to a cheap diner for lunch and ordered a hot soup. As he was about to eat, the ghost moved his soup – an occurrence which repeated several times again. A gwisin (ghost, in Korean) can move objects, so the artist tells me. They interact with the living in order to get noticed and in extreme circumstances will even touch people. Drawing the gwisin into this work, where it will experience the particular attention of an artwork’s audience, may or may not be enough to allow it to pass over. The viewer can decide.
Braithwaite’s Dryad series punctuate the Ghost works in his exhibition, developing some key themes in his oeuvre. Throughout his practice he has explored his relationship to trees and wood. In works such as Acer pseudoplatanus (2015) he recounts a childhood spent outdoors with trees – formative experiences that have shaped his life. Dendron, a photographic series made for Art Seen in 2015, depicts life sized sections of disembodied trees with which he spent his youth. Or the pair of works Quercus robur: Father of the Woods and Fagus sylvatica: Mother of the Woods (2014), part of an ongoing series that also express a fascination with woods mythology and material.
Dryads are ancient Greek tree spirits and their existence imbues the trees they inhabit with a certain playful energy. The artist’s allusion to them gives these works a certain kind of agency, much like the ghosts in the works explored above. Ash, Larch, Oak, Walnut and Olive are presented by the artist, who talks about the pieces as tombs or shrines. The titles allude to the spirit still within them. The works are enchanted, more than the sum of their parts. More than their material essence.”
Tim Dixon, Writer and Deputy Director at Matt’s Gallery, London
was born in 1984 in Cumbria, UK. Lives and works in London.
Angus Braithwaite studied Fine Art at Newcastle University and the Slade School of Art.