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Mark Titchner on sculpture, psychic attack, Gysin, Burroughs and language

e-interview: Rupert White




Zone of Protection (Z.O.P.) was one of the stand-out works in 'The Dark Monarch'. I understand it was inspired by Dion Fortune's writing on psychic protection. Who was Dion Fortune, and why were you interested in her?
My point of departure with 'Z.O.P' was the point of departure for the magical process itself: that is being safe and protecting oneself. The idea of protection is also something that comes up very quickly in a public institution when presenting sculpture: this normally means works have barriers around them. This is a very different situation than the one in the studio when the 'making' happens. For the 'Dark Monarch' I knew that I was making a sculpture, so I made an early decision that the sculpture would be it's own protective barrier, both physically as one component of it is a barrier and in the magical sense too.

One of the fundamental texts on protection in magic is a book Dion Fortune wrote in 1930 called 'Psychic Self-Defense' (picture below). It is still regarded as the best guide to detection and defense against psychic attack. Dion Fortune was an Occultist and writer and, importantly, had an interest in psychology which is clear in the book as she connects mental illness and depression with psychic attacks. Fortune herself suffered a nervous breakdown after what she believed was a psychic attack on her. Famously she was also involved in the 'Psychic Battle of Britain' which was an attempt by British Occultists to help with the war effort.

The book gives practical examples on both identifying attacks and how to deal with them and also how to generally protect oneself. In particular I used blessing and cleansing rituals described in the book when working on the sculpture. These processes appeal to me as a kind of 'readymade' and also have a direct link to process based art.

Can you say a bit more about this? How do the different elements in the work function?

This is rather complicated but basically the components form a kind of protective zone (thus the title!). The familiar Magic Circle or Pentagram would be examples of these kind of zones. In the book 'Liber Null', which is a modern Chaos Magick text, one of the protective rituals describes forming a pyramid type structure around oneself. I chose this to be the form of the zone, so there are 5 columns that mark the corners, and the central axis. The pyramid itself is invisible formed by these bisecting lines.

Whilst I was thinking about protection in general I got thinking about other kinds of mysterious invisible forces. Living in the city I'm surrounded by radiation produced by things like mobile phone masts and Wi Fi. We have very little idea of what the long term consequences of this kind of exposure is. Britain actually has much laxer rules on this than some European countries. This connected with my long term interest in Wilhelm Reich and one of the contemporary adaptations of his work is something called 'Orgonite'. This is a material that can be produced which is designed to absorb this kind of toxic energy. I found a video on how to make Orgonite and produced it just like a recipe and another readymade. Each of the 5 columns has five Orgonite pyramids attached to it forming themselves another Pyramid shape. These kind of numerical echoes are very important in rituals. The Orgonite was also a way of connecting the idea of Magic to the modern world.

What is the difference between Magic and Science? We might not understand exactly how a silicon chip works or a prescription drug, and we certainly cannot see how they work, but we have faith in them. When Marconi was developing radio one of his hopes, which came from Spiritualist beliefs, was that he would be able to tune in to the frequency of the dead.

I tried to use as many materials as I could in 'Z.O.P.' that referred to different traditions of Protection. The test tubes hung around the perimeter cordon are filled with St John's Wort which we know as a herbal anti-depressant, but the Romans draped its flowers over statues to protect them from evil spirits. I suppose you could say that I was interested in materials that had a protective 'resonance' that may not be apparent but that would be subconsciously perceptible. There are some hidden symbols in the work too, that were very much part of the construction of the work, and little things like mixing all the paint with water that had been blessed.

I was trying to layer up all these ideas about how we can protect ourselves.

Here are a few more materials and components you can find in the work: lavender, copies of hex paintings from the barns of Dutch settlers in the US, blessed water, blood, copper, bitumen paint, 8 pointed stars and the colour blue! Each has a little story to tell.


It's important to understand this sculpture in relation to other works that you have made. For several years you have been creating artworks that embody the idea that art can, and does, induce a different state of consciousness in the viewer. You've been especially interested in interactive objects that have been used in different psychological and parapsychological experiments for example...

First of all, my main interest is in how power manifests itself in the world: why we are what we are, and not something else. This is pretty much consistent in what I make whether I'm looking at the technologies we use, or the use of language in the media and commerce.

As for your question, yes, I'm very interested in the idea of elevating consciousness. This is particularly the case with my video works which often use both light and sound flicker which is designed to induce alpha state in the viewer. This is a state when the brain is at its most productive. This developed from my interest in Brion Gysin and his 'Dreamachine' (see 'features'). I'm interested in how human potential connects to a rapturous, ecstatic loss of self. I've also produced sculptural work that produce flicker.

I've also produced works that use alternative technologies such Radionics, and Symbolic Wishing. An example of this would be a piece I made called 'How to Change Behaviour (Tiny Masters of the World come out)' 2005/2006. This work was designed to showed in an institutional space, firstly the Arnolfini in Bristol and secondly at Tate Britain for the Turner Prize show in 2006 (picture detail left)).

The work used 'wishing machines' which are a Psionic technology and the viewer was asked to test their abilities for wishing for the 'success' of the work.

This goes back to an interest I have in getting gallery viewers to act in a different way to the way they would normally. The invitation to participate took the form of an institutional wall text. I recently showed the piece in Greece and adapted the text to make more instructive and succinct. An earlier work at the Tate featured a group 'Primal Scream' device, which was an attempt to up end the hushed reverence that I found in my first visits to museums as a child.


Versions of the Dreamachine have appeared in a number of your works eg as part of an installation at City Racing as early as 1997. My guess is that it has been a touchstone for you since that time. Why is this?

I'm interested in all kinds of technologies that present alternative worlds. I feel that we can learn something about ourselves by looking at these often forgotten devices. They seem to be almost like relics from a future that never actually happened. The Dreamachine is a great example of this. It is a simple construction that can be made with a turnable, some cardboard and a lightbulb. It uses brain functions to induce both Alpha State and, eventually, visions in the viewer.

There should be one in every home but instead we have TV. Gysin never had much success in his attempts to commercially market it, which was also the same with Duchamp's attempts to market his optical devices, the rotoscopes or rotoreliefs (picture right). Another amazing thing about the Dreamachine is that it is used with eyes shut, so they way that it looks is actually irrelevant.

You can see how this would fly in the face of today's market place. It can also be made by anyone cheaply and requires lengthy use and concentration. The experience is completely private, although it uses something that is common to us all, which is the electrical activity of the brain. This means that the experience cannot be quantified or affected externally. You can see how this doesn't make for the most attractive proposition for a potential corporate investor!


One important figure close to Gysin was, of course, William Burroughs. Has he also been a big influence? Many of your text-pieces seem to relate to his writing. Sounds like you're also interested in the paranoia, the fear of 'control' that many of Burroughs' works feed off...

Yes, Burroughs is a huge influence and I think that 'control' and 'power' are inseparable. When I was at Central St Martins I found a book of interviews with Burroughs called 'The Job'. It was a huge influence on me and I couldn't believe the number of amazing ideas it contained. Burroughs was like a channel for an alternative world filled with incredible iconoclasts like Gysin and Reich.

The 'cut-up' was also an important discovery and I continue to use found texts in my works. Burroughs proposed an attitude to language which frames and penetrates all we do, that was not passive, that we use language as it uses us.

This passive relationship to language is everywhere as we are so used to responding to commands, and also in the fact that we know much more about the product and objects of our desire than why we actually desire them. Burroughs has been a bigger influence on how I think about language than formal linguistics, which to be honest I don't really know that much about!

In combining words and phrases from different sources as you do, the result is almost schizophrenic: disembodied words emanating from a multiple alienated, or non-human, speakers. Its different from the more self-assured intonations of eg Barbara Kruger or Jenny Holzer. But they had the benefit of being able to draw from eg feminist theory of the 70s. Are your aphorisms a product of our times?
Yes I suppose they are.  When I started working with text I was very much interested in a kind of belief-vacuum I perceived.  This seemed to lead to a situation where beliefs could be anything from celebrity worship to health regimes. Anything goes. There also seemed to be more importance placed in who was talking rather than what was being said.

With those early text works I developed an aesthetic that tried to level this. All the voices were depicted in the same way whether the text's original source was in philosophy or in pop music. All of those things you say, 'disembodied words emanating from a multiple alienated, or non-human, speakers', to me relate to the experience of the world we have now, which moves incredibly fast and there is almost limitless information immediately available.

I have to say my attitude to this has all changed in the last few years. The recent work 'Disclosure' (see webprojects) attempted to define this change of heart in an art work.  I've now started working with my own text and working with a performance format where I'm talking directly to an audience. The difference was that in the past I was making work about the perceived emptiness of language in a post-ideological period. Rather than just expressing emptiness, I now want to think about why we don't communicate. I'm interested in trying to generate debate. 

My experience of lecturing has been very influential in thinking about more direct communication and the energy created by conversation. For me it's been a positive change.



Coming back to the Dark Monarch show I think your work is an interesting demonstration of the ongoing importance of counter-cultural ideas from the last century. But there is also a sense of nostalgia with many of these artists and writers. Do you think the Dark Monarch had a strong retro feel in that sense?

Yes. The Dark Monarch is a historical show in that attempts to develop a consistent timeline through British 20th Century art. Perhaps this seems particularly retro because many of the ideas that it deals with have not been common beliefs - or part of culture - since the Victorian period. Historically there has been an attempt to suppress these kind of self-empowering ideas, but think back before the Renaissance: Chemistry was Alchemy and Astronomy was Astrology.

Lastly, you've mentioned 'Disclosure', can you also say something about 'The Worshippers' (see webprojects)?

I made the piece with an artist friend of mine, Mustafa Hulusi. We are old friends and we both have in strong interest in politics and power. When we started talking about the piece, a few years ago, we kept talking about making a 'Rave' piece tapping into the visual and collective experience of rave music. Literally, the ecstasy of the rave experience. We then thought about how, perhaps, whilst one was in that state, one was potentially open to manipulation, this is how propaganda works. Another example of this kind ecstatic, mass communion would be the revolution or uprising.

We looked at the Islamic revolution in Iran. We both had strong memories of seeing Ayatollah Khomeini on TV as children. Strangely we found that there were very few images of Ayatollah during the revolution as he hated to be photographed. It seemed that the images that remained were therefore particularly powerful. The text the work uses could be seen as being incredibly general, almost empty but still relating to action. It's funny the final work was certainly very different to what we originally intended which was a film displayed on a back of a truck which would drive round and round the M25....but maybe that will come later!