Shana Moulton’s collection of found and altered images, The Blazing Fireplace of Guardianship, is the Winter 2012 edition of the Content series (which Blake wrote about here). This is a tender and enigmatic assemblage almost entirely devoid of words, which reads like a challenging and hysterical existential essay, an empathic exploration of modern spiritualism, a cynical contextual analysis of the marketing of the new age, a personal memoir, a mockery of a certain trend towards neo-mysticism in modern art or a map through “the decadent maze of spiritual liberation.”
Eighty pages of black and white images, sometimes adorned with a doodle or bit of text, a bit of collaging, but mostly left untouched, are brought together in this visual essay to create a beautiful, humorous and ruminative consideration of how we understand spiritualism. What we buy or find or do or take to help us understand or “get at” this thing called spiritualism.
Those familiar with Shana Moulton’s video and performance work (which Adam wrote about here) will recognize some of her visual elements and conceptual tropes, as well as the delicate balance between humor and reverence. It is intellectually and emotionally disarming; rave culture, the omnipresence of hands, waterfalls, and Jonathan Livingston Seagull all figure into her autobiographical (and/or universal) symbology. Through Moulton’s lens a piece of chemical sated plastic for removing blackheads from a person’s nose takes on an existential and romantic power as a symbol of potential psychic freedom, a giver of mystical qualities or a carpet ride to a spiritual journey; an ad for restless leg syndrome is transformed into an out of body experience. It is this poetic mastery—this ability to transform the banal into the worshipful, the silly into the sublime and back again–and a “sincere heart” which enables her to juggle such objects and images without slipping into the cruelty of mockery or the maudlin proselytism of the unquestioning believer.
Stephanie Barber is a writer and video artist currently living in the U.S.A. More information can be found about her at stephaniebarber.com