Don’t Believe Every Spirit, But Try the Spirits

– Seminar in English –


This seminar will focus on spiritualism and the occult as seen through the prism of modern and contemporary art.

Spiritualism and the occult are underdogs of Western culture that artists have engaged with in recent years. It was only towards the end of the twentieth century that historians recovered counter-hegemonic histories of the occult: they established that since the nineteenth century, spiritualist groups have been involved in confronting religious authorities by demanding freedom from dogmatism and ecclesiastical monopoly on spirituality, and furthermore, that spiritualist meetings were often platforms where political radicals – suffragettes, anti-imperialists, abolitionists, and anarchists – could speak their mind.

There is a renewed sensibility towards the spiritualist imaginary. There now seems to be an almost existential need to for ghosts. For instance has the philosopher Joseph Vogl developed a critique of finance capital in the guise of a ‘specter of capital’, which “appears as a cipher for those powers from which our present takes its laws.” In her book Ghostly Matters (2008) Avery Gordon describes haunting as a sociological method that connects fact and fiction to evoke those subjects and voices which have disappeared from history. In one of his last books, Specters of Marx, Jacques Derrida wrote of how a globalised world is haunted by a Marxist critique of capitalism; a ‘hauntology’ of contemporary life that urges us to look to the future for answers.

In the seminar we will look at works and artists from the (in some cases yet unwritten) histories of spirit art, and chase the meaning of the spectral through readings of theory and literature. We will also do site visits to relevant archives and communities in Geneva and beyond.

Key themes will be the art and cultural histories of politically radical occultism; the notion of spectrality and hauntology in contemporary critical theory; the fate of concepts when they go to The Other Side, such as death, the non-human, medium, materiality, and the power of falsity; and the methods and critical potential one can derive from spiritualism, such as proto- or xeno-feminist strategies.

The title of the seminar is a quote from the Book of John (4:1) that was often used by Spiritualists to justify communication with the spirit world.


/ Lars Bang Larsen