TALKING OF THE DARK MONARCH…


'The Dark Monarch', by Sven Berlin (1962).

I recently had the privilege to take part in Michael Bracewell, Martin Clarke and Alun Rowlands exhibition ‘The Dark Monarch’.  Opening at Tate St Ives last year and currently on the show at The Towner in Eastbourne the exhibition is an exploration of the twin poles of Magic and Modernity in British Art in the 20th/21st Century.  The exhibition takes its title from the until recently forbidden novel by Sven Berlin, ‘The Dark Monarch’; an expose of the post-war St Ive’s art scene and its elite, guaranteeing its obscurity until being recently republished.  Let’s let Michael introduce the show…
Following the opening of the exhibition Rupert White editor of online art journal www.artcornwall.org got in touch with me with some questions relating to the work ‘Z.O.P. (Zone of Protection)’ that was my contribution to the show.
This interview in its original form, along with others relating to ‘The Dark Monarch’ (with curators Martin Clark, Michael Bracewell, Alun Rowlands and artist Adam Chodzko) can be found here at www.artcornwall.org along with a whole bunch of ‘good non-Dark Monarch stuff”.
Here are Rupert’s questions….

'Z.O.P. (Zone of Protection)', Mark Titchner, 2009.

Zone of Protection 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 are you interested in her? To what extent did the work follow her ideas and to what extent your own?

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 mean works have barriers around them or on plinths. This is a very different situation than the one in the studio when the ‘making’ happens. So for the ‘Dark Monarch’ I knew that I was making a sculpture so I made an early decision that the sculpture would be its own protective barrier, both physically as one component of it is a barrier and in the magical sense to.

One of the fundamental texts on protection in magic is a book Dion Fortune wrote in 1930 called ‘Psychic Self-Defense’. 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 ‘Magical Battle of Britain’ which was an attempt by British Occultists to help with the war effort.

'The Magical Battle of Britain', A non fiction book by Dion Fortune

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 talk us through the different elements in the work and how they 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 and 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.

Illustration from 'Liber Null and the Psychonaut' by Peter J. Carroll

'Z.O.P. (Zone of Protection)', detail.

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.

Orgonite in the studio

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 Perscription drug and we certainly cannot see how they work but we 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 Johns Wort which we no 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 perceptable. There are some hidden symbols in the work to 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.

St Johns Wort

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

Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors

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.

Hex paintings in the studio

(Hmm, I wonder where Mark got that idea from??)

EARTH- Hex (Or Printing in the Infernal Method) 2005

It’s important I think to understand this work 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 objects that have been used in different psychological and parapsychological experiments. Is that true? Can you mention others of your works that might relate to ZOP?

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 what kinds of 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’. 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 be shown in an institutional space, firstly the Arnolfini in Bristol and secondly at Tate Britain for the Turner Prize show in 2006.  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 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 succint. 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.

'Be angry but don't stop breathing', Tate Britain, 2003

Two of the most celebrated examples of such objects are Bryon Gysin’s Dream Machine and Wilhelm Reich’s Orgone Accumulator. The Dream Machine has appeared in a number of your works: it was part of your installation at City Racing in 1997 and my guess is it’s remained an influence, a touchstone, since that time…why do you think this is?

I’m interested in all kinds of technologies that present alternative world. 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 Dreamachins 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 the Brain (readymade) 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 Duchamps attempts to market his optical devices, the Rotoscopes. 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 todays 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 figure that links both Gysin and Reich is William Burroughs. Has he also been a big influence? Many of your text pieces are cut-ups aren’t they? Where do you source the material for your text-based works? How do you decide what to write? Are you also interested in the paranoia, the fear of ‘control’ that most 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 Job', William S. Burroughs, Grove Press, 1980

The cut up was also an important discovery and I continue to use found texts in my works. Burroughs proposed an attitude to language, that 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, the result is kind of schizophrenic (in the lay sense of the term): disembodied words emanating from a multiple alienated, or non-human, speakers. It’s certainly different from the more self-assured and coherent intonations of eg Barbara Kruger or Jenny Holzer. But they had the, debatable, benefit of being able to draw from 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 texts 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’ 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, my interest now is rather than just expressing emptiness I want to think about why we don’t communicate and trying 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: the occultism and parapsychology of the early 20th century, through Burroughs to the multimedia experiments of Derek Jarman and Throbbing Gristle. But there is also a sense of nostalgia with these artists and writers. These individuals may have been dangerous and subversive then – but they aren’t in the same way any more…Do you think the Dark Monarch had a strong retro feel in that sense? Whats your view on this?

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 discusses have not been common beliefs or part of culture since the Victorian period. Historically there has been an attempt to surpress these kind of self empowering ideas but think back before the Renaissance Chemistry was Alchemy and Astronomy was Astrology. The show was also an attempt to approach works from the Tates collection in a new way. It showed aspects to artists practices that would normally not be made clear.  A lot of artists in the show were part of what could be seen as the cultural reconstruction of Britain as a modern country after the Second World War.

Art Theory Map

Timeline of 20th century art.

(Click to view the entire image from the source.)

Lastly can you say something about ‘The Worshippers’? Something about the ideas behind it?

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 ecstacy 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 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, maybe that will come later!

(To view a version of ‘The Worshippers’ CLICK HERE)

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