Gwangju Biennale, Gwangju, South Korea
Celestial Fields, 2012
Gwangju Biennale 2012
Gwangju, South Korea
Dane Mitchell considers the boundaries of perception and invisibility through a variety of media both sculptural and shamanistic. In particular, he often works with specialised practitioners such as shamans to 'charge' objects and spaces.
Mitchell, working with a cylindrical space of the Biennale Hall, has equated the form of this space with the Cheonsang Yeolcha Bunyajido, a Joseon Dynasty astronomical chart from the 14th century, with an act that reflects conversations and psychic communication he engaged in with a Gwangju shaman. By immersing ourselves in constellations from the heavens projected within the space, we become aware of its invisible energies through it having been charged by the shaman in a ritual act during installation. The glass objects within the space contain the words of the shaman and the artists breath.
The artist has echoed a circularity throughout his project, which unfolds in two locations. Mitchell's sculpture, also on display at Mugaksa Temple, consists of recorded sounds of Mitchell himself repeatedly uttering the work "now", in a series of 52 'locked groove' records. Alongside this year long recording, attempting to locate the present, sit 12 round ceramic objects. These ashen forms have been fired with plant material selected by the shaman, and have the markings of the artist's tongue (a cast of which was pushed against the surface of the wet clay) as well as the markings of star constellations atop.
During a research site visit to Gwangju, Mitchell met several shamans in the hope of establishing a working relationship with the intention of involving a shaman in his project. After an intensive four-hour meeting with one in particular, his participation was confirmed. Mitchell returned to New Zealand and a number of weeks later he requested that the Biennale co-ordinator overseeing the production of various elements for his project, speak with the shaman about meeting him in Seoul in several weeks’ time in order to work with him in a glassblowing studio and, more specifically, to capture his breath in glass. A reply was relayed to Mitchell by the co-ordinator telling him that he no longer wanted to communicate by way of an intermediary, nor regular means of communication, and requested that he now only communicate with him on the astral plane, by way of sending “spiritual letters”.
Interestingly, what this does, besides see the artist sit at his desk, pinching the bridge of his nose as he send spiritual letters the shaman’s way, is to materialise and ritualise the process of communication — these actions become both rites within the work and its material being. As Marcel Mauss explains: “The preparation of the ingredients and the confection of the products is the main — the central — object of the whole ceremony and has its own entry and exit rites. . . It is a moment in the ritual” (Mauss, 1950). This method of communication might at first seem to obfuscate and complicate things but, in fact, working with such practitioners is never transparent, is always full of complexity and unknowns.