Susan MacWilliam: 13 Roland Gardens
Essay by Slavka Sverakova
The ‘documentary’ elements of this work were gathered in New York in 2006 and 2007. 13 Roland Gardens was made for Seeing is Believing, at the Photographers Gallery, London, where it was exhibited alongside photographs from the collection of the psychical researcher Harry Price. Price’s collection is held at Senate House Library, University of London.
In 1930 Price held and documented a séance with Eileen Garrett (1893 -1970). The séance refers to the crash of the R101 airship and is described in 13 Roland Gardens by the medium’s daughter Eileen Coly, and through pages of reports. When Eileen Coly talks about seeing her mother in a trance, hearing a change in her voice, one word stands out: resonance.
It inspired me to think about other cases of resonance, not just in the stories about the séance, the description of the flat at 13 Roland Gardens, and their travel to New York in 1931, but about the way MacWilliam layers the video.
Resonance means the quality to be resonant. This video resonates because the personalities interviewed are resonant with normal life, with glorious memories and with gentle belief in continuity between this life and afterlife. It starts, however, by another kind of resonance. The mutual understanding and trust between the artist and her ‘guests’ forges a close connection with the subject - an agreement that is worth paying attention to. The psychic defences fall down, and a vibrant life story about a person with inborn special gift is delivered with humble respect for the unknown.
Layering of times comes across in changes of appearances: it is the same time whenever Eileen Coly appears wearing an orange top, but different from the time when she sits opposite her daughter Lisette in a pink chair, with the photograph of her mother on the table, or from her reflections on after life when she wears the white cardigan. Watch for her gestures and timbre of her voice. They are different too. The layering of time, of appearance, of gestures and voice works as resonance with the idea of continuity between now and then in more than one sense.
Once it is about memory, when Eileen Coly is not sure of names and places. Then it is about the belief in the possibility of communicating with absent persons. And sometimes, I get the impression that the daughter speaks under some command from her mother. I have in mind the episodes when the excited state of remembering gives way to a voice of authority – “… why shouldn’t there be a continuation…”
The appearance of the two male guests, Dr Stanley Krippner and Dr William Roll
offers a resonating thought about the personality of the medium Eileen Garrett, claiming that she could offer evidence and that when she entered a room “…she was the centre…”
It is the creativity of the artist that guarantees that the video is also a story about itself. The artist is there all the time, just behind the lens.
I would like to thank Dr Slavka Sverakova for her ongoing support, encouragement and enthusiasm. Her insights, contributions and generosity of spirit are of great value to both myself and to the development of the work.
13 Roland Gardens
2007, DVD, Colour, Stereo, 22mins 30secs
On October 7th 1930, at his National Laboratory of Psychical Research, Harry Price held a séance with Eileen Garrett. Price hoped to make contact with the deceased Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Instead Flight Lieutenant Irwin of the R101 'came through'. The R101 had crashed in flames on October 5 th 1930 near Beauvais, France on its maiden overseas flight to India. During the séance Irwin revealed technical and mechanical information about the crash that Garrett could not have known. This séance was to become infamous as the 'R101 séance'. In '13 Roland Gardens' Eileen Garrett's daughter Eileen Coly talks about Garrett's R101 séance and living above the Harry Price Laboratory at 13 Roland Gardens, London.
In February 1931 Harry Price moved his laboratory from 16 Queensbury Place to the basement of 13 Roland Gardens, South Kensington. The first floor of this building was already occupied by Eileen Garrett and her daughter (now Eileen Coly).
The Irish trance medium Eileen Garrett (1893-1970) founded the publishing house Creative Age Press in 1941 and the Parapsychology Foundation in 1951 (both in New York).
'13 Roland Gardens' was first screened in 'Seeing is Believing' at the Photographers' Gallery, London in 2007 where it was exhibited alongside archival photographs of mediumistic phenomena from the collection of the psychical researcher Harry Price, Senate House, University of London.
Susan MacWilliam has been selected to represent Northern Ireland, with a solo exhibition, at the Venice Biennale of Art 2009. MacWilliam has exhibited video and installation works in Ireland and internationally for over 15 years, including solo shows at Jack The Pelican Presents, New York and Gimpel Fils, London (2008). In 2007 she exhibited in ‘Seeing Is Believing’ at the Photographers’ Gallery, London. MacWilliam was awarded a place on the PS1 International Studio Programme, New York in 1999 and has worked on art residencies in Dublin, Trinidad, Slovenia, America and Canada. She was shortlisted for the 1999 Irish Museum of Modern Art/Glen Dimplex Award and was awarded the Ormeau Baths Gallery, Belfast, Perspective 2003 Award. She is a lecturer in Fine Art at the National College of Art and Design, Dublin. Her video works (1998-2007) are housed in the Drama and Literature Section of the British Library’s Sound Archive.
Golden Thread Gallery, Belfast
Gimpel Fils, London
Jack the Pelican Presents, Brooklyn
Northern Ireland at the 2009 Venice Biennale