The machine and the ghost

Technology and spiritualism in nineteenth to twenty-first-century art and culture

Editors: Sas Mays and Neil Matheson

Within the visual arts, speculation concerning the paranormal, haunting, spiritualism, and spirit photography expanded enormously in the first decade of the twenty-first century. Focusing on people's complex relationship with technology, this book explores our culture's continued fascination with the spectral, the ghostly and the paranormal. Informed by history and the visual tradition of spiritualism and psychical research, it cites that tradition within our contemporary concerns, such as landscape and environment, and recent technological developments. The book discusses the role of vitalism in contemporary theory, reflecting on what Bergson's interest in spiritualism suggests about the historical and theoretical complexities that lie behind the current uses of vitalism. It examines the twitching gestural engagements with a variety of devices, instruments, and technologies, including the typewriter, the pianola, the slate, and the phonograph. The book highlights that spiritualist phenomena are the result of mendacity on the one side and credulous belief on the other; Dada photomontage the result of painfully keen-eyed despair and a powerful drive to experiment. Resiting spirit photography and the production of 'ectoplasm' within the theatrical tradition of melodrama, the book considers spiritualist manifestations in terms of 'performances for camera'. It pays attention to exhibitions, staged in galleries in the UK and the United States between 2003 and 2007, which paired spirit photographs with examples of contemporary art photography. Finally, the book considers various spectral emanations moving across space and time, and across different discourses the work of John Ruskin, to discuss the relations between haunting and ecological catastrophe.

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