A silver plaque on the wall of TCB announces "This space has been infused with universal life force energy". It refers to a pre-show performance in which Leanne Hermosilla used her skills as a qualified Reiki practitioner to infuse the gallery with essential Qi energy.
On a nearby wall a small wooden box contains, in her words, “an ultrasonic vapour that I’ve infused with the vibration that purportedly supports the assimilation of Reiki energy.” While at the front desk, gallery visitors are invited to enjoy a glass of violet or cyan hued water, which has been treated with Hermosilla’s own personal blend of colour therapy and vibrational medicine.
The works form part of a new exhibition, You Do Something To Me (on until this Saturday, 27 September), which itself is part of a much larger PhD project that has seen Hermosilla employ the doctrines of alternative epistemologies - from palmistry to aura readings - as the basis for making art.
The show at TCB is staged as a series of provocations and propositions. Instead of asking us to assess whether or not these mystical practices really do what they claim to - heal, soothe, energise, empower your third eye, or what have you - You Do Something To Me is asking us to think about our willingness to accept the possibility that they could do anything at all. What cultural baggage have we brought to the show with us and how does that affect our desire or ability to engage with these radical beliefs?
Hermosilla has deliberately chosen to focus on some of the more extreme or maligned alternative practices - sound healing, magnetic therapy, Reiki, astral projection - rather than on more (currently) culturally acceptable ones, like naturopathy or chiropractry. “When it’s less fringe it causes a more superficial interaction in a way,” she says, “because there’s not that jarring thing that happens when people are confronted with an idea they have already dismissed.”
Alongside the Reiki, colour therapy and vibrational medicine, there are three very detailed paintings of galaxies, which closely resemble the typical vision of space you might find in a science journal or documentary. The paintings look realistic, but they’re an imagined reality. That, Hermosilla would argue, is equally true of many of the images we see in scientific texts.
“The images we see of space often aren’t real, they’re hypothetical, they’re imagined and quite often coloured by artists,” she says, “but because they are what we are presented with from the scientific community, we essentially just take them at face value. So many times things that are accepted as fact are accepted as a fact because of the social structures they are presented within."
Many of the mystical (im)materials Hermosilla has been working with - crystals, pyramids, chakras and magnets - I automatically associate with the psychedelic-soaked counter-culture experiments of the 1970s. It’s the kind of hippy mumbo-jumbo you'd expect to find in abundance in time-warp towns like Nimbin. But Hermosilla is quick to correct me. They aren’t restricted to a specific historical period, she says, and they certainly weren’t always fringe.
"They weren’t counter-culture, they were culture," she explains. Modern science didn’t emerge in a vacuum; astrology, herbalism and alchemy are the origins of astronomy, medicine and chemistry. And it's these antagonistic and at times ambiguous boundaries between science and mysticism that really interest Hermosilla.
Historically, culturally and even methodologically speaking, the difference between a science and a pseudo-science isn’t always as clear cut as we might like to think. Nor is it always clear where Hermosilla sits in relation to the mystical doctrines she’s been studying. And when I try to find out what she really believes, she’s deliberately neutral.
When people hear about her project, she says, they always insist on knowing why she's working with these weird ideas and kooky communities. “Is it because you believe them and therefore you’re crazy, or is it because you’re trying to be ironic? And I’m more interested in a documentary position."
“Obviously when I undertake the study of something like becoming a qualified Reiki practitioner, it’s not really about what I believe or don’t believe. It’s just genuine research and I don’t really know what the outcome will be.”
The other reason, I suspect, that Hermosilla is so coy about her personal beliefs is because giving the game away would ruin her own research agenda. Obviously, anticipating a specific outcome from an experiment is a sure-fire way to spoil the data. More importantly, Hermosilla isn’t interested in testing out these mystical theories, but in testing out our reactions to them.
You Do Something To Me is trying to understand how we distinguish knowledge from belief, and in all the other, more ambiguous, idiosyncratic and much more curious positions we choose to occupy in-between: I see it but still I don’t believe it, I don’t believe we can ever know, I want to believe.
>> Maura Edmond
>> Posted 24 September 2014
GO SEE IT:
You Do Something To Me
10 - 27 September, 2014
Level 1/12 Waratah Place, Melbourne
Wed - Sat 12 noon - 6pm