April 27, 2016

6.15 am. A strange light began an even stranger day:

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The 8.30 am train to Birmingham could travel only as far as Machynlleth, due to a failure somewhere on the line. I stuck out the hour before the next departure in the station’s Waiting Room. (Always a resonant concept.). En route, I pressed on with my evening’s talk, in the hope that my hotel would print out the finished script on my arrival:

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This eleventh hour completion wasn’t due to my tardiness. It was all part of the event convenor’s cunning stratagem. Intriguingly, those who had been chosen to participate hadn’t told about the nature of their contribution until a few days ago. I arrived, an hour late, at my budget hotel close to King’s Cross station:

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Baggage dumped, paper printed, I made a dash for the Serpentine Gallery, entering at the Lancaster Gate, and quick-stepping it through Kensington Gardens passed the Peter Pan memorial, which my parents had introduced me to when I was six years old. (Like Peter Pan himself, it had not aged.):

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The event contributors and audience cagily introduced themselves to one another as we waited for the guided tour of the Hilma af Klint exhibition (which has been hugely popular, I was told). None of the contributors knew one another, or why they’d been chosen, or what exactly was expected of them. (I recalled horror-story scenarios of disparate guests with no relation with one another who, having being invited to a party in a remote castle by a mysterious host, are knocked-off one by one.) I yielded to the proceedings with a mixture of anticipation and mild disquiet.

4.30 pm. The tour, navigated by the exhibition’s curator, began:

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I don’t hold, as some do, that Klint ‘invented’ abstraction years before Kandinsky and Mondrian. (Abstraction has its origins in many places and at other times prior to her practice). Nor to I think her works are abstract, strictly speaking; they’re too diagrammatic, decorous (in the ‘high’ sense of that term), and emblematic for that.

After the tour, I walked from the gallery to the College of Psychic Studies in conversation with its library’s Archivist. The institution has a fascinating history. Harry Price (1881-1948), once Britain’s foremost ghost hunter, had his laboratory on the top floor. Seances, led my some of the world’s leading mediums, were held in the building’s capacious rooms during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. And, we’d be meeting to talk about, rather than with, spirits in one of them:

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Among the contributors were art-historical luminaries such as Roger Cardinal, the artists Susan Hiller and Gavin Turk, and psychologists, neuroscientists, and mediums.  Our presentations were delivered in the format of a salon. This was not something that I’d experienced before. It felt a little like an academic seance, but without a levitating table between us. (Only thoughts rose above our heads.) Each of us, in turn, and from where we were seated, pitched our respective perspectives on Klint and the intellectual and ideological frameworks that had informed her work. I suspected that the event convenor had acted like some alchemical magus, and brought together different elements (us) into the crucible to see whether something magical would transpire.

The proceeding closed at 9.45 pm. I was famished (having not eaten since lunchtime). Rain fell. Thunder rumbled overhead. (Apposite, given the topic of our conversations.) Umbrellaless, I pushed back to the hotel via the South Kensington tube station:

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