Associate Lecturer and Artist
Gillian McIver started her artistic journey by picking up a camera and shooting bands, and then progressed to underground cinema-making. After a spell at film school, she co-founded the artist group Luna Nera, and spent a decade making large-scale site-specific projects in unusual sites, from a Russian naval base to a derelict grand hotel. She makes films and videos, installation art and photography, and curates exhibitions. Her most recent curatorial project was the exhibition, Alchemy!, in London. Gillian is also an art historian and the author of Art History for Filmmakers (2016) and the forthcoming Between Realism and the Sublime, both on Bloomsbury Press.
Phillip-Jacques de Loutherbourg was the youngest painter ever elected to the French Académie. As the first professional scenographer on the London stage, he virtually invented special effects and created the first proto-cinema, the Eidophusikon. He was a landscape and history painter of stupendous skill and vision and taught Turner how to paint light.
So why has de Loutherbourg been written out of art history? If he appears at all he is a footnote. He is almost totally absent in accounts of Turner; occasionally he pops up elsewhere as a friend of someone more famous. But of Loutherbourg himself, and his art, art historians have long been silent.
Loutherbourg, dubbed ‘the Mystagogue’, was an alchemist and a magician. The special effects he made were devised in his alchemical lab. He attempted to set up a Temple of Freemasonry that would fully admit women. He was a successful faith healer, treating hundreds. Finally, he and his painter friend Richard Cosway had a sex magick circle, with their wives and assorted others.
Art history became a discipline in a more puritanical age than Loutherbourg’s. Even during his lifetime, he was not immune to the accusation of deception and charlatanry, an epithet also flung at his close friend Cagliostro. Is it time to retrieve both and replace them where they belong in history? This illustrated talk will focus on Loutherbourg and the challenge of writing him back into art history. In the process, I will reflect on the questions: what does academic research have to offer esoteric researchers and practitioners, and what can an understanding of the esoteric offer to the researcher?
Gillian McIver (2007) La Mort Toujours [Film]
Based on audio and visual field recordings from the Paris catacombs and the forest surrounding Buchenwald, La Mort Toujours is a meditation on the mysteries of time and mortality. The way I often choose to work is best described as “expressionist documentary.” Darkly poetic explorations of places. Stories and explorations of real things, real places, reinterpreted through an expressionistic, subjective, and wholly immersed direct experience. The deep role of time and change is the basic subject matter for all my work. I am interested in the “reintegration of fragments” or what Anselm Kiefer has described as “bringing together what has come apart.” I am interested in revealing images that offer a glimpse of past worlds and indistinct realities. I seek the liminal spaces where the boundaries between fiction and documentary blur, mysteries are half-revealed, and memories take on a life of their own.