British Library Artist in Residence 2012

Focus all your attention on me and only me. I am researching hypnotism at the British Library as part of their inaugural Artist in Residence scheme. I will be recording my adventures here. Take a deep breath and count down slowly from ten.....

Yeah? What of it?

The title of this book is brilliant. It begs the question…. Yeah exactly - what is mesmerism? And yeah - what of it concomitants?

I am afraid to say that this little book doesn’t really answer the questions it so eloquantly poses…

7410.a.21
What Is Mesmerism? And What Of It’s Concomitants Clairvoyance and Necromancy?

The opening of the book is, however, electrifying. Well, it is to me. I know full well that most people don’t think about mesmerism or hypnotism from one birthday to the next, so the idea that this first sentence could be true is very exciting. And yes, it’s a bit over the top but I never think that there’s anything wrong with exaggeration. I always, always exaggerate…

"The whole atmosphere of educated society is filled with this subject. in every company the conversation turns upon it, and it infects the air around us. Some are sceptical; some are frightened; some despise the whole thing, and assert it to be all imposture; some play with it as an amusement; some seek to the clairvoyant or to the dead to remove their anxieties and gratify their curiosity; some receive and yield themselves to the influence of the mesmerises or to the guidance of the spirits professed to be invoked. Some regard it as a mere subject of philosophical inquiry, and assert that they can explain it all on scientific principles"

How To Mesmerise

This morning I had a look at a book in the library. Well its a very slender few pages from1886.

7306.de.24(15)

the secret of mesmerism. with full instructions how to mesmerise
by a physician
price one penny

this is a 15 page pamphlet so it makes quite a big claim for such a small publication (“full instructions on how to mesmerise)

I was very struck by these two warnings.

warning to the practitioner
“Having once succeeded in placing a subject fairly in the mesmeric state, a form of infatuation is only too ready to seize upon the operator, and may lead to a neglect of the ordinary duties and avocations of life and unfit him for the position of a useful citizen”

warning to the subject
“still greater evils lie in wait for the unfortunate subject. Bewildered and fascinated by the strangeness of this new sensation, he willingly and eagerly rushes to a repetition of the influence. Soon his mental vigour is withered, his self respect is gone, and his strength of purpose reduced to that of a child or an imbecile”

As a practitioner I am terrified that getting addicted to my power will render me unfit for the position of a useful citizen but it’s even worse for you lot

But none of this should put you off coming to my British Library performance on 29th November.

The Star, 16th September 1880
Regular readers of this blog who have been following my researches at the British Library will know of my obsession with the Lady Mesmerist Annie de Montford.  There are some wonderful descriptions of her act (and, as the people who came to my show and tell last week know, a great description of the unmasking of her fraudulent practices) in the newspapers of the time.
This is a simple description from 1880 of how her act worked.  This, and other such descriptions, have really set me thinking.  The mesmerist routine Annie was practicing was presumably pretty standard (in fact several of the descriptions mention that her only novelty was that she was a woman - something that would still be an incredible novelty now).  This routine is incredibly similar to a standard stage hypnotic routine as performed in clubs, pubs, and student unions nightly.  It has hardly changed in over 130 years.  
I have long been fascinated by old performance practices.  Looking at Music Hall routines and bringing their spirit into a contemporary performance context.  I have looked at magic acts, spesh acts etc etc, and so many of them have stayed the same in essence but much of their actual content has necessarily changed.  There is no way you could sing a whole Music Hall number now and expect the jokes to work on their own merit - they are pretty lame to our ears.  But the mesmerist/hypnotist routine has ploughed its own little showbiz furrow - hardly changing at all.  Ok in the 1880s you got someone to pretend to milk a cow and now you’d get someone to pretend to be Lady GaGa but there’s not much difference.  Long may it continue in it’s misunderstood, slightly grubby, pseudo-scientific, tawdry showbiz way!

The Star, 16th September 1880

Regular readers of this blog who have been following my researches at the British Library will know of my obsession with the Lady Mesmerist Annie de Montford.  There are some wonderful descriptions of her act (and, as the people who came to my show and tell last week know, a great description of the unmasking of her fraudulent practices) in the newspapers of the time.

This is a simple description from 1880 of how her act worked.  This, and other such descriptions, have really set me thinking.  The mesmerist routine Annie was practicing was presumably pretty standard (in fact several of the descriptions mention that her only novelty was that she was a woman - something that would still be an incredible novelty now).  This routine is incredibly similar to a standard stage hypnotic routine as performed in clubs, pubs, and student unions nightly.  It has hardly changed in over 130 years.  

I have long been fascinated by old performance practices.  Looking at Music Hall routines and bringing their spirit into a contemporary performance context.  I have looked at magic acts, spesh acts etc etc, and so many of them have stayed the same in essence but much of their actual content has necessarily changed.  There is no way you could sing a whole Music Hall number now and expect the jokes to work on their own merit - they are pretty lame to our ears.  But the mesmerist/hypnotist routine has ploughed its own little showbiz furrow - hardly changing at all.  Ok in the 1880s you got someone to pretend to milk a cow and now you’d get someone to pretend to be Lady GaGa but there’s not much difference.  Long may it continue in it’s misunderstood, slightly grubby, pseudo-scientific, tawdry showbiz way!

Who Do You Think You Were?

Thanks to everyone who came to my Show and Tell session at the Library today.

A couple of you have been in contact to ask if I could post the information from the talk on the blog.  I will try and post various bits over the next few days.

In answer to a specific request I will post the script of the little sketch I wrote about the stunning new TV show, Who Do You Think You Were?

I did various bits of talking around the script - but here are the basics….

Great to be here.  And everything  Not normally up at this time in a morning, Shinane but for your show…. Yeah yeah the programme yeah…

It was a real journey.  I went on a journey – that’s the only way I can describe it.  I didn’t expect to learn so much about myself.  But I did.

When they asked me to be a guest on the show I was a bit – like – you know – what?  And  everything.  But I’m glad I did.  The public just know me as being cool and suave and a bit of a bastard in Scalpel but then when you’re playing a bloke doing an average of five autopsies an episode and then solving the murders you aren’t going to be all sweetness and roses are you?  Everything changed when I played Charlie in Knifed, thank you, thank you….which is a completely different kettle of fish.  When you’re playing a mortician’s assistant who sneak into the morgue and does autotopsies on the QT and then solves the murders obviously that’s a very different character and a set of a skills. And everything.  My point is that the public aren’t going to believe me on this new show.  I am really glad they asked me to be the first guest on this which uses past life regression to take celebrities back to their former lives.  And everything.  I know!!!  It’s called Who Do You Think You Were? and it starts next Wednesday.

I was very skeptical Shinane.  I hardly believed in this life never mind former ones.  I’m a real doubting Tom Boy that’s me.  But they put me down in front of the hypnotist and she explained what was going to happen and I was like, really?  Yeah!  Really?  And next thing I know I’m running through a meadow in a bleeding pinafore dress and off we go.  Obviously it’s a bit different doing it for the camera because I know that they are filming everything and that the big part of the deal is that they will recreate my former lives using other celebrities.  So whilst I was 100% reliving being a Victorian school urchin being chased I was wondering if Sheridan Smith was too old for the part.  But she wasn’t and it all turned out well in the reconstruction.  And everything.

I didn’t expect to cry so much.  I expected to cry obviously, because it was in the contract, but the minute I realised I had been a geisha who had been attacked to death in the Shotgun era of ancient Japan I was in floods.  It’s so sad.  I can feel myself tearing up now.  But it was so authentic.  They had the sumo wrestlers and everything.

But the thing that got me the most was being a soldier on the battlefields of France in the Napoleonic wars and everything.  I felt a bit bad once I realised I was on the French side.  And I don’t speak French but I was right in there.  I was imagining my musket and I could taste the bread and smelly cheese I’d had for my dinner before the cannon did for me and everything.  It was so moving.  Anyway – make sure you watch the show next week.  Who Do You Think You Were.  It’s really good.  And everything.

 

A

A little teaser….

OK - I couldn’t resist.  Here is one of my favourite patents.  A machine so that you can kick your own arse.  Smashing!  Who wouldn’t want that in their life?  Isn’t the figure in the diagram strangely erotic…. discuss.

Who knew Patents Rock?

I have spent the day in the Patents Office at the British Library.  It is completely fascinating.  I’ve found some wonderful machines that were dreamt up to induce hypnosis.  And many that were designed to hypnotise people into sleep.  Insomnia seems to have been as much of a problem in the late 19th Century as it is now.  Since I qualified as a Clinical Hypnotherapist it’s the thing that people always informally ask for help with.

But there are a million other brilliant patents tucked away in a restricted access folder relating to the freaky and sexually bizarre.  

including my favourites:

Dog Carrying Device incorporating butt plug and muzzle to hold dog in place

Bottom spanking machine

Fart Absorber

All kinds of anti-rape devices and chastity belts and the late 19th Century obsession with devices so that if you were accidentally buried alive you could alert passersby in the graveyard

I’ll be showing a selection of my favourites next week at the Show and Tell at the Library

Theremin

I have long hankered after playing the theremin and I have decided that my British library project The Singing Hypnotist, is the perfect vehicle. To this end I have been practicing away and have written two songs featuring this weird instrument. If anything can send you into a trance it would be this. I am not quite ready to post videos of my playing yet so in the meantime whet your appetite with Clara Rockmore.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jEl4zCQBv2c&feature=youtube_gdata_player

Who Do I Think I Was?

After talking about this for a while I am this afternoon going for past life regression therapy. This has come about because of my researches into hypnosis at the BL. I had always thought that being regressed was part of the looney fringe of hypnosis and maybe it is but my readings amongst the collections have opened my mind to it and shortly I shall find out for myself. I am ever so slightly hysterical about it and am desperate to just say that I was Cleopatras handmaiden for the heck of it. But I have been moved a couple of times about certain happenings so will keep an enquiring, observant, open mind. Surely that will be enough. Will report back!