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.....

The first Show & Tell of my residency

Hope you can come along to the first session where I will be sharing some of the items that have caught my attention.  There will a little music, some chat and some nice things to look at.  It’s all very informal - sign up and see you next week…..

Annie de Montford and other lady mesmerists

 Lady Hypnotists

I have spent the day tracking down two lady hypnotists from the 19th Century.  I was intrigued by this poster for Annie De Montford who was variously described as ‘the psychological star’ and an “electro-biologist”.  She was more often called a Mesmerist but the period she was active in (1870s/1880s) was a time when the terms were used interchangeably.  

there is no mention of her on Google - apart from references to this and one other image in the British Library - and my previous blogging about her.  And, of course, usefully, lots of mentions about a production of Annie in the De Montford hall in Leicester.  I see Su Pollard is starring in that.  Good to see Su is busy.  I remember her well from the time I was watching my friend Bobby Crush at Pizza on the Park and he asked for a volunteer from the audience and then without a millisecond gap said “Not you, Su!”  Happy times.

Oh dear - distracted again.  But using my new found research skills and the help of several British Library staff, I found many mentions of her in a newspaper called The Era.  You can deduce quite a lot about someone from their adverts and reviews.  She was very active between sept 1871 and sept 1882.  She played to big houses everywhere.  And somewhere along the line had a falling out with her manager, Edwin Hall who posted several rather plaintive adverts for work afterwards.  He describes himself “Knows his work and does it!”  I like this….

I was just wondering why the listings suddenly stopped in 1882.  I clicked on the last listing and was amazed that the answer was potentially so clearly provided.  

Boston

Shodfriar’s Hall - Miss Annie De Montford (the mesmerist) was advertised to occupy this hall for six nights, but (through ill-health) was unable to appear.

Was that it?  She worked, had success, then got ill and didn’t work any more.  Is it that simple?  Very probably.  And she was unlikely to have been languishing at home watching a DVD of Annie whilst claiming sickness benefit.  So today I celebrate Annie De Montford. She was “the most powerful mesmerist in the world” and then she wasn’t.

I don’t want to be overly sentimental but I am glad to be celebrating her.  I imagine all the touring was hard work.  And maybe some nights she didn’t feel like claiming that her “mind ruled the world”, but she probably went ahead and performed anyway.  Good for her!  And I’m proud that my blogging about her pushes the production of Annie at the De Montford Hall just a little bit further down the listings.  

Annie De Montford

Annie De Montford

stop press…

I just guessed at £75 for past life regression.  it’s actually £147 for a session in Harley Street.  I thought things were cheaper in the past.

Back in the Library

 

I’ve been on tour in Australia and Japan for a few weeks so have been the British Library’s Artist in (Non)Residence.  But today I am back.  Nice to access the collection, the staff canteen flapjacks and the lovely reassuring sense that lots of people around you are learning a lot of stuff.

I have been thinking about the hypnosis project a lot however, whilst I’ve been gone.  I am spending today looking up the various books the library has on Past Life Regression using Hypnosis.  This is something that was frowned upon when I was doing my Clinical Training in Cognitive Behavioural Hypnotherapy, but I suddenly realised whilst browsing the BL collection from my laptop in a Business Lounge in Singapore (love this naturally), that my slightly illegitimate interest was totally legit in the context of the British Library project.  Which is to say that I can read what I like in the collection, be inspired and it will possibly manifest itself in one of my show and tell sessions or my final performance presentation here at the library.  

I was partially inspired to look into this by a comment made by a friend in Melbourne.  I was telling him about my hypnosis research and he said casually, delivering one of those eye-popping, ear-wax-dropping, sentences that makes you wonder if you really just heard what you really just heard.  He said “the only time I had hypnosis was when I told my father I was gay and he made me have past-life regression in case I turned out to be a lesbian who had been raped in a former life”.  There are few words to describe the richness, and fecund complexity of this statement.  

So I have requested a stack of books on using hypnosis to regress to those previous lives that you’ve absent-mindedly forgotten about.  And it’s strange how quickly I went from interested reader/researcher to person freaking out in Seat 2289.  I’ve been used to thinking about using hypnotic techniques to reinforce people’s desires to minimise anxiety or break bad habits, but suddenly those same techniques are being used to take people back to when they were called Minihawhaw and had feathers in their hair and are escaping the white man or whatever.  this is the stuff of a million comedy sketches.  it’s the ultimate cliche “Well I’m wearing a suit of armour so I’m probably not Cleopatra”.  Where nobody is ever a serf dying of hunger, but is very probably intimately connected with Royalty or at least a picaresque death.

So I feel a little overwhelmed.  Am I just a nutter who is freaking himself out by reading a book called Past & Future Lives - Wisdom Journeys Through Time by Heather Bray which contains the blurb on the front “Captivating!  I couldn’t quit reading!” Melody.  Who is Melody?  Well - turns out she is the author’s very good friend who is copiously thanked in the acknowledgements so I’m not sure she is entirely impartial.  

But then my research cup ran over when I stumbled across the notion of Future Life Progression.  Very linguistically correct.  Past=Future. Regression=Progression.  Neat.  And apparently there are lots of authors who practice this technique so that you can find the passport to your future.  I found mine and here it is…

I know I’m scoffing and sneering.  I hate that.  I resist that strongly in relation to hypnosis but this seems too much for me.  But don’t think for a second that I’m not going to have a session of past life regression, to see if I was Charles I’s good time side-kick or something.  I most certainly am.  And how it will feed into the final performance I don’t know.  But that’s in the future and I haven’t paid £75 to go there with Future Life Progression so I can’t tell you what I’ll be doing come November in my final presentation here at the library.

Libraries and Me

I was thinking whilst I was in the British Library yesterday that there is a very pleasing full circle to being Artist in Residence, because my very first paying job was in my local library.  


I had loved the library since the day when I was six and we were in the Post Office in Two Dales and I was asking for a book.  My mother said “I think it’s time we went to the library”.  We walked round the corner and suddenly I was allowed to choose six books for free.  I recognised this as a GOOD DEAL.


When I was 17 I answered the ad in the Matlock Mercury for a Saturday Worker at the Library.  I think it was a different time in 1985 because they told me in the interview that I had got the job, despite having other people to interview, because “you’ve single handedly ordered most of the records in this building”.  It was true that I had been taking an active interest in getting the Derbyshire Library Service to up it’s pop quota since I was about 13.  Don’t think for a second that I was taping obscure Siouxsie and the Banshees albums at the rate payer’s expense.  Of course not.  I was helping the library reach out to it’s youth demographic.


I knew it was going to be a great job when on my first morning I was being shown round the building by Maureen.  She said the fantastic line “There are three of us called Maureen here, so to save confusion I am known as Maureen, that’s Fat Maureen and that’s June”


Fat Maureen was indeed very fat.  She once told me that her big treat of the year was two front row seats for the final of the snooker at the Crucible in Sheffield.  She waited a beat for dramatic effect and then said “Both seats for me”.  


Fat Maureen was a problem for me in that she was in charge of the tiny branch library at the Whitworth Institute in Darley Dale the place my mother had taken me when I was six.  After a week or two I was allowed to go on my own.  I KNOW!  On my own.  Across a main road and with the potential to get touched up.  But this was the 70s when exposure to a measure of risk was considered a normal part of a child’s life.  And it’s kept therapists in business ever since.  I had very quickly had a run in with Fat Maureen because she had pointed out that the Sue Barton Neighbourhood Nurse series was meant for girls not boys.  I said something along the lines that I liked it and she tartly stamped it out saying “it’s too advanced for you anyway”.  Feeling shamed for being simultaneously too literate and too gender neutral, Sue Barton always had an slightly illicit thrill for me.  I read them all.


I lost any moral high ground I might have had with Fat Maureen shortly afterwards.  It’s a little vague in my mind but it was something to do with The Peppermint Pig by Nina Bawden.  I think I was devouring it in the library instead of taking it home.  Anyway I was engrossed.  And there’s no easy way to say this, I did a wee on the floor of the Children’s Fiction area.  I did what any six year old with style would do.  I checked out the Nina Bawden from Fat Maureen and probably defiantly threw in a Sue Barton or two to show nonchalance, strolled out of the library, and cried in the park on the way home.

 

This incident weighed heavy on my childhood but my need to access literature outweighed my humiliation so I brazened it out week after week and I was never challenged on the urine incident.  But 11 years later as I stood side by side, chubby shoulder to skinny waist behind the counter with Fat Maureen.  I longed to ask her, did you know it was me?  Did you have to clear it up?  Is it too late to say I’m sorry?  But I didn’t.

 

And I felt sad when I heard that she had died of a brain haemorrhage some years later.  It being a small town there was much discussion about how her bedsit had looked like a murder scene.  I remember thinking when everyone was discussing it in the pub when me and my schoolfriends were home from University one Christmas, that the most shocking part of the story was that she lived in a bedsit.

 

Anyway there’s much more to say about me and libraries including the time I got 35 pensioners doing the Hokey Cokey around Queen’s Park library and someone fell on the photocopier and the ambulance was called, but that was in the name of art.

 

There’s been little urine, blood or emergency health care in my British Library residency so far, but I feel happy to be here. 

 

It’s Dr Vint again.  Aren’t there some days when you could really do with an Electric Pad of Life?  There is no clue in the book as to what one is.  But I like the sound of it.  I have thought about it and reckon that all things considered the 5 shilling option is the best value.
image copyright British Library

It’s Dr Vint again.  Aren’t there some days when you could really do with an Electric Pad of Life?  There is no clue in the book as to what one is.  But I like the sound of it.  I have thought about it and reckon that all things considered the 5 shilling option is the best value.

image copyright British Library

I love the cover of this pamphlet.  The Secrets of Hypnotism Revealed.  Dr Vint is a mysterious fellow.  His secrets are a little scanty but it’s a hell of a good cover.  And a splendid moustache.
image copyright British Library

I love the cover of this pamphlet.  The Secrets of Hypnotism Revealed.  Dr Vint is a mysterious fellow.  His secrets are a little scanty but it’s a hell of a good cover.  And a splendid moustache.

image copyright British Library

Big fan of this pamphlet which is only a few pages long by John Barter from late 19th century.  How to Hypnotise (Including the Whole Art of Mesmerism).  A big claim.  Mr Barter is inspiring me to write a song….

image: copyright British Library

Big fan of this pamphlet which is only a few pages long by John Barter from late 19th century.  How to Hypnotise (Including the Whole Art of Mesmerism).  A big claim.  Mr Barter is inspiring me to write a song….

image: copyright British Library

If you’re going to follow me on this journey into the archives of the British Library you’re going to be hearing a lot about Henry Blythe.  I’m slightly obsessed with his pioneering vision for hypnosis - both the showbiz kind and what he called “Curative hypnosis”.  His book which is in the British Library is called The Truth about Hypnotism.  It’s a great mixture of fascinating theory, showbiz anecdotes and very slightly purple prose.  I warmed to him A LOT.
Favourite chapters are “1969 The of the Warts”, and Chapter 3, “The Twilight Zone” which deals with his attempts to cure homosexuality and other sex perversions.  He is benign about this (trust me) and is unsure as to whether he wants it to work.
Sample chapter opening which sums up his relaxed, chatty, informal style.  ”As I was relaxing one Thursday afternoon, the telephone rang”
I am unsure why Mr Blythe delights me so much.  But he does.  I would attempt a reference to his blythe spirit, but I am not him and wouldn’t be able to pull it off.

image copyright: British Library

If you’re going to follow me on this journey into the archives of the British Library you’re going to be hearing a lot about Henry Blythe.  I’m slightly obsessed with his pioneering vision for hypnosis - both the showbiz kind and what he called “Curative hypnosis”.  His book which is in the British Library is called The Truth about Hypnotism.  It’s a great mixture of fascinating theory, showbiz anecdotes and very slightly purple prose.  I warmed to him A LOT.

Favourite chapters are “1969 The of the Warts”, and Chapter 3, “The Twilight Zone” which deals with his attempts to cure homosexuality and other sex perversions.  He is benign about this (trust me) and is unsure as to whether he wants it to work.

Sample chapter opening which sums up his relaxed, chatty, informal style.  ”As I was relaxing one Thursday afternoon, the telephone rang”

I am unsure why Mr Blythe delights me so much.  But he does.  I would attempt a reference to his blythe spirit, but I am not him and wouldn’t be able to pull it off.

image copyright: British Library