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As Above, So Below: Portals, Visions, Spirits & Mystics

As Above, So Below
Portals, Visions, Spirits & Mystics

Major group exhibition and accompanying programme of events exploring spirituality in visual art to open at IMMA

13 April – 27 August 2017

Featuring an exciting selection of modern masterworks and landmark contemporary art works by Hilma af Klint, Wassily Kandinsky, Steve McQueen, Bruce Nauman, Sigmar Polke, Cameron – many being shown for the first time in Ireland – and new commissions created specifically for this exhibition by Linder, Matt Copson, Stephan Doitschinoff, Alan Butler and others.

Opening with a Vedic spiritual blessing at 12.15pm on Thu 13 April 2017, IMMA (Irish Museum of Modern Art) presents one of its most ambitious and compelling shows exploring how the spiritual endures in our everyday lives. In particular, As Above, So Below considers the role played by certain spiritualist and alternative doctrines, such as the occult or mysticism, in the creation of abstract painting from its origins to the present digital age.

The arc of this exhibition spans a hundred years from the abstract masterworks of Kandinsky, af Klint and Kupka to contemporary work by Steve McQueen and Bruce Nauman and new commissions by Alan Butler and Linder among others. As Above, So Below resists becoming a comprehensive survey that traces the role of art and spirituality however. Instead, it presents perspectives on spirituality from a range of unique viewpoints in over 200 works, many of which have never been seen in Ireland before. It extends beyond the gallery space with new works made specifically for the IMMA site and a series of performances, events, talks and film screenings taking place during the exhibition. The exhibition’s historical gaze has a particular focus on female artists from the last century whose work remained uncovered until recently in the now shifting narrative of art history.

The title, As Above, So Below, echoes an often quoted saying, employed by artists, poets, writers and astrologers alike, as a means to describe and understand the mysterious but familiar world around us. To look at spirituality in such secular times is a provocation in itself, and the exhibition traces and questions the genesis of deep religious, mystical and occult beliefs that continue to shape the ideas of contemporary artists today. Writing in the 1960s, the critic Susan Sontag claimed that, “Every era has to reinvent the project of ‘spirituality’ for itself”, and through this exhibition IMMA asks what the project of spirituality looks like in 2017.

Transcending the limitations of what is traditionally perceived as ‘spiritual’, this exhibition embraces the occult, the otherworld, human consciousness, mysticism and ritual, creating a space to reflect and explore these gateways, or portals, to wonder.

Shown in ‘Chapters’ the exhibition groups works into four thematic sections. The opening chapter Portals looks at how spiritualism is often concerned with entrances into other worlds or other systems of thought. One central protagonist is the recently re-discovered Swedish artist Hilma af Klint who was working at the dawn of the 20th century. Now understood to be a key founder of abstraction, she was also a theosophist and a medium who understood her ‘automatic’ paintings to be guided by spirits; messages received from the ‘High Powers’. Steve McQueen’s elegant and absorbing film Running Thunder, 2007 (11 mins, 41 sec) also forms part of this chapter as a more contemporary exploration of spirituality. Depicting a motionless horse lying dead – or asleep? – in a meadow it questions stillness and movement, the line between life and death.

The second chapter Below takes us into the shadows, into the domain of the occult – of knowledge concealed and only accessible to the properly initiated. One talismanic presence is film maker Kenneth Anger who has a lifelong devotion to the adventurer-occulist Aleister Crowley, stretching back to the 1950s when he helped restore Crowley’s former temple in Sicily. Cameron, an artist, poet, actress and occultist was a follower of the religious movement Thelma, founded by Crowley, as well as being a close friend of Anger’s. Her dark yet whimsical paintings are displayed alongside Anger’s film still Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome, 1954-66, in which she also starred.  These works are presented alongside one of Bruce Nauman’s first walk-in ‘environments’, Natural Light, Blue Light Room, 1971. An intentionally disorientating space this work presents a confusing mixture of daylight and glowing neon. Nauman has said of the work; “The idea was that it would be hard to know what to focus on and even if you did, it would be hard to focus”. Indeed Nauman has claimed, through  a 1967 work, that “The True Artist Helps the World by Revealing Mystic Truths”, a teasingly ambiguous sentence can be read as earnest, satirical, or both.

The third chapter Above is concerned with healing, animism, the attribution of a living soul to inanimate objects, and transcendence. American born artist Susan Hiller describes her photographs of people surrounded by hazy auras as “metaphors for ourselves in the digital age”. These images pay homage to Marcel Duchamp’s curious 1910 portrait of his childhood friend Raymond Dumouchel, who is depicted surrounded by a dark red halo. These mysterious works are joined in this chapter by a new commission from Linder which draws on Victorian séances, which she calls “very performative affairs.” This new piece continues Linder’s unfinished conversation with the little-known surrealist writer and painter Ithell Colquhoun, who developed an ink-blotting process she called “mantic staining” to produce “mind pictures”. A key Irish artist in this section is the painter Patrick Pye, one of the most creative artists in the sphere of religious thought in Ireland in our time. His works, many of which haven’t been seen in public since his retrospective in 2000, infuse this section with heavenly themes which evoke the role of man and his biblical aspirations.

The final chapter Beyond includes artists who have challenged the notion of spirituality. This section concerns endings, death and alternative options. It is about leaving this world, about what dreams may come, and takes its cue from the digital age. The enduring ideas of the spiritual are brought into question in fantastical ways by artists such as The Propeller Group, presenting a journey through the funeral rituals of Vietnam. The film merges documentary footage of processions with stunning re-enactments– a rumination on death. This is presented alongside the transformative works of the American visionary artist and architect Paul Laffoley.

This exhibition is presented as part of an exciting on-going initiative, New Art at IMMA, proudly supported by Matheson, which allows IMMA to continue to support artists’ vital work in a strand of programming that recognises and nurtures new and emerging talents, new thinking and new forms of exhibition-making.“ Nurturing new talent and thinking is central to what we do at Matheson. Our involvement in New Art at IMMA is an exciting way for us to support and connect with IMMA and with the artists who are involved in this element of its programme.” Tim Scanlon, Partner and Head of Corporate, Matheson.

Commenting on the exhibition Sarah Glennie, Director, IMMA said; “IMMA is delighted to be staging such an ambitious and far-reaching exhibition at the core of our 2017 programme. Extending beyond the gallery space, As Above, So Below will invite visitors to IMMA to consider, through the compelling prism of over 200 works of art, what spirituality means to us today and the role it plays in our contemporary society. We are very grateful to Sam Thorne, and all the artists involved for their collaboration with IMMA and we remain indebted to our growing group of Corporate Partners, Patrons and Members whose invaluable support allows IMMA to realise projects of this scale and breadth. New Art at IMMA, supported by Matheson enables IMMA to support Irish and international artists to realise important new work and this visionary support remains central to IMMA’s ambitious programme.”

Commenting on the exhibition Co-Curator Sam Thorne said; "I am thrilled to be co-curating As Above, So Below with Rachael Thomas at IMMA. Exploring the relationship between art and spiritualism, the exhibition brings together an incredibly various combination of works from the last 100 years, from early abstract painting to new commissions. In our current moment of division, these artists and visionaries explore and imagine new worlds."

Curated by Sam Thorne, Director, Nottingham Contemporary, UK, and Rachael Thomas, Senior Curator: Head of Exhibitions, IMMA.


For further information, and images, please contact:
Patrice Molloy  [email protected] / +353 (0)1 612 9920
Monica Cullinane [email protected] / +353 (0)1 612 9922

Additional Notes for Editors

As Above, So Below: Portals, Visions, Spirits & Mystics will be open in the East Wing at IMMA from 13 April – 27 August 2017. Please note the Museum is closed on Good Friday, 14 April.

In accordance with the Vedic astral chart for the exhibition it will be opened with an opening ceremony conducted by Mayesvara das (Brahmacari Monk and Spiritual Teacher), Robert Phair (Spiritual writer and musician) and Gleb Konon (Philosopher and Musician) in the IMMA galleries at 12.15pm on Thursday 13 April. The way the world "below" reaches to the world "above" is through spiritual practices such as the devotional singing called Kirtan, which we present for our exhibition opening ceremony at an astrologically auspicious time. Immediately following the ceremony we are delighted to welcome John Cantwell, co-director of the Slí an Chroí Clinic and School of Shamanism, to conduct a number of free animal spirit readings for visitors. Readings will be conducted in the gallery on a first come first served basis from 12.30 – 1.30pm, and the relevant exhibition ticket fee will apply.

Later that evening, from 6pm – 7pm there will be a free introductory talk by curators Rachael Thomas and Sam Thorne with a panel of artists involved in the exhibition. Tickets to this talk are free of charge but must be pre-booked online. Visitors with a valid ticket for the talk can access the exhibition for free earlier that day.

The Opening Party, supported by O’Hara’s Irish Craft Beers, will take place from 6.30pm – 9pm with complimentary drinks by O’Hara’s, and music selected by artist David Beattie. Access to the exhibition will be free of charge on the night.

Admission: €8 / €5 concession (senior citizens and the unwaged). Free admission for IMMA Members, full-time students and under 18’s.  There will be free admission for all every Tuesday but tickets should be booked in advance from

Please note that visitors who purchase tickets for either IMMA Collection: Freud Project or As Above, So Below can avail of free entry to the other exhibition when visited on the same day. Due to the number and delicate nature of the works and the limited circulation space of the historic Garden Galleries, admission to the Freud Project is restricted and is by timed entry. To avoid disappointment visitors should pre-book their preferred time-slot online in advance of visiting. Online booking for As Above, So Below, will be available from Monday 3 April 2017 on

Museum opening hours are as follows:
Tues to Fri 11.30am – 5.30pm / Sat 10am -5.30pm / Sun and bank holidays 12 – 5.30pm. Closed on Good Friday, 14 April

A fully-illustrated book has been published to accompany the exhibition which features contributions from Erik Davis, Jennifer Higgie, Alejandro Jodorowsky and Pascale Montandon-Jodorowsky, Dr Tina Kinsella, Linder, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Rachael Thomas, Sam Thorne and Maurice Tuchman, amongst others. Price €20.

Selected artists within the exhibition include Hilma af Klint, Kenneth Anger, David Beattie, Nora Berman, Annie Besant, Agnieszka Brzezanska, Alan Butler, James Lee Byars, Cameron, Marcus Coates, Ira Cohen, Ithell Colquhoun, Matt Copson, Stephan Doitschinoff, Hayden Dunham, Stephen Dunne, Susan Hiller, Koo Jeong A., Alejandro Jodorowsky, Wassily Kandinsky, Rachid Koraïchi, Emma Kunz, Frantisek Kupka, Paul Laffoley, Liliane Lijn, Linder, Josiah McElheny, Steve McQueen, Henri Michaux, Pascale Montandon-Jodorowsky, Pádraic E. Moore (curatorial advisor), Bruce Nauman, Austin Osman Spare, Sigmar Polke, The Propeller Group, Patrick Pye, John Russell, Eoghan Ryan, Aura Satz, Suzanne Treister, Grace Weir, amongst others.
Biographies and images available on request

Associated Events
A programme of talks, performances and participatory events will take a fresh look at the role of spirituality and transcendence in our global and sceptical present. Event highlights include;

Curator’s Lunchtime Talk Series  / 19 May, 1.15-2pm / Drop-in
Meeting Point/Main Reception, Free (Exhibition fee applies). Join Rachael Gilbourne, Curator Exhibitions, IMMA, for an insightful walkthrough of this exhibition.

Even the Dead Rise Up / Francis McKee / 23 May
A discursive mediation on mysticism, the occult and political dissent. Drawing on a personnel journey of becoming a spiritual medium, and the people and practices encountered. Convened by Francis McKee, Irish writer and renowned curator working in Glasgow as Research fellow at the Glasgow School of Art, and Director, Centre of Contemporary Art, Glasgow, UK. Book launch to follow. 

Faith of the Faithless / Simon Critchley / 7 June
How do beliefs lead people to act in the world? From the paradox of politics and religion, this talk contemplates structures of faith and the deficit of moral life and ethical action in neoliberal society. Simon Critchley, Professor of Philosophy, The New School, New York, and prolific writer, scholar of continental philosophy and phenomenology.

Art as Compass towards the Future / Dom Mark Patrick Hederman / 21 June 
Benedictine monk and writer Mark Patrick Hederman addresses the role artists can play in the future. Hederman discusses his proposition that art is its own kind of religion and therefore is prophetic.  Hederman draws on his scholarship of art and psychology and living a monastic life in the 21st century.

The Lure of Lakes / Michael Harding / 4 July
Michael Harding, author, playwright and Irish Times columnist, talks with great honesty and wit about, life, love, the sublime and pursuits of spiritual transformation. The talk offers reflection on Harding’s bestselling books Staring at Lakes, 2014 and Walking with Strangers, 2016.

IFI / IMMA Screening Series / May – July
In response As Above, So Below, the IFI and IMMA present a special series of selected films that looks at narratives of mysticism, occult and transcendence in feature titles and artists experimental Film. This opens with rare screening of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s 1973 cult classic The Holy Mountain.

Live Event / Wilder Beings Command / 29 July / All Ages / Free
Great Hall, Chapel, Formal Gardens & Meadow

Wilder Beings Command is an evening of live performance, music and choreography, to reach out and involve generations both young and old. Celebrating the outdoor site of the museum as an activated space, the evening stretches across the meadows, laces through the Formal Gardens and culminates within the Great Hall and the Chapel. It features moments of procession, ritual and collectivity, where visitors can play an active part in its unfolding. Artists will include Stephan Doitschinoff, Emily Mast, Edward Clydesdale Thomson, Mark Titchner and Stephen Dunne, amongst others.

Eoghan Ryan performance / The Modern Dance (In the Light of Today’s Questions) / 17 Aug / Galleries
An intimate performance work by Berlin-based Irish artist Eoghan Ryan, which runs over the course of an evening, The Modern Dance (In the Light of Today’s Questions) questions what constitutes the sacred and divine within secular western culture. It looks at ideas that are inherited from previous generations and how this forms our personal identities, specifically within an institutional setting. Incorporating sound, song, sculpture and moving image, the performance becomes a live multi-disciplinary installation in motion.

About the Curators

Rachael Thomas Biography
Senior Curator: Head of Exhibitions at IMMA, Thomas is a Leonardo fellow at Trinity University and contributor to MA/ Art in the contemporary world at NCAD. Thomas has curated various exhibitions including solo surveys of Jac Leirner, Emily Jacir, Simon Fujiwara, Etel Adnan, Hélio Oiticica, Haroon Mirza, and Tino Sehgal, the American Fluxus and feminist artist Eleanor Antin, Thomas Ruff, Karen Kilimnik, Margherita Manzelli, Willie Doherty, Sophie Calle and Mark Manders. She initiated and organized with Philippe Parreno the seminal group show of post relational aesthetics .All Hawaii eNtrées / LuNar Reggae, artists included Thomas Demand, Liam Gillick, Carsten Höller and Rirkrit Tiravanija and Garrett Phelan. She has introduced a new project strand to IMMA bringing to Ireland solo and group projects and new commissions by young international artists such as Gerard Byrne, Franz Ackermann, Pierre Huyghe and Thomas Demand and ground breaking virtual retrospective with artist Jorge Pardo. Critically acclaimed International group shows such as Primal Architecture, which included Mike Kelley, Linder and Conrad Shawcross, Bedwyr Williams and What we Call LOVE, from Surrealism to Now, 2016, co-curated with the Director of Venice Biennale, 2017, Christine Macel included artists such as Picasso, Abramović, Brancusi, Dalí, Duchamp Ernst, Wolfgang Tillmans, Giacometti, Oppenheim, Picasso, Warhol and Yoko Ono.

Thomas was awarded a Millennium Fellowship to produce papers on global frameworks of contemporary art practice at Tate Britain, London. In 2006, she curated the Irish Pavilion, New Territories, ARCO ’06, Madrid. Curated Biennales include the Welsh Pavilion with Cerith Wyn Evans in 2000 at the Biennale di Venezia and the Lyon Biennale, with Gerard Byrne, 2008. She has lectured on the role of the curator at various symposia such as Curating Now and The Role of Painting in the 21st Century. As a writer, she has published widely in journals and exhibition catalogues including an interview with Michael-Craig Martin and texts on artists such as Dorothy Cross, Gerard Byrne, Eleanor Antin, Sophie Calle, Pierre Huyghe, Alex Katz, and Thomas Scheibitz. She is actively pursuing research on the politics of space with philosophers such as Giorgio Agamben. She has lectured on the role of the curator at various symposia and on contemporary Irish art at the Guggenheim with Nancy Spector. As a writer, she has published widely in journals and exhibition catalogues. Currently Thomas is curating a solo exhibitions of Nan Goldin and Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian and researching contemporary performance and Fluxus interventions.

Sam Thorne Biography
Sam Thorne is director of Nottingham Contemporary. From 2014–16 he was artistic director of Tate St Ives. Prior to that, he was associate editor of frieze magazine, where is currently a contributing editor and columnist. He is a co-founder of Open School East, a free-to-attend study programme in London / Margate, and his book School will be published by Sternberg Press this summer.