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I Went To A Seance That Wasn’t Really a Seance

I went to a séance last week.

In a mysterious chapel that stands in the centre of a cluster of 17th Century almshouses, known as Asylum.

It was hosted by a magician so really, I should’ve known it would all be one BIG LIE!

The séance looked nothing like this

The séance looked nothing like this

Despite having all the ingredients for a spooky night; the promise of talking to the dead in a crumbling chapel, some darkness and a distinct lack of heat (basically the end of the Blair Witch Project minus the snot), the end shock reveal was less ta-da, and more I-will-never-get-that-hour-of-my-life-back.

Nothing says disappointment more than this baby

Nothing says disappointment more than this bored baby

After waiting for a while outside the chapel, we were invited in. The chapel is AMAZING. All chipped stone and flaking paint and apparently disused, although later I found out it can be hired for special events and trendy weddings. With coats, jumpers and hats remaining on, we sat on wooden chairs and lit candles laid out for us. Because candles mean atmosphere, innit.

We were told a story about a ghost girl, who died in the chapel after being crushed by a falling ceiling. I believe it’s what they call “setting the scene.” This girl carried around a music box which went missing in the rubble. But guess who had managed to get his hands on THE VERY SAME ONE? Our host, the magical, mystical, magic magician man.

Now THIS is a scary music box

Now THIS is a scary music box

He reminded me of the boys at school who ended up as estate agents. Bleached blonde hair gelled into what he probably thought was a sophisticated style, polished shoes that men wear to get into Tiger Tiger and a contrived confidence that added nothing to the gravitas he so desperately wanted to command the room. I think his glasses were from the designer range at Specsavers and his neediness smelt like Lynx deodorant.

He introduced our psychic medium for the evening and she was rather attractive. This made me suspicious. When are mediums ever hot? It was at this point I began to smell a rat. And the rat too, smelt like Lynx.

She explained a bit about herself, her power and had some awkward dialogue with the magician. I knew we were to be treated to a scripted performance but perhaps one not so poor. It made me think about the potential of the every actor in Hollyoaks. After doing a few exercises, she guessed (sorry, read) the room and found out someone in the audience had recently lost their Grandmother. A classic “I’m, I’m, getting a…a…a…J….” reading complete with reaching fingers and a squint. I’d been trying to channel Michael Jackson, so I got rather excited. But no, it was old lady, Joan.

I should've gone to this seance to speak to the King of Pop

I should’ve gone to this seance to speak to the King of Pop

Or this one

Or this one

The medium got into a cubicle, similar to those used in hospitals, so she could “make the spirit feel safe” and more likely to come out to say hey. Or something. She had a bell, a book and the music box, later used as a dramatic tool to emotionally manipulate the audience. She was tied to a chair, as to not interfere with the objects and the curtains were closed. And then the bell rang.

A “volunteer” went in the cubicle to make sure the medium wasn’t fiddling with anything and confirmed the bell moved by itself. Then a little girl, dressed up for Halloween appeared and screamed. Then the musical box went off. Then the medium vomited.

I wish Gaz had been our medium

I wish Gaz had been our medium

After this song and dance, we were told it was all pretend. Well, duh! The vomit was revealed to be a simple mixture of flour, rice and carrot and the little dead girl was a real alive girl. The magician piped up and said with a wry smile: “You have been part of an experiment to explore how Victorian audiences were once fooled into believing they could talk to the dead. And I think we can safely say that audiences still can be.”

So, rather than doing a Derren Brown and treating the audience as intelligent, Mr Magician here thought he could win us over by treating us like dum-dums. But as I looked around at the cold and bored audience, still holding their freebie candles, it was obvious all were ready to lock him in the crypt.

You want astonished?

You want astonished?

Unaware, the magician then asked us all to stay a bit longer to film some more audience shots. “Look really astonished” he said. Several times.

So I widened my eyes, opened my mouth and laughed out my candle.

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The Year of The Horse: Have Some Horses

It’s the year of the horse. Here are some good horses.

This horse captures everything you loved about My Little Pony. You want to watch it all day because it is glorious and downright magical.

This horse is pretty

This horse is pretty

When you’re down and troubled and you need a helping hand, call this horse.

The horse you can trust

The horse you can trust

Because it’s nice to have a friend who’s into fashion.

He looks good and he knows it

He looks good and he knows it

I don’t think this horse is real. I like the colours though.

If only

If only

I wish I had an older brother who was a horse.

Size isn't everything, little pony

Size isn’t everything, little pony

This horse is a sheep.

True story

True story

Dan’s Parents’ House and my Michael Jackson badge

It was hot and the market was fancy. I was hungover and disengaged so just ended up picking stuff up and putting it down again. I had no use or desire for old lego, building blocks or kitsch toys that belonged in an 1980s Fairy Liquid advert. But I couldn’t leave Dan’s Parent’s House.

That was Dan. And his stand. Dan’s stand is full of 25 years of treasures that were kept in his parent’s attic. Self confessed hoarders, Dan’s mum said they kept every toy her sons ever played with and every item of clothing they ever outgrew. They were also “a bit compulsive about electronics”.

Step right up.  All you want is here.

Step right up. All you want is here

Dan is a market vendor but when I watched him through my sleep deprived eyes, he seemed more like a circus master. He stood in the middle of his stand whilst the “big kids” of Brooklyn delved deep into his drawers, fanning old comic books and plucking old Starwars figurines from their plastic families. He spun like a carousel, telling the interested how much they could pay for the collectible of their dreams. He popped up like a Jack In The Box to tell you the history of that chess set in your arms. He was always there, but never in your face.

Blast from the past

Dan was not in your face unlike this guy

But like all people, Dan had to relieve himself from time to time. Perhaps mistaking my hangover for trustworthiness, he asked my friend and I to mind his stand while he popped off for a minute. So we did. I think the main thing he wanted us to do was make sure nobody left or stole anything which was easy. We used our English charm to let people know Dan would be returning soon and they should have a little play with Ronald McDonald while they waited.

Dan came back as promised and as a thank you he allowed us to pick a badge from his mega collection. I chose this one. It’s obviously Michael Jackson in his Off The Wall stage, but some fool I asked thought it was Prince.

Apart from his gold face, the likeness is uncanny

How is this Prince?

The poor portrayal of MJ is all part of its charm and now I want more of these bad badges. I inspected the back, David Dickinson style, to see if there was any markings but I found none. Not only does this halt me in my researching tracks but it would also mean I’d get nought from Antiques Roadshow.

If anyone has any idea of the manufacturer or how to find out, let me know.

For more about Dan’s Parents’ House see here.

Scott Wood: London Urban Legends

Did East-end designer, Alexander McQueen really sew a hidden insult into the jacket of Prince Charles? Did a lost Zeppelin descend onto Hackney Marshes in 1916 allowing a tall, eye-patched man to ask a couple for directions to Silvertown? Did a construction worker really defecate in one of the Olympic rings and have it welded shut?

Author and co-organiser of The London Fortean Society, Scott Wood delves into the city’s rumours, folk tales and the stories passed on by “foafs” (the friend of a friend) in his new book London Urban Legends, a collection of historical and contemporary tales based on the seeds of anecdotes that have evolved and been passed on.

The London underground is a good place to start for mysterious goings on

The London underground is a good place to start for mysterious goings on

Stemming from lies, pranks and publicity stunts, London has seen recurring urban legends over time, and Wood tries to answer what makes the stories last.

“I was actually asked this the other day,” he said.

“I think the secret is to tie something that makes someone want to pass it on, like a warning of some kind. It also needs to have something that everyone can relate to, such as travelling on the tube.”

The great-nephew of a spiritualist, Wood had a keen interest in the paranormal from a young age, however it was reading the small digest magazine, The Unknown as a “precocious pre-adolescent” in the mid 80s, that really captured his imagination.

The Unknown magazine, 1939

The Unknown magazine, 1939

“It was the same story in the same place which then changes to fit different areas and different groups of people.”

And in each of the 22 chapters, Wood explores the link between urban legends that have somehow spread across the world.

“The story of the corpse on the tube in London where a girl is murdered and held up between two men as if she was alive is told in America as a dead drunk on the subway who is staring at a woman, who then slaps him.

This drunk isn't dead but it could be where the legend began

This drunk isn’t dead but it could be where the legend began

“It’s also told elsewhere as a family on holiday who have to smuggle their dead Granny back.”

But before you go suspiciously eyeing up every trio on the tube, Wood says that the idea of the urban legend isn’t to tell the truth and he actually believes very few of the stories in London Urban Legends are based on real events.

“It’s perhaps much more about the story then the sighting of the “big cat” or “ghost” that allowed people to express themselves;

“Maybe they’re all stories?”

And what of it? In a world where people are “creatures of narrative”, Wood says we need the tales to help us make sense of things and sharing is the way to do it.

“The world has always been big and difficult to understand and stories are way of explaining things.

Eddie's got some great stories

Eddie’s got some great stories

“People think about folklore as an ancient thing passed on by the oldest person in the village, but it’s not. It’s the stories that don’t belong to the government of the church or the authority; they belong to the people whether it’s at the canteen, or the water cooler.”

And despite the prevalence of story-telling in pubs and tea shops across the city, Wood said that he first started writing a blog called Living Lore due to the distinct lack of books and writing about urban legends in the UK which later inspired the book.

“In America, there are a lot of good writers on the subject, but in England it’s usually in the comedy section or in newspaper columns.

Llorona, the angel of death, is a pretty big deal in the US

Llorona, the angel of death, is a pretty big deal in the US

“Since The Tumour In The Whale in 1978, (by Rodney Dale) I think this is the first urban legend book.”

Having collected lots of stories over the last few years, Wood had to decide on what to put in his book and managed to split them up into three sections which he feels reflect our current values.

“The first section illustrates our relationship with celebrities and the Royals and the idea that they live a different life which sometimes interacts with us and changes the atmosphere.

“Someone ordinary, can leave a hidden message, like an artist or architect and it shows that we have always been utterly obsessed with those thought to be above us.

They have no idea a stinking secret may lie within those rings

They have no idea a stinking secret may lie within those rings

“Section two highlights the fact that people are suspicous of those who are not like them and the the idea that the criminal conspires against us, its not random, its a conspiracy, and we can bump into them in shops or fast food joints.

“The third part is all about animal stories and brings about our sense of wonder which is the positive thing out of this.

“The idea that there’s a big cat in Plumpstead or the parakeets in West London are all descendants of the birds Jimmy Hendrix once kept; you can’t just have a ordinary story.”

No words needed

No words needed

One of Wood’s favourite urban legends is the tale of The Hackney Bear, where four young boys from Lower Clapton encountered a “giant great growling hair thing” on Hackney Marshes.

With lots of strange information seeping out of the story, including a couple throwing snowballs at the boys to drive them away, and the ex-drummer of 90s Brit Pop band Kula Shaker coming forward to identify the “bear” as his dog, a man called Ron finally stepped up and said it was he who was the bear; in fancy dress.

Paul Winterhart and "The Beast of Hackney Marshes"

Paul Winterhart and “The Beast of Hackney Marshes”

Other East End tales such sightseeing spots of The Kray’s murder sprees, plague pits underneath Algate stations and those accused of being the infamous Jack The Ripper, are all included in London Urban Legends, and Wood suggests the rich culture of the area has something to do with it’s memorable stories.

“I hear a lot more stories from the East of the city. I’m not sure whether it has something to do with the creative people who live there and who might like telling stories more, or whether it’s a hangover from Cockney hospitality.”

East London also provides a meeting place for The London Fortean Society, an idea for a group that came from a night in the pub.

“We were talking about pagan events and skeptics in London and we decided we wanted to be a grey area between disbelief and we welcome anyone with an open mind.

A werewolf or an unshaven man?  Discuss

A werewolf or an unshaven man? Discuss

“We invite speakers to provide a discussion on something, be it whether Shakespeare is really Shakespeare to the professor at the British Museum who wants to completely rebuild Noahs Ark.”

At home, Wood says that started to read his 5-year-old son, Arthur, some mythology as his bedtime story.

“I had to stop in the end, it was just a list of mythological creatures, there was no story.

“But when I stopped, Arthur started shouting “I WANT MYTHOLOGY, I WANT MYTHOLOGY”. I was trying to get him to sleep at the time, but I was so proud. So proud.”

The Rise of the Women’s Institute in The East End

There’s a reason why traditions survive through time.

Lots of brides still wear white on their wedding day, despite the obvious, and one can observe the tense atmosphere in restaurants on Valentine’s Day where couples silently compete in loving gestures across a candle lit table.

And in a similar way to eating fish and chips in yesterday’s newspaper, the tradition of the Women’s Institute, which was founded in 1915, is still spreading itself across the country like marg on a homemade scone, and over the last few years has made its presence known in East London.

The original WI spent time with jam.  Lots of jam.

The original WI spent time with jam. Lots of jam.

The latest WI to sprout from Hackney’s concrete streets is Hackney Wicked Women, who had their first meeting in November at Cr8 Lifestyle Centre in Hackney Wick.

Started by Grace Shotbolt, 24, last month, Hackney Wicked Women saw a modest 15 people turn up from the area, including Grace’s mother, Elaine, a keen supporter of the institute and the only member so far representing the 50+ age category.

Elaine, who is 53, said: ‘I joined the WI to support my daughter but also because I’ve lived in London for three years now and have found it quite difficult to make new friends.”

Friendz 4 lyfe

Friendz 4 lyfe

Whilst the majority of the group are women in their 20s, Grace says the group is open to any woman who wants to join, from girls who want to learn craft to those who want to get involved in charity work or just want to meet the neighbours; the whole idea is to bring people together.

She said: “I work in the city which is not very women friendly and I wanted to do something for women and make a difference outside my job.”

In a creative area like Hackney Wick, Grace said that she’s seen a rise in traditional activities like making your own clothes, knitting and crochet which she hopes to encourage in her WI.

Members of Hackney Wicked Women.  Photograph: Eleonore de Bonneval

Members of Hackney Wicked Women. Photograph: Eleonore de Bonneval

Another thing that she wants to focus on is bringing in women speakers who have with interesting careers and charity work for which she has plans to work with Free Cakes for Kids, a Hackney based charity who provide birthday cakes for children in low income families.

And with other WIs in the area, including the Shoreditch Sisters and the East End WI, Grace said that there’s no competition between the groups and she’d love to collaborate with them on projects in the future such as supporting small businesses and causes in the area.

President of the Shoreditch Sisters, Martha Wass, 25, said: “Shoreditch is home to many charities and organisations that we work with, such as Women For Refugee Women, who are a local group challenging the injustices experienced by women who seek asylum in the UK.

Shoreditch Sisters in action

Shoreditch Sisters in action

“We are currently working on, Knitted Together, a knitting project which meets twice a month with them, sharing our knitting skills and creating a group blanket/wall hanging to campaign against the ill treatment and lack of support to the ladies sent to the immigration detention centre in Jarls Wood.”

The groups highlight the importance of supporting the community’s organisations, sharing and learning new skills and making national WI campaigns specific to their field.

Colleen Bowen, President of the East End WI says that the “two energetic women”, Niki Stevens and Sorella Le Var were not only inspired by the comedy series Jam and Jerusalem but the idea that you can still be lonely in a busy city like London.

The East End WI give you their hands

The East End WI give you their hands

She said: “The realisation that you can be just as isolated in a heavily populated area like London as you can be in a rural area meant that both Niki and Sorella were keen to set up a group that would welcome all local women, help them make new friends and have fun.

“Up until that time, WI’s has been based primarily in more rural areas, but the desire to build a supportive community of women while sharing and learning new skills is just as relevant in the East End as it is to anywhere else in the country.”

And despite it being almost 100 years since the first Women’s Institute, Martha, Grace and Colleen all agree that the idealogy has hardly changed; it’s still about campaigning for a better community and teaching women new skills.

Mysterious skills at a Shoreditch Sisters meeting

Mysterious skills at a Shoreditch Sisters meeting

But that’s not to say that it hasn’t moved on from 1915.

Martha said: “I suspect that the WI movement is a good deal more democratic and has adopted more modern means of promoting its ideals, though perhaps a little more slowly than we would like.

“Here in the East End we like to just get on with business as quickly using whatever means we can. Sometimes that might mean a bit of craftivism to get our message across, or just being vocal and visible locally.”

When in doubt of being visible, bang on a steel drum

When in doubt of being visible, bang on a steel drum

And in the age where women have demanding jobs on top of home responsibilities, WI’s need to prioritise what really matters to them in terms of their dedication and energy and according to Martha, “it’s the generous spirit of our women that keeps us going.”

In light of the “urban WI” where younger women are getting involved in cities, Janice Langley, Chair of The National Federation of Women’s Institutes said that it shows perceptions are changing and the WI has “something for everyone”.

She said: “Women of every age are attracted to the WI and members have told us that their WI meeting is the only opportunity they have to mix with women of different ages, and have made really good friends that they otherwise wouldn’t have ever met.”

No WI post would be complete without this cheeky calendar girls picture

No WI post would be complete without this cheeky calendar girls picture

With the first London WI starting in Fulham in 2003, Janice says that the cities WI’s are on the rise, with there now being 50 in the capital.

She said: “The East End WI, and Shoreditch Sisters WI in east London are all great examples of the organisation offering something to all women at every stage of their lives, and we look forward to hearing about the range of activities their members choose to get involved with long into the future.”

For more information see Hackney Wicked Women, Shoreditch Sisters, East End WI and The National Federation of Women’s Institutes.

East London and The Fruits of The Forage

With 56 parks, gardens and open spaces, Hackney has the largest expanse of green spaces in London. Perfect for walking the dog, sitting in the sun, cracking open a cold Tyskie or dancing to reggae blasting out of a boombox, locals and tourists alike can enjoy the glorious bounties that Hackney’s green and pleasant lands can offer.

And next time you’re strolling through Victoria Park or Hackney Marshes or indeed, any of the green space in Hackney, instead of taking a deep breath to smell the autumnal leaves, why not take a closer look at what you could eat?

Keen forager and herbal medicine student, Jason Irving says there’s plenty of edible shrubs, leaves, berries and fungi to be found in and around the East End.

Jason and some wild, wild garlic

Jason and some wild, wild garlic

“You’ll not only find things growing wildly, but there are also plants put there by the council such as rowan berries which are poisonous raw but can be made into a jelly and are great with meat,” he says.

“Hawthorn berries are also commonly planted and you can find them in most parks and can be brewed into a tea or used as a traditional medicine.”

Since moving to London two years ago, Jason started his own walks, talks and workshops to teach people how to identify and use wild plants.

There's no slim pickings on this shrub

There’s no slim pickings on this shrub

This year he has led walks around Hackney Downs, Abney Park cemetery and conducted a foraging community class with local food kitchen, Made In Hackney, but the love for foraging has been with him long before the move to the big smoke.

“I’ve always been interested in mushrooms,” he says.

“They are unpredictable with more unknown varieties. You only get to see them for a few days and then they’re gone. It’s hard to get to know them well.”

There's no shortage of mushrooms in East London.  They pop up everywhere

There’s no shortage of mushrooms in East London. They pop up everywhere

Having enjoyed walks in the woods and reading up around the topic, Jason began working for his Uncle, a rather famous forager in foraging circles and the biggest supplier of wild foods to restaurants which included clients such as The Ivy and St John Bread and Wine.

And whether the use of foraged produce in restaurants began with local ingredient demand, a prominence of environmental awareness or the nostalgia that comes with eating a dandelion that you could have picked yourself, Jason says it all kicked off about five years ago with chefs becoming more interested in using wild foods which happened to be when he started taking foraging seriously.

But it’s not only top chefs and restaurants that have got on board with the grass and roots; it’s become prevalent on a residential level too.

Chefs George Fredenham and Gerland Waldeck (The Foragers) brought a taste of the great outdoors to The Dead Dolls Club in Dalston with their entirely foraged menu

Chefs George Fredenham and Gerland Waldeck (The Foragers) brought a taste of the great outdoors to The Dead Dolls Club in Dalston with their entirely foraged menu

Jason says that people get into foraging for different reasons and interestingly enough, in urban areas, it’s not nothing to do with eating to live.

“There’s a lot of interest in the survival thing, in bush craft. Then there’s those who are into food in general; cooking and making their own stuff whilst some like the traditional herbal-health and medicine aspect”.

With recent reports of “foraging gangs” stripping Ashdown forest of the finest mushroom crop it has had in years to sell on the black market, it’s important to not only follow the legal guidelines but also be ethical with it.

He knows the rules

He knows the rules

There is yet to be an official foraging code of conduct but Jason says it is all about common sense.

“Don’t take more than you need and be aware of what plants you’re picking and what part of the plant you’re taking,” he says.

“Plants have evolved for grazing; taking the leaves is just like cutting the grass. Take care when picking seeds and fruits and it’s what the plants use to reproduce; if you take them all, it won’t happen”.

Remember, just give the cress a little haircut to allow it to regrow

Remember, just give the cress a little haircut to allow it to regrow

Areas like Abney Park in Stoke Newington are protected which means that foraging is strictly prohibited and Jason says that some parks may not be keen to see people picking their plants.

However, there’s no law against foraging for personal use and Hackney council have yet to set any guidelines. The good news is, it’s definitely not theft.

It's not an offence to forage, so no need to wait for the cover of cloud to get on with your mushroom picking

It’s not an offence to forage, so no need to wait for the cover of cloud to get on with your mushroom picking

It’s also important to not go too wild when eating mushrooms as there are many edible types that look similar to the poisonous ones. Make sure you don’t put any unknown plants in your mouth or eat something you are not sure of.

But Jason says there’s only so much you can read up about foraging before you have to take it outside.

“Foraging is something that needs to be learnt by doing. It’s far more useful to get out there and see and smell things and learn that way”.

You can learn foraging skills in this handy guide by Jason's Uncle Miles, but you'll also need to head out and get some hands on experience

You can learn foraging skills in this handy guide by Jason’s Uncle Miles, but you’ll also need to head out and get some hands on experience

And at this time of year, there’s a field of things to see in Hackney.

You’ll find a flourish of greenery along the canal, nettles and berries in Victoria Park, cow parsley and deadly nightshade in Abney cemetery – a plant used in 19th century Italy by women to dilute their pupils and make them appear all the more seductive.

Aside from accidentally eating something poisonous, Jason does warn about a current contamination in Hackney Marsh; the giant hogweed.

He's not scared of the giant hogweed

He’s not scared of the giant hogweed

An invasive species, the hogweed may cause those who touch it to become photosensitive resulting in blisters and burning skin when exposed to the light.

So next time you’re out having a polish beer in the park to the sound of Bob Marley, have a look around and see what’s up for eats.

For more information about Jason and his walks see his website.

Karin Janssen: GROWTH, The Uncanny and The Artist Run Space

From screaming mouths to kinetic tapestries, the group exhibition at Karin Janssen Project Space on Well Street, GROWTH follows Karin Janssen’s curating debut in April, and shows that she is well able to juggle her personal practise with artist collaborations alongside running the gallery.

Silent Screams in the Valley of Uncanniness #78

Silent Screams in the Valley of Uncanniness #78

Netherlands-born Hackney artist, Janssen, prides herself on operating an “artist-run space” meaning approaching her approach is more artist-to-artist, rather than as a gallerist wishing walls to be filled.

She said: “We talk about our work, why we make it, what it means to us and the materials and techniques we use.

“It is really quite an amazing thing to be able to do: to see an artist I admire and then to be able to offer them a space and work with them. It’s a privilege not many artists have.”

The Karin Janssen Project Space in full swing

The Karin Janssen Project Space in full swing

From a rather long shortlist of 25 prospective artists, Janssen chose Gemma Nelson, Anna Smith and Rachel Bullock on account of the impulsive way that each artist works, the theme is central to GROWTH.

Emergence by Angela Smith

Emergence by Angela Smith

The work is allowed to take over in the vulnerable ‘creatures’ of Angela Smith which start with the pouring of paint which is then left to run and Gemma Nelson’s obsessive, cell-like tapestries appear to breed across the canvas.

Flaps by Gemma Nelson

Flaps by Gemma Nelson

Rachel Bullock’s charcoal drawings rise up like a flowing mountain of hair and fur coats while Janssen, whose work here features a paintings of a screaming mouth, plays with abstraction and familiarity in her human body series, Silent Screams in The Valley of Uncanniness.

Morand Lesovil by Rachel Bullock

Morand Lesovil by Rachel Bullock

Janssen said: “In some of the works the artist quite literally started in one corner and then saw where they would end up.

“That comes across in the work itself; you can see the searching and the chance findings.”

But it’s not only the GROWTH exhibition that has emerged from the evolving nature of each artist’s practise, Janssen said that over the last few months, she too has seen a change in the way she works.

Silent Screams in the Valley of Uncanniness #113

Silent Screams in the Valley of Uncanniness #113

“My practise has evolved a lot in the last few months as I have taken the narrative out of my work; it is pure emotion and flesh now.

“Often I start with a screaming mouth or something that vaguely resembles a mouth and then just see what I feel like drawing or painting around it.”

Silent Screams in the Valley of Uncanniness #114

Silent Screams in the Valley of Uncanniness #114

Janssen says that after independently curating her first show, Raw Skin in April, it suddenly became apparent that she needed to “take her work to the next level” and since the exhibition ended, she’s been “exploring the depths of an immense iceberg” in her work, which she says she is “nowhere near finished”.

And with each exhibition she sets up, Janssen says that she comes closer to her personal vision and that it’s important to get the balance right.

Installation at previous show, Raw Skin

Installation at previous show, Raw Skin

“It is truly a privilege to be able to wear those two hats, of curator and artist and to be able to let them feed into each other.

“But, as much as they complement each other, it’s an eternal balancing act, and I am very aware that I am first and foremost an artist; I wouldn’t want the gallery to take over my artistic side.”

After the success of Raw Skin, Janssen felt under pressure in the same way as those releasing the sequel to a best selling novel and said the whole thing was “nerve wracking”.

Growth by Gemma Nelson

Growth by Gemma Nelson


But the proof is always in the pudding and GROWTH, running until 17 November, has given Janssen confidence and inspiration for future exhibitions.

Having set up the Karin Janssen Project Space two years ago in an old hairdressers on Well Street, Janssen says GROWTH ties in with Hackney, in ways she did not initially see.

Silent Screams in the Valley of Uncanniness #141

Silent Screams in the Valley of Uncanniness #141

“The area is changing and growing quickly, but it happens organically and there doesn’t seem to be a big master plan.

“That’s what makes it such a dynamic, lively and interesting place to live.”

Drawing on the uncanny, the beautiful and ugly in the human body in her new work, Janssen suggests her latest series of paintings create a “repulsion/fascination” in the viewer and has noticed this reaction in the community who visit the gallery.

'Silent Screams in the Valley of Uncanniness #117' by Karin Janssen, part of GROWTH in Karin Janssen Project Space, 25 Oct - 17 Nov

“Hackney has a very varied population, you get people from all walks of life here and that is really reflected in the audience of my space.

“I love that, to have to talk about the art I show here to everyone, from a highly educated art audience to teenagers who live down the road, and to see all audiences react strongly, is a big compliment.”

GROWTH runs until 17 November

Karin Janssen Project Space
213 Well Street, E9 6QU