Opening Night

ALTAR took place in January 2016 in Tent Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland. ALTAR was comprised of four sections that all referenced one another. These consisted of the six curtained photographs in the front gallery, seven poems, five objects, and a live ritual. ALTAR explored two major themes. These were consent and healing through distress.

Consent is very much discussed in sexuality circles, but hardly at all in spirituality or art. We have become used to the idea that art is a static interaction, things are on walls or plinths, you observe the things, and that is usually the end of it. Consent is accepted in that you walked through the door. I really don’t believe that full engagement of idea comes from simple observation.

I have been an Ordeal Path worker for about fifteen years. I create rituals that allow a person to either celebrate or heal from moments in their life. This sometimes includes body modification. I discuss that here.

So how to connect an audience to images of people engaged in acts of personal spiritual growth through physical ordeals? You give them a choice to do so. You allow them to actively rather than passively consent to which experiences they will have. You engage their curiosity which opens the mind to see something new or different. This is important especially as many of the ordeal involve acts that pierce, alter, and manipulate the body. This can be triggering and truly disturbing depending on presentation, audience, and individual. The goal of this show was not to shock, but to open a small window into another’s world to create a connection.

I created for the show a site specific installation using figurative and literal layering as a means of encouraging exploration. I took close photos of a piece of the ordeal enlarging it until it was almost abstracted as an image. These were then printed on cotton and made into a curtain which draped over the image it was taken from. This gave the audience member a specific choice to either enjoy the abstraction or move the curtain to see what was underneath. The response to this was incredible. People would go into the gallery, see the initial images, leave, and then go back a little later to look underneath them.  People who stood in the middle of the gallery and observed just the curtains never looking underneath. Others who immediately lifted the curtains to see what was underneath and who only then paid attention to what was on the curtain afterwards.

The second instance of choice was in the display of the poems that told the tales of the individuals represented. I chose to hang them in a separate space all next to each other. This placement, rather than putting the poem with the image, allowed for the audience to wonder which piece went with which image. This manifested in people reading the poems out loud to themselves and one another, trying to see if they could figure out which went where. It became a shared act rather than people reading quietly to themselves.

The final instance was the live ritual. At the show opening a man was encased in plastic from head to toe and placed in a dark room with a light illuminating him on an altar of green cloth. There was live drumming which set the tone of the dark space as a quiet space, a sacred space, but one where observers were welcome. Many people went in as observers, others chose to stay in the doorway peeking in. A half hour after the opening I walked into the gallery and called them to the room to witness the end of the ritual. Most came to bear witness, but there were a few who chose to not be a part of it.

ON5 ON4ON2Coral Mallow's Altar gallery showing at Evolution House, Edinburgh.Coral Mallow's Altar gallery showing at Evolution House, Edinburgh.Coral Mallow's Altar gallery showing at Evolution House, Edinburgh.Coral Mallow's Altar gallery showing at Evolution House, Edinburgh.Coral Mallow's Altar gallery showing at Evolution House, Edinburgh.ON3ON6

Leave a Reply