This blog will follow the progress of a self-directed research project generously supported by a professional development bursary (2019) from a-n.

I will be working with artist Dean Melbourne (who also received a bursary) to research the areas of Jungian Psychology, alchemy and mythology. Dean and myself have a shared interest in these topics and plan to create a collaborative body of work following our research and learning.

Our activity will include attending lectures at the C.G. Jung club in London, engagement with the Wellcome Collection (we are leading a talk on alchemy, art and the unconscious later in the year) and, most importantly, a collaboration with a highly respected Jungian analyst.

We are very privileged to have had Catherine Bygott agree to work with us. She is a Jungian analyst based in Somerset who has lectured for 25 years on Jung’s Red Book, alchemy and folktales. We are all excited to see where cultivating a dialogue between art and depth psychology leads us.

 


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Dean and I met in Bruton for a two day alchemical workshop with Jungian analyst Catherine Bygott. ⁣

⁣Our sessions with Catherine seem to have been building to this point and it was a highly charged, emotional and influential time. As we worked through active imagination exercises, spontaneous sculpture building and responsive drawings we realised how interwoven our research practice and personal alchemical journeys had become.⁣

Mercurius rose as a key character of importance – the volatile and transforming influence seemingly at work in the days before and after the workshop as well as during. We have much to continue processing.⁣

Synchronicity was at work as the current exhibition at Hauser & Wirth a short walk away, was “Unconscious Landscape”. We visited the day after the workshop, and used the time to reflect on what the physical outcome of this research project might look like.⁣

We were able to extend our time together a little further as Dean came back to West Dorset with me to continue our discussions and visit my studio and some of the new work that had been taking place recently. With conversations of ritual and the influence of the elements on the psyche the visit was completed with a bracing entry into the grey seas.

 

 

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This is the first contribution to this blog by Dean Melbourne. As the project is collaborative it seemed to make sense that one blog would better reflect the tone of experiences as opposed to the repetition of two very similar records. . . 

 

Over this last week our research project stepped up a gear with a visit to the capital to attend a lecture organised by the C.G. Jung Club, spend some time at the British Museum with the Ancient Egypt collection and visit the studio of Artist Victoria Rance.

The C.G. Jung Club host a rolling programme of Thursday evening lectures covering wide ranging aspects of Jungian thinking. This particular lecture was given by Eva Wertenschlag-Birkhäuser and was entitled What is the Great Dream?

Birkhäuser is a Jungian analyst in Bern and trained at the Jung Institute, Zurich. The talk centred around a selection of paintings by Peter Birkhäuser (the speakers father) who after a “crisis” of creativity in mid-life entered therapy with Marie Von Franz and began painting his dreams. The particular focus on of this talk was on “individuation as the vessel for transformation of archetypal powers threatening our culture”.

For me personally Peter’s story seemed frighteningly familiar and closely mirrored my own recent journey through crisis of psyche. Hearing the symbolic links with the alchemical process and the archetypal within an individual’s dream work was revealing. Even more the way that that individual experience reflected the collective state of world events at that time.

The following day we spent an afternoon at the British Museum looking at Ancient Egyptian objects. The roots of Hermetic thinking begin to be gathered in Egyptian culture and particularly the merging of the Greeks Hermes with the Egyptian God Thoth to become Hermes Trismagistus, the supposed scribe of the Emerald Tablet containain the Hermetic Laws. The objects, making process and symbolism of this time and place seem to resonate with the energy of secret knowledge. We were soon exhausted and overwhelmed with ideas and the threads of thought that seemed to be demanding to be followed.

It will take some time to process all that we saw.

 

Our final day saw us head to APT studios in Depford to visit the studio of Victoria Rance.

Victoria’s studio space is just wonderful. A treasure trove of work, materials and tools. Chantal and Victoria have in common some making techniques and were able to share experiences of these. For me as I find my way to a new practice Victoria’s example as curious, authentic and deeply committed to her exploration of the imagination and making were just what I needed. A moving and impactful couple of hours that I think will resonate with me for some time. I would like to thank her on behalf of us both for her genouristy and openness.

Whilst at APT studios we visited the Creekside Open which was beautifully curated and felt both sincere and welcoming. Some wonderful work and great to see the work of artists I rarely get to see in the flesh. Was great to get to chat with Jane Millar and Robert Worley whilst there (both showing work in the open).

An intense few days that will move our thinking on tremendously. As we progress towards “NightShaking”.

 


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We had our second meeting with Jungian analyst Catherine Bygott in Somerset on Friday. As well as discussions she led us in a physical exercise to connect us to our unconscious self. It was a challenging activity but really interesting to see how it opened up a connection to less rational, more intuitive thought.

As this project goes on its interesting to see how it is moving from the academic to the experiential and the lines becoming blurred between personal Jungian therapy work, the research work, and the art work in the studio. Matching symbols are passing through all areas and there is merging of the collective and personal unconscious.

Process, experience and ritual are becoming more important in both my personal “inner work” explorations and also in the studio. At times the studio almost touches on feeling like a laboratory and I’m feeling freer to let the materials take some of the lead rather than be in full control of the process. A nice example is the work below that, through an accidental combining of materials, began spontaneous crystallisation over the proceeding days. I had been reflecting on the black “negredo” stage of alchemy (which parallels the “dark night” or depression in psychology) but hadn’t expected a crystallisation effect mirroring the transition into albedo – “the whitening”.

 


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Dean Melbourne and I travelled to Bruton in Somerset for our first exploratory meeting with Jungian psychoanalyst Catherine Bygott.

Catherine has lectured and led numerous seminars and workshops in the UK and Ireland over the past twenty-five years on Jung’s ‘Red Book’, the structure and dynamics of the psyche, and its amplification through alchemy, fairytale and active imagination. We feel incredibly privileged to have the opportunity to listen to her expertise and to have her guide us towards integrating Jungian concepts, alchemical and mythological metaphors, and active imagination processes into our respective practices.

The image below shows the double face of alchemy – laboratory and library – which corresponds to Jung’s individuation process and also the artistic process. The active dialoguing with the outer world alongside the process of inner reflection.

This initial meeting was largely for us to listen to each other so she could understand where we are coming from in our practices and in our personal individuation journeys and exploring how we would integrate the two using the tools of mythology and alchemy. Individuation is a Jungian process by which the personal and collective unconscious are brought into consciousness to reveal one’s whole personality. In short: it is the process of becoming self-actualized. Dean and I have been separately working with Jungian analytical therapists on our individuation journeys before looking to extend these concepts into our artistic practices.

We discussed the role artists play in the collective consciousness and also the idea of not releasing work until it is “ready”. The idea of an authentic artwork first needing to do its work with the artist before being given over to the world. We made plans for our next meeting on the 3rdMay where we will continue our three way conversations and Catherine will lead us in some specific explorative exercises around our topics of interest.


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Our research project started with two days at The Wellcome Collection in London exploring their wonderful resources on alchemy and Jung.

There were two areas we were interested in – the Wellcome Collection library and the Reading Room resource. I’ll share a little about both.

The Library has over 750 000 books and journals, an extensive range of manuscripts, archives and films, and more than 250 000 paintings, prints and drawing. You can use the Library for the day by  signing in as a day visitor at the Library Admissions Desk.  We visited the section on alchemy and got to indulge in books full of evocative symbols and metaphors.

What is truly exciting is the collection archive – manuscripts from the 3rdcentury onwards including medieval treasures. You can search by subject – in our case “alchemy” – view the archives online and then request for a manuscript to be bought for viewing. To do this you need to become a library member but its straightforward to do, just need photo id and fill in some forms.

Here are a couple of watercolour etchings from their alchemical archives

The Reading Room at the Wellcome collection is a relaxed space for anyone to come and meet, read and be inspired. Its divided into themed sections such as “mind”, breath” and “alchemy” with relevant books and objects from the collection in each. The Alchemy nook has a replica of the Ripley Scroll, a copy of Jung’s Red Book, paintings depicting alchemy on the walls, and books on Jungian psychology and alchemy.  I have a readers edition of Jung’s Red Book at home but it is text only so it was wonderful to see and reflect on Jung’s painting’s in the larger illustrated copy.

On our second day in London we met with the events officer of the Wellcome trust – Valerie Brown and arts producer/consultant Elizabeth Lynch to make plans for a talk we will deliver later in the year sharing the learning from our project.  We attended a workshop where Elizabeth shared her experience of working with public groups in settings such as the Wellcome Collection and we spent some time thinking how we would make our learning accessible there.

Our talk on art, alchemy and the unconscious will be part of the Reading Room’s Open Plaform forum.

 


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