Sunday, 2 December 2012

The Singing Hypnotist

An intriguing title you might think...and you'd be right.  I attended an event of this title at the British Library delivered by their current Leverhulme Artist in Residence Christopher Green.  You can read a bit about his residency on the BBC or from his own blog.

I admit that I had absolutely no idea what to expect - what could an artist and performer be doing in the BL?  How did his work relate to the Library and how could it be seen to be of mutual benefit?  Well, I haven't passed a more bizarre and intriguing evening in a long time and it really left me with food for thought.

Hypnosis by malavoda, on Flickr

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License  by  malavoda 

Christopher Green is a writer and performer as well as being an accredited hypnotherapist.  He has been researching the history of hypnosis in the Library collections including early mesmerists, hypnotising machine patents and stage hypnotism.  He is interested in where the show-biz meets the scholarly and to what extent hypnosis affects self-help.

The evening was sprinkled liberally with amusing songs touching on mesmerists of the past such as Annie de Montford, who hosted mesmeric tea parties and also about the human refusal to heal.  Research was also presented into these characters and the history of hypnotism on stage.  Green had hoped, with his background, to come across 'The Singing Hypnotist' but has, to date, failed to do so.  In the wake of this he has created this persona himself and claims to be able to hypnotise with his singing (and lovely it is too).  As a bit of a hypnosis skeptic, I had my guard up but still ended up singing along and clapping with everyone else in the BL Conference Centre.

Kaa says - ©r9M by quicheisinsane, on Flickr
Jungle Book's KaaCreative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License
  by  quicheisinsane 

But, I hear you say, why am I blogging about this and what does it have to do with archives?  On a recent trip to the Theatre Archives at the University of Bristol I was interested to hear that they run a programme for drama students to use the archive in order to create new work.  The students are encouraged to get to know the archive and use it as inspiration to create something new - one girl was studying the physical memory of the body such as broken bones or scars.  For her project she laid out naked in the archive and invited people to write their scar story on the relevant part of her body.  This was then blotted and these pieces of paper make into a book.  Some were shredded since not all information is kept.  She then archived her work and placed it in the archive.

There is a place for artists in our archives and the question is to what sort of artist to appeal.  The NT Archive is already a reference resource for actors, playwrights, theatre practitioners, musicians etc. etc. so who could be get in that would be different?  It is possible that a visual artist could use our collections to come up with new work, which could be displayed in the National.  It is an area which I know little about but the success of both the Bristol and British Library schemes is impressive and shows the archives growing in an organic and different direction and it would be wonderful to bring this new dimension to the National.