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Video: The Undead Archive

100 Years of Photographing Ghosts, Curated by Dr. Serena Keshavjee

October 27, 2023 — 

The Undead Archive | 100 Years of Photographing Ghosts, Curated by Dr. Serena Keshavjee
Co-presented by The University of Winnipeg’s Gallery 1C03, University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections, and the School of Art Gallery, University of Manitoba

One hundred years ago, renowned author and Spiritualist Sir Arthur Conan Doyle arrived in Winnipeg to give an illustrated lecture on the possibility of communicating with ghosts and spirits.

In the audience that night were the Winnipeg physician Thomas Glendenning Hamilton, and his wife, Lillian Hamilton, a trained nurse. The Hamiltons went on to carry out hundreds of controlled séance experiments in a séance laboratory, investigating the invisible ‘psychic’ force that they believed was evidence of personalities surviving corporeal death. These experiments resulted in a series of captivating black and white photographs which form the core of this exhibition.

The Undead Archive and the accompanying anthology, The Art of Ectoplasm, contextualize the photographs from an art historical point of view, revealing attitudes to science and religion after World War I and the 1919 pandemic.

Dr. Hamilton was a leader in psychical research during the 1930s, and his photographs were received in some international circles as scientific evidence of life after death. These uncanny images of ectoplasm had a second wave of recognition in the early 2000s after they were digitized and made available online.

A large-scale, multi-site exhibition featuring photographs, séance-related archival manuscripts, and alternative scientific documents from the Hamilton Family Fonds, alongside a host of contemporary artworks in a variety of media, The Undead Archive highlights how contemporary artists from Winnipeg and around the world have responded to these photographs.

Although physical research (studying the psychic force) is rejected by orthodox science, the Hamilton Family Fonds is still one of the most visited collections in the UM Archives and Special Collections and is the foundation for The Undead Archive exhibition.

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