A co-commission from Fact and Art Night, filmed at 180 The Strand and various offsite locations.
Multidisciplinary artist Philomène Pirecki mixes a heady concoction of Old and Middle English verse, ritualistic movement and stinging nettles in The Scrying Eye, her contribution to the 2021 edition of contemporary art festival Art Night, curated by Helen Nisbet. The second of a series of co-commissions with Fact, The Scrying Eye touches on bioacoustics, biological time and electromagnetism, bringing together Pirecki with collaborators Arthur Carroll and Simon Parris in an esoteric summer ritual brimming with rich pagan symbolism. Shot at 180 The Strand and various offsite locations, the artist casts her own scrying eye through green smoke to explore “the ephemerality of intense sensory states, their stimuli and physiological effects.”
“Set in a time where human touch is no longer allowed,” explains Art Night, “The Scrying Eye is a journey into a spring/summer ritual, an awakening of the senses through the conduits of the stinging nettle (urtica dioica), for its properties as both an irritant to the body and a tonic. Performers accompany Pirecki within an audiovisual performance of bodily rhythms, moving through a cycle of intensity, decay and invigoration.” Setting evocative images of candle-lit ceremonies, verdant nettle beds and gnarled roots against a rumbling score of seismic bass and guttural drones, Pirecki enacts a cyclical process of auspicious portent.
Conjuring three glass cups, the ritual is framed by the Three of Chalices, a tarot card of the minor arcana symbolising joyful social contact, a symbol imbued with anathemic potency in the time of COVID-19. According to Rider-Waite symbolism, the Three of Chalices represents “coming together to focus on a common emotional goal,” a process that is dramatised in the ritual of The Scrying Eye. Through a contemporary framework such a ceremony takes on a subversive shade, as the taboo of touch during a global pandemic, so perfectly encapsulated by the prick of a nettle, is shown to be the very phenomena Pirecki’s summer ritual attempts to dissolve, climaxing in a lysergic entanglement of limbs, both human and arboreous.
As well as solemn sound design, Pirecki incorporates elements of ‘Myrie it is while sumer ilast‘, a 13th Century Middle English song that counts as the oldest known secular composition in English, as well as ‘Nigon Wyrta Galdor‘, a 10th Century herbal incantation also known as the Nine Herbs Charm. The common nettle, or urtica dioica, was one of nine plants invoked in the Anglo-Saxon rite, and was believed to be a galactagogue – a substance promoting lactation – and was used to treat rheumatism. By channeling these medicinal properties of the nettle, Pirecki connects ancient and contemporary ceremonies in a single ritual.