First Friday Lecture: Interpreting Ectoplasm by Serena Keshavjee

In the 20th century, Winnipeggers T.G. and Lillian Hamilton documented evidence of “trance personalities,” spirits who had survived death and could communicate with the living. Their “scientific” séances produced a large archive of uncanny photographs of female mediums expelling ectoplasm from their bodies. Ectoplasm fell out of favour by the 1940s, but came back into popular culture through the movie Ghostbusters (1984) and its remakes, as well as the digitization of the Hamilton photographs in 2000. In this talk, Serena Keshavjee will contextualize how artists have depicted ectoplasm from its invention in the late 19th century to the contemporary period. Artists have re-interpreted ectoplasm in several different ways, from a feminist lens reflecting the performative actions of female mediums, to DIY ectoplasm and reimagining the original, organic vitalist characteristics of ectoplasm.

Serena Keshavjee coordinates the Curatorial Practices specialization of the Masters in Cultural Studies while teaching Modern Art and Architectural History at the University of Winnipeg. Her academic publishing focuses on the intersection of art and science in visual culture at the fin-de-siècle. Keshavjee’s current projects are an exhibition, The Undead Archive, to be held in Winnipeg in 2023, and a book, Photographing “Ghosts”, with the University of Manitoba Press.

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