Jonathan Allen: Casting for the voice of Strength / Opening Event: Wed 30 Nov, 6pm
On view: 1-3 Dec 2016

Jonathan Allen’s recent book Lost Envoy provided the first critical readings of a previously unknown deck of fortune-telling cards hand-painted in the first decade of the twentieth century by the English artist and mystic Austin Osman Spare (1886–1956). Spare later entrusted his creation to one of the founding members of The Magic Circle, in so doing consigning it to over seventy years of cultural detachment behind the walls of an organisation dedicated to the secretive art of theatrical magic. Since the deck appears not to have been documented in any way before this period, it could be said that the artist’s cartomantic device ‘missed’ the twentieth century.

Casting for the voice of Strength at the Stanley Picker Gallery continues Allen’s reactivation of this anomalous relic of the British Occult Revival by articulating a card currently missing from the deck – its eleventh Major Arcana tarot trump, known as ‘Strength’. Allen channels Spare’s Strength in the form of working scripts, camouflage-like wallpaper and an archival black and white photograph, the one surviving record of Spare’s missing card.

Casting for the voice of Strength recalls Pietro Aretino’s satire Le Carte Parlanti (1543) in which an imaginary dialogue takes place between a deck of playing cards and the cards’ artisanal maker. While Aretino’s cards laid bare the political and social intrigues of cinquecento Italy, the two iconographic figures depicted on Spare’s lost card – a robed woman and a lion whose jaw she gently holds – bear witness to the early modernity through which they passed otherwise unrecorded.

Strength’s repartee points to cartomancy as a productive, if contested, site of enchantment in which shifting object-subject positions encourage temporal sutures and narrative potential. At the centre of Allen’s installation lies a facsimile of Spare’s deck, combining and recombining contiguously at its borders as if in search of its absent accomplice.

As part of the opening event for Casting for the voice of Strength, Allen presents a live interpretation of his working scripts, developed with performers Lorna Nickson Brown and Gareth Watkins

Jonathan Allen (b. 1966, UK) is a London-based artist and writer. Previous exhibitions and performances include the 1st Singapore Biennale (2006), Tate Britain (2006), David Risley Gallery (2006 & 2007), Frankfurter Kunstverein (2008), Arnolfini Bristol (2013), Ryan Lee Gallery (2016), and currently as part of Explode Every Day at MASS MoCA (USA). His writing has appeared recently in Truth is Concrete – A Handbook For Artistic Strategies in Real Politics (Sternberg Press, 2014), Notes on The Magic of the State (Lisson Gallery & Beirut, 2013), and Curiosity and Method: Ten Years of Cabinet Magazine (Cabinet Books, 2012). Allen is a curator at The Magic Circle Museum, London, where in 2013 he discovered a forgotten tarot deck hand-painted by the English artist and mystic Austin Osman Spare. His subsequent book Lost Envoy is published by Strange Attractor Press (2016).

above images: Casting for the voice of Strength exhibition. Courtesy the artist