Jonathan Allen’s recently published book Lost Envoy offered 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). In Casting for the voice of Strength Allen continues his reactivation of this anomalous relic of the British Occult Revival by giving voice in absentia to a card currently missing from Spare’s tarot deck: its eleventh Major Arcana trump, known as ‘Strength’.
Casting for the voice of Strength recalls Pietro Aretino’s satire The Speaking Cards (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 intrigues of Italian Renaissance social and political life, the two iconographic figures that comprise Spare’s lost card bear witness to the early modernity through which they passed unrecorded. Emerging now in the twenty-first century, their repartee points to cartomancy as a productive, if contested, site of enchantment.
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).