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Portraits as Portals

July 18, 2024 - October 20, 2024

Third Floor

A project by Jennifer Fisher and Jim Drobnick

What can be known about artists whose names have been lost to history? The DisplayCult collaborative has invited professional mediums to undertake psychic readings of often-overlooked portraits by “unknown artists” in public art collections since 2018. No details about the works are provided to the readers in advance. During the sessions, mediums are asked to look through the eyes of the portrait’s subject to receive impressions about the unknown artist. The portrait thus becomes a portal through which the psychic channels resonant details about the artist’s life, their manner of working, their personal and social relationships, and their position within the artistic milieu of the period.

AWE’s exhibition of  Portraits as Portals will feature video installations of Windsor-Detroit mediums reading unattributed portraits from the gallery’s collection. Much in the same way that psychic mediums work with police departments to locate missing people, this project tests the use of paranormal perception as a method for art historical research. While some readings offer potentially verifiable details, more often they reveal feelings about the artists’ emotional states and motivations, the mood of the era, and the atmosphere of the setting’s context. The different revelations overlap and differ in intriguing ways, even at times aligning with what is suggested by art historical scholarship.

The video installations also present compelling performances of psychic mediumship, and show intuition as an embodied practice as the readers receive and articulate the subtle, etheric energies they discern through the paintings. 

Jennifer Fisher and Jim Drobnick comprise DisplayCult, a curatorial collaborative devoted to rethinking aesthetics and practices of display from sensory, affective and paracuratorial standpoints. The production of the video installations for the Portraits as Portals exhibition at AWE is supported by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada under the auspices of Fisher and Drobnick’s insight research-creation project, The Medium in the Museum.

DisplayCult is the curatorial entity for joint projects by Jennifer Fisher and Jim Drobnick.

Image:  Production Still from Portraits as Portals (2024), photo: courtesy of DisplayCult.

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