The Magical Library

magical library at senate house

“Celebrated psychical researcher, amateur conjurer and paper bag salesman Harry Price left his library of Magical literature, to the University of London on his death in 1948. Artist Sarah Sparkes has been researching the Price bequest and is creating her own “Magical library for the 21st Century”. 

Inspired by Prices ghost-hunting activities Sparkes’ Magical library will be showing a number of specially created writings, recordings, artwork, artefacts, and other contributions documenting ghosts and other apocryphal stories emanating from Senate House and immediate surrounds.” 

Part of my practice is concerned with hunting down the ghosts of memories which haunt places and inanimate objects. Between 2009 – 2012 I was Research Fellow and Artist in Residence at the IGRS, School of Advanced Study, University of London, Senate House.  here my research was centred around the Harry Price Library of Magical Literature.  During this research residency I created my own archive of apocryphal stories emanating from Senate House.  This archive took the form of a blog, The Ghosts of Senate House  This blog has been acknowledged as an archive in its own right and has been  it is referenced by researchers and documenters of  ghost stories and urban myths.

 

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listening to the Magical Library archive – the headphones emerged from keyholes in the doors

I am fascinated by Harry Price’s identity as a ghost hunter. In this guise he seems a romantic character seeking to answer our questions about mortality by communicating with those who have gone from life – a quest for the evidence of something more than the rational mind can find. Yet as a member of the Magic Circle, with an expert’s knowledge of historical and international conjuring tricks, Harry Price the showman leaves us feeling sceptical that all the magic is no more than legerdemain.

Put simply, a library is a resource for finding answers to questions. But what do we seek in a magical library that cannot be found on the shelves under ‘philosophy’, ‘physics’ or ‘psycho-analysis’ of a non-magical library? How can a magical library answer questions about a subject when our reason tells us the very subject of magic is questionable in its integrity, nothing more than an illusion? In my research explored how the idea of a ‘Magical Library’ can be made tangible through the production of an artwork that visually responds to the contents of Harry Price’s unique collection and the mysteries it speaks of; the promises of doors opening onto knowledge of the unknowable.

The Magical Library presents: Ghosts of Senate House was a three dimensional work made in response to architectural features on the interior of Senate House Library, theHarry Price Library of Magical Literature and  research into ghost stories as part of the GHost project,

I lead the GHost project, initiated by myself together with Ricarda Vidal in 2008. GHost hosts inter-disciplinary seminars and visual arts exhibitions which explore the uses and aesthetics of ghosts across cultures. In 2009/10 the project was supported by  Knowledge Transfer Grants from the School of Advanced Study, which made it possible for us to organise ‘Hostings’ events with international speakers and performers.  Research undertaken during my research residency intersected with the GHost project and the academic outcome was a chapter on GHost authored by me for The Ashgate Research Companion Into Paranormal Cultures edited by Sally Munt and Olu Jenz. The Magical Library archive was the final visual arts manifestation of the residency. More GHost at  www.host-a-ghost.blogspot.com