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The Truth Was Always There | 2006

The Truth Was Always There

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Materials: DVD installation with 2 projections and 5.1 surround sound, MDF screens built angled to the walls.

Sold (Arts Council UK)

Excerpt from: Human Camera. Author: M. Anthony Penwill.

The Truth Was Always There is Seers' most technically ambitious film to date. It is presented as a split screen narrative that traces the skein of connections between her family and the history of medieval philosophy and alchemy. It is also the most unnerving: tales of magic, cryptic symbols, secret society initiations and medieval charnel houses are offset by a sophisticated soundscape which rustles and rumbles like the upwelling of the unconscious. Somehow the most innocuous imagery - a solitary tree in a field, a nesting swift, a ruined tower in a landscape - take on an atmosphere of dread.

Science writer Philip Ball outlines the map of Lincolnshire's connection with alchemy and natural magic. Robert Grosseteste (1168-1253), Bishop of Lincoln, is credited with inventing many of the empirical concepts later developed by his protégé Roger Bacon (1214-1294), the medieval alchemist and proto-scientist. To the east of the line which connects Leadenham and Sleaford lie the ruins of Temple Bruer, a preceptory founded by the Knights Templar. John Dee (1527-1608), the Elizabethan mathematician and occultist, held a rectorship at the nearby town of Leadenham not far from Woolsthorpe, birthplace of Isaac Newton. Dee was engaged in the search for the Enochian language, believed to be the original tongue taught to Adam by his creator, which Dee claimed was being taught to him by 'good angels'. Dee visited Temple Bruer to study its layout in the hope that the design of the building would assist his understanding of coded knowledge encrypted in the plan of the Temple of Solomon.

But the film begins with a recurring image: a road journey along one of the Roman routes near the towns of Leadenham and Sleaford, where Seers' mother settled after the return from Mauritius. The voice of Alicia Seers, the artist's mother, is heard describing the death of her father shortly before Lindsay was conceived and the profound sadness which his death caused. Voice wavering, she wonders if something of her melancholy was transmitted to the unborn child. This endless journey through the flat bucolic landscape, filmed in black and white, is like a repeated elegy for Seers' sorrowful quest into her own past.

The split screen technique is used to juxtapose curious geometric designs which adorn these historical sites with Seers' own cryptic drawings. The narrator speculates that Seers displays an adept's understanding of arcane knowledge. The various drawings filled with alchemical tree symbolism and geometric mysteries echo both John Dee's investigations and those of Robert Fludd (1574-1637), the Rosicrucian and follower of Paracelsus. One striking dual image is of an orrery, a mechanical model of the solar system, against a representation of an annular eclipse (in which the moon's silhouette does not completely obscure the sun's disc but leaves a bright halo or annulus). As Philip Ball explains Fludd's neo-Platonic notion that light was the primary substance, the sliver of light forming the annular eclipse divides and rotates until it forms the shape of an alchemical ideogram inscribed in the stones of Temple Bruer. These symbols were believed to be carriers of occult knowledge indecipherable to all but the initiated. This seems to be exactly how Seers regards her childhood drawings after the expulsion from her eidetic Eden: her family could never unlock the key which would decrypt her alternative modes of communication. 

The narrator draws out the connection with Fludd's theory of light and Seers' later attempts to create objects out of light through becoming a projector. We witness this event in a field in Leadenham at twilight, as Seers crouches with her head enclosed in projection apparatus. What we see is a sequel to a reconstruction of a Newtonian experiment to create a tree using alchemical means, which the modern viewer will recognise as the chemical formation of a 'crystal tree' in a laboratory flask. In the climactic moving image, we witness the miraculous appearance of Seer's own alchemical tree.

Excerpt from: Richard Grayson text in Smart Paper ‘Swallowing Black Maria’.

"Seers takes this logic of projection further. With Bill and the other dummies her recording function is externalised and she expands this into an undertaking to turn herself into a projector. This development is hinted at in the drawing of her body where the cone of what is visible seemingly radiates from her head. The image inexorably recalls earlier ideas of sight where the ancients were uncertain of the direction of vision: whether it radiated from the eye — the eye beam, an idea manifested in the idea of Medusas petrifying gaze — or whether, as Alhazen argued in the 11th century, light operated as a stimulus on the eye.

We learn about Seers interest in pre-scientific modelling of the world and the universe and its occult, animating forces. It was a body of enquiry and research that links seamlessly with the body of knowledge that has allowed the development of photography, with its focus on light: the immaterial transforming material into new substances and forms. Newton famously combined both spheres of investigation, the search for the philosopher’s stone — a sort of universal cure that healed metals of its impurities — for instance, paralleling his work on light and optics, mathematics and gravity. The area of Lincolnshire where Seers was regretfully relocated is saturated with the history of Alchemy, linked to Robert Grosseteste, Dr John Dee, Isaac Newton and Robert Fludd. We are told that Seers may have been a member of the Rosicrucian Order herself, as the foundation text A Chymical Wedding, is found in her room. Alchemy itself talks of the search for a lost unity, and investigation that seeks links in a world where that which lies below mirrors that above, and the “everlasting emphasis on macrocosm and microcosm that lies at the heart of occult systems” (Frances Yates, The Rosicrucian Enlightenment). It seems fitting that it should become the means by which Seers seeks to rearticulate models of a lost unity. In a haunting image Seers is seen squatting in a darkening field with beams shooting out of the apparatus on her head projecting a beautiful crystalline tree of light: a manifestation of the alchemist’s tree of life that sought to explicate and unite the realms of the material and the ineffable."

Illustrated gallery information sheet:

The Truth Was Always There.pdf (filesize 2.5MB)

Arts Council Collection