“Out infantilised giant of yesteryear Cast out, call out these demons, out all the vestiges”

-Excerpt from Exorcise The Bridge @ Eastham Rake

Mark Leckey’s ‘Affect Bridge Age Regression’ at Cubitt Gallery, installation views. Photography by Mark Blower

Mark Leckey is the 2008 Turner Prize winner. His work spans several media such as performance, installation, and video, while its subject draws on popular culture from sound systems to Felix the cat. He believes more in the power of music than in art, and that objects are not appropriate in our current age to be shown in a gallery. He claims that our memory has now become part of a digital collective memory and that everything in the future will be recorded and can be found on the internet. This idea was initiated after he found a bootlegged YouTube video of a 1979 Joy Division gig which he attended as a 15-year-old. This, in turn, inspired him to make Dream English Kid 1964–1999 AD recently shown in the Sixty Years room at Tate Britain, a mashup up of YouTube videos marking important events since the year of his birth (1964) until the year he created his first artwork Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore (1999); an eerily poignant and unnerving video collage depicting underground dance music culture in post-war Britain, from Northern Soul to Acid House. It was in Dream English Kid 1964–1999 AD that Eastham Rake Bridge first appeared, a concrete hangout from his youth which still haunts him. Last year, as part of his MOMA PSI show he publicly exorcised the bridge and with it, the demons of his past. He recently performed Extended Exorcism of The Bridge @ Eastham Rake in The Tanks at Tate Modern on 24 March as part of the BMW Tate Live exhibition Ten Days, Six Nights.

Demons, possessions, and exorcisms are well-trodden subjects in popular culture, most famously exemplified in the film The Exorcist (1973). The disturbing, disfigured image of the possessed girl and her spinning head has haunted viewers ever since its release. Reported incidents of possessions mushroomed as a direct result of the film. Possessions and exorcisms reached their heyday during medieval times, as well as witch-hunts and burnings. However, by the mid-17th century, the leaders of the Church of England had denounced the practice of exorcism as fraudulent and suspicious since it had been used to challenge the authority of the clerical and royal establishment.

Ken Russell’s 1971 masterpiece The Devils is based on the Loudun possessions, an infamous trial of witchcraft in France in 1634. Cardinal Richelieu plots against a French priest who has gained excessive powers over his town after its Governor’s disease. His delegates order the local nuns to pretend to be possessed by the priest and charge him with witchcraft. The climaxing scene of possession and exorcism is one of the most disturbing and memorable in the history of cinema. The film’s remarkable set was designed by the then unknown artist and filmmaker Derek Jarman. The stark black and white grid interiors of the convent remind one of the radical Italian designers, Superstudio, whose wide influence has also surfaced in Anthea Hamilton’s current Tate Britain Commission in the Duveen Galleries.

Anthea Hamilton ‘The Squash’. Photograph by John McGrath

The word demon originates in Ancient Greece. Initially, it meant divine spirit; without its current negative connotations. Demonology, the study of evil spirits and the interest in demonic beliefs has a wide cult following and there are numerous websites and books revealing methods of summoning and controlling demons.

“In the name of Gog and Magog and the weird sisters of Albion…” were the opening lines of Leckey’s performance in the Tanks. Mic in one hand, Leckey unraveled the ritually-charged exorcism text amidst basslines and drum beats shot by his sideman Steve Hellier, an electronic musician, and sound engineer. An uproarious gang of Leckey’s acolytes joined in for the chorus while banging on pots, pans, and improvised percussions. The track progressed and built up to an exuberant crescendo; “Out Demons Out!” echoed repeatedly around the yellow drenched concrete cavernous tanks. It was a cathartic denouncement of the demons of the past, paving the way for more demons, obsessions, phobias, and haunts of the future.