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Brief Published: 8 Oct 2014

Hauntology at Merge Art Festival

Extra
Bompass and Parr, London

UK culinary experience designers Bompass & Parr have created an installation called Sensed Presence at London's annual Merge art festival that "fuses cutting-edge science, art and spirituality".

The studio has plucked a Koren helmet – a headpiece with electromagnets that stimulate the regions of the brain's temporal lobes responsible for spiritual experiences – from its neuropsychological research lab, and put it in situ in the cellar of the Kirkaldy Testing Museum. Founded in the 19th century, the steel and metal-testing works is based in Southwark – a London neighbourhood steeped in history and ghost stories. Visitors wear the helmet for private 15-minute sessions to draw forth spectres from their temporal lobes.

The helmet was originally used by US neuroscientist Michael Persinger in the 1980s, with many test subjects reporting sensing third presences of ranging intensity – anecdotes that gave the device a certain notoriety and its alternative name: The God Helmet.

Although separated by a century, the equipment surrounding the helmet and the engineering testing machinery are equally obsolete. This plays on the notion of hauntology – a concept initiated by French philosopher Jacques Derrida as a rumination on how the present only exists in relation to its past. In popular culture, hauntology portrays the past bleeding through into the present.

Themes of being haunted by the past are of growing interest for brands producing content. It's reflected in the prevalence of the aesthetics of ghost signs in visual communications, the music produced under the Ghost Box label, hugely popular US podcast Welcome to Nightvale, and US television series American Horror Story.

For more on the impact of hauntological content, see The Aesthetics of Hauntology, while Creepypasta: Online Hauntological Folklore highlights instances of hauntology in digital spaces.

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