Lisa Hampton, Transformation, 2012, archival digital print, © Lisa Hampton.

Lisa Hampton's Photo Collages, apropos of a Jungian Tarot

Lisa Hampton, The Ace of Spades, 2012, archival digital print, © Lisa Hampton.

Lisa Hampton, The Hanged Girl, 2012, archival digital print, © Lisa Hampton.

Lisa Hampton, The Seer., 2012, archival digital print, © Lisa Hampton.

 

The Trap Gallery
525 Gillis
Kansas City
Lisa Hampton, Tragic Fantastic
August 17-September 14, 2012

By NEIL THRUN

Lisa Hampton’s digital photo collages depict a figure or pair of figures performing some kind of magic act; a woman levitating, an older woman conjuring lights, or a woman severing her own head. Each performance is framed by the same digitally composited theater stage, complete with red velvet curtains. On a banner at the bottom of each collage is a written phrase that repeats the work’s title, such as “The Seer” or “She Severs Her Own Head” (2012, archival digital print).The collages are skillfully done and while each is obviously a digital composite (whether from inconsistent shadows or physically impossible acts), every element blends seamlessly, with no digital residue or pixilation.

The collages are inspired by Tarot cards, a esoteric divination in which a psychic draws cards, interprets the symbolism and makes predictions about the future of the person being read. To make this context indisputable, on the opening night the artist invited a Tarot reader who performed free readings for anyone interested. Hampton’s collage The Hanged Woman (2012, archival digital print), is a direct interpretation of the traditional Tarot card, The Hanged Man. While the traditional card depicts a man crucified upside down on a Tau Cross (a symbol associated with the astrological sign of Taurus), Hampton’s version portrays a woman hanging by vines performing aerial acrobatics. Another collage, Wheel of Misfortune (2012, archival digital print), inspired by the Wheel of Fortune Tarot card, though, in Hampton’s collage a woman is tied on a large spinning wheel, as if part of a carnival knife-tossing stage show.

Posted at the entrance to the gallery, Hampton writes in a statement that the prints are " … a visual autobiography depicted on the 'stage' of life where characters act out symbolic representations of life events that range from the most tragic and dark to the most fantastic and beautiful.” The emphasis should be placed on symbolic; each image is begging to be decoded and understood, with the title/banner offers an explanation for each scene. Unfortunately this overt symbolism is at the expense of anything actually dark, tragic, fantastic, or beautiful. We are looking at only symbols and icons of tragedy and fantasy. In this sense, I want to see more of Hampton’s own life showing through. While I do not think an artist’s only purpose is self-expression, it would seem to be the most interesting way to use archetypes. If the Tarot context were not so strong, but only ancillary, we might better see how these concepts connect to the artist. These collages have more to do with Tarot than autobiography.

Hampton’s statement goes on to say, “While the tarot is most commonly sought after as a means of divination, it is also highly representative of human archetypes. Theoretically, the tarot becomes a psychoanalytical tool by which a subject’s self-perception can be gained by 'identifying' with a particular card.” A double-edged argument which could both legitimize Tarot and slander Psychoanalysis! The most famous psychologist to embrace Tarot was Carl Jung; who, in books like Man and His Symbols and Psychology and Alchemy (1964, published after his death in 1961), looked to different occult and religious traditions to understand what he called archetypes (and it is through Jung that the word slipped into common usage). But it certainly flows both ways, Jung also had influence on New Age and spiritual practices as. Especially since his theory of the Collective Unconscious meshes so easily with spiritual beliefs of transcendental unity such as concepts like The Holy Spirit or the Tao.

To a secular eye, the show might be dismissed as “New Age-y” and the free Tarot readings at the opening would solidify that feeling. But Hampton’s greater, implicit argument deserves support here; that is, we can value Tarot for reasons beyond mysticism. Instead of Psychoanalysis, I would emphasize Tarot’s literary value; the archetypes presented in Tarot are Classical, in that they are collective (in a strictly cultural/historical sense, not in the Jungian meaning) and time-tested. Tarot is ripe for storytelling, whether for our own personal stories or fictional ones. Still, I expect that the staunch secular materialist will have trouble with this argument. Beyond unscientific mysticism, the secular materialist’s problem with Tarot is that he can’t see his life symbolically, because he fundamentally believes his life has no meaning, neither a Fate nor a Destiny (and this often makes said people bad at telling stories!).

Hampton’s digital photo collages offer an opportunity to think over these kinds of issues. How do we face spiritual practices we don’t believe in? Can we find importance in these practices through some other avenue, like psychology or literature? And can we scrutinize our own belief systems or do we remain somewhat blind to our own beliefs? Whatever your predisposition to Tarot, whether a believer or a skeptic; use these collages as a chance to try and see it from the other point of view.

Lisa Hampton’s Tragic Fantastic is on display again on Sept. 7, 2012 at SGI Buddhist Center, 1804 Broadway Street Kansas City, MO. 64108.

Lisa Hampton, Severs Her Own Head, 2012, archival digital print, © Lisa Hampton.

Lisa Hampton, Magic Man, 2012, archival digital print, © Lisa Hampton.

 

Lisa Hampton, Enlightenment, 2012, archival digital print.