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A Pendle Investigation was in London at the Newman Street Gallery.
H. Aldous Brandisher – Tuesday, 8th January 2013
“it is focused on woman condition in ancient and modern times”
“A Pendle investigation” calls to mind many different stories by Joe Hesketh, at the Newman Street Gallery, London. Firstly, it is focused on woman condition in ancient and modern times. And in these days it on every media the women riots in India. The women condition in developing countries is astonishing. However, we should not forget that in the developed countries women achieved a different condition only recently.
“A Pendle investigation” is here to remind us those times when women were subject to appalling laws: witchcraft was a sin, punished with death. They had to fight a lot in a past that is not so far, despite cults of Mother Hearth are still alive.
Take Italy, for instance, where the 6th of January is a day of national holiday, celebrating the Befana, an old woman ugly and flying on a broom, which is connected to the Epiphany and to the Bible. In some parts of Italy, disguised people go around the villages, knocking on doors and singing and receiving back wine and food. Later they make a big fire. Children receive a sock containing candies if they have been good. But the roots of this yearly recurrence can be found in ancient tradition dating thousands of years ago, connecting with Frau Perchta and her Pre-Christian Alpine traditions.
The syncretism is evident on Christmastide, a cycle connected to many traditions including the Sol Invictus and Saturnalia festivities of the Romans, or the Samhain of the Celtics. Similar traditions can be found everywhere in the world, either called Three Kings Day or Epifania, or Three Wise Men. In the UK the Christmastide traditions refers to Mummers Plays and “guisers” (performers in disguise). Ancient Irish had similar ceremonial activities to mumming that can be traced back as far as two millennia BC.
Despite this impressive heritage, “A Pendle investigation” is focused on witches and the terrible period of the witch hunting. The words Pendle Hill recall to any English mind the worst witch trials that have ever been made in the UK.
The people of Pendle were largely faithful to their Roman Catholic beliefs. However, at the end of the 16th century, Pendle Hill was regarded by the authorities as a wild and lawless region, notorious or its theft, violence and sexual laxity.
The trials of the Pendle witches in 1612 are among the most famous witch trials in English history, and some of the best recorded of the 17th century. The twelve accused lived in the area around Pendle Hill in Lancashire, and were charged with the murders of ten people by the use of witchcraft. All but two were tried at Lancaster Assizes on 18–19 August 1612, along with the Samlesbury witches and others, in a series of trials that have become known as the Lancashire witch trials. One was tried at York Assizes on 27 July 1612, and another died in prison. Of the eleven who went to trial – nine women and two men – ten were found guilty and executed by hanging; one was found not guilty.
Nowadays, the witches have become the inspiration for Pendle’s tourism and heritage industries, with local shops selling a variety of witch-motif gifts. There is a beer called Pendle Witches Brew, and a Pendle Witch Trail running from Pendle Heritage Centre to Lancaster Castle, where the accused witches were held before their trial. Dominating the landscape, Pendle Hill continues to be associated with witchcraft, and hosts a hilltop gathering every Halloween.
In 2012, events to mark the 400th anniversary of the trials included an exhibition, “A Wonderful Discoverie: Lancashire Witches 1612–2012”, a music piece for clarinet and piano, a life-size statue by sculptor David Palmer and publications of two novellas and a poetry book. In August, a world record for the largest group dressed as witches was set by 482 people who walked up Pendle Hill, on which the date “1612” had been installed in 400-foot-tall numbers by artist Philippe Handford using horticultural fleece.
The Newman Street Gallery exhibition was inspired by these last events. To stimulate her imagination, Joe Hesketh walked the 39 miles of the Purgatory Trail that links Pendle Forest and Lancaster Castle. Doing so, she also tried to overcome her dyslexia – impeding things to stick in her brain – so walking the route it could help her memory.
Presented by Simon W. Desmond Fine Arts “A Pendle investigation” opened in London on All Hallows’ Eve 2012. It contained a series of five large paintings inspired by the witch trials.
Investigating the incarceration, trial and execution of The Pendle Witches, Hesketh captures the tragic mix of rivalry, ambition and injustice of those accused. The outbreaks of witchcraft in and around Pendle may demonstrate the extent to which people could make a living by posing as witches. Many of the allegations resulted from accusations that members of the Demdike and Chattox families made against each other, perhaps because they were in competition, both trying to make a living from healing, begging, and extortion.
The work of Joe Hesketh has a physicality improved by the stern colour and heavy layering. The paintings relate to the artist’s thought processes that her walk inspired; her feelings of depression and misery allowed her to empathise with the deprivation of the incarcerates as they headed towards the uncertainty of trial. The impressions left by her journey result in a skilfully presented, visual representation of history.
As the vibrant colour and strong texture vie with unsettling figurative forms, Hesketh’s paintings graphically illustrate the hysteria, absurdity and manipulation of evidence. Drunk, a jester-like figure, reminds us of the savage nature of those in power and their total lack of respect for humanity. While, in Wicca, a floating clown’s head whispers false evidence to the terrified, uneducated and simple-minded figure pregnant with ideas.
Hesketh has been marginalized during her infancy, so she decided to be a witch. Therefore, her pictures are also about an artist’s need to reach out to her fellow human beings.
From 31st October until 24th November 2012
At the Newman Street Gallery, Lower ground, 18 Newman Street, London, W1T 1PE