Sometimes you have to listen to the higher powers, and to the artists. The exhibition Every Artist came out of a trip to the Sydney Biennale in 2020. We were in discussions with curator Sue Cramer about bringing Hilma af Klint’s paintings to City Gallery as part of an Australasian tour. This prospect sounded (and still sounds) totally audacious, a dream project. Like the paintings of this turn-of-the-twentieth-century artist/mystic, the exhibition had to be kept a secret—until last week when the announcement was made. But it was all-consuming, and there was another exhibition to develop.

First stop was a book launch for Sydney artist Agatha Gothe-Snape’s The Outcome is Certain (Perimeter Books, 2020). Leafing through the book, I landed immediately on a favourite project I had not thought about for a while—Every Artist Remembered—a collaborative, conversational mapping of an artist-written art history which Gothe-Snape has enacted with invited participants for a decade or so. That section of the book swells with page after page with images of even more pages that were once pinned to a gallery wall and used to capture/chart/draw/map the names of artists recalled and exchanged between Gothe-Snape and each of her collaborators over a two hour period. It is an art history which starts small–with a single utterance and a scrawled name, but morphs exponentially across the page, and then across the wider series, to become something far more slippery.

Something strange happened at that book launch. The name Hilma af Klint telescoped off the pages. Other names blurred and receded, time seemed to slow down. It felt as though some sort of revelation was been made amongst the chatter and the cheese. Call it what you will: exhaustion, positive visualisation, lazy curating, wish fulfillment, a Maureen Cartwright/Personal Shopper moment, a message from above. We all have to be open to af Klint’s insistence that she was channeling higher forces. It is what propelled her to generate such an extraordinary body of work. And, once you do, signs and messages start appearing everywhere. I took this experience as a positive omen for the af Klint project in Australasia. The outcome seemed certain.

Af Klint tuned me back into Gothe-Snape’s project, and vice versa. The exhibition Every Artist started to take shape like one of those performance drawings, with its namesake project at the centre. Af Klint is present in Gothe-Snape’s project. Hers was the first name recalled by Laresa Kosloff during the second iteration of the project in 2011. It floats high and proud on the page. Beneath it sits ‘Kasmir Malevich’. Since the rules of this procedural project demand that each exchanged name must relate in some way to that one that went before, this is presumably Gothe-Snape’s reply to Kosloff’s opening gambit. Those old art historical relationships are instantly overturned. Af Klint comes first, Malevich—one of those long-celebrated ‘inventors’ of modern abstraction—follows. And, as if to rub it in, Gothe-Snape misspells his first name. The project embraces misspellings, mistakes, and omissions as stand-ins for the faulty workings of memory and art history. Here, they correct them. Af Klint is awarded her correct place in the constellation.

Agatha Gothe-Snape, Every Artist Remembered with Laresa Kosloff, 2011

It would be a convenient lie to claim that af Klint is awarded a greater status than other artists across the entire project. But her presence does signal how the recent reassessment of her achievement has, in many ways, been led by contemporary artists calling or even willing her work to prominence in their own. It was, after all, artist R. H. Quaytman who curated the first US survey of af Klint’s work in 1981. What Every Artist Remembered makes clear is that af Klint’s name is now at the centre of the discussion. There she is, sandwiched between the neo-naturalists and Cory Arcangel in Every Artist Remembered with Richard Grayson. Susan Jacobs’s iteration formally aligns af Klint and New Zealand artist Len Lye—strangely foreshadowing a 2019 clothing line by Dries Van Noten inspired by these two artists.

Every Artist Remembered speaks to this power of artists to live on through other artists and art works via acts of remembrance, invocation, or homage—which can transport them across time, space, cultures, and histories. Which all starts to circle back to af Klint’s very different method of channelling other presences or forces through art. Her spirit guides weren’t artists as such (well, not in the way that the hand of British spiritualist Georgiana Houghton was guided by Titian and Correggio amongst other spirit entities).

When seen in this company, Gothe-Snape’s project can start to feel a little like af Klint’s work with The Five—a group of women artists who met regularly for sessions of automatic writing and drawing as a way to bring forth messages from higher powers. Both tune into another being to extract hidden information. The act of scribing is central to both processes—Gothe-Snape’s posca pen replacing the psychograph of the Five. Both prioritise collaborative exchange between artists, and some form of automatism, as ways to reach beyond individual consciousness and tap into something larger in order to break outside of enforced conditions and histories (Every Artist Remembered started as an attempt to question the absence of women artists in official accounts of Australian art history).

There is a photograph of the room where the Five conducted their séances. A print of Raphael’s Sistine Madonna hangs on the wall.  The artist is present, again. Suddenly the work of the Five starts to circle Gothe-Snape’s project. Might the print be less a gesture of devotion than an acknowledgement of an earlier artist who was able to translate the divine—a Gothe-Snape-like act of remembrance? There are no surviving photographs of The Five at work. As a placeholder, we could do worse than the documentation of Gothe-Snape’s performance at the Frieze Art Fair in 2017 with Keiken, the Berlin-London art collective pushing the potential of collaboration to envision new futures. The four women artists sit together deep in discussion. They block out the art fair going on around them, projecting themselves elsewhere through collaborative making.

Agatha Gothe-Snape, Every Artist Remembered with Keiken, 2017, London:Frieze Art Fair

Reflecting on her participation in Gothe-Snape’s project, Mikala Dwyer commented that there were moments when the two felt ‘psychically connected’.[1] The acknowledgment of this charge is unsurprising considering Dwyer is one of the most prominent Australasian artists working with the occult (an earlier wall painting/spell at City Gallery invoked and entwined the artistic presences of Rosaleen Norton and Aleister Crowley). Its perhaps more surprising that Dwyer did not recall af Klint’s name. Perhaps some histories are best kept hidden. Others might argue that certain practices should be too. While agreeing to participate in Gothe-Snape’s project, Australian sculptor Ron Robertson-Swan was ‘dubious of the exercise and contemporary art at large, but generous enough to carry out the task’.[2] His dismissal of the performance as a ‘parlour game’ throws us right back to those secret sessions undertaken by The Five over a century ago, and the ways that spiritualist practices have been dismissed over time as frivolous play. Both The Five and Gothe-Snape’s work demonstrate that ‘mere’ parlour games can bring forth new possibilities.

Mikala Dwyer, Balancing Spell for a Corner (Aleister and Rosaleen), 2017, City Gallery Wellington

Gothe-Snape’s project is procedural and performative, meditative and ritualistic, somehow both new and old—in the way that af Klint’s is somehow both old and new. It is such convergences between the contemporary and the historical and the conceptual and the spiritual that have propelled af Klint’s work back to prominence. Her work, in turn, lets us see and experience contemporary art differently. When City Gallery opens Hilma af Klint: The Secret Paintings on December 4th, it will not be an act of remembrance. It will be an assertion of the vital importance of af Klint’s work and vision for today, as well as an acknowledgment of the recent cultural and artistic shifts that have forced this to happen. As Gothe-Snape’s project and af Klint’s reevaluation insist, art history is always waiting to be rewritten.


[1] Agatha Gothe-Snape, ‘Artist’s notes’, https://thecommercialgallery.com/artist/agatha-gothe-snape/exhibition/3/every-artist-remembered-1/artwork/198/every-artist-remembered-with-mikala-dwyer-2011-2011

[2] Agatha Gothe-Snape, ‘Artist’s notes’, https://www.thecommercialgallery.com/artist/agatha-gothe-snape/exhibition/3/every-artist-remembered-1/artwork/96/every-artist-remembered-with-ron-robertson-swann-2009-2011