'In the quiet confines of the hypnotherapist's office, I would lie on a couch and slowly drift under to the measured pace of a guided meditation. After a while I felt like I was entering a dream space where I would see images as if watching a movie. Like in dreams, everything made some sort of sense and I was aware and confident in the internal world I inhabited. I knew more or less who I was and I had an inkling of what I was doing there. With long pauses to take in the scenes, I described, aloud, the things I saw. Naturally, this process of translating what I saw into words is a subjective and partial one. When you hear me say, "I am a young girl. I bite my fingernails. It's a very cold morning and I'm on my way to school", you don't sense the billowing vapours coming from the steam engine as I wait on the platform. Or see my wet dress and frayed mittens. The spoken words now serve to ignite the listener's own imagination. After each session, lasting up to two hours, I would awake exhausted.'
James Webb's Autohagiography incorporates audio recordings of the artist undergoing sessions of past-life hypnotic regression over a period of two years. Motivated by 'a desire to scrutinise myself under unfamiliar conditions', Webb found himself narrating scenarios which he understood to have taken place across the globe and the breadth of human history. Identifiable locations included the Roman occupation of Britain, feudal Japan, pre-Latin America, Edwardian England and post-Great War Poland. The scenes rarely involved climactic events, tending rather towards the quotidian, allowing Webb to observe the textures and details of the world around him. These are relayed to the listener in the flat, affectless voice of the subject under hypnosis, implying the disjuncture that exists between his 'world' and ours. As in the sessions themselves only fragments of lives are described; they run into each other, end abruptly or fade out.
Webb's meticulously crafted edit of his recordings is installed, via small speakers, in the headrest of a leather chaise longue that evokes the psychologist's couch, with its associations of confession and catharsis. The listener, assuming the posture of the subject of the therapeutic process, finds him or herself intimately positioned to receive Webb's own 'confessions', which he describes as a 'remix of my subconscious' and a 'supernatural, sonic self-portrait'.
The title of the work makes reference to The Confessions of Aleister Crowley: An Autohagiography. Crowley the occultist and his system of 'magick' are important influences on Webb's oeuvre, but the artist - a self-described agnostic - has his tongue firmly in his cheek when he declares that 'I have proven myself to have died and been reborn, and therefore take my position as a saint'.
© 2007 Michael Stevenson. All rights reserved.