Michael Swann

2018 - 2020

Spain; Bosnia and Herzegovina

In 1961, in the small Spanish village of San Sebastian de Garabandal, four young girls had an apparition of the Virgin Mary. They entered a state of ecstasy in which they became completely unaware of their surroundings and sensory perceptions. Reportedly, witnesses would pinch the girls, pierce their skin with needles, lift them up and drop them onto rough rocks, and yet they remained entranced. The light and presence of the Virgin is all they claim to have experienced. Twenty years later, in the town of Medjugorje, Bosnia & Herzegovina, six children also had simultaneous visions of the Virgin, with similar ecstatic qualities. ‘Noema’ represents my search for the presence of the Virgin Mary in these two locations.

Until the age of eleven I was a Catholic; I was educated at a faith-based school and attended mass with my grandmother at the weekends. My school-time lunch breaks were often spent sat in a circle with my friends, reciting the rosary. When I lost my faith I experienced little loss, but many years later I was told the story of a friend’s sister, who heard the voice of God speak to her while she was alone in her bedroom. To move from religious to non-religious felt simple, but to pass in the other direction seemed to require a substantial spiritual encounter. Perhaps I could believe once more, if I were to receive a messenger from God.

Through 'Noema' I investigate the aura of place and religious experience through photographs made in Garabandal and Medjugorje. Alongside these original photographs, 'Noema' also includes large-scale images that have been appropriated from video footage of the visionaries taken during their apparitions. These emphasise the impenetrability of the individual religious and phenomenological experience, and speaks to the separation between what is apparently being seen and what is photographable.

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