A Super 8 work entirely edited in camera, and shot and processed in one day during the Spur Exchange artist residency, ‘The hex of ergot (popping corn)’ is a musing on the connection between grain, ergot (a poisonous and sometimes hallucinogenic fungus that can grow when grain is damp), the witch-hunt trials in Salem in the 1690s, and consumerism in Leeds. While popcorn and cinema have a long and well-known affinity, the Spur Exchange residency took place in the Corn Exchange, where corn and other grains used to be traded. It’s now full of shops and restaurants, and has a carefully monitored aesthetic and ambience.
My film came from a feeling that these things are all connected. More than 250 women were hanged for witchcraft in Salem because of strange behaviour that was attributed to demonic possession or witches’ curses. Modern research suggests that this was probably the result of ‘ergotism’, a toxic fungal condition caused by ingesting mouldy grain that causes hallucinations, convulsions and many other violent physical manifestations. The bright colours and gaudy trinkets in the shops in the Corn Exchange made me think of a kind of sugary, gobstopper-coloured hallucination, and prompted the thought that altered states and consumerism are closely connected.
I then started thinking about systemic candidiasis (a condition a huge number of people unwittingly suffer from), where consumption of sugar leads to an overgrowth of fungus in our bodies causing mood-swings and depression as well as many other imbalances. This then causes a sugar addiction and further deterioration, creating a vicious circle.
As for the fate of hallucinating shoppers… only time will tell!