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''Aetheric'' - The art of Byzantia Harlow

At Yamamoto Keiko Rochaix Gallery, you will find the exhibition 'Aetheric,' the solo exhibition by Byzantia Harlow. This marks the second solo show for the emerging UK artist, showcasing her exploration of spirituality and healing processes. I am pleased to have sat down with her in the gallery and conducted an interview. Read the full interview as a guide to delve into the depths of her world and art.



Byzantia Harlow at the opening of ''Aetheric'' exhibition.


How would you describe your art in a few words ?


I love the way Art Historian Meg Boulton wrote about my work as “opening the door to both possible enlightenment and potential (dis)illusionment”.


What is the role of spirituality and healing in your work?


I consider intuition and spirituality to be closely aligned with creativity. For instance, when I channel as a psychic, I enter a similar state of mind as when I am creating art. There's a common experience of losing track of time and becoming absorbed in the process. It feels like artists are conduits for something greater, connecting to the collective unconscious or the quantum field. Ideas seem to flow through us, and we are compelled to express them – a process akin to spiritual manifestation.

There is a story of the singer Prince waking up in the middle of the night with an idea for a track, and calling people into the recording studio to get it recorded immediately. He suggested that if they didn't create it right then, someone else, like Michael Jackson, may get the idea. I like this understanding of creative ideas being part of a Zeitgeist that may manifest through different individuals at the same time, across space.

I believe in the potential of art in facilitating a transitional space, shared encounter and allowing personal and collective transformation. I feel humans have retained an inbuilt magical thinking within increasing secularism and that because of this we feel a gap that was once filled by the spiritual or sublime. This gap can be filled by many things, including artworks. As humans we need hope and faith. We look for patterns to create meaning from (the feared) meaninglessness of the unknowable.

In my own practice, a sound work titled 'Take What Resonates'(2021), reflects on this desire to find meaning. This work is a collection of audio readings I received from psychics edited in such a way that all the predictions which came to pass or felt accurate at the time form a soundscape. In a way it is enacting the phenomenon of Confirmation Bias.  The result is a sound work which is both personal to but also universal, and may resonate with viewer. This soundscape plays in the lower gallery at my current exhibition 'Aetheric' at Yamamoto Keiko Rochaix. Many of the Psychic Readings I received advised me to explore my own Psychic abilities, which is something I do as a career in tandem to my art practice now, as a result. Interestingly, the Psychic Readers I consulted also foresaw me creating a tarot deck, a new tarot deck is the basis for my exhibition 'Aetheric'.

This revelation affirmed a deeper connection to a path I may have always been destined to follow. The presence of tarot in my family's history, stemming from an ancient Italian heritage deeply rooted in alchemical texts, further reinforces this sense of destiny. This intertwining of spirituality and creativity has been a recurring theme in my work. The exploration of spirituality in my previous show with Yamamoto Keiko Rochaix titled 'From the same source I have not taken' (2018) marked a significant step in this journey.



Byzantia Harlow, Aetheric, exhibition view, source: yamamotokeiko.com Photo copywrites -Alexander Christie

How much time did you invest in completing the 'Aetheric Tarot' deck for this exhibition, can you tell us about the whole artistic process?


The creation of the deck was quite an intricate process. I began sketching the draft drawings more than a year ago, refining and redrawing them multiple times until I felt they were just right. The characters of the deck are inspired by real people and the drawings were done at specific times that correlate to their meanings. The final culmination of this process took place in a month-long ritual leading up to the show. It was during this period that I revisited and perfected each drawing, resulting in the final images that are displayed around the gallery. These drawings were finally scanned, edited and then printed to form the Aetheric Tarot deck editions. The draft sketches which informed the final drawings were burnt within a ritual once the deck was complete. 

The sculptural installation in the lower gallery space titled ' Phoenix (this my wish, in ash, my new moon, bloom)' (2023) rests on a bed of paper ash from these burnt draft drawings. The repeated revisions and the act of recreating each drawing contributed to the ritualistic nature of the deck's creation. There are also secret sigils drawn within some of the cards, to imbue them with spell work. These sigils are hidden but sit alongside the obvious alchemical symbols in the drawings. Symbols which denote the Four Elements contained within traditional tarot decks (Fire, Water, Air and Earth) as well an additional Fifth Element, particular to my deck. My deck has seven extra cards (in addition to the traditional 78 arcana cards) and these extra cards represent the Aetheric element. 

The planning of the cards was done well in advance, allowing me to execute the final drawings in a condensed timeframe leading up to the show. This unique and somewhat unconventional process involved a prolonged gestation period followed by an intense burst of creativity. One notable aspect is the handwritten guidebook which accompanies the deck. I wrote it all in a single night, as a ritual. The handwritten approach maintains a connection with the creative process and allowed the writing to flow through me in channelled manner. A spiritual transmission that adds depth to the deck.

My father trained as a Jungian psychoanalyst and is also highly intuitive himself. He collaborated on part of the accompanying guide, writing the meanings for the Major Arcana cards, through the lens of Jung’s Alchemical understanding - relating it to the development of the psyche and the process of individuation. Some symbols in the tarot and alchemy share a common metaphysical origin.

Creating the guide was a ritual in itself, which was completed by burning the original hand written pages, once I had scanned them for printing purposes. The entire process, from inception to execution, was a blend of artistic creativity and spiritual ritual.


Could you share more details about the alchemical process mentioned in the creation of the deck and how it relates to the phoenix symbolism?


The deck I created is essentially based on the four elements: fire, water, air and earth - plus the fifth Aetheric element. On a symbolic level, the deck embodies all five elements, which are intricately woven into its design.  

Fire, a powerful element representing release, intention-setting and renewal, is present in the burnt ashes. But also in the symbolism of the phoenix, a creature that consumes itself in flames to rise anew.

The medium chosen for the original drawings, watercolor and ink, further integrates the elemental symbolism, with water being a prominent component. 

These works were created on paper, which captures the essence earth, as a product of trees. 

During the creation of the Aetheric Tarot deck edition, I engaged in various rituals to infuse it with a holistic energy. Palo Santo, representing the element of air, was used for smudging the original guide before it was burnt.

The inclusion of these elements serves not only as a thematic foundation but also as a nod to their inherent energies. The ritualistic acts ensured that the deck was infused with the qualities of each element. In essence, the deck is a harmonious convergence of the elemental forces, a tangible expression of their influence on the creative and spiritual journey undertaken in its making. 

Aether, the fifth element or quintessence in alchemy, remains unchanged unlike the other four elements (fire, water, air and earth) which are perpetually variable. It is the Aetheric which holds the four elements together, a spiritual constant, adding spiritual quality to the physical world.

'Phoenix', the principal work for the lower gallery, is a symbol of rebirth, resilience and fortitude - linking to karmic cycles of life, death and rebirth. The Philosopher's Stone, the goal of alchemy, is often described as a phoenix because the Stone is notoriously deep red and undergoes a transmutation through fire. 



Byzantia Harlow Aetheric. Installation view of the Aetheric Tarot, source: yamamotokeiko.com Photo taken by -Alexander Christie

How do you feel about this exhibition 'Aetheric’? What was the intention when you decided to come back into this space? 


I'm incredibly pleased with how this exhibition turned out. In contrast to my usual sensorial and immersive installations, I intentionally opted for a more pared-back approach this time. The focus is purely on the works, allowing the power of the archetypal images to speak for themselves. While my prior shows have left visitors awestruck by the spectacle I've created (such as filling a gallery space with ten tonnes of earth, shaped to resemble a lunar surface), this one actually feels more powerful to me. The ground floor gallery space exudes a sense of purity, lacking the usual theatrics but still delivering a strong experience, one that viewers can interact with more or less as they feel comfortable. The display can be glanced at as a whole body of images quickly, or can be discovered slowly, through exploration close up with the details of each drawing. I intentionally hung the majority of the drawings at eye level and in a way that allows them to feel intimate when viewed individually. A lot of people have had quite strong reactions to some of the images, feeling they almost had a power to manifest what they depict. They almost seemed afraid to look at them too long - usually the more 'difficult' cards of the deck, such as the Three of Swords which depicts a broken heart, or the Seven of Swords which shows a betrayal, for example. I think the drawings have an innate power to them through the process of their creation. With that in mind I tried to make even the more 'difficult' cards empowering without diminishing the archetypal meanings they embody. 

I believe this is my strongest and most mature show to date. The finished Aetheric Tarot deck, in particular, carries a profound energy, and utilizing it in Readings feels genuinely powerful. 

Returning to exhibit at the gallery was a deliberate choice because I value working with Keiko, finding her to be incredibly nurturing. As I mentioned the previous show we did together 'From the same source I have not taken' (2018) marked the first time I explicitly explored spirituality in my art practice, after heavily researching several spiritual groups. That exhibition was very successful and I felt it was appropriate to return to the space with a new perspective around these themes. The result is a show that feels not only evolved but also deeply rooted and resonant.


Could you lead us through the exhibition setting, and were you directly involved in the curation of the space?


I intentionally aimed for a pared-back feel in this exhibition, creating a space with a lot of room and a sense of purity. I wanted the ground floor gallery space to be straightforward, presenting the original drawings, grouped in their elements and responding suits. In the lower gallery, however, I sought to introduce an unexpected and more mystical feeling. This transition starts with the lighting on the stairs which take you down, I changed this to a deep purple colour, which signals a transition into a different space as you descend - a liminal zone. The sculpture downstairs, standing as a singular, individually crafted piece, has a powerful and pure presence. Its creation took a lot of time, each feather on the phoenix being hand modeled, and it emanates a unique beauty, complemented by carefully designed lighting. 

Visitors can engage their senses, experiencing the smell of ashes, adding another layer to the immersive experience. The sound work 'Take What Resonates' (2021) is available for those who want to sit on the bench, but it can also serve as an ethereal backdrop for those exploring the space. It can also be heard in full on my website for those who wish to delve into it without distraction. 

I'm an artist who curates the space they show within. Whether it is an immersive installation, or a display of works on paper, I am very particular about the flow of the space. My familiarity with this space allowed me to have a clear vision from the start. This exhibition, with its distinctive upstairs and downstairs dynamics, aligns perfectly with my intended vision.


Byzantia Harlow the '' Phoenix '' (this is my wish, in ash. by new moon, bloom) 2023 source: yamamotokeiko.com Photo by Alexander Christie


Can you tell us about your work ‘Phoenix (this my wish, in ash, by new moon, bloom)’, including its concept, and explain how the idea of birth and rebirth resonates with you?


I had a near-death experience as a child and I believe that it plays a significant role in my interest in spirituality. Alongside that, I've encountered various paranormal phenomena, including seeing ghosts. My work extends to being a Psychic Medium, allowing me to communicate with departed souls. Witnessing others go through near-death experiences has further shaped my perspective.

The concept of rebirth, whether interpreted literally as reincarnation or symbolically as phases in our lives, holds a profound beauty for me. Life, in its cyclical nature, involves completing and initiating new cycles. 

Creating the phoenix occurred during a period when I felt like I was rebuilding myself, emphasizing the transformative power of such experiences. In the broader context, considering the current state of the world, the phoenix becomes a symbol of hope and renewal. The phoenix represents a notion of cultural and ecological cataclysm. In mythology, 'when the time was right' the phoenix built a pyre and focused the sun's rays, being simultaneously immolated and renewed, heralding a new epoch. 

 In times of significant destruction, there's a collective need for rebuilding, and the phoenix embodies the possibility of renewal emerging from challenging moments.


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Photographs copywrites belong to Alexander Christie. Source: YamamotoKeikoRochaix

Photographs copywrites of the artist belong to Byzantia Harlow.


Byzantia Harlow

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