Hatch Twelve: Annette Foster

Text: Wayne Burrows
Photography: Julian Hughes

Annette Foster: Messages from the Sky

The one-to-one performance I had to slip away from Natasha Davis to attend was something of a return visit, on paper at least, to Annette Foster’s tarot-reading, as experienced one summer afternoon earlier this year aboard a stationary double-decker at the Hazard Festival in Manchester. As it turned out, though, the whole thing had been re-framed since then in ways that made the experience quite different and the new (sixties-style VW camper van) setting, use of props and costumes, the presence of a ‘guide’ and the twilight hour were all key components ensuring a separation between Messages from the Sky and its Manchester predecessor, which had gone under the slightly less cosmic title of Messages from the Big Red Bus.

From the lanterns making a path into the space to the smell of incense and flickering candlelight, the experience was strongly reminiscent of parties I’d been to while growing up in Wales, where the folksy hippy ethos hadn’t so much been displaced by subsequent youth movements like punk and eighties garage revivalism as simply merged with them and carried on its own merry way well into the nineties and beyond. The Proustian madeleine of a few joss-sticks and a set of retro curtains aside, Foster herself was now dressed in a daisy-chain head-band and early seventies maxi dress, as was her assistant (and my guide for the session) who combined similar clothes with a fake fur cape.

All of which ensured that the core of the performance (as in Manchester) was the tarot reading itself, far more blatantly ‘performed’ than the earlier manifestation, but no less revealing in its way of using the cards to reflect back the concerns of each participant. From the rituals of shuffling, dividing and laying out the deck, to the interpretations and discussions that took place over their enigmatic symbols, there is a flow and level of engagement here that pushes some way beyond most participatory experiences – even when it proved necessary to adopt and hold poses for the Hatch photographer occasionally, given that the low light meant it had been impossible to discreetly catch other sessions on the hoof, as would normally happen.

After the reading, Foster texts her interpretation to a location inside the Embrace building, where her guide leads us. The instrument of revelation turns out to be a theatrical object in itself, a reconstructed 1940s payphone, and when it rings, the voice that recites Foster’s florid lava-flow of mystic imagery and cosmic speculation is tinny and synthentic, a contrast between medium and message that ensures her reading carries all the inauthenticity of an automated customer service line and the authority of Stephen Hawking simultaneously. A few hours later, the card that had signified the outcome during our session (the Ace of Pentacles) appears miraculously in the cafe: another sign from the cosmos? Or a simple conjuring trick?


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