In periods of uncertainty, people have always turned to those who communicate with the spirit world and the divine for guidance and reassurance. As the world has grappled with the permeating affects of the year that was 2020, we have all sought to find meaning, hope and solace in an attempt to navigate these strange and surreal times.
Like all forms of communication during Covid-19, the psychic experience has been delivered through the virtual, such as zoom consultations and mobile phone Apps. Absent in this mediation is the theatricality, flamboyance and entertainment of the fortune-teller, as commanded through the likes of the infamous spiritualist Helen Duncan and her ectoplasmic séances (c.1920s), the Puerto Rican TV celebrity Astrologer Walter Mercado (c. 1970s-90s), and the US’s spectacle infomercials Psychic Friends Network, hosted by singer Dionne Warwick (c. 1980s-90s).
It is the performative nature of the fortune-teller that makes them so persuasive, yet paradoxically, this illusion exposes their dubious nature. Capable of generating optimism while also praying on the vulnerable, those who claim communication with the supernatural have always offered an alternative voice and are therefore a representation of power and contestation.
The fortune-teller thus signifies the contemporary condition and is a (gothic) symbol of our times: our political polarisation; increased lack of confidence in a supposed democratic system, and most poignantly; the fear and insecurity felt for our individual and collective future. All you need is a telephone and an open mind (2020) responds to some of these contradictions, examining the reassurance and suspicion of not just of the fortune-teller, but our collective belief in a fixed and imagined future.