The title of this installation sounds like a spell, but what will actually be conjured up? According to the “Merriam-Webster Dictionary”, the word incantation derives directly from the Latin “incantare” (to enchant), which itself has “cantare” (to sing) at its root. This reminds us that magic and rituals have always been associated with chanting and music. In the “Encyclopaedia of Shamanism” (C. Pratt, 2007) it says that an incantation is a magical arrangement of words that has the power to manipulate actions.
In the exhibited shadow puppets, some visitors may recognize one of the ten iconic inkblots published in 1921 by the Swiss psychiatrist, Hermann Rorschach. The Rorschach test, a controversial psychological test, became highly popular in the USA from the 1930s, also among anthropologists during fieldwork.
The verbal instructions given by an anthropologist to the subject at the start of the Rorschach test were standardized to some degree. He would say something along these lines: What I am going to show is a set of ten cards on which are printed inkblots, some black and white, some using colour. Different people see different things in these cards. Did you ever look at clouds and imagine what they could be? That’s what it is. I’ll show you the first card and just tell me what you see.
There were no rules for how to answer. The subject was in fact encouraged to feel that all answers were good answers. And as the subject advanced to describe what he or she saw on the cards, the examiner meticulously recorded it.
From various Rorschach protocols – the written reports of all oral responses given by one or more subjects to each of the ten inkblots – Ana Torfs created an English language script consisting of 120 song texts for six voices. She selected fragments of protocols dating from between 1938 and 1981 that were recorded by anthropologists on the island of Alor (then a Dutch colony in present-day Indonesia), in Native American Reservations, in Japan, Algeria and China, but also fragments from reports by Hermann Rorschach himself. Torfs became fascinated by this material, the poetry and the words themselves, as language and literature.
For the recordings, six women singers of different ages made musical improvisations, based on a Javanese translation of Torfs’ script. The ten Rorschach inkblots were translated by Javanese craftsmen into shadow puppets and brought to life by Nanang Hape, a young puppeteer from Jakarta.