Wednesday, 30 December 2009

A salon of attractive strangeness

Friend of Psychopraxis, the bastion of weirdness and peculiarity, Strange Attractor, is celebrating 9 years of fantastical art-science with a salon featuring some of the contributors to its many festivals, gigs and publications. Anyone with an eye for the other should drift their way on over to Hackney in London for a month-long banquet of the bizarre.

The first Strange Attractor Salon will be held at Viktor Wynd Fine Art (incorporating The Little Shoppe of Horrors), 11 Mare Street, London, UK, E8 4RP, between 7 and 31 January 2010.

The exhibition will gather together, for the first time, a selection of art and illustration from Strange Attractor’s contributors, friends, allies and inspirations.

Like our books and events the Salon will incorporate a wide range of media (painting, drawing, photography, sculpture, sound and video) from both trained and untrained artists. The assembled exhibitors all share Strange Attractor’s fascinations with inner space, craft, science (natural and unnatural) and the fantastic.

Confirmed contributing artists are:

Joel Biroco * Richard Brown * Ossian Brown * John Coulthart * Rod Dickinson * Disinformation * Tessa Farmer *Blue Firth * Alison Gill * Doug Harvey * Josephine Harvatt * Stewart Home * Julian House * Ali Hutchinson * Alyssa Joye * Maud Larsson John Lundberg * Eleanor Morgan * Drew Mulholland * Katie Owens * Edwin Pouncey * Arik Roper * Gavin Semple * Martin Sexton * Catharyne Ward * Eric Wright *

More details

Image: Detail from The Electrochemical Glass (1997-2009) by Richard Brown, a living artwork that will be on display during the salon.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Government finally admits to abandoning reason on the drugs issue

Imagine you are seated at a table with two bowls in front of you. One contains peanuts, the other tablets of the illegal recreational drug MDMA (ecstasy). A stranger joins you, and you have to decide whether to give them a peanut or a pill. Which is safest?

You should give them ecstasy, of course. A much larger percentage of people suffer a fatal acute reaction to peanuts than to MDMA.

This, of course, is only a thought experiment; nobody would consider doing it for real. But it puts the risks associated with ecstasy in context with others we take for granted. Yes, ecstasy is dangerous and people who take it are putting their lives on the line. But the danger needs to be put in perspective”*

(*taken from a New Scientist editorial by Prof. Nutt entitled "Drugs drive politicians out of their minds")

Unfortunately, the scientist who put forward this bold but reasoned statement, based on an intense scientific analysis of the evidence for the harms associated with MDMA, was recently sacked from his Government position for stating this and similar claims. Prof. David Nutt, was forced to resign last week from his post as chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) by the home secretary Alan Johnson, after supposedly stepping over the line as a scientific advisor by refusing to keep quiet about the truth. Accused of campaigning instead of advising by Johnson, Nutt stated that his position as an independent advisor was severely compromised because the Government wished the ACMD to support their politically-led policy regardless of the scientific evidence.

Three more scientific advisors in the ACMD today resigned following Nutt’s sacking. Read Nutt’s latest response “Government’s should get real on drugs” in the New Scientist here. Read the important Lancet paper co-published by Nutt that reviewed the perceived dangers of 20 common drugs, both legal and illegal, according to a wide panel of experts. This categorisation clearly shows that both ecstasy and LSD are considered less dangerous than alcohol, indicating the current controlled drugs classification system is a farce and a mess. Science and sense must prevail over politics and prejudice! Please join the campaign to have Prof. Nutt reinstated by signing the petition, and join one of the Facebook groups. Also check out the "Nice People" Take Drugs cards by Release.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Taking the mush out of mushrooms: Forthcoming Letcher lecture

Attempting to unravel some of the mycelial-like myths and mysteries that pop up in the mush surrounding the magic mushroom, Dr Andy Letcher will be deconstructing the cultural history constructed around fungal cultures this month at the Ecology, Cosmos and Consciousness lecture series. See you all down the rabbit hole on Tuesday, 24th November at the October Gallery for a reinvigorating mycophilic gathering in true salon style.

Making Sense of Magic Mushrooms

Dr Andy Letcher

October Gallery, 24 Old Gloucester Street, London, WC1N 3AL

(Tel: 44 (0)20 7831 1618). – email: rentals AT

RSVP so that we can anticipate numbers – Please book in advance by credit card to guarantee a place or pay on the door.

Entry £7 /£5 Concessions, Arrive 6pm for a 6:30pm Start - Wine available

For those who have encountered magic mushrooms, the psilocybin experience is like an ancient codex whose glyphs are at once baffling and clear. To make sense of it, each person must perform an act of translation or interpretation by which the strange is rendered familiar. But how should this be done? In the post-war period alone an original psychological framework has given way to that of mysticism, itself replaced in turn by the language of shamanism.

In this talk, Andy Letcher will encourage us to move away from the mushroom experience itself – the usual province of trip-lit –, to a consideration of how it has been interpreted throughout history. For, contrary to received wisdom, very few cultures have decoded the mushroom as we do. Along the way he will ask whether magic mushrooms bring genuine transcendence, or if the experiences they occasion forever bound by culture.

Andy Letcher is a freelance writer, academic lecturer and folk musician living in Oxford, UK. He lectures at Oxford Brookes University and Bath Spa University on subjects as diverse as neo-Paganism, shamanism, and theory in the Study of Religion. He is the author of the critically acclaimed Shroom: A Cultural History of the Magic Mushroom and Mad Thoughts on Mushrooms: Discourse and Power in the Study of Psychedelic Consciousness, published in the journal Anthropology of Consciousness. Known for his iconoclastic style, and with doctorates in both Ecology and the Study of Religion, he challenges us to question received wisdom about psychedelics and psychedelic history. A prolific song-writer, tunesmith and exponent of English Bagpipes, he fronts psych-folk band, Telling the Bees.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Vicious savages or progessive primitives?

Many moderns will have you believe that urban sprawls are far safer than sparse deserts in terms of intra-species violence, and yet indigenous peoples, hunter gathers and shamanic tribes have long been held to offer wisdom on how to live harmoniously with Nature and one’s neighbours. What’s the reality of our so-called civilization in a war-torn age?

My good friend over at Dreamflesh, the writer, raconteur and cerebrally named Gyrus, is launching his new book exploring these very themes, War and the Noble Savage, and will simultaneously be pondering on the podium at the October Gallery on Tuesday 27th October, provoking us to consider our primal nature past, present and future. Please join us at the Ecology, Cosmos and Consciousness lecture series for this event and every last Tuesday of the month for wine, wit and some wanging on in true salon style.

October Gallery, 24 Old Gloucester Street, London, WC1N 3AL

(Tel: 44 (0)20 7831 1618). – email: rentals AT

RSVP so that we can anticipate numbers – Please book in advance by credit card to guarantee a place or pay on the door.

Entry £7 /£5 Concessions, Arrive 6pm for a 6:30pm Start - Wine available

The Ecology, Cosmos and Consciousness lecture series presents:

War, Ecology and the Noble Savage – with Gyrus

Over the past couple of decades there's been a wave of revisionism, in academia and popular books, attempting to upend the hoary old idealization of the Noble Savage. From Steven Pinker's suggestion that the world today is, relatively speaking, more peaceful than it's ever been, to Steven LeBlanc's claim that no indigenous culture has ever lived sustainably, the idea that civilization itself is the source of all our ills has taken a battering.

Having just ploughed through much of the recent literature to satisfy his own curiosity, Gyrus has written a new work analyzing this recent debate, and tonight hopes to guide you through this thicket of polemics, false ideals, and dodgy statistics. Starting with a fresh look at the roots of this ideological battle in the ideas of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Thomas Hobbes, we'll go through the behind-the-scenes stories of recent scholarship.

Is the murder rate among the !Kung, the "harmless people", really higher than that of New York? Is conservation something that only the modern world has practiced? What can we actually know about the 94% of our species' existence spent as hunter-gatherers? And will Gyrus give answers, or just ask more questions? Come along and find out...

Gyrus is an independent publisher, free range scholar, and freelance web developer. In the 1990s he edited and published the rather acclaimed journal Towards 2012, and while doing so grew pretty bored of the whole 2012 thing. He may have to u-turn on this quite soon in order to cash in. His main interests are prehistoric art and culture, altered states, occultism, and everything in-between. He recently published his first collection of essays, Archaeologies of Consciousness, and abandoned the rather acclaimed journal Dreamflesh after one issue to focus on "a book". He gets by pretty well in London.

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Halloween and the paranormal

Academic interest in the odd, anomalous and outright paranormal seems to be continually growing. Hannah Gilbert, doctoral student at the Anomalous Experiences Research Unit, University of York, has organised a one-day conference entitled Exploring the Extraordinary, to be held on Halloween, of course. The entire day is spookily inexpensive at just £15 (£10 for concessions) and can be booked though Hannah (heg104 AT .uk). The line up too looks good, with two talks on drugs and the paranormal alone, I’ll be giving one of them (the talks) as usual, so hope to see you there.

Exploring the Extraordinary

10am-5pm, 31st October, 2009

W222, Wentworth College, Heslington Road, University of York

Cyberpsychics: Subjective experiences of psychic readings on the internet
Tamlyn Ryan, University of York

Discarnate entities and dimethyltryptamine (DMT): Psychopharmacology, phenomenology and ontology
David Luke, University of Greenwich

Spirits and spirits: Seeing ghosts under the influence
Paul Cowdell, University of Hertfordshire

Ambassadors of spirit

Tony Hegarty, Liverpool John Moores University

Science, pseudoscience and the demarcation problem
Ian Kidd, University of Durham

Reproducing anomalous experiences in the laboratory: A review of some recent research developments in parapsychology
Chris Roe, University of Northampton

Art: L’Ange by Gérard Quenum; Photo: Jonathan Greet