Raise a Toast

UCL Art Museum Seance: The Spirit of Slade Ladies Past, 1 February 2018.

Artist Nir Segal and I toasted spiced bread alongside a séance performed at the museum by Tai Shani, for the event, The Spirit of Slade Ladies Past, and headed with the audience to the UCL observatory to Raise a Toast. Amongst the cohort of Slade’s class of 1918, many had a keen interest in spiritualism and the occult.

The practice of drinking a ‘toast’ goes back to the late 17th century, and is said to have originated in naming a woman whose health the company was requested to drink, the idea was that her spirit flavoured the drink like the pieces of spiced toast, that were formerly dropped in to flavour the wine.

Nir and I made a stamp to mark spiced bread to read ‘make a toast’ which would ‘appear’ when the bread was toasted. We toasted all the bread in the museum as people entered – unexplained burning smells have a well-documented folk history with the paranormal. After the séance performance, we gave out the toast in paper bags stamped to instruct invited guests to join us in the old UCL Observatory and dip their spiced toast into wine, and make a public toast to a woman of their choosing, and drink the flavoured wine.

There was a magical celebratory feel in the Observatory, and the activity enabled me to think about spices and character, gender embodiment, and ‘active ingredients’, through the performance of transubstantiation in religion and the occult, and the role of the senses in becoming other.