Mauretania and Psychetecture

Here’s a gallery of printed materials from my Mauretania collection.

After the success of the Penguin book in 1990, Chris Reynolds and Paul Harvey mounted a series of exhibitions and events, to publicise the book and promote their ideas about “Psychetecture”. These took place in 1992 and 1993, and they appeared at Freud’s in London and Freud’s in Oxford, the Newcastle Arts Centre, The Brain Club in Wardour Street (a techno hangout run by Mark Wigan), and the Pull-It festival in Camden NW1.

A Psychetecture exhibition was more like an art installation. One of these images shows Paul Harvey posing before a gigantic Reynolds panel, showing a cityscape and a caption implying “I may have been Dr Universalis”. Both artists felt that they had reached the limits of what they could express in comic-strip form “where the need for a plot was paramount”, and they developed the idea of Psychetecture – not paintings, not wordless comics, but short pieces designed to be shown on the walls, rather than read in a book. Narrative elements weren’t displaced altogether, but the artists did want to foster “contemplative attention” in the gallery space. There was also a yearning to return to, and express, childhood feelings.

“Psychic phenomena possess a reality which is greater than that of physical phenomena.”
“Biographical events only become real when we relate them to others.”
“There is also an “other” Psychetecture of which we know nothing.”

I suppose anyone who’s ever read Mauretania Comics already knows and understands much of this, but these Psychetecture materials indicate the artists were making a bid for another dimension of artistic recognition, outside of the comics world. This is reflected in the interviews quoted in the Northern Events free art magazine, which also provides interesting biographical information about Chris and Paul. Interestingly, it seems Psychetecture might not have had much to do with Psycho-Geography, an approach which Iain Sinclair applied when walking around London, as reflected in his 1997 book Lights Out For The Territory.

The works of Phil Laskey and Carol Swain are also represented in these endeavours. I see I collected a ticket for an event called “Comics: Art Or Trash?”, where Carol Swain would “slug it out” with Mauretania Comics. Without doubt this is a tongue-in-cheek reference to the exhibition High and Low: Modern Art and Popular Culture which was held around the same time (1990-91) at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Among the printed goodies the artists created for these events, we have a Mauretania beermat, a bookmark with a printed cocktail recipe, some stickers (“Mauretania: The Empire State Building of Comics”), and my personal favourite – a flyer which was completely hand-drawn and hand-lettered by Chris Reynolds, where the head of Monitor is floating like the moon in the sky and saying “Please come: It’ll mean so much to me and my mother.”