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" The Photograph is a Protective Chamber that safeguards the Moment and Immortalizes  the Soul ~ Joanna Gagnier"

Rituals: An altered State of Consciousness

The Rituals series comprise of five digital images in color that explores divine performances of the body and mind in an illusive space where the physical and spiritual world coalesce. Inspiration for this project is derived from Baudrillard’s essay titled “Metamorphoses, Metaphors, Metastases” where he discusses the notion of the death of transcendence. The images strive to capture positive and negative energy as the performer moves her body while integrating her physical and spiritual selves in the act during the execution of the ritual. Technical inspiration is derived from the work of Diana Thorneycroft. Thorneycroft’s exquisite depictions of nightmares are created through the creative application of light and darkness. The psychic depths of the Rituals series is evoked by means of candle light, body movement, and other dim low-light applications.

This series depicts rituals that focus on the divine (whether good or evil), perfection, wholeness, or otherworldliness. At the core of the ritual lies the notion of transcendence.  Rituals are performed for many reasons: a beauty ritual, religious rituals, voodoo rituals, or love rituals; however, the main reason for performing most rituals is to transcend to some better version of where the ritual performer finds him or her entangled within – a metamorphosis or transcendence to some better form or place, whatever the case may be. Perhaps some solution could be part for the reason of the performance of the particular ritual. Rituals can also be performed to exorcize the evil.

Baudrillard refers to dance movements where he discusses the metamorphosis of the body. A body in movement, freed from reflections, freed from metaphors or meaning: a disappearing body that defies death (Baudrillard, 1988). This death-defying ritual sequence of movement is evident in the trance-induced dances practiced in Bali. The Bali trance dances are performed to transform destructive energies of the Rangda sorceress while dancers are encased in a comatose state (Theodoridou, 2009). This altered state of consciousness is the space where the real and imaginary converge, where physical emotions and feelings of pain and discomfort is disconnected from the being, a state where transcendence controls the performance and a state where the spectacle dominates.

The ritual performer seem to compromise control of the body during this altered state, perhaps suggesting possession of the physical by a spiritual entity other than that of the original self. The original self is replaced by a stronger identity, an altered identity that is perceptually and spiritually enhanced through good or evil. The body-spirit relationship is distorted; the spirit is in exile of the body. Baudrillard points to the position of the soul in relation to the body as an exiled relationship. He further extrapolates that this exiled relationship between conceptually inseparable entities creates a comfortable distance where the separation of the body and soul is more conceivable.

The Rituals series attempt to exploit this time-space or exiled division between body and soul. The once controlled and deliberate movements of the performer strategically changes and morphs into a series of seemingly-uncontrollable renditions of being. The performer’s identity escapes, disappears, and dies as it transcends through the captured image. All that remains is the spectacle of the performance as well as the energy associated with the action. 

What happened to the identity? Where did the soul go? Baudrillard suggests that the location of being, the soul, the identity, the core of our existence is robbed from metaphysical or philosophical reasoning. Neuroscience locates the existence of the being inside the brain. The soul is encased within the cerebral system – billions of neurons control our movements (Baudrillard, 1998). We are nothing but machines. An altered state of consciousness does therefore suggest a deviation from what is perceived as “normal”, especially from a Western worldview. The machine is not operating according to programming instructions.  What went wrong? An altered state of consciousness or trance-induced state is described as hysteria (Theodoridou, 2009).  It is not normal to fail control of one’s body – it is possessed. Another entity is in control, or is it a system malfunction? The possessed body is subject to investigation. The nervous system is disturbed, the machine is broken. The psychiatric ward is filled with broken systems trained to respond in confirmation to its handicap. The soul is dead, the ritual gone.

The divine religious ritual is called upon to resurrect the fallen soul. The active participants surround the spectacle. The machine cannot repair itself. Endless chanting fills the empty space. The Divine is called upon to save the identity of the soul. The image again strives to capture this magical evasive moment. Transcendence re-occurs as the body in the center moves uncontrollably while the one entity leaves in order to clear the space for the other. The soul is saved. The machine fixed. The image attest otherwise: transcendence occurred, the soul maybe saved, but identity disappeared through the act of transcendence. 

The ritual serves as a passage between the underworld, the heavens, and the earth. The earthly soul is confronted by problems of everyday life and is seduced by the souls of the underworld therefore requiring a coping mechanism in order to retain peace. The purpose of the ritual is to excommunicate the souls of the underworld through communication with the divine souls of the heavens. This communication can occur through many forms of practice and is often ruled by culture and origin. The problem of existentialism through versions of divine communication is therefore addressed by rituals of several religious and cultural origins. Cultural origins in turn exhibit and view the altered state of consciousness according to traditional dogma. Nevertheless, the spectacle of the ritual enjoys center stage whether it exists in the form of a silent whispering of creeds or a seemingly uncontrollable performance of actions. It can be a perception of joy or torture, a spectacle of non-perceived physical pain that is ceremoniously afflicted upon the performer; however, the ritual is aimed at providing peace in response to pain.

The Rituals image series confirms the spectacle of the ritualistic performance. The mortal soul communicates with the souls from the divine world while being plagued by the souls from the underworld. The mortal body reacts in uncontrollable response expressing joy and pain while the performer reacts with a medium (which is not always physical) but is depicted as a candle within the series. The images attempt to capture the identity of the performer, just to lose it as it transcends through the image into an undefined space. The ritual however, promise peace while it delivers nothing or a compromise of good and evil, ensuring further performances as the mortal attempts to escape its earthly reality.



Baudrillard, J. (1998). The Ecstasy of Communication. Editions Galilee: New York.

Theodoridou, N. (2009). Hysteria and Trance: Performative Synergies. Contemporary Theatre Review 19 (2): 195-203.


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© 2020 by Joanna Gagnier Proudly created with


-Novelist and Conceptual Photographer-

Joanna Gagnier

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