Charms and Chasms

Cardiff University Special Collections


Please swipe between authors.

Charms and Chasms

Maud Haya-Baviera at Special Collections, Cardiff

In July 2022, the Heavy Water Col­lec­tive spent time with a selec­tion of rare books, maps, objects and illus­tra­tions in the Spe­cial Col­lec­tions Library at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cardiff, as part of an Art Res­i­den­cy gen­er­ous­ly sup­port­ed by the Four Nations Inter­na­tion­al Fund.

Maud Haya-Baviera has select­ed spe­cif­ic war cor­re­spon­dence and oth­er his­tor­i­cal mate­ri­als that are able to con­vey a sense of nar­ra­tive or self-nar­ra­tive. She has drawn rela­tion­ships between past and cur­rent events, par­tic­u­lar­ly those relat­ing to pro­pa­gan­da and war-time. Through her research, she has found entic­ing visu­al mate­r­i­al able to sup­port a nar­ra­tive thread, and which will become part of a new video work.

Vic­to­ria Lucas has devel­oped a con­stel­la­tion of images that bring togeth­er 18th Cen­tu­ry bod­ies and land­scapes in a way that con­fronts colo­nial prac­tices and cap­i­tal­ist pow­er. Ovaries sit along­side chart­ed islands, depic­tions of colonis­ers are decon­struct­ed and pre­sent­ed as bru­tal­ly artic­u­lat­ed forms, mate­r­i­al traces are sub­vert­ed and used as fem­i­nist amulets to bring good fortune. 

Joan­na Whit­tle exam­ines texts that describe these times of chaos, where the dev­il walks the earth and the fires of hell open­ly burn in the unsta­ble ground into which blas­phe­mers plum­met. Her draw­ings depict ruins con­struct­ed from the­ses lay­ered and makeshift shrines, erect­ed over and around them, and imag­ine the objects and tal­is­mans con­cealed in the pock­ets of shrouds. 

The project con­clud­ed with an in-con­ver­sa­tion event host­ed by Kün­stler­haus Dort­mund in Jan­u­ary 2023.

Select an author:
Victoria Lucas

An Encounter with Witchcraft and Colonisation in the 1700s

The print­ed items I have select­ed to view at Cardiff Uni­ver­si­ty’s Spe­cial Col­lec­tions include his­tor­i­cal accounts of witch­craft and witch-hunt­ing, child­birth, mid­wifery and colo­nial­ist explo­ration. All these accounts are writ­ten by men in posi­tions of pow­er, which giv­en the con­text is unsur­pris­ing and expect­ed. Most strik­ing­ly how­ev­er, women are absolute­ly cen­tral to the major­i­ty of the texts encoun­tered. As the sub­ject of these priv­i­leged for­ays, women are depict­ed as wild and unpre­dictable enti­ties to be tamed, con­trolled, tor­tured, or — if all else fails — exter­mi­nat­ed. As I leaf though the pages of these books I con­sid­er the hands they have passed through, the fin­gers that have turned each page, and the eyes that have read the same words. I con­sid­er these indi­vid­u­als and imag­ine what their sub­se­quent actions might have been. These books hold a charged ener­gy through their object­hood, through the sto­ries they con­tain and through the voic­es they exclude. 

Ladders and Lace

Dur­ing my time in the archive, I became drawn to a series of mate­r­i­al dis­rup­tions present in some of the objects I encoun­tered. In Evi­dence Con­cern­ing Witch­es and Appari­tions,1 a ghost­ly appari­tion bleeds out of the mate­ri­al­i­ty of the page in the form of a thick band of lace. It is like­ly that the lace was used as a book­mark for a con­sid­er­able amount of time, so that the pat­tern, its knots and net­ting, seeped in to the fibres of the sur­round­ing pages to leave a phan­tom trace. The image appears as a sub­ver­sion in the con­text of this book — a witch’s’ mark against the dia­tribe the book promotes.

Witch’s lad­ders are still prac­ticed in Pagan com­mu­ni­ties as a tool for med­i­ta­tion and rit­u­al, and involve bind­ing pos­i­tive wish­es in to an entan­gle­ment of threads and objects through sys­tem­at­ic knot­ting. The ear­li­est exam­ple, held at the Pitt River’s muse­um in Oxford, was dis­cov­ered in a Som­er­set attic (along­side four brooms) in the 19th Cen­tu­ry. The object is a one and a half meter long string with a loop at one end’… through which feath­ers have been insert­ed along its length’.2 Its label states: 

Witch­es lad­der made with cock­’s feath­ers. Said to have been used for get­ting away the milk from neigh­bour’s cows and for caus­ing peo­ple’s deaths. From an attic in the house of an old woman (a witch?) who died in Welling­ton.3

This infor­ma­tion was report­ed to have been pro­vid­ed in a note that accom­pa­nied the object, and has been used to con­tex­tu­alise the item as part of the Witch­craft and Mag­ic’ dis­play, despite being an uncon­firmed descrip­tion of the objects use and / or func­tion. Thus, the ori­gin of this prac­tice is still contested. 

Punctuating Absence

Anoth­er beau­ti­ful inter­ven­tion found in the archive forms a net­work of del­i­cate tun­nels with­in the pages of a book enti­tled Won­der­ful Prodi­gies of Judg­ment and Mer­cy, Dis­cov­ered in Above Three Hun­dred Mem­o­rable His­to­ries by R.B.4 Made by a book­worm, pos­si­bly cen­turies ago, these small open­ings ren­der an unin­ten­tion­al edit, as absences erad­i­cate vio­lence, under­line pow­er and punc­tu­ate rhetoric. The worm, asso­ci­at­ed with tran­si­tions between decay and renew­al, becomes sym­bol­ic as a mark­er of some­thing fleet­ing. In this way, I find the marks heart­en­ing, a time­ly reminder that pow­er is nev­er sus­tained, and there is always an oppor­tu­ni­ty for restora­tion and change.

To Know of Treasure

A hole dug in to the page of Scot’s Dis­cov­ery of witch­craft,5 extract­ing the char­ac­ters need­ed in order to know of trea­sure buried in the earth. Such poet­ic van­dal­ism makes me con­sid­er the very mate­ri­al­i­ty of the book, grown from the earth hun­dreds of years ago and held now in anoth­er form. I also try to imag­ine the desire and des­per­a­tion of the indi­vid­ual who has hur­ried­ly removed the incan­ta­tion said to bring about rich­es. In the con­text of a book that col­lates cru­el his­to­ries relat­ing to the mis­er­able ends of witch­es, con­jur­ers and strange appari­tions, it would appear that the read­er would have aligned them­selves with divine good­ness rather than with witch­craft — mak­ing this absence an intrigu­ing­ly sub­ver­sive action. 


John Hawksworth’s Account of the Voy­ages6, with its sump­tu­ous bind­ing, intri­cate mar­bled end-pages and pull out illus­tra­tions, or cuts, was pub­lished in 1773; an abhor­rent and mon­strous time in which patri­ar­chal colo­nial­ism, with its con­stel­la­tion of inequal­i­ties and deter­mined pow­er dynam­ics, was firm­ly root­ed across the globe. It was the begin­nings of a sys­tem that con­tin­ues to fuel inter­sec­tion­al inequal­i­ties and injus­tices today.

There are three par­tic­u­lar fold out images from the book that I worked with to devel­op a response to this object. The first depicts Chief­tain Purea and her Tahit­ian com­mu­ni­ty sur­ren­der­ing to Cap­tain Samuel Wal­lis, who anchored in Matavai Bay in 1767 and claimed the island in the name of King George III.

I find this image real­ly unset­tling. On the right, a group of men, in their fin­ery, stand half with their backs to the view­er in this sup­posed moment of peace­ful sur­ren­der to Cap­tain Wal­lis. On the left hand side of the image we see a large group of men, women and chil­dren, bow­ing uncom­fort­ably behind Chief­tain Purea as she sub­mits their lands to the strangers.

Before this moment of sur­ren­der’, the West­ern account is that the indige­nous tribe took to their canoes and tried to take the ship and beach it. In what they describe as a retal­i­a­tion,’ the Eng­lish sailors opened fire on the canoes and the crowds sit­u­at­ed on the sur­round­ing hill­sides. In this image, we see canon fire and plumes of smoke — a high­ly vio­lent retal­i­a­tion that was a method of dom­i­na­tion and control.

Final­ly, this image sup­pos­ed­ly doc­u­ments the con­ver­sa­tions that took place between Com­modore Byron and the indige­nous peo­ple of Patag­o­nia, on a sub­se­quent jour­ney to the South­ern Hemi­sphere. Rumours of Patag­on­ian Giants, orig­i­nat­ing from a 15th Cen­tu­ry expe­di­tion, like­ly influ­enced the scale of the fig­ures in this image.

Archives hold a mul­ti­tude of arte­facts that pro­vide fur­ther insights in to often dis­tort­ed his­to­ries. As a Heavy Water artist, I believe it is of vital impor­tance to engage with these accounts rather than hide them away, cre­ate respons­es to them rather than just illus­trate their con­tent and per­pet­u­ate the myths; and open up a space for learn­ing through these art­works to ulti­mate­ly encour­age oppor­tu­ni­ties for soci­etal change. We have to under­stand the past, in order to rein­vent the future, through the cre­ative imagination.

Victoria Lucas

Maud Haya-Baviera

Beyond The Woods

Beyond The Woods
Beyond The Woods (pro­duc­tion still)

This peri­od of research led me to cre­ate the video work Beyond The Woods. The work is com­posed of voiced let­ters writ­ten by sol­diers, archival post­cards, land­scape paint­ings from war zones and USSR brochures, all of which were dig­i­tal­ly trans­formed into post­cards. The inten­tion beyond this process was to cre­ate an emo­tion­al, a‑temporal and a‑geographical account of con­flicts. The work is both pen­sive and del­i­cate, grave and light.


Our res­i­den­cy coin­cid­ed with the onset of the inva­sion of Ukraine by Rus­sia. As often in my work, I want­ed to respond to the now, to the tumult and injus­tices of the present time. For this rea­son, I decid­ed to focus my research on archival mate­ri­als relat­ed to wars and to USSR pro­pa­gan­da mate­ri­als. For me, using archival mate­ri­als is a fas­ci­nat­ing prospect. It helps me re-appro­pri­ate nar­ra­tives and cre­ate alle­gories about the world we live in. I am not try­ing to make any com­ments on a war I can’t com­pre­hend, but I want to look at the emo­tion­al impact and the reper­cus­sions of con­flicts over many generations. 

USSR tourism advertisement

USSR booklet/propaganda material

USSR booklet/propaganda material

USSR propaganda material

USSR propaganda material

USSR propaganda material

Postcard from the USSR


While con­duct­ing my research at the Spe­cial Col­lec­tions, I gath­ered doc­u­ments with the giv­en name USSR Pro­pa­gan­da Mate­r­i­al’. These were main­ly brochures invit­ing tourists to vis­it a coun­try depict­ed in the most flat­ter­ing terms. The USSR was a despot­ic régime, some might say that Rus­sia still is, but I was won­der­ing how much USSR brochures (apart from their incred­i­ble qual­i­ty) dif­fered from any oth­er coun­tries’ hol­i­day adver­tise­ments, and why the Uni­ver­si­ty Spe­cial Col­lec­tion chose to use the word pro­pa­gan­da to exclu­sive­ly describe USSR mate­ri­als. I have also found ide­alised depic­tions of Britain at the Spe­cial Col­lec­tions, but these were not referred to as pro­pa­gan­da mate­r­i­al, per­haps because they belonged to a more diverse sub­set. Anoth­er rea­son might be relat­ed to the fact that com­mu­nist pro­pa­gan­da has been wild­ly writ­ten about, print­ed and named as such in his­to­ry books. The West­ern world, even if guilty of sim­i­lar prac­tices, would nev­er have used pejo­ra­tive words to describe its own self aggran­dis­ing pro­mo­tion. In 2020, I made a video work enti­tled Things Fall Apart, for which I researched adver­tise­ments for hol­i­days in the Caribbean islands. In my opin­ion, most, if not all tourism adver­tise­ments are prob­lem­at­ic, as these mate­ri­als frame cul­ture in a stereo­typ­i­cal and biased man­ner. It’s with this in mind and a spe­cial focus on the mag­nif­i­cent designs of URSS pro­pa­gan­da mate­ri­als that I con­duct­ed some of my research at Cardiff Uni­ver­si­ty Spe­cial Col­lec­tion. I want­ed to cre­ate some­thing com­plex, some­thing both entic­ing and revolting.

Letters/memories from the First World War front

Letters/memories from the First World War front

Letters/memories from the front

Illustration of Bath, Early Morning Landscape

Anoth­er strand of my research, was to read through let­ters and accounts of wars writ­ten by sol­diers. I spent some time slight­ly amend­ing and rewrit­ing the texts I found, as I want­ed to dis­til into a pow­er­ful voiceover the sor­row I felt when read­ing the testimonies.

The images below doc­u­ment the sound record­ing of sol­diers’ let­ters. Pho­tos: Ben Collins, with Actress­es Vic­to­ria Mar­rett, Stasha Mout­zouris and India Birchall
Joanna Whittle

My research at the Spe­cial Col­lec­tions began with explo­ration of texts relat­ing to the Protes­tant Ref­or­ma­tion in the 16th Cen­tu­ry and the part­ing of ways between Catholi­cism (and the church of Rome) and Eng­lish Protes­tantism. Along­side this I was also focus­ing on pub­li­ca­tions, prints and poet­ry relat­ing to both the first and sec­ond world wars. 

Wonderful photos of a British Success

Some of the barbaric barbed – wire, the terrible weeds of death which are prolific over the fields of Francs and Flanders. The section in the foreground has been rushed by a British force. The British Soldiers have just passed over this vale of hell under heavy gun fire, which is indicated by the pall of black smoke, the spot where a colossal enemy projectile has torn a crater in the field.’  captioned in First World War reportage

Wonderful photos of a British Success

Some of the barbaric barbed – wire, the terrible weeds of death which are prolific over the fields of Francs and Flanders. The section in the foreground has been rushed by a British force. The British Soldiers have just passed over this vale of hell under heavy gun fire, which is indicated by the pall of black smoke, the spot where a colossal enemy projectile has torn a crater in the field.’  captioned in First World War reportage 

The two col­lec­tions began to whis­per to each oth­er. That in each peri­od the earth was rent and and from its cleav­ing, demons escaped. Dev­ils walked the earth and the land­scape buck­led. Trees were shred­ded, humans were shred­ded. Ser­pents scattered. 

A Woman Torn to Pieces by the Devil, 1685
A Woman Torn to Pieces by the Dev­il, 1685

Selected Items from the collection 

The pilgrim's progress
Bunyan, John, 1628-1688.; Hughes-Stanton, Blair, 1902-1981 engraver.; Hermes, Gertrude, engraver.; Cresset Press.; Shakespeare Head Press, printer.
London : Cresset Press; 1928

John Bunyan's Tomb, illustration end plate in the Pilgrim's Progress 

Thought forms from Bibby's Annual , 1920

When Devils Roamed The Earth

With the exis­tence of pur­ga­to­ry, there exists a space between heav­en and hell a space between the liv­ing and the dead in which souls remain in tor­ment and a menis­cus flex­ing between worlds. Real­i­ty los­es form and frays at its edges, allow­ing for these flick­ers and schisms through which spec­tres pass. The images from the first world war, show the earth blast­ed and hous­es split like Man Ray col­lages, strange bal­loons loom, rats hang from strings like pen­dants. Fig­ures emerge with cloth wrapped faces, white ban­dages gleam, aris­ing from mud grimed hor­ror. And mean­while polit­i­cal per­sua­sion moves ser­pent like beneath mud, glimpsed only occa­sion­al­ly before sub­merg­ing in a slow and ono­matopoe­ic suc­tion, leav­ing only an oily smear on the sur­face which glints rain­bowed under grey sun. 

Mines, Bombs and Immortelle Roses

In the pages of war cor­re­spon­dence mag­a­zines I dis­cov­ered tiny images of explod­ed (and unex­plod­ed) mines and bombs. They sat between images of forests and faces, inci­den­tal and diminu­tive but also look­ing, more than any­thing, like nat­ur­al forms, like fos­silised wood or rock, or upturned pine cones. And in their strange and spi­ralling beau­ty they belie their hos­til­i­ty and their role in con­jur­ing up the dead from the liv­ing. Memo­r­i­al mak­ers, seek­ers. And whilst think­ing about these self con­tained and phys­i­cal man­i­fes­ta­tions of destruc­tive force, of fis­sure and final­i­ty I was explor­ing Sheffield Gen­er­al Ceme­tery, unpick­ing mourn­ing rit­u­als and memo­r­i­al struc­tures. Thus these two things began to com­mu­ni­cate so that immortelle ros­es bloomed with­in ceram­ic pre­tend­ing metal.

And the same refrain 

O Rose thou art sick,
The invis­i­ble worm
That flies in the night,
In the howl­ing storm,
Has found out thy bed
Of crim­son joy:
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.

Kippfigur with Hoop


1 Aug 2022

Kippfiguren (Talismen)


28 Feb 2023

The Witness (Sentinel) (Kippfigur)


1 Mar 2023

Ceramic vessel depicting The Witness (Sentinel) (Kippfigur)


1 Jan 2023

Postcard depicting Hollow Flame, lit on 8th January 1916


1 Aug 2022

Immortelle Flare ( Spiked), used in funerary practices between between 24th January 1849 to 31st July 1915


1 Feb 2023

Immortelle Flare (Mummy Cloth), used in funerary practices between 24th January 1849 to 31st July 1915


1 Feb 2023

Immortelle Flare (Whorl), used used in funerary practices between 24th January 1849 to 31st July 1915


1 Feb 2023


Graves Gallery


16 Mar – 2 Dec 2023