Demons Land: A poem come true
Demons Land: a poem come true is a multimedia exhibition. The project is a collaboration between Tom de Freston (artist), Simon Palfrey (writer), Mark Jones (filmmaker), Luke Lewis (composer), Jethro Cooke, and Stephanie Greer (actress).
It was funded by numerous competitive awards, including sizeable grants from the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council, the John Fell Fund, and TORCH (The Oxford Research Centre for the Humanities). To date the have been exhibitions of the work in progress at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, and in the temples at Stowe National Trust.
Demons Land is the story of a rapturous Romantic and political rebel from Enniscorthy, called The Collector, who in 1798 is transported to an island beneath the known world. He thinks the island savage and formless, and determines to remake it in the image of his favourite poem, Edmund Spenser’s epic, hallucinogenic allegory, The Faerie Queene. A militant Christian poem written in the would-be genocidal service of the Elizabethan conquest of Ireland, it is also a poem of extraordinary seductiveness, eroticism, and savagery – a ‘terrible beauty’ if ever there was one.
Inspired by Spenser’s vision, the Collector imagines a world in staves and stanzas, rhythms and rhymes, committed to endlessly repeating absolutes, pre-emptively choosing what shall have life and what shall not. It doesn’t turn out as he had imagined.
Demons Land: a poem come true explores the complicity of art in the dreams and crimes of empire. The imaginative premise of our project is that global history has been a tale of Spenser’s poem coming repeatedly, imperfectly to life. It becomes the seminal text of the unfinished modern world. And one such repetition was Van Diemen’s land. Like the poem that is its inspiration and antitype, Demons land offers a shadowy allegory of colonialism – not only as a political and racial act, but as a metaphor and vehicle of sexual desire, personal growth, and imaginative speculation.
The project is designed as a travelling installation, which can be modified so that it might speak (directly or obliquely) to its host and their histories.