Beverly Rayner: Museum of Mesmerism & Psychic Art

With a new show at the Triton, artist Beverly Rayner unearths artifacts
from the Museum of Mesmerism
Museum of Mesmerism SPELLING IT OUT: Objects from Beverly Rayner's Museum of Mesmerism & Psychic Art include this mesmerist's toolkit.

Inside the Triton Museum, the lights will be dimmed for Beverly Rayner's art reception. Seemingly a hundred antique artifacts—conjuring and spell-casting devices, mesmeric and illusionist tools, spirit photos, divination equipment, levitation and witchcraft gear, plus items related to alchemy, mystical matters and seances—now occupy one of the galleries at the Triton. The exhibition, titled "Beverly Rayner: Museum of Mesmerism & Psychic Art," opens this weekend.

Rayner says the show features items from the collection of the Museum of Mesmerism & Psychic Phenomena, which she claims to have established in Bzinica Stara, Poland in 1999, while researching her ancestral roots. She says her research led to an abandoned building that records indicated was last owned by her great-great-aunt, Bronka Katarzyna. An ancient mystical order of seers and conjurers built the structure centuries ago, Rayner says.

I arrived to experience Rayner installing the show, which was already shrouded in mystery. Turned out she wasn't there, so I assumed it was a remote-viewing scenario, with the artist telepathically sorting out the text panels, unpacking boxes, distributing track lights and arranging Victorian-era artifacts. It looked like some strange Rosicrucian antique shop. I kept looking over my shoulder, to see if Helena Blavatsky or Rudolf Steiner was lurking in the corner.

In any event, if I am to acquaint myself with the psychic residue of Rayner's great-great-aunt Bronka Katarzyna, the Triton Museum shall be the venue. In one display, I see her "drawer of influence ingredients," a bizarre apothecary drawer comprising 81 tiny cubbyholes filled with tiny balls of twine, miniature vials, purses and satchels, pieces of thread, hourglasses, talismans and other turn-of-the-century oddities. Right next to the drawer, I see what looks like an ancient chem lab table, replete with old funnels, beakers, test tubes and other items laden with Victorian-era rust. Legend has it that Bronka skillfully concocted specific "influential essences" from the various ingredients in this exact drawer. People supposedly came from far and wide to obtain her "influences," which were believed to exert certain powers over those whom she targeted.

All throughout the show, one sees glass cases, books, old journals, crystal balls, cracked mirrors, spirit photographs and incredibly strange instruments, tools and contraptions. In one case, Rayner says she discovered "a traveling mesmerist's toolkit" on her first visit to the building that became the Museum of Mesmerism in Bzinica Stara. The tiny kit includes two hypnotic pendulums, a few magnetism devices, a miniature vision ball, a small vial of aromatic fluid and a "vision spinner," supposedly used for quickly shifting focus from normal planes of reality to parallel planes of existence. Rayner claims the toolkit belonged to her great-great-uncle Rafal, who practiced mesmeric arts all across the European continent over a century ago.

Another wall presents a "magnetizing hand healing apparatus," originally from Austria, circa 1899. Rayner says she discovered the device, used to treat arthritic hands, upon first entering the "chamber for cures" in the Bzinica Stara building. She says it was originally manufactured by a disciple of Antoine Mesmer. The disciple, a spiritual physician of some sort, apparently carried on Mesmer's original theories of animal magnetism, even after they were tossed out, and went on to develop his own therapeutic devices based on Mesmer's ideas. Rayner claims her great-grandfather originally imported the contraption to help relieve her great-grandmother's arthritis.

I remained mystified as I continued exploring the exhibit. An old doll, impaled with dozens of voodoo pins, lay attached to a pedestal. A nearby box contains more dolls, apparently victims of spells. A giant cauldron occupies a space on the floor. A plethora of old photos, worn by time into that haunting sepia color, are distributed about the show. Each artifact is tagged with an inventory number, as if still exhibited in the Museum of Mesmerism & Psychic Phenomena, a venue Rayner claims is only open by special appointment. Since I have no immediate plans to astrally project to the country of Poland, I am satisfied with the aura of mystery emanating from the walls of the Triton Museum.

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