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In the Eggshell: An Esoteric Working Group

Where we are vs where we should be.

Group 2 sessions are FULL. If you’re interested in joining sessions beginning April 2022, please email desertsuprematism (at) gmail (dot) com with a self-introduction and why you’re interested in the Group. Serious inquiries only!

Each session will last 90 minutes, consisting of a brief opening lecture followed by group discussion on select readings circulated in advance of each session. Participants must commit to attending no less than 4 out of the 5 sessions.

In the Eggshell: An Esoteric Working Group is a 5 month transdisciplinary Working Group that aims to redress modern art by turning to how the sciences, religious beliefs, and occult traditions provide a better articulation of modern art. Dialogue is opened up between practitioners in fields of study that traditionally engage infrequently. This allows for conceptual, theoretical, methodological, and imaginative intervention and integration from across disciplines as a means of addressing fundamental elements left out of the art historical discourse on the topic of the ‘spiritual dynamic’ in modern art.

You do not need formal training in this particular subject area to join In the Eggshell sessions. Participants should come seeking knowledge, as eager contributors from diverse backgrounds.


Session 1. Blank Spaces on the Maps of Learning: Complex & Mixed Disciplinary Worlds. This session will serve as an informal introduction to the lecture series and its thematic approach rather than chronological, with a focus on the historical use of the terms ‘science and occult’, thinking about the complexity of occultism as historical phenomenon and the history of exclusion in textbook and museum narratives when addressing the spiritual dynamic in modern art, a recurring theme in these sessions. We’ll read texts by Egil Asprem, Wouter J. Hanegraaff, and H.P. Blavatsky.

Session 2. Front Line Shifts: Writing the Spiritual Perspective in Modernist Art History. The start of a two-part session concerned with the historiography of the spiritual dynamic in modern art. We’ll look at how slowly the study of spirituality in modern art emerged in art historical scholarship. We’ll read texts by W.D. MacColl, Sixten Ringbom, and Maurice Tuchman.

Session 3. Front Line Shifts: Writing the Spiritual Perspective in Modernist Art History, Part Two: This session continues to examine the ways in which art history grapples with the writing and inclusion of esoteric, occult, and spiritual themes, engaging with more recent examples. We’ll read texts by Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Kenneth E. Silver, and David Morgan.

Session 4. New Forms of Art Historical Writing: Analytical Tools & Interpretative Models. This session looks to how methodological intervention can perhaps address fundamental elements left out of the art historical discourse. Collectively, we explore methods and concepts that might pave the way for a more divergent and nuanced approach to the writing of modern art with spiritual, esoteric, and occult themes. We’ll discuss the benefits of transdisciplinarity, the concept of “occulture” as an analytical tool, and consider more innovative and unusual concepts in the writing of art history. We’ll read texts by James Elkins, Wouter J. Hanegraaff, Nina Kokinen, and Barbara Maria Stafford.

Session 5. A Spiral in Our Minds: Art History’s Vertiginous Gaze on Hilma af Klint. Our final session concludes with an examination of the public reception of Swedish artist Hilma af Klint, paving the way for a fresh albeit complex (re)examination of the spiritual dimension in modern art. We will focus on exhibition essays and art criticism written on af Klint in both Europe and North America.

©2021 Emily Leon


  1. Ildikó Glaser-Hille Ildikó Glaser-Hille

    I was part of the first working group, and it was one of the best experiences I’ve had in a very long time. We came from all parts of the world, from all disciplines, from all walks of life, sharing different insights and perspectives.

    Emily is absolutely incredible, and she really created an enviornment which not only facilitated the conversation, but where everyone’s input was valued.

    I not only learnt a lot, especially in contemporary history and art, (my PhD is in premodern esotericism, religion, science, and identity), but this working group renewed my passion for research, and for disrupting the traditional approaches. I literally carve out time to continue what I have learnt in Eggshells

  2. Participating in the group has been immensely rewarding and a pleasure to be a part of. Emily carefully curates the reading list and builds a complex, cumulative sense of disciplinary challenges to art history methodologies across the seminar series. She is consistently enthusiastic, engaging, and intellectually incisive and this allows the group to have a focused structure, encouraging close analysis. Crucially, however, there remains flexibility and collaboration amongst the wide variety of curious people, encouraged to engage on their own terms, who find themselves drawn to In the Eggshell.

    I have found it particularly enriching not only in a broader, personal sense, especially in connecting with others that share the same interests, but directly in my work as a PhD researcher examining the intersections of early twentieth-century avant-gardism and modernism with spirituality.

    I am immensely grateful to Emily for the labour of love that has been the making of this group, and for creating a space where those interested in esotericism and art can come together constructively and discuss, debate, and share freely with one another. I could not recommend it highly enough to those with an interest in these subjects.

  3. Emily’s salon-like working group brings together people from a diverse array of disciplines to gather, share, and co-read. Emily’s curation of material is brilliant and thought-provoking, her ability to hold space both tender and intellectually stimulating.

    I can hardly wait to study with her and her community again.

  4. Ruby Niemann Ruby Niemann

    This was such a fascinating discussion series! The other members came from such diverse backgrounds and had so many interesting perspectives on the topics we discussed. I found the readings Emily choose (and the order in which we read them) really stimulating. It opened up a lot of new ways to think about my own work, and allowed me to engage with groups of knowledge outside of my field – I’m really glad to have taken part in it!

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