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In the Eggshell: An Esoteric Working Group

Where we are vs where we should be.

Sessions beginning late November-December are FULL. If you’re interested in joining future In the Eggshell sessions, please email desertsuprematism (at) gmail (dot) com with a self-introduction and why you’re interested in the Group. Serious inquiries only! Participants must commit to attending no less than 4 out of the 5 sessions.

Each session will last 90 minutes, consisting of a 30 minute opening lecture followed by group discussion on select readings circulated in advance of each session.

In the Eggshell: An Esoteric Working Group is a 5 week 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 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.


Fictional prereading TBD

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. We will think 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 the series. 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. A Spiral in Our Minds: Art History’s Vertiginous Gaze on Hilma af Klint. This session examines 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.

Session 5. New Forms of Art Historical Writing: Analytical Tools & Interpretative Models. Our final session looks to how methodological intervention can perhaps address fundamental elements left out of the art historical discourse. We’ll discuss Jeffrey Kripal’s Superhumanities and the empirical-imaginary, the importance of transdisciplinarity, the concept of “occulture” as an analytical tool, and consider more innovative and ‘unusual’ concepts in the writing of art history. Thus, collectively, we will explore alternatives and new vocabularies that might pave the way for a more nuanced and spiritually significant approach to the writing of modern art with spiritual, esoteric, and occult themes. We’ll read texts by Jeffrey Kripal, James Elkins, Wouter J. Hanegraaff, and Nina Kokinen.

©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!

  5. The resources, flow and direction of the reading group was invaluable for me at a time where I was trying to find ways to research the impact of spiritualism and esotericism on popular culture. I very much enjoyed the reading, in particular around early 20th Century art, through the perspective of fine art history as a way to think about this.

    The discussions were at times very thoughtful and insightful.

    I found that sometimes the open nature of the discussion in the reading group led to certain members of the group hoarding large volumes of time to their meandering thought processes. I respect that we each have different ways of formulating ideas but I could feel very drained and losing focus when these kinds of longtailed thought forms were in progress.

    I have really enjoyed being part of this completely off-the-wall and absolutely fascinating working group.

  6. I participated in the second round of this working group and found it to be very rewarding and stimulating. As an artist, I tend to steer away from art history as a subject of research as I find other areas like science and spirituality to be more fruitful in contributing to my practice. However, Emily has demonstrated in her work and efforts through this group that a cross disciplinary approach is a very productive way to move forward and gain more understanding in all fields of study, and that art history itself (especially “modernism”) is in need of a total reframing that acknowledges the influence of spirituality, science, and much more on the artists of the past.
    It was an absolute pleasure to be a part of and I hope it continues.

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