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Artist creates a multimedia ghost story that messes with time

Geoff Mitchell’s exhibition ‘Magic Lanterns’ opens at the Mary C. O’Keefe Cultural Center in Ocean Springs on Aug. 31. The exhibition uses a diorama, book, paintings and a soundtrack to tell a ghost story that seems to transcend time.
Geoff Mitchell’s exhibition ‘Magic Lanterns’ opens at the Mary C. O’Keefe Cultural Center in Ocean Springs on Aug. 31. The exhibition uses a diorama, book, paintings and a soundtrack to tell a ghost story that seems to transcend time. Courtesy Geoff Mitchell

What is time? Does it really exist? And do we misunderstand what we refer to as ghosts?

Artist and Gulfport native Geoff Mitchell’s current exhibition “Magic Lanterns” explores the question of time and timelessness. It opens at the Mary C. O’Keefe Cultural Center’s Duckett Gallery on Aug. 31, following its exhibition at Pryor Fine Art in Atlanta. The reception will be 5:30 to 7 p.m. Aug. 31.

Mitchell uses a three-room diorama set which presents a ghost story in seventh-scale miniature, with pieces painstakingly created for each room. Twenty paintings set the stage, and the story unfolds in the accompanying “Magic Lanterns” book. A soundtrack plays as a backdrop for this multimedia experience.

“For the multimedia part of the exhibition, the miniature rooms started with an interest in making a stop-motion film. I’ve made some short films in the past, and it’s been in my list of things I want to do, a stop-motion short.

So that’s why I made my sets in 1/7th scale. That is a chosen scale for stop motion. But as I started making them, and looking at the work of others, I realized that perhaps I’m more interested in the sets themselves telling the story than the movie.

And so my project became more similar to the Sleeping Beauty Castle Walkthrough at Disneyland, where you walk through the halls of the castle, and there are 20 to 25 diorama scenes that tell the story of Sleeping Beauty,” Mitchell said.

“In past shows, when I’ve shown my short films alongside paintings or other artwork, I’ve been struck by how the sound of the films affect the overall mood in the rooms and the paintings as well. So I began creating ambient music soundtracks to play on loop in the exhibition space to set the tone of the exhibit. It’s an appealing idea to touch more than just the visual sense in a show,” he said.

The universally appealing subject of ghost stories is used to explore Mitchell’s fascination with the concept of time. Is it possible, a theory that Mitchell posits, that the past, present and future are no more than illusion, and all of it existing constantly as one is the reality? And if that is the case, ghosts — or what we know as ghosts, spirits of those long gone — are in fact the bodies of those alive, along with us, in and from another time?

Mitchell also asks whether it’s possible that every story is a ghost story. “And isn’t all of life really just a story that we tell each other, whether it be shared by memory or through the very genetic imprint of our blood? And when, or if, all stories were to finally disappear, we might hope that somewhere still a ghostly imprint of our story will remain.”

The title of the exhibition was inspired by the popular name for early film projectors.

“They were often used to put on shows of ‘illusions’ and ‘ghosts,’” Mitchell said. “I kind of feel like that’s what I’m doing — putting on a show of illusions — so ‘Magic Lanterns’ refers to my work as a projector of illusions.”

Mitchell received his bachelor of fine arts in painting from Western Michigan Univesity and his master of fine arts in visual studies from Minneapolis College of Art and Design.

Among his recent solo exhibitions are “Chaos at the Confessional” at the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art in 2012, “Sunspots” at Sahuragi Fine Arts in Tokyo in 2014, “Water Appears and Disappears” at Florida Mining Gallery, Jacksonville, in 2014, and “The California Fairy Tale” at Kelsey Michaels Fine Art, Laguna Beach, in 2017.

Tammy Smith: 228-896-2130, @Simmiefran1

If you go

What: ‘Magic Lanterns’ exhibition opening

When: 5:30 to 7 p.m. Aug 31

Where: Mary C. O’Keefe Cultural Center, 1600 Government St., Ocean Springs

Phone: 228-818-2878

More: The multimedia exhibition runs through Dec. 2. Hours for the Mary C. are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday (later during events) and noon to 4 p.m. Saturday (and as needed during events).

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