As a historic term, ‘spectral evidence’ was first legally recognized during the Salem Witch Trials in Salem Town, Massachusetts, in the 17th century. In these proceedings, accusers testified that witches possessed and terrorized them in their sleep. U.S. Chief Justice William Stoughton, known at that time more for his witch-hunting than for his juridical duties, expanded the law to admit hearsay, unofficial stories, and gossip as proper material evidence.
Spectral Evidence, a group exhibition curated by New York-based artist and curator Steven Lam, features projects by US-based artists Sreshta Rit Premnath, Simon Leung, and Lin + Lam. Works in video, photography, and installation examine how the present contains an accumulation of traces that are often hidden or omitted by violentand oppressive forces.
The artists in Spectral Evidence expand on these ideas, reimagining the haunted subject and its role in social and political life. Works that address the residual violence of war, colonialism, and globalization rupture conventional notions of temporality. By exploring narrative, speculation, and abstraction, as spectral witnesses to the past, projects in Spectral Evidence complicate what the present holds as self-evident.
The ghost, as the theorist Avery Gordon has eloquently written, is not merely an absent figure outside the reality of empirical certitude. Its presence suggests other forms of knowing, sensing, and seeing. “Being haunted,” Gordon writes, “draws us affectively, sometimes against our will into the structure of feeling of a reality we come to experience, not as cold knowledge, but as transformative recognition.”