Studies for A Minor History of Trembling Matter presents a work in progress by artists Tamar Guimarães (Brazilian, born 1967) and Kasper Akhøj (Danish, born 1976) that focuses on their research in Palmelo, a small town in the interior of the state of Goiás, Brazil. Half of the town’s inhabitants see themselves as practicing mediums and healers—psychic conduits to the world of the spirits—while they also hold day jobs as civil servants.
The mediums adhere to the beliefs of Spiritism, a philosophical practice that works to reconcile belief in invisible spirits with science and has as many as twenty million adherents in Brazil. In their work as healers, the Palmelo mediums have translated their beliefs into a rigorously mechanical and highly choreographed set of actions requiring the participation of both healers and observers. In contrast with a Western culture that idealizes individualism, their practices are a radically collective endeavor that may share as-yet-undiscovered connections with the longer history of shamanism in Latin America, a tradition that predates the worldview and techniques of the Palmelo mediums. This fascination with footnotes and rumors is the “minor history” referred to in the work’s title—the kind of history that, for Guimarães and Akhøj, matters the most.