A video artwork of gameplay footage inspired by ‘Exeter Prophetess’ Joanna Southcott goes on display in the Making History Gallery.

SOUTHCOTTIAN, by multimedia artist John Walter combines digital animation, 3D scanning, religious memes and an explosion of visual mash-ups.

Walter’s virtual reality game focuses on Devon-born Joanna Southcott’s false pregnancy at the age of 64, which she and her followers believed to be Shiloh, the new messiah. Southcott (1750-1814) came to prominence after she published texts of her visions and prophecies, gathering more than 14,000 cult followers.

Walter narrates Southcott’s story as an allegory of Brexit by linking the spread of Southcottian religious beliefs with today’s dissemination of political ideas through memes and digital media. Describing it like a ‘Where’s Wally?’ quest to find Joanna Southcott, Walter subverts traditional video game production to create a fictional world inspired by Southcott’s life.

Several objects that belonged to Southcott, including her autographs, wax seals, and Shiloh’s rattle are displayed permanently in RAMM’s Making History Gallery, adjacent to this thought-provoking film.

John Walter says

“This incredible character was very compelling – her misguided belief about her destiny, the religious powers that she had and that her child would be the Messiah – wow! This period of research coincided with Brexit, my growing interest in memes, viruses, and experiments with VR and gaming engines. It seemed to me at the time that if ever there was a time to open Southcott’s box of prophecies it was before Brexit – but we’ve continued to have times of national crisis so perhaps we need more boxes and more prophecies?!”

RAMM’s Contemporary Art Curator and Programmer, Lara Goodband says

“John’s provocative approach to making art, his wide ranging inspiration and his willingness to learn new skills – he even taught himself coding to make this game – mean that he is one of the most influential artists of his generation. It’s been great to work with Exeter Phoenix Gallery to bring John Walter’s new work to Exeter.”

In partnership with RAMM, Walter’s solo exhibition entitled Jezreel’s Tower will be on display at the neighbouring Exeter Phoenix. This 360 degree video tells the story of James Jershom Jezreel, his apocalyptic Victorian cult, and the building of their extraordinary headquarters in Medway, Kent.

The SOUTHCOTTIAN game is available to download online here and play for free through VR headsets.

SOUTHCOTTIAN will be on display in RAMM’s Making History Gallery from Friday 19 November 2021 to Sunday 30 January 2022.