dream wife’s isabella podpadec on the feminist power of reading tarot cards
Ahead of her art-Tarot exhibition with Polyester Zine and The Coven this Saturday night, Isabella tells i-D about her mother being a witch, why Tarot must represent diversity and what the future holds for us all.
Following the pagan belief that what you do will come back to you in threes, we're feeling particularly happy that whatever good thing we did has delivered to us the fabulously witchy trinity of Dream Wife bassist Isabella Podpadec, Polyester Zine and The Coven collective, with their art-Tarot exhibition in London on Saturday night.
After Podpadec and her collaborators set out to address how "painfully straight, white, cis, able bodied the majority of available Tarot decks currently are," 50 artists from around the world will present their inclusive vision of a modern feminist Tarot deck at the one-night-only show at Dye House Gallery in Hackney Wick.
Ahead of the exhibition, i-D caught up with Isabella to talk Tarot and get a sneak preview of some of the cards, which will be available to buy on the night in a limited edition risograph printed deck...
How did you first get into tarot cards, and what was the initial appeal?
Growing up my mum always told me that she was a witch. She was pretty vague about what that meant but sometimes things would happen like windows shattering without being touched or knives splintering into pieces or car alarms going off when she walked past. Reading Tarot together was a staple part of our relationship. I was an awkward youth living in the countryside and at that time Tarot provided a form of escapism, it made things feel more possible, bigger and exciting than the world I was presented with. When I was 18 she got me my own deck and that felt very symbolic.
Can you describe how you use them, and what you get out of it?
Whenever I read someone new I am always careful to explain my personal view on Tarot, as there can be many different approaches; personally I only use it in a positive or productive way. I see Tarot primarily as a tool for exploring problems, conditions, relationships, the self and so on. Divinatory spreads hold little interest to me, but what Tarot can do is help reframe situations or explore ideas and potentials. Reading is, for me, the most interesting with people you trust. The cards can be used as cues to start conversations and explorations that otherwise would be impossible. The way I use Tarot is based on the assumption that it can't tell you anything you don't already know but it can help you understand it.
Do you have a favourite card? If so, what does it symbolise?
I'm not sure that I do have a favorite as such, I have always been drawn to The Moon; it's symbolizes dreams and the unconscious, it's a card of huge contradiction; the light and the dark, the internal and the external. Very mysterious. For this deck I designed the 8 of Pentacles, which is concerned with dedication to a craft, hard work and the 'fruits of labor'. Recently this card had persistently been showing up in my readings and I feel a connection to it at this time in my life but distance from it due to the masculine energy of it. It's been exciting to play around with that.
Is there a soundtrack to your tarot? If so, what is a good tarot playlist?
A relaxing atmosphere is best but I don't have a specific playlist or anything. When I was a teenager I got quite into reading to this Kabuki CD I found but I don't know where that is anymore.
Why do you think tarot, witchcraft and other spiritual practices have had such a resurgence in feminist spheres?
That's a complicated question. I think it's partly to do with witches being a strong symbol of feminine power. The structures that govern our world are so domineering and rigid and these spiritual practices offer a much softer, intuitive way of moving through the world. Another element is, I think, the identification with the outsider or the underdog or the persecuted, there is solidarity to that. Also the times we live in seem particularly uncertain and, personally at least, I feel the movement toward Tarot, witchcraft and spiritual ideas is linked to an attempt to understand things that cannot make sense and to provide a light and a sense of control in what can feel like a dark world.
When you approached Ione with the idea for a tarot art show, what did you want to create and why?
I've always used the Universal Waite Tarot deck but it struck me how the imagery is exclusively straight, white and cis. This felt problematic and I wanted to see a deck that spoke to and about more people. At first I toyed with the idea of creating my own deck but my own deck and my desire for diversity and community through Tarot didn't match up. Ione has an incredible way of bringing people together and she has this amazing sense of community. Pairing the idea of a more diverse tarot deck with a way of exploring and bringing together a creative community in a functional art object felt really exciting.
Why is it important that tarot cards are diverse and inclusive?
I feel there is a call for all cultural representation to push in more diverse and inclusive directions generally. Tarot talks about universal truths, the cards represent archetypes and themes present in everyone's lives regardless of circumstance but the imagery doesn't reflect this. That's not to say that there aren't other decks that tackle these issues; I got the Wild Unknown for Christmas and it's so nice! The imagery is all to do with nature and has family rather than royalty in the minor arcana - I really like that.
What do you hope attendees will take away from the show?
People are often afraid of Tarot and I hope that the exhibition might open up the possibility of using readings as a positive and constructive tool. But if they just enjoy it as an art show that's okay too!
If you could cast one spell on the world, what would it be?
I don't think magic should be used for very big things; quick fixes don't really fix anything.
And finally, following the title of the show: What Does Our Future Hold?
It's going to be everything really; wholesome and corrupt, exhilarating and dreary, colorful and dilapidated, fast and slow, people will make the same mistakes over and over and people will constantly surprise us, structures will rise and fall and people will die and it will be impossible and uplifting and terrifying and peaceful. But if you want to know specifics maybe you should think about getting your hands on a deck!
What Does Our Future Hold? is at Dye House Gallery in Hackney Wick this Saturday, 7 January.
Text Charlotte Gush
Photography (main) Francesca Allen
Styling Sara Gilmour