Alien Sex Club artist John Walter offers tarot card readings on Skype during lockdown

John Walter has always been the most hospitable of artists. I first met him at the Whitstable Biennale in 2014, serving gin cocktails in a beach shack, inside which was a “Slang Bar” devoted to Polari’s sassy talk – a form of slang once used by gay subcultures in the mid-20th century. Now, in our time of crisis, Walter is once again reaching out to the masses, this time via Skype, to offer tarot readings every Friday during the current lockdown period. “I thought it was the perfect opportunity to lift people’s spirits,” he says, while admitting his first installment of sessions last Friday “was pretty intense.” “It’s like having a tutorial or a psychoanalysis. People bring different things: some wanted to talk about their love life, some wanted to talk about money, some just wanted to chat, I just have to go where they want to go.

Installation view of Alien Sex Club at the Wellcome Collection in London © Welcome Collection

In addition to their therapeutic function, these interlocking tarot readings also have a deeper relevance to the current situation, as they have their roots in Walter’s longstanding preoccupation with viral issues. His distinctive struggle with the complexities of virology was first fully expressed in 2014 Alien sex club, an immersive, multi-sensory exhibition dedicated to HIV and contemporary sexual health. Although flamboyant and often kitsch in appearance, this immersive labyrinthine extravaganza (originally staged at the University of Westminster) was also scientifically accurate, having been created in close collaboration with HIV researchers at the University College of London.

John Walter’s Tarot Cards Courtesy of John Walter

One of its many components was a popular series of public tarot readings conducted by Walter using a specially designed deck of cards in the traditional format but with four new suits: the Bug Chasers, the Gift Givers, the Bare Backers and Serosorters. These were accompanied by various novel additions such as Dot Cotton from the soap opera East Enders and the Chrysler and Empire State buildings nestled side by side as The Lovers.

Walter has been reading Tarot for over a decade with his initial interest sparked not by spiritual or supernatural concerns, but by his comparison of the Tarot to the widespread and adaptable mutations of a virus. “Everything is linked to lexicons and polymer chains; both tarot and a virus are a sequence of messages,” he explains. “If I read nine cards from the 78 Tarot images, there are endless chains of stories. But then with each reading I have to hold on to something that was said and then concentrate and read it. Open to discussion It’s about complexity, not simplicity.

John Walter as his alter ego Alfonso Mango Courtesy of John Walter

To administer this latest round of lockdown readings, Walter uses the original Alien Sex Club cards (“they’re still relevant though my reading of some of the cards has changed”) and dons a tousled blonde wig and garish shirt to assume the role. alter ego of Alphonse Mango. But this wacky habit is not intended to undermine the seriousness with which he approaches each reading, quite the contrary. “If I become the fool, then you are empowered. It reverses the normal hierarchy of the smug artist and allows something else to happen,” he says. Each confinement tarot session lasts half an hour and is free. “It should be free, it should be about hospitality,” says the ever-gregarious Walter, who has created a special “still life” environment in the main room of his south London flat to receive his Skype visitors. “It is in the spirit of this moment that we must help each other.”

To book a tarot reading, contact [email protected]