Written by Groundwork Volunteer, Val Summers
Written by Groundwork Volunteer, Val Summers
At the turn of the tide 30 women rhythmically snake their way across the tidal landscape, tracing meandering pathways through the wet sand, their outlines etched against the sea and sky. Following their movements from afar on headland or dune, viewers take the time to discover the ever-changing landscape as the women slowly continue their passage through it.
To see more of Leah’s work, visit her website.
I believe that most buildings have something to say to us if we listen carefully. The Richmond Chapel has been housing from 25 May, Janet Cardiff’s sound installation Forty Part Motet receiving visitors from all over, locals familiar with the chapel and others acquainted with Groundwork. For this installation members of Salisbury Cathedral Choir were recorded singing an arrangement of the 1556 choral work Spem in Alium Nunquam Habui by Thomas Tallis.
The first time I came into the chapel, an absolutely invisible choir was playing through forty speakers. I did not read a lot about Janet Cardiff before I started invigilating. I went in and walked around the speakers, and as the day went on I discovered more and more through my journeys around and inside the building including the narthex or lobby area, the wall marks, pews, vestibule and dusty surroundings. The sound installation, (which consists in forty separately recorded voices played through forty speakers), became alive within the almost derelict building. Every time one goes outside to refresh the ears from the sound, the music still resonates within the ear labyrinth. It also has an influence within your actions as I realised that my natural way of moving changed. I was walking around differently feeling subdued and immersed in my own thoughts. The building provides an excellent acoustic for the choral work, and the fact that the audience is encouraged to follow a silence rule, make people to sit or to walk quietly. When the piece finishes, the singers take a break (when recording, Janet Cardiff and editor decided to keep recording the singer’s chats) and I joined them trying to find out what were they saying. Standing close to the speakers it is possible almost to have a chat with the singers, to let them know my own secrets and I realised how important is this moment for the visitors. Not all of them but most, especially children have been listening close which is something that otherwise in everyday life nobody dares to do. Listening to other people conversations is in some way impolite but here one is allowed! Invigilating the chapel as an outsider made me realise that I am not one. All of a sudden, anyone can be part of the choir, in silence one can start remembering the unutterable. Existence of ghosts and spirits cannot be proved by science but it does not matter, while listening to the concert, it is possible to re-visit places and to dream of creating an intimate, direct connection with the singers.
I have been drawing inside the chapel. Corners, windows, lines and also just after volunteering I started painting in a different way.
A Comment from a visitor I approached:
I was very sceptical about this installation before I arrived. I am a sceptical person by
nature. But the empty, neglected venue is perfect for this. The lack of furniture and
ornamentation gives amazing acoustics and there is little to distract your attention. I sat
in the middle of the speakers for a while and then found that by wandering closer to the
speakers I could clearly hear the individual voices. And then it stopped and the best bit
was the chatter amongst the choristers. I was not expecting that. Like when you overhear
snatches of conversations on the bus, except here you don’t have to pretend not to listen.
Finally the singing began again and I could recommence my stroll amongst the singers. You can’t do that with a real life choir.
‘A cat outside Richmond Chapel’
‘Throughout our art education from the moment you get the go ahead, you
are repeatedly told to explain and storyboard your work and processes as you go
along. I feel these recited explanations have become overworked and
disconnected from my actual practice. So to witness the artist Steve
McQueen speak so honestly about his practice, recalling his thought
processes like forgotten doorways that you, alongside McQueen, begin
to unlock, instilled a fire in me to trust my artistic gut.
The humble inclusion into his works means there was no choice but to
open up the re- emerging questions and fears of McQueen. Looking to
some of his most early of works, you feel his physical presence, as
he throws himself into his videos and its purpose. However, as we
followed him onwards toward his most recent of features, he starts to
source more concrete stories to use as a pinhole into society. A
pinhole that represents the sorrow and weight of thousands. McQueen
however is not completely letting go of his presence within these newer pieces.
OK, so he might not be physically poking Charlotte Rampling’s face now but he is
taking on the burden of these projects in the hope to create truth.
Personally, sitting in this cinema on a slightly too early Sunday
morning, on one of my first days at this residency, I have been given the chance
to watch a man who has built his career on opening supposedly
locked doors, and hushed moments in our histories, which has lead to work
that provides an honest, present moment with his audience. A heavy
breath that translates to you a feeling from one person to another.’
Another great event organised as part of this year’s Groundwork programme of art, the field trip to St Buryan held us entranced by the landscape and our guides for almost six hours.
We started our walk in the mizzle at the church that is both commonly associated with the area since the release of the psychological thriller Straw Dogs in 1971.
Previously described as the ‘wickedest parish’ of Cornwall, St Buryan hasn’t earned its reputation from the film but from its eight-year excommunication from the church in 1328 following a dispute over control of the religious matters in the parish.
It’s more fascinating history was explained by Robin Dowell and James Fergusson as we made our way across the atmospheric landscape to a renowned site littered with evidence of human activity from Neolithic times. We scoured the furrows for flint but found little with our untrained eyes as we progressed towards a number of stone crosses within the parish. The best examples of which were cited in the churchyard and on the outskirts of the village as we made our way towards the coast. The roughly circular remains of the celtic crosses which featured carved figures on the faces were pagan in origin and marked ancient crossing points.
We eventually the paths flanked by the high hedgerows bursting with the last intense hues of the bluebells and pinks of the wild campion and plunged into some spectacular waterside glades. As we a weaved our way under canopies of rare Elm the weather improved enough to make a lunch stop amongst the giant rounded rocks of ‘boulder storm beach’, St Loy. Worn smooth by the action of the sea after they had fallen from the cliff face, sometime before the last Ice Age, they made perfect pitches for a picnic. The fascinating archaeological history displayed on the beach as well as the exposed cliffs turned most of us into explorers once our sandwiches had been consumed and we poked and prodded quite happily amongst the fascinating landscape until recalled to make our return.
Within the hours we spent with Robin and James, I gained a comprehensive insight into the geological, environmental, archaeological and cultural importance of the parish. The experience left me inspired by the landscape and I will definitely return at some point to explore the previously unknown coastline between Lamorna and Porthcurno. In the meantime, I will be watching the CAST website closely for any future field trips.