Reflections on Janet Cardiff installation at Richmond Chapel, Penzance

Written by Susi Gutiérrez, visual artist volunteering for Groundwork

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.

Listeners‘Listeners’

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.

Ghost‘Ghost’

Chapel Ghosts‘Chapel Ghosts’

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.

Cat outside Richmond Ch‘A cat outside Richmond Chapel’

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Steve McQueen in conversation

Ella Schlesinger, who is beginning a residency at CAST, shares her thoughts on Steve McQueen’s work after seeing him in conversation with Nicholas Serota at the Plaza Cinema in Truro.

‘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.’

 

Blind drawing at Godolphin

Groundwork volunteer Leah Boote has been making blind drawings of her time spent with the Christina Mackie installation at Godolphin. Blind drawing, Leah explains, is essentially drawing without looking at the paper.

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“I tend to blind draw most of my work because I enjoy the freedom of it”, Leah explains. “Most of my works have many layers as well” – in this instance “with ‘reportage’ drawings on top. I love trying to get a feeling of a place and I thought it would be fun recording comments this way too”.
Above, Leah’s blind drawings are layered and overlapped with visitors’ reactions to the Christina Mackie Installation.
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You can find more of Leah’s drawings on her website

A Field Trip to St Buryan

Groundwork Volunteer Sam Stone joined Robin Dowell and James Fergusson on a field trip to explore the landscape around St Buryan, and has written the following thoughts about the event. You can find more of Sam’s writing on her website.

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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.

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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.

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Peter Doig in conversation with Matthew Higgs

Volunteer Sam Stone has written about the Groundwork event that happened on the 26th May at Falmouth School of Art, a conversation between painter Peter Doig and artist and curator Matthew Higgs. You can read more of Sam’s blog posts on her website

One of the highlights of being part of the Groundworks Team is having a schedule of events at my fingertips. So whilst consulting the literature for some visitors I noticed that an evening of conversation was planned with the renowned artist Peter Doig and immediately booked myself a seat.

The evening did not disappoint despite the sudden monsoon type drenching I received on my way down to the Woodlane campus. The easy conversation between curator Matthew Higgs, (director of the influential alternative art space White Columns in New York) and former colleague Peter flowed effortlessly and provided a unique insight into Peter’s career.

The two former RCA colleagues have made a special visit to Cornwall’s shores to curate an exhibition in St Just at the Jackson Foundation Gallery featuring the Afro Caribbean artist Denzel Forrester. The evening led us through Peters last thirty years as an artist and being in London at the time of the YBA movement in the 1990’s. Noted for their shock tactics, use of throwaway materials and oppositional and entrepreneurial attitude the YBA group of visual artists received an abundance of media coverage.

As an artist practising at the same time Peter’s own work was quickly recognised and he was nominated for the Turner prize in 1994 after some early exhibitions at The Whitechapel Art Gallery. His time at the played an influential factor in bringing his work into the public eye.

Peter lived in London for 30 years and moved to Trinidad in 2002 after which the Tate Britain held a retrospective of his work in 2008. Born in Scotland but a resident of Canada and Trinidad for most of his childhood both have had an influential effect on his work.

In 2007, White Canoe set a record for the highest price for a piece sold by a living European artist. This 11 million price tag was surpassed by Doig’s enchanting piece Swamped,  which went to a new owner for 26 million, then again last year when  “Rosedale,” of a Toronto snowfall,went to auction and was sold to a telephone bidder for 28 million.

Peter’s visit to Cornwall is noteworthy not only to celebrate his artistic achievements but also for his involvement in the curation and promotion of Denzel Forrester’s work in St Just. From Trench Town to Porthtowan will be on show from May 26 – June 23rd, 2018.

The exhibition presents a career-spanning collection of Denzel’s large-scale paintings which explore a diverse range of themes from sewing bags with his mother to the world of London’s dub reggae clubs.

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Sketch diary

Volunteer Denise Stracey has been keeping a sketch diary of exhibition locations she’s been visiting as part of her work with Groundwork.

IMG_1315 Pictured here is the view over Helston from CAST.

“A view I have never noted before and a new take on Helston”,  Denise writes, noted in her time invigilating the “staggeringly beautiful and brutal” Steve McQueen exhibition.

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A scene from National Trust Godolphin, where Christina Mackie’s installation Judges II is displayed.

Denise describes this moment of calm in a busy day – “a beautiful warm spring day at Godolphin house with the heavy scent of abundant bluebells wafting in the air. Peering through the window from the Kings Room and Christina Mackie’s exhibition, my eyes traced the bold branches of the magnolia now having shed their waxy blooms and heavily hung with stout, fresh green foliage.”

 

A sense of place

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From May to September this year, historic buildings, beaches and old industrial sites, to name only a few of the special and atmospheric locations, will provide the backdrop for a series of Groundwork exhibitions. I grew up in a family where making art and being part of a creative community was considered really important, but the regimented, whitewashed galleries we were taken to often made art seem remote and unrelatable. The Groundwork project challenges this conventional way of presenting art. Simon Starling and Semiconductor’s pieces of work both find a home in the Old Battery Store at Goonhilly Earth Station, a site announced by the giant satellite dishes that appear on the long stretch of road as you drive from Helston onto the Lizard Peninsula, looming over the moor  – ‘that forest of satellites, where the future ideas of us are mocking you’, as Rachael Allen describes it in her poem ‘Goonhilly’. I’ve driven past these satellite dishes countless times; they are etched into the journey I make a few times a month to visit my grandma. She is in a care home, at the far end of the Lizard, her memories and means of communication slowly being eroded by dementia. Expressionless and lost in her wingback armchair, she reminds me of those satellite dishes, silent and protruding on the landscape. Their sky-angled white domes reach out for signs, messages, a new language. This location, imbued with personal and social meaning, reminds me how powerful our sense of place can be, how many memories and feelings we imprint onto a building, a certain stretch of road, a field of mute satellite dishes. I think this is what makes the Groundwork programme so special. Art appearing in places already inscribed with memories and associations. And whether these additions seem to fit easily into a space or whether the art seems out of place or alien in its new environment, Groundwork is adding layers into landscapes that are always waiting to be reshaped by new meaning.

 

Written by Groundwork intern Laura Turnbull