Completing The Fold

Colm Cille’s Spiral has been a complex project with many elements. It addressed the apparently remote history of a 6th Century monk about which, as Clare Lees said in closing remarks to the project ‘We know nothing – right? Nothing’. It was firstly perhaps a project about the difficulties of history. It took place around six locations or knots, and each of these fractured into multiple locations (ultimately at least twelve places across the British Isles were sites for work, with others from the UK Ireland and Greece brought into play). So the project was also on the surface about territory in some way. It was ‘delivered’ by twenty-six artists and poets of varying artforms across those locations and resulted in some amazing and rich works. It gives a flavour of the richness of the project to note the media and practices included (poetry, typography, ceramics, photography, video, sound work, walking, singing, sailing, sculptural objects and installation, drawing, and the growing and documenting of online communities). A deeper look at the works, covered in more depth elsewhere on this website could extend this list. These artists have been supported and guided by five arts organisations, five universities, four independent curators and a network of advisors. This scope of time, place, people and institution gives a good idea of the projects’ complexity.

However it is important to distinguish between complexity and complication, because all these voices were navigating through and illuminating the same project and formed a related investigation around an easily grasped central point of gravitation. By finding their own interpretations and using their own networks and techniques these multiple voices were helping us all work through our own understandings.

The project was initiated by Difference […]

‘The Fold, A Creative Convention after Colm Cille’, ‘Colm Cille’s Spiral’, 30 Nov – 1 Dec 2013, Derry~ Londonderry

Colm Cille, the founding father of Derry, is attributed in a poem as describing the city as follows:

“The reason I love Derry /Is its quietness, its purity/ For full of angels white it is/ From one end to the other”.

We arrive in the city for our concluding event, ‘The Fold’, at a time when it could be described as busier than Colm Cille envisaged it in his mind’s eye, with impressive queues for the Turner Prize, nightly gatherings in squares to see the Lumiere Festival projections and generally a city and audience confidently in full swing for all the cultural offerings of Derry~Londonderry City of Culture 2013. With this event ‘The Fold’, The City of Culture itself and London Street Gallery become the containers for all six knots of ‘Colm Cille’s Spiral’.

There was a word regarding Celtic Art that Dr Katherine Forsyth (Reader, Celtic and Gaelic Dept, University of Glasgow) used in her presentation at CCA in Glasgow back in October:  ‘interlace’. Interlace refers to the complex geometric patterns on stones, manuscripts and on jewellery, where motifs are looped, and braid and knots intertwine. The detail is so extraordinary that in some of the manuscript illustrations, it would take a magnifying glass to see the full picture. This word ‘interlace’ describes my understanding of this multi-layered project.

So, if we pick up the magnifying glass and hold it up to ‘Colm Cille’s Spiral’ at its conclusion – ‘The Fold’- what can we see? The ‘interlace’ brings into full view the ‘knots’ of Glasgow / the Hebrides, Newcastle/ Lindisfarne / Bamburgh, Derry, Dublin, London / Bradwell-on-Sea and Lichfield / Llandeilo. The ‘interlace’ also braids the past and present, mirrored by a key objective of ‘Colm Cille’s […]

The Husbands Message

As I’m in the last week of my video postcard project for Colm Cille’s Spiral, in which I’ve been sending 15 second video postcards to whoever asks for one, I wanted to put down a couple of thoughts about one of the inspirations behind it, which I learned about from medieval literature PhD students at Kings College.

The Husband’s Message, an anonymous Old English poem, dates to around the 10th century and is one of the few surviving poetic compilations from the Anglo-Saxon period. Taken to be a love letter from a lord to his estranged wife, it nevertheless seems to be written from the perspective of the wood which bears the lines of the poem, that is, the object the husband sent out with his message:

 I remain true     to the tree I was hacked from
Wood I am, bearing     the marks of a man

The wood, which carries the message ‘cross the sea’ ‘borne on salt currents’, is therefore both a medium or a carrier for the content of the poem, and a speaker; it is a self-aware medium that both carries the message and reflects on its ability to carry it:

To you far away     I carry this message

However, the text of the poem is itself a medium, which casts it as a very early example of what Marshall McLuhan argued was characteristic of every medium: that its ‘content’ is always another medium, which ‘shapes and controls the scale and form of human association and action’. In other words, look at the wood (the medium) and its power to shape human experience through its ability to carry messages, not just the poem (its content)- which is what the speaker of The Husbands Message invites the […]

Reflecting on Bradwell

I joined the group of early medievalist PhD students from King’s College London for ‘Interrruptions’ on 25 July at St Peter’s-on-the-Wall, at Bradwell-on-Sea, the opening episode in the London/Essex ‘knot’ of Colm Cille’s Spiral. It was a wonderful experience that perfectly demonstrated the academic-artistic collaboration that the project has set out to achieve.
The group, organised by James Paz and tutored by Professor Clare Lees, had been briefed in May by Marc Garrett of Furtherfield ‘to imagine you had been forced to live in a dystopian world where the internet and mobile technologies are no longer safe to use…where all our information is used against us under the globally networked eye of the ‘Netopticon’, or post-Panopticon’ (uncannily prescient with the recent news of widespread snooping by US and UK security services). The group’s aim was ‘to reclaim social and cultural contexts on our own terms and share ideas, knowledge and crucial information’.
It was bright and sunny, the brutalising A13 left behind as the roads diminished in scale to this isolated end of Essex where the land and sea become almost indistinguishable. St Peter’s Chapel stands on its own on a slight rise, the site of Cedd’s community founded in 654, and strangely surreal, with Bradwell nuclear power station in one direction, wind turbines in another. It does have some special quality, which Cedd must have sensed when he arrived. Even as an aetheist and materialist, I often wonder about this very human response of faith to the material character of landscape and architecture.

I thought about this more with Hana Videen’s Mapping the Human on the Non-Human, a beautifully simple illustration of the seventh century imagination extending into the natural and material world. It was one […]

Reflections on “The Word” and “Ethical Knowledge”; Sacred spaces, forgotten histories and challenging predispositions

 

There has been a lot of talk in the past few entries of folding and unfolding. The layers of Colm Cille’s legacy are definitely being peeled back in the last two commissions and conversations surrounding them.  I’ve been gathering my thoughts on the blog entries.

 

The spiral moved to Newcastle to interpret “The Word” resulting in a poetry sound installation in opposing sites, one a tower on the island of Lindisfarne and the other in St. Aidan’s Crypt in Bamburgh. These same pieces resulted in very different reactions. Shadow Script, the commissioned poetry, which was used in Antiphonal sound installation, told us fragmented stories of pilgrimages, myths, secrets and meditations, leaving us to piece the rest together. Linda had felt that the Crypt installation was more successful as the reverent, peaceful atmosphere allowed the piece to be enjoyed and reflected upon. The space used for these commissions seems like a vital element, to create the atmosphere for contemplation, as I feel was successfully created in Vicissitudes.

 

The third knot of the spiral, “Ethical Knowledge” in Bradwell, where the medievalists played the role of artists at “Interruptions” in St. Peter’s church. I found this interesting as it forced the historians to challenge all their predispositions and embrace the challenge of imagination and the unknown. During the Curator’s Conclave in May this was raised as being a transition from referencing and accuracy to using contemporary at, literature and performance as a new way of understanding the past. The engagement and interactive element of Interruptions seemed to be an informative element of the work, as with the personal stories and connections people brought to the Vicissitudes performance.

 

Kathryn Meade‘s piece on forgotten women today and in medieval times sounded like […]

Hana’s Interruption: Mapping the Human on the Nonhuman

I asked our guests to consider the following passage from Christ III, an Old English religious poem about Judgment Day from the tenth-century Exeter Book:

 
‘Ða wearð beam monig   blodigum tearum

birunnen under rindum   reade ond þicce

sæp wearð to swate.   Þæt asecgan ne magum

foldbuende   þurh frod gewit,

hu fela þa onfundun   þa gefelan ne magun

dryhtnes þrowinga   deade gesceafte.’ (lines 1174-79)

 

‘Then many a tree became bedewed with bloody tears under their bark, red and thick; the sap was turned to blood.  No earth‐dweller can tell through wise understanding how much those inanimate created beings, those which cannot feel, experienced the suffering of the Lord.’ (my translation)
 

The idea of bleeding trees on Judgment Day appears in the apocryphal Fourth Book of Ezra, 5:5: ‘Et de ligno sanguis stillabit‘ (‘And blood shall drip from wood’).  The author of Paradise Lost, John Milton, was intrigued by this particular passage and wrote, ‘…the deadness of men to all noble things shall be so great, that the sap of the trees shall be more truly blood, in God’s sight, than their hearts’ blood….’  In other words, as humans lose their humanity, the nonhumans (the trees, for instance) become more human in comparison.  Tree sap appears as blood or tears.

St Peter-on-the-Wall’s history was constructed by human hands, but what we see today (upon first glance) is the nonhuman – Roman stones and earthen foundations.  I wanted to put the human back into this nonhuman space, and I invited the guests to think about what the ‘most human’ part of this space was to them: perhaps the wall where candles had been lit, the stone by the door worn away from countless pilgrims’ feet, the altar where so many have prayed, etc.  I then gave […]

Some reflections on ‘Interruptions: New ways to know the medieval at Bradwell’

I had organised events before, but never in a remote church dating from the seventh-century; I’d asked scholars to speak about their research before, but had never asked them to interrupt their academic practices; I’d been nervous about arranging gatherings before, but had never been so uncertain about what might, or might not, unfold.

These were my concerns as the day for ‘interruptions’ – at once a challenge, a chance, and a choice to do something new with the early medieval – drew nearer.

It was a bewildering prospect: to invest time and energy into something and then to be suddenly cast into the role of a helpless observer; to put your trust in the talent and generosity of a group of people and yet to know that they, too, had doubts about what might actually take place.

After five or more years of studying it full-time, Old English has become valuable to me. Could an unconventional approach to medieval ‘scholarship’ expose or undermine its worth in some way?

I needn’t have worried. Improvisation gave the day its charm; spontaneity gave it its energy.

Drawing on the key features, figures and histories of the Chapel of St Peter-on-the-Wall, a group of postgraduate researchers from King’s College London were invited to use the site to explore new and ethical ways of sharing their knowledge of the Early Middle Ages.

Vicky Walker started off by greeting everyone who’d come along and presented each person with what she called an ‘interrupted map’ of the site; these were partly visual, partly verbal maps, with words in Latin, Old English and Modern English to represent layers of time, constructed and collapsed into one space, recalling the medieval and Roman past, while also speaking for the […]

Talking Books: Lindisfarne, Bamburgh and Bradwell-on-Sea

In the space of five days last week, I visited first – and alone – the poetry installation of ‘Antiphonal’ by Tom Schofield, sound and interaction artist, in the crypt of St Aidan’s Church, Bamburgh, on a Sunday afternoon, next, on the Monday – and in the company of Linda Anderson of Newcastle University – the complementary installation of ‘Antiphonal’ in the Lookout Tower on Lindisfarne, and finally, on the Thursday – in the company of assorted medievalists, artists, curators and Difference Exchangers – I travelled on to the Chapel of St Peter-on-the-Wall, Bradwell-on-Sea to engage in the unfolding of new ways to know the past in London and Essex. That’s two knots in Colm Cille’s Spiral: The Word (Newcastle, Lindisfarne and Bamburgh); and Ethical Knowledge (London and Essex). And a journey of my own making to listen to poetry, in place, and to think about we can know of the past from the ways in which we respond to it in the present.
 ‘Antiphonal’ is an installation in two parts, in two places, drawing on the multiple voices of the poems commissioned for The Word by Sean O’Brien, Colette Bryce, Alistair Elliot, Cynthia Fuller, Peter Armstrong, Pippa Little, Bill Herbert, Peter Bennet, Christy Ducker, Gillian Allnut, Linda France, and Linda Anderson. The poems are also brilliantly edited by Colette Bryce as Shadow Script: Twelve Poems for Lindisfarne and Bamburgh, which has just been published by the Newcastle Centre for the Literary Arts, and is on sale from there as well as on site. (http://www.ncl.ac.uk/ncla/news/item/shadow-script-twelve-poems-for-lindisfarne-and-bamburgh)

I have been carrying this book around with me for a while now and, having heard ‘Antiphonal’, I know that I will return to it and to these poems […]

Interruptions: a site visit (map and video)

Approaching St Peter’s chapel, the building itself is out of sight until the very last moment. A cycle to the site provided time to reflect on the surrounding area: the Anglo-Saxon place names, the close proximity of the sea (albeit also hidden from view for much of the time), and the richness of the farming landscape. How might exploring and understanding the landscape, and how humans have worked within it over the centuries, enable us to think about the early Christian community in new ways?

View St Peter’s at Bradwell in a larger map

 

Interruptions: A Site Visit

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Saturday 6 July I travelled to St Peter’s Church, Bradwell on Sea, with Carl Kears, a PhD student at King’s College London, and Fran Allfrey, an MA student at King’s. The trip was part of the preparations for Interruptions: New Ways to Know the Medieval at Bradwell, an event which will take place at the church as part of the Ethical Knowledge knot on 25 July and during which a group of postgraduate researchers at King’s will present their own responses to Colm Cille’s Spiral. It became clear that we needed to visit the church during the preliminary workshops with Marc Garrett, Erica Scourti and Clare Lees. As we were thinking through Marc’s brief and began working with his ideas of connectivity, hacking, data exchange, community and power, we realised that a key element of the project had to be the location of our own meditations and exchanges: St Peter’s Church.

The site of St Peter’s is actually beyond Bradwell. To get there you have to travel through a series of small, self-contained villages (many, such as Asheldham, Tillingham and Bradwell itself revealing their early medieval heritage through their names). Bradwell is six miles from the nearest train station, and the church a couple of miles beyond Bradwell. With this in mind, originally we had planned to drive to St Peter’s. However, we realised that we would get a much better sense of how the church is located within its landscape by approaching it by bike (of course, foot would have been better, but the distances involved made this simply impractical). We got the train from London to Southminster and from there rode through the winding, hedged lanes to Bradwell.

As we cycled towards […]