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.

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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 of several performance/installations that members of the group presented in and around the Chapel. Experiencing each took you further into this distant past place, particularly the wonderful reciting of The Seafarer in Old English, a recording made by James Paz, down by the shoreline, and discussion led by Fran Allfrey on the contemporary residues of sounds and words of the past.

Duru small

What was particularly interesting was how this group of specialist academics employed strategies in their presentations that one would normally associate with contemporary art practice, further demonstrating the richness of collaborative interdisciplinary engagement that the project is bringing to the fore.