“The Heretics Take Down the Bells from the Churches in Geneva: On the next Wednesday (May 12th) those dogs removed the bell from Notre Dame de Grace and threw it down from the Steeple to destroy it. Afterwards they went to see the bells at the monastery of Palais and at the parish of Saint-Gervais because they wanted to melt them down and make weapons to use against monseigneur and the Christians.”[i]
Re Soundings is the outcome of a period of research and development on Lewis and Iona, in 2015. The research, carried out in partnership with An Lanntair, Historic Environment Scotland, musicologist Dr. John Purser and writer Dr. Alastair McIntosh, focussed on the bell as a vehicle to move through a timeline of religious ideologies, from its presence in the early Christian period on Iona through its destruction during the reformation, to its absence, as exemplified in the present day belfries of the Presbyterian Church on Lewis.
A body of new work will build on the knowledge and relationships developed during the research period. The thinking behind the developed work will be directly informed by the time spent in specific landscapes with local people who shared their knowledge and connection to place, and through our conversations and activities with Alastair McIntosh and John Purser.
The new work will respond to Alastair’s observations on Lewis’s bell less belfries that the empty space leaves room to look through and beyond to a deeper understanding of belief. The emptiness and silence has created an opportunity not only for reflection but also for creativity and it is in this space that the new work will sit.
In collaboration with members of the public and Dr John Purser, we will create a soundscape and sculptural installation across three venues; An Lanntair, Stornoway, St. Moluag’s Church, Ness and St. Oran’s Chapel, Iona in May and June of this year.
We will create the instruments for the soundscape by producing a collection of sculptural bells, based on the prototypes from the research period, made from WWI brass shell casings. The material has been chosen intentionally to symbolise the reversal of iconoclastic acts, which occurred in Europe during the reformation; first hand accounts tell of bells being cut down from their belfries and made into weapons.
Our intention is to invite people we met during our time on Lewis and on Iona and members of the public to attend workshops, and, under John’s direction, create sound samples using the sculptural bells. In addition to this we will bring the group together to give experimental sound performances at St. Moluag’s Church, Ness, Isle of Lewis and at St. Oran’s Chapel, Iona. All the sound samples will be recoded and then developed and arranged by John into a finished piece of sound.
This communal sound piece, created by those most connected to the landscapes we have been exploring, will give a contemporary voice to the presence of the bell; linking time, people and histories in the space offered by the empty belfries. We will in turn respond to the sound work creating an visual art installation at An Lanntair. The sound piece will also be installed for a brief period at St. Moluag’s Church in Ness and St. Oran’s Chapel Iona, coinciding with the exhibition dates, unifying the two medieval chapels and their auditory landscapes.
The project will be supported by a bi-lingual publication with commissioned writing from Alastair McIntosh, John Purser and Francis MacKee and will include a CD of the sound piece. The publication will serve as an artefact to the project, extending its life beyond the chronology of the exhibition and installations.
[i] Klauss, C F (ed.) 2006, The Short Chronicle of Jeanne de Jussie 1503-1561, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago