“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]
Commissioned by An Lanntair, Re-Soundings is the outcome of a collaborative journey through the landscapes of Lewis and Iona. Musician John Purser of Sabhal Mòr Ostaig and Lewis writer Alastair McIntosh, accompanied us in our exploration of the bell as a symbol of secular and non-secular time all set against the wider context of the reformation in Europe. The thinking behind Re-Soundings was directly informed by the time spent in specific landscapes with local people who shared their knowledge and connection to place, and through conversations and activities with Alastair McIntosh and John Purser.
Re-Soundings references the iconoclasm of the Reformation and the impact of this on belief structures in the Hebrides, suggested by the presence and absence of the bell as a visual and auditory feature in the landscape. One of Alastair McIntosh’s observations on Lewis’s bell-less belfries is that the empty space leaves room to look through and beyond to an alternative and, some might argue, deeper understanding of belief. The emptiness and silence has created a space not only for reflection, but also, for creativity. Into this, Re-Soundings ventures.
The exhibition at An Lanntair in May/June 2016 and the sound interventions at St. Moluag’s Chapel on Lewis and St. Oran’s Chapel on Iona in June 2016, reflect months of shared thinking, and engagement with one another’s artistic and scholarly practices, and with the people most connected to the landscapes we explored.
Created by John Purser, the sound work was composed primarily from bell recordings gathered during public workshops and performances on Lewis and Iona. The bells were created by re casting WW1 munitions into replicas of two early Christian quadrangular hand-bells. We chose this material to symbolise a rethinking of the iconoclasm of the Reformation in Europe; we know from historical documents that bells were removed from religious buildings and recast as munitions. It seemed fitting to use munitions from the Great War, given that the project coincides with its centenary.
The project is supported by a bi-lingual publication with commissioned writing from Alastair McIntosh, John Purser and Francis MacKee and includes a CD of the sound piece and pullout screen printed map of the geographical context of the project. The publication serves as an artefact to the project, extending its life beyond the chronology of the exhibition and installations.
One meaning of “inspiration” is to breathe in, and as artists we have inhaled deeply of the exceptional physical, spiritual and cultural terrain of Lewis and Iona. We hope that the Re Soundings website, publication and CD will allow you to share in that breath.
The project would not have been possible without the generous support of Creative Scotland, An Lanntair, Comhlairle nan Eileen Siar, Historic Environment Scotland, Sabhal Mar Ostaig, Fiona MacNeill Associates, Aosdàna, Media Studio Glasgow School of Art, Ness Historical Society, Shawbost Historical Society, St. Peter’s Church Stornoway.
Personal thanks also to Acair Books, Alastair McIntosh, John Purser, Frances McKee; Roddy Murray, Elly Fletcher, Jon Macleod, An Lanntair; Rev. Terry Taggart, St. Peter’s Church Stornoway; Finlay Macleod; Andy Crossan; Andrew Laing, Laings Foundry Edinburgh; Calum Angus Mackay, Ivor MacKenzie, MastArd Studio; Etta and Roddy Morrison; Jim Crawford; Anne Macleod, Ness Historical Society; Iain Macaulay; Alasdair MacKay, Skyespace, Sabhal Mòr Ostaig; Geoff Allen, CaVa Recording Studios; Andy Graham, Graphical House; Alasdair MacLeoid, Facal; Jane Martin, Historic Environment Scotland; Pete Johnson, Ratho Forge; Gordon Bruce, Aosdàna; Andrew Tibbles, Mark Craig, MakLab.
Finally, we owe many thanks to the participants of the Lewis and Iona sound workshops. Their engagement with the bells provided John with a wealth of audio material for his composition.
[i] Klauss, C F (ed.) 2006, The Short Chronicle of Jeanne de Jussie 1503-1561, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago