www.hastingsonlinetimes.co.uk     Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper
Congregation © Malcolm Glover

Congregation © Malcolm Glover

Invoking generations of prayer

It is a tradition in St Leonards that a chair outside a shop signifies that it is open. At Lucy Bell Gallery, two chairs and a table are outside the gallery, but the windows are shrouded and it looks like there is nobody home. Gingerly, entering the darkened, candle lit room, HOT’s Lauris Morgan-Griffiths went along to see what was happening.

Inside is a remarkable installation of Malcolm Glover’s recent video work, Congregation. Glover has exhibited widely and documented many communities over the years in Britain, India and Egypt: projects as diverse as outdoor swimming pools, Turkish baths, various hospital projects, Capuchin monks, Welsh speaking rural life on the Lleyn community and a Bangladeshi community in Rochdale.

This project is closer to home, both personally and geographically.

It is about two Catholic congregations: one in County Leitrim and another in St Leonards. Glover’s mother was a devout Irish Catholic, worshipped in the Drumkeeran church until she moved to England. Then, she took her sons, as she had been taken herself as a little girl to worship, to the local church in Crawley, West Sussex.

The intention was to film both those communities, but sadly, the Crawley church end did not work out. So the second phase of the project moved to St Leonards. So, although it does not include Glover’s church-going experiences – he lapsed his Catholic calling card many years ago –  the change of location does not negate any memories of those early years.

This is about the church, the congregation and the services mediated through the eyes of a child.

The film is shown in Lucy Bell’s blacked out gallery on two sides; one congregation facing the other. Looking up at the screen you hear the sermon, then six heads rise up from the bottom of the screen as the men and women stand to recite the Lord’s prayer, the other congregation stands, watches.

It is in essence a simple video, but threads run deep and there is a complex underbelly to it. The theme traces community, continuity, migration, traditions and rituals. The Irish congregation have probably been attending the church from generation to generation; faces intrinsically the same have come and gone and will continue to come to worship. There will not be that same continuity in East Sussex as attendees change; migrants arrive from other UK regions, foreign countries, much as Glover’s mother did to England to find a better/different existence. They come and seek out the church community, with their shared beliefs, faith, traditions and experiences in their individual ways.

Inevitably, visiting the churches, Glover’s boyhood memories flooded back. Church smells were particularly rife and so were the rituals and memories of church-going and being an altar boy server. “I used to get up at 7 in the morning on Tuesdays and 10 on Sundays for mass. I remember cycling to the church worried, running through all the rituals that I had to do; the order of service; when to stand up, kneel, when the priest wanted his hands washed.” Then during the service “I would act, pretending to be holy, wondering if  I looked more holy while I was praying” –  and watch the congregation.

Congregation © Malcolm Glover

Congregation © Malcolm Glover

It is touching watching the men and women’s faces, praying, reciting, musing, meditating: we the audience look up at them; they look out, one audience looking at another across the divide: unseeing as their attention is turned inwards, supported and safe in the familiar ritual of it all.  The people involved have been very generous in giving what are personal, private moments to the camera. They were filmed with four cameras turned on them, filming them in pairs. Later, Glover with the digital help of Eddie Knight, stitched them together, so there was reflection and visual dialogue between the two congregations.

The installation is a work in progress. Glover would like it be seen in a church. Further plans are for a book with parishioners thoughts and memories and for a video box where people could record their feelings about religion.

The reaction has been gratifying. “They got it. People were talking about customs, rituals, traditions and beliefs and how they are handed down to generation after generation. It made me happy that people had understood and were seeing beyond what is on the screen.”

Accompanying the information on the project are words written by Mark Hewitt, encapsulating the project in poetic, prayer-like rhythm. This is an extract:

Congregation

Is a piece of work

That sees

 

As if through a child’s

Eye

 

A ritual

 

Spoken

Or mouthed

 

This week

 

Much as it was

The last

 

And will be

 

The next

Much as it was

 

A generation

 

Back

And will be

 

A generation

 

Hence maybe a little

 

Changed

 

In the detail

But not much;

Video installation Congregation is showing until 20 February, 2016 at Lucy Bell Gallery, 46 Norman Road, St Leonards, TN38 0EJ open Tuesday-Saturday 11am-4pm.

Alongside the videos, there are images of Malcolm Glover’s 1980s project of life in the welsh speaking Lleyn Peninsular.

Posted 16:55 Friday, Feb 12, 2016 In: Photography


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