As Above So Below collaborative artist residency at St John on the Wall, Bristol: Follow up and final reflections
I visited Markus in his home in Berlin in early November, and we looked through the documentation in progress. We enjoyed remembering the whole experience, and felt that despite our meeting in another place, another country even, hearing the audio especially placed us right back in the special place and time of the residency. Below is the view from his balcony, while we had our breakfast in his appartment.
Markus expressed his reflections in a written text, which really sums it up for me too. Also below is a slideshow of extra photos from the closing event…
About the collaboration
Markus: “At the beginning of our artist residency, I think Ellen and I were both excited to see how we will work together and how we will find our way. I remember at the very first day at St John on the Wall, Ellen showed me the upper church and an old harmonium in a room behind the altar of the church. Ellen started to play the harmonium, which sounds great and we decided to make recordings of us playing. The fact that afterwards our different plays fit together so well when we listen to them simultaneously was very fascinating and encouraging. This confirmed the obvious; we already were on our way.”
About the spaces
Markus: “The upper church of St John on the Wall and the lower church (crypt) are very fascinating spaces. It was a great pleasure and a huge honour to work at this very special venue with the generous support of the Churches Conservation Trust and the wonderful volunteers. We have been very thankful for this great opportunity. Ellen´s idea for a concept „As Above So Below” suited perfectly and was very helpful while developing our artistic work.
In many ways, we had the impression that we overlapped and extended the given spaces in sound and image – not only vertically by connecting above to below, but also horizontally, e.g. by projecting the architecture from the church above on the crypt´s inside walls making them appear as additional illusory spaces or installing blurred images on the windows that brought in the dynamic of the busy street just outside of the crypt. Furthermore, the atmosphere of our exchange and collaborative residency was excellent. Ellen is a brilliant artist to work with and we both have given each other room to explore and openness to share ideas.”
About the different idea strands
Markus: “When we found ideas, we both had the intention to follow those lines of thought immediately and to turn them into action. Hence, we created several different pieces each with its own element and way of reflecting on the space. One fascinating thing was that by constantly reflecting on our work, in our discussion, in our shared making and in our daily blog entries, the works took shape and evolved very naturally. So, it was easy to agree what works to choose and how we would like to present them.”
About the visitors
Markus: “Ellen and I appreciated very much to welcome many visitors during our artist residency, as well as at the closing event. There were so many interesting conversations, including with Churches Conservation Trust volunteers, and we had the impression that our residency, our works and the brilliant music presentation of special guest Il Santo Bevitore from London at the closing event had a meaning for the audience. And of course, for us, and we were very thankful for all this.”
About the journey
Markus: “Being back to Berlin feels a bit strange and it seems that I am still in a status of transition. The collaborative artist residency at St John on the Wall in Bristol was like a journey, not only in a physical meaning travelling from Berlin to Bristol, but also emotionally. And it feels like that this journey has not ended yet. This intense time, working with Ellen on our creative ideas and our exchange of views, did something with me. But – at this stage – I do not know exactly what. There were always some certain moments that have influenced my artistic work in a deeper meaning. I consider this collaborative artist residency could be another important moment. We both share the vision of an artist exchange between Bristol and Berlin and we are aware of its importance especially during this uncertain times in Europe. Many thanks to Ellen for inviting me to Bristol and her initiative with this fascinating artist residency at St John on the Wall.”
Back in Bristol…
I am very proud of the work Markus and I did for this residency, and Markus was an absolutely inspiring artist to work with. Though it was intensive work, it also felt very natural, and his thought processes helped me to see new possibilities that were really refreshing.
What I hope comes across in the documentation, is that our approach had an intentional lightness of touch to it – we conversed with the space, rather than imposed on it. At first this was out of practical necessity – the spaces were open to visitors as usual and we didn’t want to inhibit this in any way – but it grew into whole working approach. We listened to the space, allowed it to speak, and created subtle works, which we hope encouraged people to perceive the space itself new, with all its layers of history entwined in the present moment.
Like architectural ‘trompe l’oeil’, these experiments had an uncanny feel to them and sparked discussions about the frisson of proximity between surreality and reality and how intertwined they are, especially in an ‘unexpected’ space like the crypt: many people gasp and are taken aback when they enter these medieval spaces just centimetres away from the busy urban streets that they are literally built into.
St John on the Wall was the heart of the parish, of the local community, in medieval Bristol. A point of departure where prayers could be made for a journey, a point of welcome for pilgrims and travellers. Spending time there over the week, it made me feel that it remains the heart of a perhaps more plastic form of community – those who are drawn to it and adopt it, as well as those who pass by and can’t resist the intriguing open door…
I met with Blair Chadwick of the Churches Conservation Trust after the closing event, and had a really warm conversation about all aspects of the work, which he was thrilled with, remarking enthusiastically how well he thought we had worked with the spaces.
We were very proud to have fundraised £55 for the charity at our closing event, to help them in caring so well for such a special place.