Tag Archives: Spiritual

Alan Smith – Visiting Lecturer 24/10/13

Alan Smith is the Creative Director of ACA (Allenheads Contemporary Arts) an old school hall in the Northeast of England.  The organisation is an epicenter of arts and cultural activities and exhibitions in the village and surrounding area and welcomes creatives practicing in all medias to become involved in the project including students, writers, established artists and musicians (ACA, 2013).  Smith believes it is crucial to have other artists and people around to “feed” (Smith, 2013)  into their work to produce an all-inclusive, innovative environment.

Allenhead with a population of approximately 200 residents is quite a different and difficult place to work compared to New York where Smith was based for several years.  When Smith arrived in Allenheads approximately twenty years ago, he felt that there was nothing happening there initially.  He started to paint landscapes without reason but felt like he had to do something and thought that’s what he should be doing.  However, he disliked the paintings and in frustration threw them outside.  Over a period of time the paintings started to deteriorate – breaking down and covered inn mould and dirt.  This process seemed to be an epiphany to Smith as to demonstrated that there were things going on around him and it opened his eyes.  He started to consider the landscape of Allenhead with a new outlook – exploring and considering the environment around him.  In comparison to New York City the landscape was quite empty and open – almost “frightening” to a point (Smith, 2013).  This and changeable weather – particularly the extreme winters changed Smith’s perspective.

Allenhead, Image taken from: http://www.acart.org.uk/page5.html
Allenhead, Image taken from: http://www.acart.org.uk/page5.html

With this in mind, through ACA (developed 18yrs ago) Smith uses Allenhead’s environment as a source of education.  He organises “silent trips” for students whereby he asks them to leave behind any recording devices such as notepads, mobile phones and cameras and use only themselves as the “recording system” while walking around Allenhead’s countryside (Smith, 2013).  Following these trips, the group discusses what each of them has taken from it and an open and varied discussion takes place.

Another opportunity ACA gives to students is the possibility of gaining a placement at the ACAshop.  The site used to be the village shop and post office 5yrs previously.  As a well-established building that was already a central hub for the community, it created a new arts environment which encouraged residents to get involved with projects, attend exhibitions/workshops and join in creative discussions.

To further involve the community with ACA, artist Andrew Wilson asked residents to bring an item of importance to them to be displayed in the ACAshop as a way of making the community feel a sense of ownership in the project.  He also asked everyone for their top 10 songs which was also played during the exhibition.

Although ACA didn’t initially have a sufficient catchment for Arts Council funding, Smith and his peers grew the organisation by firstly inviting people they knew to exhibit.  Through word of mouth, more people got involved, audience numbers grew and people began to “sit up and notice” (Smith, 2013).

The organisation has become part of the community by building mutual respect and assisting wherever possible (i.e. the school hall was used for the village show when the village hall was unsuitable due to damaged flooring).

During Smith’s lecture it is clear he is interested in the future and the idea of not fully knowing or understanding everything he sees.  However, he is also interested in the past and notes that “things may change but we’re still doing the same thing…it’s just evolved technology” (Smith, 2013).  With this in mind one of ACA’s projects This is the Future focuses on these ideas.  During this project artists including David Lisser were invited to produce work that demonstrated their ideas about what the future held.  Lisser considered whether the village of Allenhead would be seen as the “remote” village it once was, cut off from technology and self-reliant (ACA, 2013).  In terms of being self-reliant, Lisser produced a food-type with what some may think of as an unusual ingredient – namely midges.  Midges are quite prevalent in the wild open environment of Allenhead and by using them as an ingredient to produce burgers, Lisser was utilizing them as a food-group – even developing a “Midgecatcher’s House” which was also on display.

David Lisser, Midge Burger, image available from: http://www.acart.org.uk/davidlisser.html
David Lisser, Midge Burger, image available from: http://www.acart.org.uk/davidlisser.html
David Lisser, Midgecatcher's House. Image available from: http://www.acart.org.uk/davidlisser.html
David Lisser, Midgecatcher’s House. Image available from: http://www.acart.org.uk/davidlisser.html

Another artist involved with ACA was Arturas Raila in 2007.  The work which included inviting Lithuanian pagans to Allenhead to carry out a pagan ritual of mapping out “geo-energy flows” (Hodnett, 2007) caused some controversy with the residents.  However, Smith was interested in the spirituality and positive and negative energies the pagans believed in.

With regard to spirituality, Smith is also interested in the beliefs of the Zen Buddhist monks.  Whereas scientists continually look to the future, the monks consider everything around them and believe that “it is equally important to look both ways” (Smith, 2013).

Smith also took part in the Migrating Arts Academy where he and artist Rosalind McLachlan explored the theme “5% as far as the eye can see” in 2013 (Migaa.eu, 2013). This is based on the theory that the human is only capable of seeing 5%, whereas 27% is dark matter and 68% is dark energy (Smith, 2013).  Smith notes that he “enjoys” not understanding everything that he is seeing, however just because he can’t see something, does not mean it does not exist.

On this note Smith ended with the question:

Can creativity and imagination help us make sense of the inexplicable?



Acart.org.uk, (2014). Lisser. [online] Available at: http://www.acart.org.uk/davidlisser.html [Accessed 30 Apr. 2014]

Hodnett, M. (2007). News & Star | Pagan ceremony launches art show. [online] Newsandstar.co.uk. Available at: http://www.newsandstar.co.uk/pagan-ceremony-launches-art-show-1.184124?referrerPath=home/2.1962 [Accessed 30 Apr. 2014].

Migaa.eu, (2013). Migrating Art Academies » Blog Archive » Review: 5% as far as the eye can see. [online] Available at: http://www.migaa.eu/review-5-as-far-as-the-eye-can-see/ [Accessed 30 Apr. 2014].

Open Call Artist Research: Kader Attia

I was reminded of Kader Attia’s work during the Liverpool Biennial 2012 (http://liverpoolbiennial.co.uk/download/LB2012_guide.pdf).  Attia grew up in France and Algeria finding himself between the religions of Christianity and Islam.  This upbringing led Attia to question ideas surrounding identity and the relationship between the East and West within his artistic practice (Edge of Arabia, 2010).

Following online research into his work, I came across the recognizable image of Ghost, 2007.  The installation is made from foil moulded into empty shells of praying Muslim women.  

Kader Attia, 2007, Ghosts, Image available from: http://www.saatchigallery.com/artists/artpages/kader_attia_ghosts_2.htm
Kader Attia, 2007, Ghosts, Image available from: http://www.saatchigallery.com/artists/artpages/kader_attia_ghosts_2.htm

Although the Hayward Open Call is a UK exhibition, I felt this would be a relevant piece because of the multi-cultural society the UK is becoming.  The piece instantly presents ideas surrounding religion and worship but also gives an eery and peaceful atmosphere.  Although the empty foil shells may give an impersonal feeling, the viewer could perhaps consider themselves within this piece – their mortality, vulnerability spirituality and place in society (The Saatchi Gallery, 2007).  I feel this piece would work well with my concept regarding hierotopic spaces as it gives a sense of contemplation and devotion, as well as reflecting on what one holds as sacred within a consumerist, ‘throwaway’ (with its use of foil) society.


Edge of Arabia (2010) Kader Attia (online) Available at: http://edgeofarabia.com/artists/kader-attia (accessed on 23/02/2014)

Saatchi Gallery (2007) Ghost(online) Available at: http://www.saatchigallery.com/artists/artpages/kader_attia_ghosts_2.htm (accessed on 23/02/2014)

Open Call Artist research: Darren Harvey-Regan

During my online research into emerging artists I came across Darren Harvey-Regan (Ramsay, 2013, online), a London based artist and graduate of Plymouth University and the Royal College of Art.  Harvey-Regan interest is based in photography and sculpture or object stating:

The presentation of photographs in interaction with objects serves to highlight the inherent tensions within representation; between the photograph as an object and the image of the world it contains. In this way, I consider the photograph as being something not only to think about, but to think with (Exeter Phoenix, 2013, online)

After looking at his website http://www.harveyregan.com/, I was particularly drawn to his 2013 work Metalepsis.  The definition of metalepsis as stated in dictionary.com is:

the use of metonymy to replace a word already used figuratively (Dictionary.com, 2014, online)

In Harvey-Regan’s photographical work for this piece, the artist creates a narrative through the photographs by presenting several differing objects and images linked by a similar composition. This allows the viewer to recognize the familiarly between the pieces and correlate one image to the next.

Darrren Harvey-Regan, Metalepsis, 2013. Available at: http://www.harveyregan.com/fig%20Meta1.html

I found it particularly interesting that Harvey-Regan had seemed to use religious or ancient iconography and somehow transfered the same sense or level of profundity on the corresponding photographs of objects including rocks, masonry and oranges!  This interconnection between the two elements appeared to create a sense of animism within the objects – the objects seemed to adopt a living spirit so to speak.

My interpretation of the piece led me to believe that these works could play an important role in my proposal.  I had initially thought that sculpture would be a more likely addition, however I feel that Harvey-Regan’s photographical work relates to the concept of hierotopy in a contemporary work.  His work gives a sense of familiarity in what one could believe to be a profound or of spiritual importance.


Exeter Phoenix (2013) Darren Harvey Regan (online). Exeter: Exeter Phoenix. Available at: http://www.exeterphoenix.org.uk/events/darren-harvey/

Ramsay, W. (2013) Gallery: Affordable Art Fair founder Will Ramsay picks his Top 10 Emerging Artists (online). London: Associated Newspapers Ltd. Available at: http://metro.co.uk/2013/02/26/gallery-top-10-affordable-art-fair-pieces-3514663/

Art/Artist Ideas for Open Call

I started to think about the type of artwork I would like to see in my exhibition proposal for Hayward Touring.

As mentioned in my previous post, I wish to base my concept on the idea of the sacred and a contemporary take on hierotopy – the creation of sacred places and the importance of the object in making places sacred.

I decided to research into art that could be considered to have transcendent or sublime qualities.  I am also interested in finding pieces which refer to preservation – to correspond to the idea of the preservation of ancient relics and what one values as significant.  Furthermore, I would also like to include work which could evoke a subconscious or conscious recognition and familiarity within the audience – pieces akin to the profundity of ancient iconography.

My initial thoughts led me to Abstract Expressionism’s concerns with the sublime and spiritual.  I also thought about Kazimir Malevich’s, Black Square, 1915 and its display at 0.10: The Last Futurist Exhibition, where its placement in the corner gave a sense of the all seeing eye.

Kazimir Malevich’s, Black Square, 1915 and its display at 0.10: The Last Futurist Exhibition. Image available at Elders, Z. (2013) 0,10 Exhibition [online]. Amsterdam: Stedelijk Museum. Available at: http://journal.stedelijk.nl/en
However, I feel that these movements and pieces would be too obvious with regard to the sacred or transcendence and would not present an original exhibition concept.

Therefore, I decided to research into more contemporary artists’ work who have been active over the last 10-20yrs.  Also, as I am a student at the start of my curatorial journey, it would be difficult to successfully gain access to these high-profile pieces.  Having said this, I feel that a curator is in a position where they can bring new, lesser known but more innovative art to an audience and in doing so, also show their support for emerging artists.


Elders, Z. (2013) 0,10 Exhibition [online]. Amsterdam: Stedelijk Museum. Available at: http://journal.stedelijk.nl/en

Concept: Hierotopy

During my research online into sacred places, I came across the word “Hierotopy”.

Hierotopy is a concept relating to the creation of sacred spaces and concerns human creative activity, particularly in historical terms.  The term and concept was invented in 2001 by Alexei Lidov, a Russian art historian and Director of Research at the Institute for World Culture at the Lomonosov Moscow State University.

In Lidov’s 2006 paper Hierotopy: The Creation of Sacred Spaces as a form of Creativity and Subject of Cultural HistoryLidov explains the definition:

The term ‘hierotopy’ (ierotopia) consists of two Greek roots: hieros (sacred) and topos (place, space, notion) (Lidov, 2006, online)

He goes on to explain how hierotopy differs from hierophany:

hierophany [is the] direct manifestation of the sacred and hierotopy [is the] creation of the sacred space by human hands to commemorate a specific hierophany (Lidov, 2006, online)

Lidov discusses how man-made objects i.e. relics, idols and/or iconography, as well as rituals and prayer play an important role in the creation of a sacred place.

Although Lidov’s concept is in a historical and religious context, I decided this would be a perfect starting point for my proposal.

As mentioned in an earlier post, I liked the idea of having a touring sacred place which a wider audience could visit, as opposed to people traveling to a distance, unmovable sacred wonder.

I would not be focusing on religious ideas, as I feel people are perhaps becoming a little apathetic to religion and looking for something more.  This has come across during my dissertation research whilst looking into spirituality.  In the book Refiguring the Spiritual, Beuys, Barney, Turrell, Goldsworthy, 2012 author Mark Taylor a philosopher of religion highlights the change of attitude toward religion in today’s society, writing:

There has been a global resurgence of conservative religion throughout the world that all too often has resulted in growing intolerance and even violence.  This unexpected turn of events has led to an understandable reaction against religion in all of its manifestations.

But something else is also going on as well.  Although traditional forms of religious belief and practice have been subjected to trenchant criticisms, alternative forms of spirituality are thriving.  Many people who are committed to no organized religion willingly identify themselves as spiritual (Taylor, 2012, p13).

Therefore, I will be looking at contemporary art that has a spiritual resonance as well as blurring the lines between the ideas of the historical sacred place, man’s need to create and what one defines as sacred.


Lidov, A. (2006) Hierotopy: The Creation of Sacred Spaces as a form of Creativity and Subject of Cultural History [online]. San Francisco: Academia.edu 2014. Available from: https://www.academia.edu/2759215/Hierotopy._The_creation_of_sacred_spaces_as_a_form_of_creativity_and_subject_of_cultural_history

Taylor, M. (2012) Refiguring the Spiritual – Beuys, Barney, Turrell, Goldsworthy. New York: Columbia University Press


Open Call Ideas: Sacred Spaces

Following a class discussion led my tutor regarding our initial search for suitable curatorial open calls, I decided that I would respond to the Hayward Touring Curatorial Open Call 2014.  Although the deadline for submissions had already closed, I felt this would be a good example to develop an idea, with a view to submitting proposals in future years.

This call is open to anyone who has an interesting and imaginative idea to propose for an exhibition and therefore not limited to just professional curators.  However, it does state on the guidelines that “Applicants must be at least one year out of college or equivalent”.  After consulting with my tutor Edith Doove, it was confirmed that I could go ahead with this proposal for my assignment because it was a “dead call” and therefore I would not be officially applying during my final year of studies anyway.

The Hayward Touring Curatorial Open takes place across the UK, touring to Liverpool’s Bluecoat Gallery, Newcastle’s BALTIC, Norwich University of Arts Gallery and another yet to be disclosed venue.

I feel this is an excellent opportunity for artists to showcase their work in several gallery spaces and cities around the country.  Furthermore, the touring element of the exhibition allows for a wider audience to view the work.

Following my decision to create a proposal for the Hayward Touring Curatorial Open, I considered what my concept could be as the open call specified no set theme.

During my CURA302 project when I had looked into ritual and spirituality, I had watched the BBC series Sacred Wonders of Britain, 2013 presented by Archeologist and historian Neil Oliver.

In the first episode looked at Paleolithic  and Neolithic sacred grounds in Britain.

Oliver discusses how the rituals and beliefs of our ancestors suggest that they were concerned with how the world worked around them and how they discovered their place within it, by connecting to the landscape around them.  Throughout the program Oliver gives several examples of sacred grounds including:

  • Creswell Crags, Nottinghamshire – where engravings of animals have been etched into the rock by paleolithic hunter gatherers, suggesting magical, spiritual or religious activities;
  • Ancient Neolithic burial tombs in the south of England and Scottish Borders show how the people began to landscape Britain with monuments – the large upturned stones may suggest the dead spirits bodies or act as reminders of the founding generations of the area – elevating them to the position of deities;
  • Flint mines of Grimes Graves, Norfolk – suggesting that the neolithic people may have carried out rites of passage and rebirth initiations;
  • The stone circle and henge of Avebury, Wiltshire – seemingly ceremonial areas;
  • Orkney’s monuments.

Part of the stone circle at Avebury.  Image available from: http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/avebury/history-and-research/

Part of the stone circle at Avebury. Image available from: http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/avebury/history-and-research/

Oliver highlights how these areas have become pilgrimages – even for people today who travel for many reasons to see the sacred places across Britain.

While walking through the upturned parallel sarsen stones of Avebury ,Oliver questions Dr Nick Snashall, National Trust Archeologist as to what present day man can gain from  these places.  Snashall responds by highlighting that any form of architecture was very new in neolithic times.  The modern day visitor can sense how the physicality of the stones affects how they see, hear and feel about how the ancient people would have felt while putting these stones up – the effort involved and the journey paved out by the stones (BBC2 (30/12/13) Sacred Wonders of Britain, Episode 1)

 With this in mind, I started to think about proposing an exhibition based around the idea of sacred grounds or objects.  As mentioned above, people from across the world can travel miles to visit sacred places for many reasons including spiritual, religious or meditative experiences.
I decided that as the open call was for a touring exhibition, it would be an interesting prospect to create a touring “sacred” experience i.e. instead of people traveling to a sacred place, the sacred place would come to the people.
I do not wish to create a religious experience and base the exhibition on religious iconography etc.  Rather, I would wish to include objects which I would describe as contemporary art “relics”.  These would be artworks which suggest spiritual or awe-inspiring thoughts and feelings within the viewer – or at least pieces that have had some resonance or profundity for myself.
BBC2 (30/12/13) Sacred Wonders of Britain, Episode 1.

Experimentation/Contextualization: “lest [she] reach out [her] hand and take of the tree of life and live forever” – Genesis 3:22

After my last experimentation, I decided there were a few things I wished to change and incorporate in my next performance.

In the previous piece, there was a lack of ‘beginning’ and therefore felt that I could use the Yoni gesture I had developed in my next performance – to indicate the start and end of the ritual.  The use of this ‘symbolic’ gesture would mark a sense of respect for what I was about to do and had done and also demonstrate a reverence for the feminine and to show that I was blessing myself in the ritual and therefore wishing to embody the tree’s life-force.  Again, there is a sense of narcissism and elevating oneself, in taking something that does not belong to me – similar to the story of Eve in the Garden of Eden.  However, I am suggesting that I am taking back the immortality that was lost by taking from the tree – in a sense, it is a ‘profane (as opposed to divine) retribution’ of Eve.

I mentioned previously that I would be fully clothed in my performances because I felt it was unnecessary and perhaps too obvious to be naked.  Again, in line with the story of the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve saw their nakedness after eating from the tree, became ashamed and covered themselves.  Therefore, I do not feel it necessary to my concept to be naked, as I not only have freedom of choice but do not wish to present my body as an object to be judged.

However, I did decide to be barefoot in my performance, not only because I felt my footwear was distracting but because I wanted to have a physical connection to nature as this is an important factor in the performance.

I wore black in my performance, simply because it is the colour of ‘mourning’ in the Western world and I was suggesting the loss of the tree’s immortality.

The result was as follows:

Click image to view film

After taking photographs and watching the footage back, I did feel a sense of guilt at damaging the tree for my own selfish desires.  Furthermore, this was emphasized more, when looking at the photographs of the damaged bark, that looked like barbaric wounds – similar to flesh wounds.  From this I could sense the life of the tree and a sense of pain.

039049056This further highlighted the religious and spiritual feeling that the performance had evoked within me.  After experiencing the guilt of taking something that was not mine to take, I decided that I would not carry out the performance again.

These feelings emphasized to me how damaging the empty quest for youth can be on one’s inner self and well being.  The aging process is inevitable and is impossible to reverse no matter how many products or how much surgery one has – these things are unimportant and only superficial.