In the humanist library and archives  at Conway Hall home to the ethical society is a section labelled Humankind. I love that. Are all the answers here?

1601 Conway Actants 3I was taking part in a tour of Conway Actants exhibition led by Jane Millar and Deborah Gardner who have placed site specific work throughout this wonderful building responding to the ethos and history of Conway Hall. 1601 Conway Actants

The bee hives on the roof inspired Deborah’s interventions of hexagonal sculptures morphing from the circular ceiling windows. Translating the activity on the roof and the interconnectedness and clusters of activity within the building.

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Looking through the lenses of history, travelling through time, preserving and learning from the past. Conway Hall is a place for free thinking.

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The archive is a place of secrets as well as a place of discovery.

 

I made another visit to Conway Hall for the panel discussion – Why Do We Believe? It was a  diverse mix of people who packed the hall to ponder this question.

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On the stage were; Prof. Francesca Stavrakopoulou, Professor of Hebrew Bible and Ancient Religion “an atheist with huge respect for religion” who regards her work as “a branch of history like any other”; Prof Richard Wiseman, Britain’s only Chair in the Public Understanding of Psychology who has gained an international reputation for research into unusual areas of psychology, including luck, deception, and the science of self-help; Alice Herron a PhD candidate who was brought up a Catholic, married a Muslim, got divorced and spent 27 years in the cult of Indian Guru Sri Chinmoy and is currently researching atheists who claim to have had some sort of mystical-type experience; Bruce Hood a Professor of Developmental Psychology, currently the President of the British Association for Science psychology section who has given the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures “Meet Your Brain” and written books such as; SuperSense: Why We Believe In The Unbelievable and The Self Illusion: Why There is No ‘You’ Inside Your Head; Deborah Hyde the editor in chief of the UK’s only regular magazine to take a critical-thinking and evidence-based approach to pseudo-science and the paranormal and who is fascinated by the supernatural, and probably knows way too many facts about werewolf folklore.

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The opinions expressed can all be heard at the above link. There were different perspectives and lots of interesting facts but on the whole what I found fascinating was the general consensus of disbelief throughout the room considering the percentage of the population cited to hold a belief in ‘something’ supernatural. Maybe the discussion should have been called ‘Why did we believe?’ or ‘Why do other people believe?’ Perhaps it was the authority of the panel who made it sound like a weakness, a fiction to turn to in times of existential crisis, to bring a sense of order and comfort to our lives. I was hoping for someone to pipe up during question time and dispute these claims but none did. And what about belief in a supernatural that brings disorder? It’s a fascinating debate believers or not.

A Leap Of Faith at St. Laurence Church, Catford was presented for one day only by The LivingRoom a nomadic space committed to blurring the boundaries between the display of  work and the work itself. 1601 A leap of Faith 1

The artist’s works were placed among the Church’s artefacts, propped in pews and laid on tables. The boundaries disappeared.

1601 St.Laurences ChurchI entered late in the day, there had been a schedule of performances but I had missed most of these. Coming in from torrential rain outside, the place was immediately a sanctuary. People milled quietly and took their seats along the pews. I sat waiting but not sure what for and in the hushed gloom had the uncanny feeling I had inadvertently joined a cult. After a while, strange resonating sounds from Michael Speers  performance of distorted feedback filled the space. We sat in quasi religious contemplation.1601 A leap of Faith 2A leap of faith considers the universe, civilisation and the individual; questioning our existence in relation to infinite time and space or to a particular moment in history. Based on natural phenomena, scientific observations or constructed narratives, the works ponder on past ideas and beliefs whilst also constructing their contemporary ones. This cycle of renewal, found in religion as well as in other systems, is visible in the artists’ attempts to make sense of and reorganise traces of our existence. 
1601 A leap of Faith 5Among the artists in this show were Mark Ariel Waller projecting SO-LA, video footage from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory above a bronze cast replicating ‘Sit Shamshi’ a 12thC relic of Iran which depicts two figures in a temple setting performing a ritual to the rising sun.

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One of my current objects of interest – an obelisk seen here in Salvatore Arancio’s mash up of Carl Sagan footage from the TV series ‘The Cosmos’. These striking forms also originated from rituals of sun worship.

In a very different space Cerith Wyn Evans exhibition at  White Cube focused on flows of energy, referencing Marcel Duchamp’s work The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even.

The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass) 1915-23, reconstruction by Richard Hamilton 1965-6, lower panel remade 1985 by Marcel Duchamp 1887-1968

Reassigning and charging with gas the circular forms that are known as the Oculist Witnesses in Duchamp’s piece.

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These forms now glowing brightly above our heads would have centred the flow of illuminating gas from the Bachelors to the Blossoming of the Bride should Duchamp have allowed this ejaculation to follow its course.

Ghosts of the past brought to life to bear witness once more.

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While we circle the gallery a sighing breath intones a melody from glass flutes suspended above us and large potted palms silently rotate though slowed time.

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Also using light as medium Tsang Kin-Wah’s immersive installation ‘The Infinite Nothing‘ contemplates the uncertainty of life.

Beginning with Nietzsche’s pronouncement on the death of God: ‘Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space?’ we are led on a circular journey through four stages of transformation, titled 0, I, and r giving physical shape to Nietzsche’s theory of ‘eternal recurrence’.

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Tsang combines philosophy, mythology, religious symbolisms and popular cultural references.1601 Venice Hong Kong (2)

We face Heraclitus’s river into which ‘one cannot step twice’; Plato’s Cave Allegory; and Nietzsche’s notions of ‘Camel Spirit’, ‘slave morality’ and ‘the Overman’.

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Inspirations also come from Béla Tarr’s film The Turin Horse (2011) and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) along with thoughts on karma and reincarnation as Tsang explores all routes in the human quest for self-betterment.

Taking inspiration from the 12th century quest for the philosopher’s stone The Obsidian Project is an investigation into alchemy by Ralph Nauta and Lonneke Gordijn who make up Studio Drift. Exploring relationships between nature, technology and mankind they are working with a contemporary chemist who can abstract gold from chemical waste.

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Left over from this process of extraction is ‘synthetic obsidian’ a black stony glass with unique reflective qualities. Perhaps in its meditative dark space of reflection it is the Obsidian that offers something more precious than gold.

 

 

 

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