… a soundscape @ ‘In Situ’ at St. John in Bethnal Green by Kite&Laslett and Eleanor Wemyss

In situ is a collaboration of two forces: Kite &Laslett creative practice, that participate with their work ‘Genius Loci’ and Eleanor Wemyss who contributes her ‘Foundations’ piece and it was curated by Sophie Hoyle.

In situ means: ‘in the original location’ in latin and true to their collective name the exhibits derive from this space, metaphorically and physically. Wemyss has manipulated St. John’s original architectural drawings and placing them along the stairway that leads to the bell tower, she traces a route that the visitor has to follow.

Eleanor Wemyss 'Foundations'

The refined aesthetics of the drawings, lit by minuscule lights and combined with the environment of the run-down building already create an atmosphere which culminates when one enters Genius Loci. This term, again latin, means ‘the spirit of place(s)’ and very eloquently describes what Kite & Laslett have managed to express with this piece. Entering the room, one is supposed to shut the door and experience the installation in the darkness. We did not at the beginning and when we finally did a lady -who obviously walked in the exhibition by accident- joined us but left unfortunately too soon,  spooked out by the effect of sound and darkness. We on the other hand, could not actually leave this dark room for a long time as we enjoyed the experience immensely.

A tiny light synchronised with the sound recordings hangs in the middle of the room and slowly moves pushed by gushes of wind that are created by people’s movement or the door opening. The light that is emitted is very little contrasting the sound which is very loud. The soundscape was recorded in the church and as Sebastian Kite told us, it was originally planned in detail but ultimately includes improvisations that occurred within the recorded performance. 

The recordings are combinations of abstracted church bells, choral voices, deep breathing, fire and  reciting possibly religious texts. It really does not matter what is the exact origin of the sound. What matters is that it manages to actually grasp the ‘spirit of the place’ in the fleeting way that any spirit can be grasped. To express this subtle sense that one has from a space with such history behind it, is an endeavour and the interpretation of the artist’s work is personal for every visitor.

Kite&Laslett 'Genius Loci'

I went there with a friend who told me afterwards that she felt she was in the church during world war II bombings, which was not my impression and possibly not exactly the artists’ intention either. However I appreciate her sharing this interpretation and I understand why she felt that. Probably there were people who experienced bombings there, in that exact space, so strangely it is incorporated in its Genius loci. This means that Kite & Laslett successfully manage to express the true sense of place of an old east-end church, especially without emphasising on religion but rather focusing on lived space that carries the rough traces of time and people’s lives imprinted on it.

Most of the ‘In Situ’ artists have a background in architecture (Kite & Laslett are trained architects and Eleanor Wemyss is a trained artist) and this is very obvious in their aesthetics and most importantly in their understanding of space. This is an art installation but it is also an architectural installation as it embodies the artistic part of architecture that architects learn to forget in order to be more effective in problem-solving and detailing. Nevertheless we all remember how this creative-non-specific-rush feels like and we know that it should be indulged in order for one to be effective in the mundane parts of our work and of course in order to be inspired and  truly creative. Ultimately, apart from its obvious aesthetic and artistic achievements this exhibition also points out the importance of tuning into the genius loci of spaces that surround us.

The exhibition will run until the 1st of March

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