You are on page 1of 20

The Gates of Paradise

a project by Collaborative Space for Preston Guild 2012

The Gates of Paradise A Collaborative Space project


Audio 2pm daily 3rd - 8th September 2012 Rotunda Cafe, Harris Museum & Gallery, Preston also available online: soundcloud.com/collaborative-space Performance Performance time: 6pm Friday 7th September 2012 Audio playback and drinks from 5 - 7pm Rotunda Cafe, Harris Museum & Gallery, Preston Commissioned by In Certain Places as part of the Guild 2012 celebrations by Collaborative Space: Hannah Elizabeth Allan and Jeni McConnell

From June 2009 when the work began, a number of research and artistic activities have been carried out connecting cast replicas of the artwork The Gates of Paradise (Ghiberti 1425) worldwide. Over 19 copies are spread globally in museums, libraries, homes and churches. This body of work links the cast copies in the Harris cafe Preston with those hanging on the Baptistry in Florence. The Gates have hung in the Harris since its opening in 1893. They were one of the initial purchases by the founders, part of a lot including many copies of great Italian Renaissance works. This trend of copied artworks fell out of favour, when the original artefact became the focus of museum exhibits. The original Gates on the Baptistry were themselves replaced by copies in 1990 following extensive pollution and flood damage. They are now divided and undergoing restoration in a Florentine museum. Visitors to the Harris Cafe and Duomo square alike are viewing the same, replica, work of art. This link was our starting point in connecting and contrasting the two spaces. Interest was piqued by this seemingly incongruous connection between the two cities - and the project began to form around these replica artworks and, crucially, the spaces they inhabit. The first major action was a filmed simultaneous intervention into the spaces in Preston and Florence, highlighting the major contrast between the two. In 2012 two further research visits were made to Florence in order to develop ideas, initiate dialogue, and produce work. The audio piece The Gates of Paradise is mixed entirely using recordings made in the vicinity of the Florentine Gates during June 2012. It is intended to transport the listener, via the portal of the cast Gates from one space to another, to give an impression of walking through the crowds of tourists in the heat of the Tuscan summer, past the guides, to the shade of creaking pews. Listeners will be encouraged to think differently about Preston: how they understand and negotiate their experiences in the city, to reflect on visiting another place, and how it can shift your perception of the familiar. The performance has been developed from an intial lecture, Here as There, given in March 2012. Again, one space is transposed upon another through the device - totem - of the copied artwork. The aura and authenticity of the replica, and the

authenticity of experience create a new liminal space through their dialogue. This project is the result of a collaborative process led by artists Hannah Elizabeth Allan and Jeni McConnell, working as Collaborative Space, with the input, advice and thoughts of a number of other creative practitioners. Every Collaborative Space artwork, event or conversation explores not only the subject matter of the project, but also a parallel negotiation and testing of the boundaries, and processes, of collaborative working methods. Throughout the development of the project we have worked, or initiated dialogue, with a number of artists, museum staff, writers and musicians. This booklet charts the journey, sharing our research process, and giving a context to the resolved pieces.

In 2009 a simultaneous filming of the casts at the Harris Museum, Preston and the Baptistry, Florence took place. The text below recalls the intervention as a conversation between the spaces, a conversation between the two artists. Absorb the historic surroundings; ancient, powerful and majestic buildings stand proudly cheek by jowl with the contemporary sentries which guard the perimeter. Paving slabs of grey, soft and smoothed through constant footfall support the eternal travellers. We arrive too early, unexpected visitors. Echoing footsteps on the marble floor approach with the trundle of trolley wheels. Money counted coin by coin. Cutlery polished with a clean white cloth. Puzzled looks. Rewinding tape breaks the silence. Amidst the buzz and unceasing chatter; nearer passing footsteps mingle with mechanical clicks and whirs of recording equipment. Wireless voices transmit through the airwaves, unseen, unheard except by those who sport the team colours, passing on the narrators story to them, the listener. Singular units that move almost as one; the flock shifts to a new location, a new fascination, triggered by a voice in their own tongue. And so the mingling of languages becomes incessant and drifts, distorted by the talkers own first voice, shadowed, hinting at their mothers tongue. A slow trickle of visitors. Pairs sit down although many alone, hurrying through loaded down with bags of words. Frowns at the intrusion, suspicion of change within this static state - their space - questioning is required... so what do you think youre doing?. An expectant shuffle and challenge. Tongues are bitten. Information given. Swift feet pass as I stand . . . still . . . and look. It is the people that shift here - ageing, greying, multiplying, beginning - the space remains unchanged, witness to their inconsistent state. Street beggars, some dressed in white billowing clothes with white faces pester, piercing your protective bubble, catching your eye, looking directly into your inner soul for a hint of generosity. Policemen talk together, with an ever

watchful eye, guns loaded, strapped to their leather belts. Again there are more people, cameras facing you, taking pictures over your shoulder of whats behind, and you realise that there is so much to see. A short stop on the busy guided route, following the upturned umbrella, newspaper, the fluffy toy on stick, the handkerchief, the book; signs of the leader of your gang. Still, silent. Cool and shaded. Junes afternoon sunlight doesnt reach here. The constant images taken to recall at a later date, adding weve done this on the list of things to do before you die, a tick marks them being there, the classroom register harks - a snatched memory to look back on, a trigger and a mask in one. The slow rhythmic swing marking a separate time, becoming hypnotised by its regular elliptical path. Too constant to bear after a while. Some visitors follow the cameras eye... interest piqued, information boards read. A small diversion to the routine. A bell, a bicycles faster movement catches the attention. Few run, most walk but with a constant eye to the surroundings, here not guided by narrow streets but wide open spaces and visual stimuli everywhere, perhaps it is just the sky and the ground that hold no interest and then you notice the camera held aloft. Perhaps there is nothing here that does not appear on an image somewhere around the world, in all those technological archives to be brought out at dinner parties. The room slowly clears, tea drinkers moving on, shuffling away. Plates are cleared breaking the silence all too obviously. Hushed tones feel fitting here. Suddenly the space clears, a solitary female stands resolutely in front of the fence, smiling, waiting patiently for her image to be captured, she had come at the right moment and as she moves away and before the next group arrives I can finally see that which I have been waiting for all this time. Still, silent.

This project interested me not for the aesthetic value of the Gates, or the reputation of the artwork itself, but in introducing the unknown and overlooked existence of copied artworks, the once vibrant casting industry and the status of replica artworks as a once fashionable educational tool, now considered as devalued, un-original copies. The paradoxical nature of the copy in the originals context hung outside Florences Baptistry, contrasted with the vast number of alternative sites across the globe. As the project developed, the Gates, for me, became a tool, a shorthand for connecting the spaces of Preston and Florence. The temporal shift that allowed for viewing both places simultaneously, creating a third uncertain, liminal space between the two: each yet neither. Through the sound piece and live performance a dialogue was created mirroring the collaborative process, and that of exchange. Both yet neither. One might generalize by saying: the technique of reproduction detaches the reproduced object from the domain of tradition. By making many reproductions it substitutes a plurality of copies for a unique existence. And in permitting the reproduction to meet the beholder or listener in his own particular situation, it reactivates the object reproduced. These two processes lead to a tremendous shattering of tradition which is the obverse of the contemporary crisis and renewal of mankind. - Walter Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, 1936 Hannah Elizabeth Allan July 2012

My creative practice includes three key components; people, place and archives; brought to life by the connections between them. My approach is research based, leading to social engagement; people are imperative to my work and this ongoing project is no exception. Initially I was hooked in by the detailed history of the original Gates in Florence, finding any way I could to uncover the story of these huge bronze doors. In discovering more casts around the world `it has been striking to note how each individual history and story stands unique and strong in their varied locations. As we focussed down to the copies in Preston and Florence, still a stark contrast emerges. The silence and often passed-by grandeur of the Rotunda space, quietly inquisitive voices, and hushed whispers as people pass through. Florence; a destination, the Gates of Paradise a stop on the route of the ubiquitous tour guide; different languages providing an explanation of the history of a replica object, its place and its people. Yet, what is the truth that they deliver, some pass off their story; buyer beware! Collaborative working has enabled a distinctly different dialogue for me, our very different approaches in working style have challenged and enriched both how I work and this outcome. I find I am continually intrigued by the possibilities of visiting more locations. We have still not viewed the original door; maybe we never will . . . Jeni McConnell July 2012

Lisa McGarry is a writer and artist now living in Florence. We contacted her in 2009, and have been in dialogue since - comparing the two cities and the experience of living in each. Lisas book The Piazzas of Florence was a particular source of inspiration, merging personal experience, historic detail and hand drawn images to describe the space and transport the reader. The following passage in particular struck us both as an evocative description of participating in an event held within the Duomo (Cathedral) and the Piazza which the Gates look onto. This Sunday morning feels like just another April day-sunny, lots of pedestrians on the streets, the cafes and shops open for business, with the usual Sunday exceptions. Its not until I have nearly reached Piazza del Duomo that I feel sure today really is Easter: the hordes of pedestrians have come to a halt, and a few blocks ahead, between the baptistery and the cathedral, Il Brindellone, the traditional cart containing the fireworks for the Scoppio del Carro, waits expectantly. Once I enter the church, I wander among the crowds for a while, listening to the roar of thousands of people talking and the sweet voices of a childrens choir piped over the speakers. Its almost as big as a soccer field, I overhear a man say in Italian-the Italians always seem to have soccer on the mind. I have never seen the church so packed. I finally find a spot by the altar, under the cupola. Centred before the raised altar is the column that supports one end of the wire, with the mechanical dove in the starting position. Helicopters are circling outside. There is a feeling of anticipation and excitement as I look around, taking in details that I have only read about before. Last year I was in the piazza and couldnt see much more than heads and shoulders. Even so, waiting in the closely packed crowd, hearing the spark of the dove upon its arrival and then the explosions of the cart-joined a few moments later by the joyful ringing of the bells - filled me with unexpected emotion. I am growing used to this fragmented way of witnessing celebrations here though - its like assembling a collage or creating a mosaic of compiled memories over time. This year I am able to see who rings those bells. I will always remember glancing over at the doorway to the south sacristy, where a priest stood in a perfectly placed shaft of sunlight, exuberantly pulling the bell rope once the dove had

returned. In that moment it struck me how joyful Easter must be to a person who has devoted his life to the service of God. For many of us, it is a herald of spring, or an excuse for an extravagant feast, chocolate bunnies and brightly coloured eggs with surprises inside, but for Catholics Easter Sunday is the highlight of their religious calendar. The explosions continue for a quarter of an hour. I hear the parade of Florentines in historic costume as it retreats from the piazza, and know that the police are stepping through the debris to remove the barricades now that the crowds have started to disperse. While the party outside may be over, inside the real celebration is just beginning. Its exciting to be in the basilica, to find out what happens after the cart explodes-now it seems more like a prelude to the main event. Even though the Scioppo del Carro tradition continues mainly for the sake of the tourists, it thrills me to be part of this event that began nearly a millennium ago. How dramatic it must have been when the explosions used to take place at midnight, under a veil of darkness. Even without the cart, midnight is still a significant moment of the holiday. Just before twelve, having rested silent since midnight on Holy Thursday, bells from all around the city join in the joyous song, calling people to this first mass of Easter. As the long mass proceeds, people continuously traverse the area in front of me, their shoes squeaking on the marble floor. I observe the many priests; there is one who nervously twitters around, emphatically gesturing, unconvinced that all is well; the bell-ringer, well chosen for his enthusiastic disposition; and the archbishop with his beatific smile. The cheerful priest escorts young women and men to the sacristy; later they emerge with baskets to collect the donations. All the while children are admitted to a sectioned-off path along the main altar, proudly holding Easter eggs in their arms, or carrying them in pretty baskets or fresh kitchen cloths. They will be presented for blessing in the sacristy, something I had read about but did not imagine still happened. Throughout mass, a number of honoured guests are admitted within the octagonal-shaped altar: trumpeters, their almost fluorescent red medieval costumes slightly reminiscent of a Santa Clause outfit; members of the military; the handsome city council member who attends all the cultural events; a tiny hunchbacked woman whose iridescent shoes always catch my eye as she walks through my neighbourhood on the other side of the river. Finally, the holy men

parade around the choir, wearing lace and floral brocades in shades of springgreen, pink, lilac and yellow. With a nod towards the thousands of international visitors who come to Florence to celebrate Easter in the Duomo, prayers and closing greetings are spoken in ten languages. And regardless of your faith, or lack of it, you cant argue with the message of peace and harmony that the archbishop encourages everyone to carry into the sunny day. lisa-mcgarry.com includes links to further information on The Piazzas of Florence and Lisas practice as an artist and writer. Excerpt reproduced with kind permission of the author.

For further information... Collaborative Space: collaborativespace.co.uk In Certain Places and the other ICP commissioned Guild projects: incertainplaces.org The Gates of Paradise project blog: a-n.co.uk/artists_talking/projects/single/1839388

With thanks to... Collaborators: Lisa McGarry, Orly Orbach, Nicola J Martin Advice and support: In Certain Places, Charles Quick, Elaine Speight, David Henckel, Jon Aveyard, Lubaina Himid, UCLan Technical Stores, staff at Harris Museum & Gallery.