Saturday, February 2, 2008

Illuminating York Minister with voices

This is so cool. Back in October and November, a group called Illuminating York did a series of art installations and performances all around the city of York, England. The first link takes you to pictures and video of Evoke, an interactive project that lit up the Minster's western facade with moving rainbow lights set to operate in response to people's voices. The pictures are great but the video is even cooler. In it, singers, screaming kids, clapping crowds, and the sound of children's feet on the steps to the entrance all send undulating light projections crawling up the face of the Minster. I love the fact that it makes tangible the idea of voices being sent into heaven through the magisterial, soaring heights of the Minster. And be sure to watch the video through to the end, where the lights change into something more eery and uncanny.

I have to say though, I don't get where the writer of the post is coming from in describing York Minster as "usually dark and gloomy." Maybe they just mean at night, because York has always struck me as the airiest and lightest of medieval cathedrals, owing in part to its light stone (is it limestone? I can't remember) and its late medieval architectural techniques allowing for greater height and more windows. It's so powerfully beautiful that my mother gasped when she first entered it back on our first trip there in 1986. Though never a fan of religious art -- though she always visited every cathedral in every European cathedral city we traveled to! -- even my atheist mother understood viscerally the potential effect of the place for someone who does believe. For her its beauty was powerful enough.

I imagine living in York it would be easy enough to take the Minster for granted, but a display like this reanimates but also repurposes its beauty and meaning. Illuminating York is illuminating in all senses of the word. Well done!


Flavia said...

It's so powerfully beautiful that my mother gasped when she first entered it. . . . [she] understood viscerally the potential effect on the place for someone who does believe. For her its beauty was powerful enough.

The first time I went into York Minster, I had the same reaction. I remember writing in my journal something about how you could tell that the age that built it was an age that believed in God, whereas ours (with its low, ugly churches that at their best are no more than inoffensive auditoriums) is an age that does not.

Of course, that's not a literally true statement, but I still believe it, in a sense: the way the divine was conceptualized and evoked was different, and I think more profound, then than it is now, where the goal seems to be to make God "relevant" and "relatable."

To hell with relatable. I'll take transcendent, mystifying, and unknowable any day of the week.

Karl Steel said...

with its low, ugly churches

I know you already covered this, F, with the "not literally true," but I can't help but be reminded of visiting Norwich. I'd been excited to see a town with a 15th-c. church for every week of the year (or so I'd told myself, or found it told to me in Duffy or some other such place). First, I was disappointed that Norwich was a thriving little town: surely, since the cloth trade bottomed out in the later 15th century (didn't it?), Norwich should just have preserved itself for me. Thanks, Norwich jerks! SECOND, and most hilariously, the late late medieval churches in Norwich are--if I can extrapolate from the 10 or 12 I walked by--hideous: they're low and ugly, and actually kind of pre-fab looking.

Dr. Virago said...

Flavia, I have to say I totally agree with you, but then you and I are both Catholic, which likely has something to do with it! And American churches of the 20th century and later all seem to imitate Protestant styles, even the Catholic ones. Nothing's worse than 1970s ecclesiastical architecture in the US. Shudder.

But Karl, what on earth are you talking about?! I assume you're talking about the parish churches -- Norwich is largest collection, btw, of surviving medieval parish churches, and I love the fact that you can stand in the yard of one and, theoretically, toss a rock an hit any number of other ones. Anywho, if you're talking about parish churches, then I agree with you, with the exception, perhaps, of St. Peter Mancroft (the one right next to the market square and across the square from the checkerboard guild hall). That church is pretty damn impressive for a parish church, don't you think? And so tall apparently tourists think it's the Cathedral.

Speaking of the Cathedral, it's pretty lovely. But the best part about it is its collection of carved and painted roof bosses and its misericord seat carvings. It's not quite as stunning as York, but it's a bit earlier, I think. But it does have the loveliest close ever. I so want to live in there.

OK, you've inspired me to post pictures of Norwich from when I was there, just for the heck of it.