It has been nearly a week since I visited the Tin Tabernacle in Kilburn and I’m digesting what I saw. But, I think that is the point of the work – it is intentionally so complex that we go on pondering its meanings and will never quite fully understand every component.
The Tin Taberacle. Own photograph.
Artangel’s latest project is a commission by artist Lindsay Seers taking place in the Tin Tabernacle in Kilburn, a remarkable corrugated iron chapel that I was quite curious to see. Artangel seek to take art out of traditional gallery settings and open their projects up to new audiences. They are offering free tickets on a Wednesday afternoon to allow those who may not be able to afford to pay an opportunity to experience the work. Not only have they hit the nail on the head with this incredible project but they have made it accessible and, as ever, they must be applauded.
Flat-packed corrugated buildings, such as the Tin Tabernacle, were sent by the Victorians to colonies all over the world to act as temporary places of worship. This specific example, constructed in 1863, is now a Grade II listed building that has been home to the Willesden and St Marylebone Sea Cadets since 1949. Shortly after occupying the site, they transformed it into a training ship so the building has portholes, rigging, a 1943 anti-aircraft gun and much more besides. Although the outlines of a ship are normally present, the building is no longer recognisable and a lot more has been added to it in the creation of Seers’ piece.
Inside The Tin Tab. Own photograph.
Entering the Tin Tabernacle was the start of my adventure. You walk through a grubby yard at the side of the church and are shown into a waiting room – the ship’s wardroom. Music calls softly from everyone’s headphones. When everyone has arrived, you’re shown into Seers’ world where nothing is as it seems.
Entering the building. Own photograph.
The idea of creating spaces and buildings is not new to Seers. The Tin Tabernacle is a living museum and much of what you see belongs to the Cadets although it’s impossible to tell what was here and what was not. And so starts the endless impossibilities of this piece.
Nowhere Less Now is a poignant amalgam of film, photography, sculpture, performance, animation, philosophy and writing that brings together research, history, autobiography and fiction in an exploration of time, place, family, sea-faring, masonry and more besides. The work consists of two films projected simultaneously onto specially designed screens, resembling two eyes – a theme which is omnipresent throughout the work in the discussion of heterochromia, a condition that results in different coloured eyes. The multi-layered soundtrack is played through the headphones creating an intimate and more personal experience.
A still from the film piece. Image via www.telegraph.co.uk.
Magical realism comes into play with Seer’s multi-media installation, blurring boundaries between truth and fiction; the magic of Seers’ art is that we are unable to distinguish which is which. She establishes extraordinary connections and creates experiences that set off connections within your mind. The story tells us of her great great uncle, George Edwards, a sailor who was born on 27th September 1866, a hundred years to the day before she was born (look carefully and you can find a photograph of George on one of the walls). He sailed to Zanzibar where she had previously discovered another prefabricated church. The story also involves a present day African sailor called George and takes us to a George in the future where photographs have ceased to exist.
A still from the film piece. Image via www.timeout.com.
Seers feels that we experience everything through complicated connections and her work aims to represent the experience of ‘being’, jumping backwards and forwards as these connections progress and develop. When the film ends, we’re left with so many questions. I don’t want to describe the video in any more depth as part of the beauty of the work is the mystery. Before leaving the Tin Tabernacle, you have the opportunity to wander round the dimly lit space for ten minutes not really knowing what to make of the surroundings. The act of experiencing the site is a one-off voyage of discovery. On the way out, visitors are handed a fairly substantial book and this is my one criticism – everything is meant to be unresolved and no-one should have to feel the need to read nearly 200 pages in a bid to help them untangle the webs of Seers’ work.
The book that’s handed out on exit. Image via www.immprint.com.
It’s easy to forget where you are and walking back onto the street is quite disorientating. Seers has a unique way of seeing things. Is this an autobiographical piece or is this all fiction? We’ll never know. Are the people in the film who we think they are? Again, the implausibility of the story is meant to baffle and move us. Whatever you take from the content of the piece, the method of projection, design and transformation of building and the overall construction are so beautiful and dreamlike and executed to such a high degree of finish that you can’t help but be moved in some way.
Lindsay Seers: Nowhere Less Now is at The Tin Tabernacle until 21st October 2012, www.artangel.org.uk.