The really lovely thing about having art shows in unusual places are the perks that come attached to these spaces. Galitzine Mackenzie’s latest show, Revive! has just finished at the Crypt of St Mary Magdalene in Little Venice and when I visited late on a Sunday in December it was to the glorious accompaniment of carols from above, a choir practising for their carol concert that evening. Like the relationships developed with the community via previous shows in the allotments in Highgate and the houseboat dwellers on Regents Canal, this is another exhibition which has community central to its game plan. Not only is St Mary Magdalene a practising church, rare when so many are being amalgamated or developed, this is a place which is fully committed to the arts, so much that the crypt is soon to be made into an multicultural arts centre serving the local community thanks to a £3.6 million Heritage Lottery grant.
I met Carolyn Barker-Mill, who has her studio in one part of the crypt a few months ago when Sasha and Olga staged the first part of the show Pompe, a procession along Regents canal, ending at the church for a series of performance pieces. Carolyn’s work MM was produced whilst working with renowned stained glass craftsman Thomas Denny. It’s based on identity of Mary Magdalene whom the church is dedicated to and also plays on the the feminine image and identity of celebrity culture using Marilyn Monroe as another icon with the same initials.
Adam Barker-Mill produced the most instagramable piece of art so far in the Galitzine Mackenzie cannon. His splendid work Glowb inspires unthinking captivated concentration from its audience, delighted by its peaceful light. This contemporary work sits in front of the staggeringly beautiful original alter, gilded and gleaming, which contains several versions of Mary Magdalene. Mary of Eygpt and 'The Ultimate Sinner' are among these. Allegedly Pope Gregory The Great fused many significant Mary’s in Jesus' life together to create one Mary Magdalene hence the many myths surrounding her. This was perhaps an attempt to belittle the presence of significant women in Jesus' life. Lucinda May’s piece is a reinterpretation of the plainsong notation still visible on the walls of Ninian Comper’s Chantry Chapel dedicated to Mary Magdalene. Lift was recorded in the crypt and is an appropriation of the chant, usually performed by men. Haunting and celebratory of the role of women, especially in relation to Jesus, this recalls the subtle autonomy of the Sisters and the origins of the church as a refuge for prostitutes and single mothers.
A total highlight was Hans Rosenstrom’s work. He produced the perfectly sight specific work Some Bodies Language. Sitting in a chair with headphones on I was almost alone in the crypt. Unexpected footsteps, rustles and breathing enveloped me. I felt claustrophobic which was heightened by a light pointing towards me, gradually getting brighter so my vision was almost blacked out. I believe in ghosts, having been brought up in an old house in the Lake District. This artwork reminded me of stories I heard as I grew up. The thing about ghosts though is that you can have both good or bad presences. The ones that people have told me about in our house seem to be basically good; steadying invisible hands holding ladders, a man in a brown suit who walks down stairs and disappears into a room with no other exit and a woman who presides over the garden who fits the description of my grandmother who died the year after I was born. This woman was described in court to my father who had to identify a statue some thieves being cross-examined had stolen. Some Bodies Language is a positive ghostly presence, bringing the viewer into the work as audience and participator. It is an embodiment of the church, a place which itself plays with the idea of space and time. The clever thing about the work was that it had been recorded and played back from the same place that the listener sits in. The sense of movement around the listener and involvement with the space embodies the churches values and beliefs of God as all omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent.
The Church already plays an important part in the community. Next week children from The Mary Magdalene Primary School will be making paintings based on those of Jonathan McCree whose work is attached to the floor. This discomposing form of presentation forces the viewer to walk with care across artwork that would normally be presented on the wall of a gallery. McCree’s work is a playful exploration of the physical relationship between artwork and audience and scrutinizes the original use of the crypt as a space to store bodies before burial.
To stage an exhibition in such a beautiful space is testament to imagination. This is perhaps a naïve word but one appropriate to this show staged in such a beautiful surrounding. The gilded alter and intricate stars on the ceiling of the chantry are juxtaposed with the rest of the large crypt which is undecorated yet still haunting in its scale and architecture. The whole space is concealed from the street by an unremarkable staircase, a metaphor perhaps for the Galitzine Mackenzie manifesto, revealing beauty in everyday places through these accessible and extraordinary productions.
Artists involved in Revive! Lucinda May, STASIS, Carolyn Barker-Mill, Pavel Pepperstein, Jonathan McCree, Hans Rosenstrom, Alan Magee, Col Self, Adam Braker-Mill, Niklas Gustafson
Curated by Galiztine Mackenzie
Written by Beatrice Hasell-McCosh