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Duncan Whitley - Chimes

Duncan Whitley responded to St Peter's Church, Brighton.

The semiotics of sound, particularly the coded languages of cinema, sound and music, are a major influence in Duncan Whitley’s installations. The artist constructs sonic metaphors using recordings, often recognisable as sound effects from film, which are unique to the situation in which they are heard. ‘There commonly exists a dialogue in my installations between acoustic and semiotic language: between the individual perception of sound and its socially constructed meaning,' says Whitley.

The movement of sound through the space is orchestrated through the positioning of speakers and on-site editing to make full use of the acoustics. In this sense the architecture of a space is incorporated into the performance of the work as well as forming part of its content. Sound becomes sculptural.

The sound of birds in flight used for the installation in St Peter’s Church in Brighton might be considered to be a relatively ‘simple’ sound. Whether the sounds have been recorded from birds in flight, or whether approximations of these sounds have been ingeniously constructed, they are recognisable as moving wings. With this recognition comes a myriad of metaphorical associations: flight and freedom, flight and death, flight and a sense of vastness, empty space or dereliction. The ghostly birds could be doves or pigeons, birds of the same species, whose different names carry weighty but opposing symbolism. Whilst the dove is a symbol of peace and freedom, the pigeon is associated with social degradation and physical dereliction. In the same installation, the peal of bells which rings down the aisle and moves towards the altar emphasises the ideology which lies behind the space itself.

The tolling of church bells drifting above the rooftops of a town functions as a call to worship as well as to assert the presence of the Church. In Whitley’s piece, the bells are no longer heard outside but are contained within the walls of the Church, occupying the voluminous negative space of the roof. Loudspeakers mounted high up in the roof use the building’s distinctive acoustics, encouraging the viewer to move around and experience the space. Churches have their own unique sense of quiet. Pauses between the sounds of bells ringing and birds taking flight make use of this quiet, which in itself is imbued with spiritual and psychological meanings. The pauses invite reflection, upon which the next intervention of sound is then projected; the sounds enter into a dialogue with each other as well as with the contemplative silence of the Church.

Chimes, together with Daniel Coombs's work, was exhibited at St Peter's Brighton from:

1st to 25th November 2000

Whitley's work was part of the Art 2000 Projects in Sacred Places where five arrtists were curator selected, in collaboration, with the venues, to make new works for five major churches in the south of England. This was important because it reflected Art and Sacred Places's (then known as Art 2000) desire to build a new partnership between the church and artists and, in doing so, to match the best contemporary standards and practice for art events.

The Catalogue for Art 2000 Projects in Sacred Places, containing text contributions by Saacha Craddock and Father Friedhelm Mennekes is available from Art and Sacred Places

Project funders and supporters included: The Arts Council, The Jerwood Charitable Foundation, The Jerusalem Trust, The National Lottery Millennium Festival Fund, Southern Arts, South East Arts, B&W Loudspeakers, MBI Sound and Light, The Digital Village and Austin Cradles.

Art and Sacred Places - MMXVI-MMXVII