A modernist ruin in Argyll, Scotland, is the place for an ambitious sound-and-light production
Cleared out and produced secure but completely untamed, Scotland’s most celebrated modernist ruin is the charismatic star of Hinterland, the newest and most ambitious light-and-sound production staged by arts charity NVA.
The event is set in and around St Peter’s Seminary in Cardross, a Brutalist complex completed just 50 years ago but for decades abandoned to the components and vandals. Now NVA has set itself on a £7.5m quest to save the constructing and give it a new life as an arts facility in the quiet Kilmahew woods, 30km north-west of Glasgow.
Hinterland, which marks the official launch of Scotland’s Festival of Architecture 2016, begins by bussing guests in from nearby Helensburgh following dusk and issuing them with illuminated walking sticks. They are then sent up a muddy track through the woods that surround the former seminary.
It is a route that brings them to a single of the building’s most exceptional attributes: the sharp-angled wing of its teaching block, which reaches out into the trees. It is an architectural statement now emphasised by under-lighting that turns it into a wealthy red triangle against the dark sky.
Beyond, there are sophisticated light projections, a melodic but unsettling choral soundscape by composer Rory Boyle and enigmatic ceremonies by construction-helmeted figures that echo the Catholic rituals after practised here by trainee priests.
This is art as homage to architecture. As NVA inventive director Angus Farquhar puts it, Hinterland is not so considerably a overall performance as a possibility to see the building performed.
It is a developing currently profoundly marked by the Glasgow-based group. Because 2014, NVA has stripped the former seminary back to its concrete structure, removing thousands of tonnes of decaying fittings including a massive amount of asbestos. Even viewed on a grey March afternoon, there is drama in the sculpted forms now completely revealed. Several elements of the creating proved inadequate for western Scotland’s challenging climate — some who studied there say it could be brutally cold and draughty — but Farquhar says the concrete frame has weathered properly. “The 1 point that they genuinely got appropriate was the completely brilliant quality of poured concrete,” he says. “The building’s back to its bare bones, and it has quite great bones.”
The clearing of the creating and of thousands of invasive rhododendron bushes from the surrounding woods makes it less difficult to comprehend the vision of the architects, Andy MacMillan and Isi Metzstein, each now deceased. The pair, then in their thirties, had already won fame for a series of striking modernist Catholic churches. They made St Peter’s as a Brutalist series of buildings half-wrapped around Kilmahew Residence, a Victorian baronial mansion that was demolished in 1995 following a fire.
Following decades of getting treated with general contempt, Brutalism has been enjoying a modest revival of its reputation lately, and the re-emergence from obscurity of St Peter’s may possibly help. Though the constructing suffered from heating problems — not helped by vast expanses of single-glazed windows — it had a self-assurance of form and function that would stand comparison with the religious architecture of any age.
These who visited St Peter’s when it was still crowded by unchecked greenery and choked with detritus might feel a particular nostalgia for its former abandoned state. But getting stabilised the creating, NVA does not strategy to bring it back totally from ruin. If £4m of funding by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Inventive Scotland is approved, the chapel with its extravagant ziggurat roof light will be restored and turned into overall performance venue with a capacity of 600 people. Considerably of the rest of the main structure will be left as a raw frame.
Farquhar also plans to leave at least some of the graffiti that covers many walls and pillars and which ranges from the wildly inventive to the merely obscene. In many areas there are sardonic statements of apparent commentary on the developing and its uses: “EXPENSIVE SHIT” is written in large white letters along the outer wall of an upper floor “PLEASURE SCENE” in an inner hall used for illicit raves. Several who have daubed paint appear to have felt the require to show their feelings about the church that commissioned St Peter’s. “LIES, CORRUPTION, GREED” runs the slogan wrapped around a cross on a single pillar. In the chamber where trainees practised saying mass, a devil has been expertly painted above an altar alongside the words “YOUR SOUL IS MINE”.
Such irreligiosity is counterpointed throughout Hinterland by the addition of burning candles and the echoing chants of Boyle’s soundtrack. Above, in what was once the chapel, two masked performers swing a huge incense burner, its billowing smoke caught in a sharp white beam and reflected in the shallow water of the flooded floor.
Elsewhere Farquhar weaves in significantly less obvious references: blocks of sharply coloured lighting cast on to walls and ceilings recall the function of Kazimir Malevich’s abstract Suprematism movement. But the result stands on its personal merits as an typically startlingly beautiful act of momentary redecoration.
As NVA’s very first functionality at St Peter’s, Hinterland hints at rich prospective for future artistic activity at the Kilmahew estate. There are plans to open up paths and repair the medieval castle, a a lot more traditional Scottish ruin, even though one particular that bears the marks of yet another artistic vision in the type of 19th-century Gothic Revival windows.
If all goes nicely, the estate could turn out to be a canvas for public art. There need to certainly also someday be an try to place a new constructing in the present void where the razed Victorian mansion once stood, continuing the architectural conversation in between generations begun by MacMillan and Metzstein.
For now, Farquhar talks of opening up the walled gardens to regional growers and of holding far more events throughout the next two years of building operate on St Peter’s. With £23 tickets for Hinterland promoting out just before the event’s ten-night run even began, there appears probably to be lots of demand for more encounters with this modernist masterpiece.
To March 27, nva.org.uk/artwork/hinterland
The Festival of Architecture is a year-lengthy series of events across Scotland, information at www.foa2016.com
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