Last month, students from the University of the West of England’s Fine Art course visited the Floating Garden to make a special, collaborative recording of a ritualistic performance, as part of a wider series of ritual actions performed and recorded in front of public art works in Bristol. Here the students discuss the thinking behind the project...
On a rainy day in May we were very kindly taken to Seeds of Change: A Floating Ballast Seed Garden by Arnolfini Assistant Curator Jess Rolls. The project by Brazilian artist Maria Tereza Alves is situated on the Floating Harbour opposite the new Finzel’s Reach development. With Castle Park at the top of the wall above, the garden is tucked away, revealing itself as a pleasant surprise to anyone curious enough to look over the wall from the park. Those who do are rewarded with a superb birds-eye view of the boat’s layout by designer Gitta Gschwendtner.
At the time of filming in early May, the garden was only just coming out of hibernation after a late spring. Plants that had over-wintered spread their intense green foliage across the raised beds, while botanists from the University of Bristol were not due for another month to plant this year’s fine array of flora that had originally found their way to Bristol hidden in the ballast of trade ships travelling the globe.
The Elementals project centres on the artistic practice of Chantelle Harry in which her personal, intuitive rituals are performed in close proximity to a number of public art works in Bristol: Follow Me by Jeppe Hein, Aquarena by William Pye, Sand Martin Colony by Tue Greenfort and Seeds of Change by Maria Tereza Alves. The works were chosen as the sites for each ritual because of their link to each element (spirit, water, wind and earth) and to a certain degree for their level of invisibility in the public realm, however deliberate or not. In being permitted to use the Floating Garden art work as one of the sites, we aimed to highlight its ‘publicness’ through a private moment turned performative. The performance of these rituals was recorded by Jodie Marks and Ben Buck, resulting in video edits by Jodie and an overarching soundscape composed by Ben.
Working in a meditative state, part of the purpose of Chantelle’s rituals was to bring a positive focus to the chosen art works and the spaces they inhabit. Each ritual shared similarities, but Chantelle’s process was different depending on the location and the element being focussed on. Each ritual begins with Chantelle’s meditative stance, followed by the drawing of a salt circle. In the Floating Garden ritual a crystal ball was used to connect with the ‘earth’ element of the ritual. The circle was then purified with crystals before Chantelle carried out a Tarot card reading, focussing in on her own thoughts and state of mind. To signify the end of the ritual a circle is traced with the crystal to release the collected energy.
In the final installation, the importance of the soundscape (composed of field recordings, Chantelle’s voice and found sounds) in suggesting the meditative plane that Chantelle inhabited complements the visual rigidity of the video documentation which emphasises duration through the silent narrative retelling of the process and circumstances of the ritual. A fifth video, focussing on fire, was made separately to accompany Chantelle’s final installation.
Elementals is on display as part of the University of the West of England’s Fine Art degree show at Spike Island until Thursday 13 June.