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Laura Belém’s installation, The Temple Of A Thousand Bells, York St Mary’s
GLASSBLOBBERY...Yes, such a word, a name and a place does exist, and it has played a very significant part in the creation of Brazilian artist Laura Belém’s installation, The Temple Of A Thousand Bells, newly hanging in the nave of York St Mary’s.
The Glassblobbery studio and workshop in Flintshire, North Wales, has cast the thousand individually hand-made 7cm glass bells that are now suspended from the ceiling on nylon strings in the former church in Coppergate, York.
Make that one thousand and twenty: twenty extra were made as insurance against breakages but none has been broken in the careful assembly of the delicate installation at St Mary’s.
This is the third setting for Laura’s work, originally commissioned for the Liverpool Biennial International 10 exhibition in 2010, when it was housed in the religious setting of the Oratory, a former chapel at St James’s cemetery in front of the Anglican cathedral.
Last year, Laura Turner, curator of art for York Museums Trust, saw the work at the National Glass Centre in Sunderland, setting in motion the pathway to its latest destination.
“I thought it would be ideal for the space of York St Mary’s, so we proposed the idea to Laura and she was really excited about showing the piece here because it was originally created to be shown in a church-like setting,” says Laura Turner. “The ideas and imagery which the piece evokes will take on new meanings in St Mary’s.”
On her first visit to the York church, Laura Belém was immediately struck by what it could bring to her installation. “In terms of the architecture, I love the windows and the way the sunlight comes in, which of course is an organic, changing process as the sun moves round,” she says.
“This place also has a sacred atmosphere from its past, its memories, and the graves below your feet. Everything relates to the sense of loss and the passage of time.”
How apt then for an installation that was inspired by an ancient legend – one told in Japan, India, Italy and Northern France – of a temple on an island that sinks into the ocean. As the story unfolds, it reveals the attempts of a sailor to hear the music of the thousand bells lost to the depths.
Consequently, in Laura’s representation of that story, her bells do not have a clapper, creating a visual metaphor to match the legend of the lost music of the bells in the ocean’s depths. “I’m also creating the sense of raindrops, the imagery of water, when you stand below them,” she says.
The translucent bells evoke spirituality and evanescence too, conveying fragility, lyricism, dreams and imagination, as well as a sense of presence and absence, memory and displacement.
“Laura’s intention is to show a work that can touch the viewer’s ‘inner score’ – their soul and heart – something we share in common universally and that transcends geographic and cultural boundaries,” says the other Laura.
This inner score is complemented by a polyphonic sound piece, composed by Brazilian musician Fernando Rocha.
“He creates a 3-D effect to the sound of the narrated story,” says Laura. “He’s a music professor at the university in my home town of Belo Horizonte, north of San Paolo, who works with both polyphonic sounds and electro-acoustic music, and for my installation he’s worked with the text of the legend to make the soundscape, which is about nine minutes in duration.
“It’s a five-channel piece with five elements: one central speaker for the narration and four side speakers for the sound effects, with the sound travelling from speaker to speaker within the space.”
The bells took three days to hang, a task that was done by York Museums Trust staff, completed as Laura looked on unable to help as she was still recovering from a broken arm – but overall you have to hand it to her. Her bells make you stop, reflect, dream, away from the shopping bustle outside.
• Laura Belém’s installation, The Temple Of A Thousand Bells, is at York St Mary’s, Coppergate, York, until November 4. Entry is free. For details, visit yorkstmarys.org.uk
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