Blitz, an installation by Tom Estes will be shown at Coventry Mysteries Festival 2013, an updated medieval spectacle that retells the Christian story from Creation to Doomsday.
Coventry was an important centre of the cloth trade and throughout the Middle Ages was one of the largest and most important cities in England. During the medieval period the Coventry Guilds of tradesmen (such as carpenters, bakers and shoe-makers) proudly performed their own unique Mystery Plays. The word “mystery” means a trade or craft in medieval English. Mystery is also a religious truth or rite.
Art projects at Coventry Mysteries 2013 will be showcased citywide and there are already some exciting pre-event events engaging hundreds of city centre visitors. Ludic Rooms, who believe in “transforming spaces through technology and play”, will also host a major installation work during the main festival by international artist Tom Estes. Ashley Brown, Director of Ludic Rooms Ltd. states:
“It’s a really lovely piece and fits the theme (of Coventry Mysteries 2013) and the city very nicely.”
In his practice Estes focuses on conditions that shape both production and reception of art. At the core of the work is an attention to the paradox of using intervention and history as meta-narrative devices. By merging the common and the absurd, Estes alters not only our perception of Christianity, but also highlights our obsession with tabloid sensation and web fuelled social activity.
Called ‘Blitz’ the digital video installation depicts a multi-layered image of a figure thrown through the air by a lightning bolt which has been superimposed onto the Biblical text of Noah’s Ark ( or The Great Flood in which God decides to destroy all life on earth as a means of re-creating it). So Estes’ deliberate mitigation of slapstick comedy is a surrealist shock tactic but also with the mad attention urges of a Play Station gamer.
“ There seems to be something strange going on at a time when the world is moving exponentially faster and faster- with humans consuming even greater resources while at the same time confronted with unthinkable catastrophes due to global warming.”
As an artist Estes believes that fantasy and illusion are not contradictions of reality, but instead an integral part of our everyday lives. Through his work he strives, not to break down these introverted, often self-imposed boundaries, but to look at how dataflow impacts on the significance and symbolism of real-world human senses. For example in the past decades many lobbied for a world dominated by rationality and intellect in lieu of irrationality and religious hatred. In a recent interview for Mnemoscape Estes states:
“Technology is proliferating faster and faster, but we are suddenly looking backward rather than forward. We seem to be experiencing a kind of cultural stagnation without the dreams of futurism we once had. For example, for some time we have held the belief that in our culture philosophy is overtaking religion. But if you look at what has been happening, religious ideas are coming back very strongly.”
The modern age has not been the age in which the sacred has been abolished but rather the age of its dissemination in profane space, its democratization and its globalization. Ritual, repetition, and reproduction were once practised in isolated, sacred places. In the modern age, they have become the fate of the entire world, of the entire culture. Under such conditions it should come as no surprise that religions that operate through media channels are increasingly successful.
In Estes’ installation, even the medium itself, a photograph that has been turned into a video display, suggests speed, as a recording of ‘live’ split second action’. By intentionally leaving the project unrealized, Estes’ closed circuit of illusion mimics and merges with the mass media desire for immediate novelty. In the work, Estes anticipates the online reduction of his installation to a single image. By creating an art-world-as-fiction, the work raises the question of whether this project should be understood as an online representation – using fictional space to comment on the ‘real’ world – or as intervention- actually reordering the real world.
But in a humorous and self-referential twist, Estes also attempts to tap into the inherent conflict and the centuries-old anxiety about the deleterious effects of ‘Art’ on the emotionally sensitive. A recent investigation at The Metropolitan Museum of Art (by Jeffrey K. Smith and Lisa F. Smith) found that the mean time spent viewing a work of art was found to be 27.2 seconds, with a median time of 17.0 seconds. So one could say that to ‘Blitz’ a gallery, is to ‘vigorously attack’, or try to see all the works in the gallery in one go. This modern phenomenon, is of course, directly oppositional to the ‘meditative’ quality that museums as a means of recreation and enrichment are meant to suggest.
For Estes context plays a key element in his work. For example the title of the work ‘Blitz’ is a term which is a shortened version of the German word “blitz·krieg” (blĭts’krēg’) which means “A swift, sudden military offensive, usually by combined air and mobile land forces.” So the work seems to suggest not just a contemporary movement away from the slow and contemplative but also references the “Coventry Blitz” or severe bomb damage the city suffered during World War II from the German Luftwaffe. Firebombing led to damage to large areas of the city centre and to Coventry’s historic cathedral, leaving only a shell and the spire while more than 4,000 houses were damaged or destroyed, along with around three-quarters of the city’s industrial plants. More than 800 people were killed, with thousands injured and homeless. The Germans coined the term “Coventrate” to describe the tactics of complete urban devastation developed for the raid.
The mystery plays were the most involved of the vernacular dramas, and depicted the spiritual history of mankind. They consisted of 25-50 individual plays grouped into a larger production called a cycle. The cycle would begin with Creation and the Fall of Man, continue through biblical events, and end with the Last Judgment. The cycles differed from town to town and from year to year as plays were rewritten, and added or dropped. In medieval times they were also called Corpus Christi plays, as they took place most often on that feast day. Later they were also performed on other feast days, especially Whitsuntide, but were still referred to as Corpus Christi plays.
Corpus Christi began in about 1264, but wasn’t widely observed until the 1320s. It was on the first Thursday after Trinity Sunday, in June or early July. It became the church’s primary summer festival, featuring a procession of the clergy and laity through town. The guilds followed the clergy carrying banners. By the first half of the 1400s the processions included people dressed as biblical characters, and it is thought that the mystery plays arose from this procession.
By the 13th century the individual plays, which were also called pageants, were produced by the trade guilds, which were also known as mysteries, or mystères (giving them their name). The guilds in turn were responsible to the city who oversaw the entire cycle. The guilds were given biblical scenes that logically proceeded from their type of business, such as The Shipwrights performing The Building of the Ark.
Coventry Mysteries 2013 has begun with some exciting events that have already been engaging hundreds of city centre visitors. Other Art projects at Coventry Mysteries 2013 will be showcased citywide with projects such as an interactive Giant Peace Jigsaw to play with at the Cathedral and a special outdoor exhibition being installed in the Precinct.
Container’, from the Coventry school of Art and Design will be in Broadgate on Monday the 11th and Tuesday the 12th from 12 to 2pm with a vivid performance as a response to the theme of urban development and transformation. The hollow shipping container depicts a cold, industrial and alien environment. The idea is to put a vulnerable and lone human being in this context to see the change in their reaction. This person comes in the form of German-born Joana Tischkan, from Coventry University. The creative idea of the dance is watching how Joana engages with this performance space as an object through her movements.
German sonic artist Wolfram Spyra will capture Joana’s movement and emotional response in the contained environment. He will do this by attaching speaker and amplifiers to the container to intensify every sound Joana makes.
COVENTRY MYSTERIES WEEK 9th-16th June, 2013
For more information about the festival, visit the website http://www.coventrymysteries.com