Observance is a series of long exposure photographic portraits and accompanying soundscapes of people from a wide spectrum of faiths in a state of prayer. The work explores whether this internal, spiritual experience can be recorded and communicated to an audience and how the installation in Dilston Grove, with its traces of past congregational activity, affects the visitor’s experience.
Since 2004, Nicola has approached people across the world to participate in the project including Ela Ghandi (Ghandi’s granddaughter) and Yonah Metzger (Chief Rabbi of Israel) alongside Sikhs, Sufis, Zoroastrians, Shamans, Jedis and others. Sitters were invited into a meditational space to recite a chosen prayer or mantra and photographed, using a cable release, with a fifteen second exposure time while looking directly into the lens.
Long exposures hark back to the beginnings of photography when film was slow and shutter speeds long. It was the time of spirit photography where it was believed that a photograph could capture one’s soul or communicate with the dead. The portraits, shot using a large format camera with the subjects full in the frame, also make reference to the strict visual parameters employed in religious icon painting where the frontality of the figure brings the viewer into direct relationship to the subject.
Singing or reciting out loud is integral to many spiritual practices and relates to the experience of how sound vibrations affect the body, mind and spirit through the movement of the tongue, the mouth and chemical changes in the brain. For example, the power of prayer has been recognized by yogis to strengthen what they refer to as the ‘Arc Line’ – an arc or circuit of energy that runs from ear to ear, often depicted in religious paintings as a ‘halo’, and believed to affect what people project and manifest in life. More recently, discoveries in quantum mechanics suggest that our thoughts may extend out from the mind and into the physical world in the form of measurable energetic fields.
The soundscapes in the exhibition, which weave together the chants, prayers, songs and whispers of the sitters, are placed intermittently throughout the building’s shell, resounding like echoes held within the fabric of the walls.
Nicola Dove recently exhibited at Pataka Museum in New Zealand, at international photography festivals including Nooderlicht in Holland and Liangzhau in China, published in Next Level and Ojodopez magazines.
Observance is curated by Angad Kaur and will tour to further UK and overseas venues including Galleri Image in Denmark opening later this year. Observance is supported by UnLtd, Arts Council England and Eyebox.
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