Monday, August 19, 2013

Danse Macabre

For several years my research has concerned the culture of death in Brittany. I have long been interested in the reception of medieval visual culture in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

This is a video that I edited in 2012 for a session at the Babel Working Group in Boston.

This project assembles bits of video that I have shot over the past three years on short trips to France that address these overlapping concerns.  Throughout the video, I made layers that act as effects from natural phenomena—sparkles of sunlight on a pond, moss on a huge boulder, a poppy waving in the wind, boiling water reflected on the ceiling, a reflection on a stream, a slow pan across a diamond-shaped window with snow outside. Nature dances across stony things that don’t move.

Danse Macabre: a video work in progress from maura coughlin on Vimeo.

 Here are my French sources:

La Martyr: one of the oldest enclos paroissiaux (parish closes) in Finistère (11th-17th cent.): stone steps lead up to the top of the 16th century triumphal gateway. Adam and Eve are on the building’s façade as is a “mermaid” that might signify the pre-CR notion in Brittany that hell is damp and cold.
Kermaria-an-Iskuit: a Breton church in Plouha (Côtes-d'Armor), (13th century) that has one of the most well-preserved Danse Macabre wall paintings with 47 figures (c. 1500) and a prominent 19th century skull box.
The sculpted figure of Ankou (death) at the church of Ploumilliau, (Côtes-d'Armor), 17th century.
Painted Skull Boxes in the Cathedral of St. Pol-de-Léon, Finistère: 32 boxes 17th-19th centuries.
Ossuary (15th century) at the cemetery of Saint-Hilaire Marville, (Lorraine) The Breton practice of preserving individual’s skulls in marked boxes was taken up here, in Northern France in the 19th century. Shot through the metal bars on the ossuary.
Joël Thépault,  Placard Mortuaire (2006-7), a cupboard of skulls and other things carved by hand into the rock face at “Les Lapidiales”: an exhausted limestone quarry that has since 2000 has been an open air, international artist residency program for young sculptors, Port d'Envaux (Charente-Maritime). I found this first by chance by looking for something entirely else.

Images from other places:

a mossy rock in Montague, MA, a sarong blowing in the wind, a poppy, a garage door, a sparkling pond, a reflection on a stream and boiling water in Wellfleet, Provincetown and Eastham MA.

Stone: Hard old granite from Brittany and the soft limestone of the Charente.

Sound sources:

a refrigerator in a 19th-century distillery in Cognac, samples from Saint-Saens’ Danse Macabre, ambient sound in Kermaria including the ancient tour guide, bells at La Martyre.

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