Articles by Huw David Jones
The religious revivals of nineteenth century led to a boom in chapel building across Wales. Independent from the Established Church of England, chapels became bastions of Welsh radicalism; only later did they gain a reputation for puritanical thought. Today, most lie derelict. Nevertheless, a handful have found new life as homes, restaurants and arts centres. Such is the fate befallen the Swansea Seamen’s Chapel (built 1868), now the Mission Gallery in the town’s fashionable Maritime Quarter.
The Mission Gallery is a remarkable space – its milky, unadorned walls provide the perfect setting for exhibitions. Recently, it played host to a site-specific performance by Cardiff-based artist Holly Davey, a photographic record of which is now on show at the gallery itself. Sadly, the results are far from satisfactory.
Davey initially experienced the old chapel as “prohibiting and stultifying,” claiming that, “the church is about the denial of the body”. (Her misleading use of the word “church” is quite telling.) Only later, after leafing through chapel records, did she attempt to connect with the specific history of the place. Yet this proved to be a rather facile link to the past: two of her namesakes happened to marry there a century ago. Her response, a film of the artist’s shadow dancing beside a bridal veil, only begins to uncover the many layers of meaning – social, cultural, spiritual – invested in this historic place.
Holly Davey: Lost From View is at the Mission Gallery, Swansea, from Sat 12 Apr to Sat 24 May, 2008.
This post was originally published by Buzz magazine.