Author: Helen Sumpter
Publication: Time Out
Press Date: 3 Sep 2012
From the outside, Kilburn's Tin Tabernacle is a rather rusty and dilapidated corrugated-iron church, of a type that the Victorians commonly shipped out to the colonies in the late nineteenth century to spread the word of God. Step inside now, however, and you're no longer in the Lord's house but below deck on an old battleship, complete with bridge and steering wheel, cabins and galley, all decorated with ropes, flags and other nautical memorabilia. This interior transformation took place in the 1950s, when the church was deconsecrated and handed over to the local sea cadets; since then it has been used as their meeting and training venue.
Working in conjunction with Artangel, artist Lindsay Seers will be bringing all these elements of the building's history together – and adding another layer of her own – when the chapel becomes the venue for her latest multimedia film installation, 'Nowhere Less Now'. Incorporating film, photography, sculpture and writing, as well as philosophical ideas, Seers's projects are known for their complex and seamless interweaving of historical research, autobiography and storytelling in an exploration of what creates our perception of truth.
The starting point for all of Seers' work is a personal family connection, and for 'Nowhere Less Now' it's an old photograph of Seers' great-great-uncle George, himself a sailor, as was Seers's father. The photograph was taken in 1890, when George was 24, on a ship called The Kingfisher. 'As soon as I began looking into George's story, I uncovered lots of uncanny facts,' Seers explains from her north London studio. 'The first being that George and I share the same birthday, September 27, and that we were born exactly 100 years apart – he in 1866 and myself in 1966.' Seers's research for the project took her to Zanzibar in Tanzania, East Africa, which still has its own prefabricated iron church, and is one of the destinations that The Kingfisher sailed to.
While she was there she also came across a collection of photographs taken by an AC Gomes, one of the few photographers working in the area at the time, and who may have taken Seers' own picture of her great-great-uncle. 'There aren't many photographs still in existence from that period,' Seers continues. 'After the British left in 1963, a communist government took over and carried out a brutal massacre that also involved destroying most documentation, including images, of the British being there. It's really interesting how contentious a photograph can be.'
Another photograph Seers drew on for this project was of an early female freemason, possibly George's wife, Georgina. 'George was a mason, like many naval men,' she says. 'I'm very influenced by the ideas of French philosopher and mystic Henri Bergson (1859-1941), whose sister, Moina Mathers, was married to one of the founders of esoteric organisation Golden Dawn, based on freemason practices', Seers explains, 'This was also one of the first of such groups to admit female members.' Mathers studied at the Slade School of Art, as did Seers. When she tried to find out what records they had of Mathers, all that came up was a card saying that during that time she was living in Kilburn. 'Moina was born in 1865, George in 1866 and the Kilburn church was built between 1863 and 1866, so everything meets at this one point in time.'
Seers's installation will take the form of two 33-minute films, projected simultaneously on to specially constructed circular screens within the chapel, with a multi-layered soundtrack (listened to on headphones) that will weave a narrative involving uncle George in the past and an African sailor, also named George, as well as a George in a distant future. 'One of the aims of my work is to explore an idea of narrative that exists way beyond itself,' Seers adds. 'Bergson didn't believe in the idea of polarities, like fact or fiction, and that's a process I try to work within, between imagination and experience, the faultiness of memory and the instability of the moments that we're in. The way that we experience life is through complicated connections that leap backwards and forwards, along with constant shifts in our sense of self, identity and emotional state. I hope “Nowhere Less Now” has a similar connectivity, to be as close as possible to our actual experience of “being”.'