Laura Belem’s The Temple of a Thousand Bells at The Oratory in the grounds of Liverpool Cathedral.

Art This morning I attended the press preview for artist Laura Belem’s The Temple of a Thousand Bells, the one of the first glimpses of what this year’s Liverpool Biennial will have to offer. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, so I was quite sheepish as I stepped up towards the venue, probably eyeballing the people outside not sure who was a journalist and who an organiser, desperate to give my name so that it could be ticked off a list. I was also a bit tired, so tired in fact that I forgot to take my camera.

But a slight mix of discombobulation and somnambulation is probably the best way to greet this installation, in which from the ceiling, Belem has suspended a thousand specially blown glass bells (produced at the Glass Blobbery in Corwen, North Wales, one of the few surviving traditional workshops). Like Matej Andraž Vogrinčič’s upturned rowing boats which populated the floor of St Luke’s in 2006, the artist has transformed a familiar piece of old Liverpool architecture into a kind of alternate reality version through the introduction of these incongruous objects and my drowsiness only helped the suspension of disbelief.

I’d recommend you spend some of your time in the space simply looking upwards, allowing your eyes to swirl about the many circles created by the bells, abstractly interfering with one another like Venn diagrams, and listening to the accompanying soundtrack piped in from five very present speakers. Since the bells are static, lacking clackers, Belem has provided the sound they could be making and the polyphonic technology is a good enough mimic that if you empty your mind you can imagine the chimes are coming from up above.

An accompanying male voiceover, which also narrates the mythic tale of the discover of the original temple of a thousand bells describes it as “a symphony which cannot be described in words” and to a degree I’d perhaps much rather hear more of that than his story. But the bells themselves are an extraordinary enough vision on their own and I’m actually pleased I wasn’t taking pictures since it meant I could simply concentrate upon them. In the statement on her official website, Belem says that central to her work is “transcience, memory and displacement” and she’s certainly achieved that.

The Temple of a Thousand Bells can be visited Thursday - Sunday from 10am - 6pm.


Catharine said...

Perfect summing up of a lovely experience this morning!

Stuart Ian Burns said...

Thanks Catharine, I really enjoyed it.