God is back – pass the plate (2012)
My Masters thesis project explored relationships between capitalism and religion; more specifically, it examined how the forces of economic and religious colonisation have contributed toward the creation of dislocated and heterotopian spaces, utilising the site of Futuna Chapel in Karori, Wellington, as an entry point for these investigations.
The chapel was originally constructed in 1961 for people of any faith to go, to stay, and to reconnect with their beliefs; however in 2000 it was deconsecrated and sold by the Marists to a property developer. The subsequent housing development that was built around the chapel resulted in a marginal, dislocated space, and yet one that still resonates with embedded institutional ideologies.
Crying in the chapel
Through my research, I became engaged with the idea of attempting to activate the space in Futuna Chapel with singing as a staged performance in order to set up a new zone of engagement within this heterotopian space, and to experiment with ideas of dislocation and the ‘out-of-timeness’ of contemporaneity.
The choice of song was important – an interplay with a hymn, but not a hymn. In 1965, Elvis Presley had a huge commercial success with Crying in the chapel, highlighting the role of this song as an agent of capitalism. The choice of costumes was important in highlighting the sense of dislocation and ‘out-of-timeness’ – the lead singer’s slightly shabby costume is a reference to both the fallen start, the Las Vegas-performing era of Elvis Presley, and to the monk-like garb of the Marist brothers. Homemade out of an old bedspread, this costume touches on a homely, domestic connection with the now-demolished bedrooms in the old accommodation wing of the retreat centre as much as referencing the dislocation in-between the new ‘perfect’ homes and the old chapel. The backing singers’ costumes from previous decades also aid in heightening the sense of dislocation and out-of-timeness.
The twelve apostles
I had become increasingly fascinated with the close proximity of the chapel with the Lego-houses and their uneasy relationship: the narrow street in-between had become the delineation of a kind of tension that generated an uncomfortable zone of dislocation between the chapel and the houses. The street is both a passageway for transit in and out of the housing development, but also it is the border you have to cross between the two opposite spaces: it separates ideologies, and it is not a neutral zone.
In his plans for the Radiant City (Le Ville Radieuse), Le Corbusier had plotted the perfect city in which the street would be ‘cleansed of all present disturbances caused by aimless strollers, loiters or just accidental passers-by.’ He decreed that any streets would be consigned to specific tasks only; there would be no spontaneity, confusion or chaos. ‘The sole task will be that of traffic, or transporting people and goods from one functionally distinguished site to another…’ I started to reflect on the lack of traffic in Futuna Village and how uncomfortable it feels to walk around the site – and how you never see people wandering, or chatting, or playing in the street. This is how I started to think about setting up an intervention, some kind of an action that would respond to the site, to counter Le Corbusier plans with a ‘disturbance’ while also extending the criticality of the project into this more public – and yet uncomfortable – zone.
I hired a 12-seat stretched limousine and instructed the chauffeur to slowly drive into the housing development, past the chapel and around the narrow winding streets as far as he could before the limousine was forced to a halt; then to reverse back out and onto the main road. It was shot at night in order to add to the sense of intrusion and foreboding – the unfolding scenes lit only by the headlights of the limousine. The lights add theatricality, and hints of sly Hitchcockian humour in the wheelie bins and herbaceous borders that become signifiers for other signs of ‘real’ life.
The gloriously tacky party lights in the interior of the limousine frame the view out of the front window – it truly is a mobile theatre. In this, it functions in opposition to the chapel as a kind of ‘roaming monument’ inserting an interruption into Futuna Village that’s out-of-place and out-of-time. Jarring. Big. Almost too big to negotiate the tight streets. But big enough for twelve people: and in this close proximity to the chapel, there’s something strangely compelling about imagining the Twelve Apostles cruising Futuna Village in a mobile-party car.
See Sandy Gibbs God is back – pass the plate for the full thesis.