Writing of Stones was a site-specific work on the Isle of Portland (Dorset) commissioned by b-side, and developed through an artist residency 2013-2014. Exhibited during the b-side Festival 2014, the work consisted in spatial sound work installed in St. George's Church (see below) for the duration of the festival, and a limited edition newsprint distributed from the site. The work was complemented by a number of events, including a concert performance of the work inaugurating the festival, a perambulatory tour of St. George's graveyard, and a conversation with artists Duncan Whitley, Daniel Jones and James Bulley convened by writer and curator Cecilia Wee.
"Writing of Stones is a site-specific sound work by Duncan Whitley, created for St. George’s Church on Reforne. The artist’s haunting installation resonates within the fabric of the church - built in the mid-eighteenth century of Portland stone - occupying its pews, galleries and nave with the ethereal and elusive medium of sound.
The installation invokes the idea of St. George’s and its cemetery as a quiet witness to its environment; testament to human and ecological narratives. Informed by obscure tales from Portland history and folklore, its three ‘chapters’ (The Storm, The Working of Stone, and The Hymn) take us on an abstract journey woven through sound, architecture and memory.
Declared formally redundant in the 1970s, St. George’s Church and its graveyard stand alone on a flat piece of land on Tophill, a kind of monument to Portland. At the time of its consecration it was the only parish church on the island: a centripetal entity drawing in folk from Chiswell, Fortuneswell, Easton, Weston, Southwell, Wakeham and Portland’s other villages. Long after the establishment of several other churches on the island (contributing to the decreasing demand for services at St George’s), Portlanders continued to hold their burial services there. The municipal cemetery in use today sits just to the south of St George’s, contiguous to the old cemetery and overlooked by the church. Portland does have two other major burial grounds: the Naval Cemetery, located below the Verne, and the curiously named Strangers’ Cemetery on Underhill.
The majority of the headstones at St George’s are, like the church itself, cut from Portland stone: eulogies and remembrances carved into the white limestone, quarried and raised from the land by the islanders remembered here. The graveyard reads like an archive of sorts: to a “kimberlin” (Portland dialect for “outsider”), it is a library of obscured tales; for those on the island, a repository for individual and communal memories."
Writing of Stones was commissioned by b-side for the b-side Festival 2014 (Portland, Dorset)
Sponsored by Television Film Services.
And supported by The Churches Conservation Trust and Portland Heritage Study Centre.
Thanks to Weymouth Masonry College, Island Community Action, Portland Community Crooners, Jackson Singers, IPACA Royal Manor Campus and all the individuals who participated in sound recording sessions at St. George's Church.
Special thanks to Pat and Bob Williams, Nikki Fryer, Shirley Mitchell, Carenza Hayhoe, Julie Penfold and Frances Scott.