Thursday, 24 March 2016

The NVA Trilogy: Heading Out to the Critical Hinterlands (introduction)

The first rule of critic club is: do not discuss a show until the review has been written. This prevents members of a production overhearing an opinion that may be contradicted or developed within the subsequent review. Besides, it avoids getting a slap off a cast member’s brother when a critic mentions that their performance recalled Donald Sinden’s black-face Othello in terms of authenticity and unintentional comedy.

But also: sometimes the opinions are not clear until the review has been written. I mention this because I thought that Hinterland seemed okay when I was walking around the seminary in the woods. I did try to forget that many of my fellow critics had wanked themselves dry over it, and the level of expectation this gave me probably didn’t help… 

I was expecting the absence of god to give me a blow job. I didn’t think much of the music, thought the lighting and staging was solid but hardly imaginative (casting shadows off an imposing ruin isn’t ground-breaking, but…).

It was all functional, a fairly nice way to spend an evening but, for all its site specific grandeur, there is a lack of content, of meaning… or rather, no development of the raw materials. An abandoned seminary suggests the decline of religion and the departure of God, especially if it has spent twenty years being derelict. Still, three stars and a nice fish supper back in Helensburgh, eh?

Then I wrote the review. Possibly I liked the phrase ‘consumer drone’, but by the end of the piece, I appear to be going ape-shit at the society that contains events like Hinterland. I am not sure I fully endorse my opinions – I had a nice time, and NVA’s site-specifics make a change from well-made plays or solo live art fun. But… it’s a site-specific review, innit?

As dusk falls to darkness amongst semi-ancient woodland on the Firth of Clyde, Hinterland invites audiences to experience one of Scotland’s most iconic 20th century buildings transformed using sound and light to symbolise its rise out of monumental ruination into a new creative life.

In a historic moment, the wider public will discover the ruins of St Peter’s seminary for the first time, fifty years since the modernist masterpiece was built. Hinterland will subtly re-animate the skeletal concrete superstructure with monochromatic light, projection and a specially commissioned choral work by composer Rory Boyle, performed by St Salvator’s Chapel Choir from the University of St Andrews.

As protagonists within a living sculpture the audience is able to move freely through the seminary’s main spaces, encountering the subtle integration of polyphony, projection mapping and light installations playing out on and around the surfaces of the degraded superstructure.

Hinterland is the name for both the inaugural event and the planned permanent cultural resource, presenting a public statement about the site’s future use as a national platform for progressive public art, looking towards 2018 when the partially restored buildings are fully opened. 

The event follows an extensive programme of work to make the building safe for future use led by Reigart Contracts. This transition has revealed stunning architectural details that have been concealed beneath debris for the last 25 years.

Hinterland, NVA’s ambitious scheme to reclaim the future of the world-renowned St Peter’s seminary and its surrounding landscape represents the last chance to save what is widely recognised as Scotland’s and the UK’s most important modernist building. Designed and built by Andy MacMillan and Isi Metzstein of the renowned Gillespie, Kidd and Coia architectural practice, St Peter’s seminary was completed and consecrated in 1966 and went on to win MacMilland and Metzstein the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Gold Medal for architecture. However, after 30 years of decline the buildings are now registered as one of the World Monuments Fund’s most endangered cultural landmarks.

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