The Fielden Project Opens at Todmorden Unitarian Church

Over the past few months I have been working with fellow artists, Richard Mulhearn, Eleanor Mulhearn, Sarah Eyre, Laura Davies, Adrian Davies, Alex Jako and Anna Taylor, to create an exhibition in the beautiful deconsecrated Unitarian Church in Todmorden, United Kingdom. We called the project The Fielden Project because the church was build by the sons of John Fielden, the main industrialist in Todmorden who is most famous for bringing in the act of parliament that curbed the exploitation of children as workers in the factories of the industrial revolution. The religious, the cultural, the political and the ethical evocations brought about by this broad theme inspired us – all ‘blow ins’ to Todmorden – to respond to the church, its history, its former patrons and the general community of Todmorden.

For me it was an opportunity to explore exhibiting a project I was already working on around the theme of Doubt. I explored the location in terms of how my photographs could be part of a narrative created by the photographs. My creative statement goes something like this:

‘If I could not doubt, I should not believe’. (Henry David Thoreau)

Doubt is an evolving photographic essay exploring faith through feelings of doubt in the context of a society that on the surface seems increasingly secular and certainly more materialistic. The Unitarian Church in Todmorden was built at a time when British society more openly expressed faith through religious practice, as well as organised communities, and exercised power through these practices, and its deconsecration is one of many indicators of a subsequent decline in, certainly Christian, religious engagement in Britain. Questioning whether faith, or the need for faith, has actually diminished, I’m seeking to explore, through candid photography of people in public spaces, the possible void created by the retreating public expressions of faith. The shift in the status of the Unitarian Church, prompted me to explore the notion of bringing contemporary people caught in moments expressing doubt back into the church with a view to trying to evoke an engagement with the ideas of the role of constructed place as inspiration and refuge for those seeking meaning, purpose and understanding. Using the 12 pillars that support the structure of the church, photographs of contemporary people, supported by quotes, emerge from these pillars to tell experiential stories of faith, separation and doubt in a building that once was built for this purpose.

I wanted my photographs to work collectively along the pillars, across the pillars as well as individual narratives. Behind each of the photographs, semi hidden by the curvature of the pillars, there was a quote related to the theme of doubt accompanying every photograph, as if inner murmuring from the characters in the photographs. I suppose this is the filmmaker in me.

Fielden Project exhibit - Erik Knudsen
What you see when you first enter the show

We worked with Sofka Smales to develop the show, both individually and as a group, and one of the challenges was the fact that the building is a Grade 1 listed building.

Curator Sofka Smales before installation - Erik Knudsen
Curator Sofka Smales in the church prior to installation.

One of the amazing things about working on this project was how our very different work came to compliment and interact with each other’s work. This was a revelation and was not necessarily the product of a overtly conscious process; rather an osmosis that occurred as a consequence of numerous discussions, site visits and research. Our themes interweaved, echoed and reverberated and in the end I think we have created a well balanced and evocative show.

Doubt photos by Erik Knudsen
My Doubt photographs on the right hand pillars with Laura Davies’s sewing sculpture on the pews.
Doubt photos by Erik Knudsen 2
The left hand side of the Doubt series of photographs with Richard Mulhearn’s photographs in the background.
Adrian Davies photos - Erik Knudsen
One of Adrian Davies’s two pairs of triptych photographs.
Erik Knudsen photo by Anna Taylor text
The text of one of my Doubt series of photographs interacting with Anna Taylor’s text.
Sewing installation in action - Erik Knudsen
Laura Davies’s sewing installation at work.
Laura Davies sculpture - Erik Knudsen
One of Laura Davies’s hanging angel sculptures.
Laura Davies figures - Erik Knudsen
A number of Laura Davies’s cloth sculptures taking their place in the pews.
Doubt photos by Erik Knudsen 3
Two of my Doubt series photographs with Laura Davies’s and Eleanor Mulhearn’s work in the background.
Doubt Photos by Erik Knudsen 5
Another of my Doubt photographs contextualised with Laura Davies’s cloth sculptures.
Doubt photos by Erik Knudsen 4
Another of my Doubt series of photographs contextualised from a different angle.
Doubt photos by Erik Knudsen 6
There are so many angles with which one can explore my Doubt photographs.
Alex Jako with her installation - Erik Knudsen
Alex Jako by her installation, which included sound, and connects intimately to the industrial past of Todmorden.
Sarah Eyre arranging her photos - Erik Knudsen
Sarah Eyre making final adjustments to her photographic installation.
Richard Mulhearn photos - Erik Knudsen
Richard Mulhearn’s triptych fills the alter space of the church, which unusually faces west.
Eleanor Mulhearn sculptures - Erik Knudsen
Eleanor Mulhearn’s delicate and fragile sculptures of children remind us of the link to the John Fielden act tackling child labour.
Eleanor Mulheard plastering - Erik Knudsen
Eleanor Mulhearn’s reworking of existing sculptures in the church.

So far, response to the show has been very positive. Nearly 200 people turned up for the opening and since then there has been a steady stream of people visiting the show. I hope that if you are in the area, you may be able to visit it before it closes on the 18 May 2014. Opening times: Thursday and Friday 5pm – 8pm and Saturday and Sunday 1pm – 6pm. Enjoy.