Noirlac Research Residency

Saint-Amand-Montrond (Cher)

A weekend in the hotel of Saint Amand prior to moving to our residence in Bruere Allichamps. Time for me to get my body and bearings straight.

This town is built around a fortress

I have yet to visit but will.
The town Saint Amand is equivalent in size to my home town Castlemaine and the village we will be staying in as small as where my little house is.

There is no "Dark Lake" but the valley undulates around the river Cher ( Cher : meaning 'dear or loved' in French, as i was told at dinner, however my computer translator says it to mean 'expensive' .... computers can sometimes create cultural confusion perhaps?)

Most of the weekend was spent taking in the grounds of the Abbaye and starting my reconnaissance of the space. I started at 5am but it was too dark .... so i recorded impressions and thoughts and sat outside the Abbaye, as a dog barked at the gate (later i find he is a dog with bark and no bite ... thankfully)

The mornings start of with cool misty air, condensation and an envelope of moisture hangs while the light breaks, the sun heats the day often then the air is thinner and warm, cooling to a crisp night. The end of the day has sweet aromas of the earth drifting in the air and the light has the soft European amber shades.

It is beautiful and  tranquil at each end of the day and the Abbaye seems to me like a 'Bell Jar' when stepping over its threshold, within - the air is different, the sound and the light. The architecture is large and I am yet to adjust my sense of being within. I am focussing on the Abbaye from the borders, taking in the edges and waiting to explore its centre.

Its centre is its well.

The well is the 'Dark Lake'

It is a reflective dark pool : the pupil of the building.

'Brouillards ou nuages bas'

low fogs or clouds……. the art ideas…..
Circumnavigating the outside of the Abbaye, its peripheral environment, has allowed a sense of the threshold of the internal space. On misty cold mornings after soaking my feet in the grass and feeling the cool mist pass over. I can walk inside to feel an instant change, the internal spaces light, warm and enveloping.

Working at each end of the day worked well to orientate myself to the space, while it was empty of visitors, it is more private and the contemplation more open. By photographing the borders and mapping the edges of the Abbaye, I am in a form of meditation, as I record I wait patiently and started to look and notice details and relationships. As a whole the space is one grand statement. It is a monument and a preservation of architecture. However it has had a layered history and intent. It was founded on one intention but shifted through many uses and changes. On reading its history I thought more of the Cisteran Monks essential intent. To meditate on light and purity. I have drawn my focus to the details and minutiae and hope to create poetry with this as the space as a whole is somewhat complete in its own representation and the architecture an instrument of sound … everything is highly present and amplified within.
The Bell Jar
I thought initially prior to arriving and when I first got here to capture the sound sculptures in Ice, to create a  solid pool around them, to emulate a dark lake around them and to use light refracting within. I still like this idea and I found it interesting that ZUR had also used ice. They created a large pendulum of ice, which they swung from the roof within the cathedral. ZUR brought there own refrigerator ( a large one you could almost fit a small child in…) along with a truck load of other things, so I believe there are obviously limitations on scale and placement. So this idea would not be achievable within this residency period, however a sketch could be made? 

I started thinking about the Bell Jar and found a plastic Bouble in the art store, I liked the bobbles emulation of air and contained space, it has limitations in that you can clearly see the seam and it is not hand made. I would obviously prefer blown glass but I am not to distract myself with this at present ( time for material manufacture is limited in a number of ways). I have bought a number of them. Given the amount of editing and potential variety of sounds to be explored, perhaps capturing them within these circular bubbles will allow for a diverse range to have  a unity of within the space. The circles also remind me of the dew drops and moisture that hangs like sounds in the Abbaye. So i feel I will explore them as a material to emulate the sense of the Bell Jar and the dew drops. I saw a exhibition by Claude Cahun in Paris and she had a wonderful series of portraits in Bell Jars which I had not seen before….. see Below ...


In my initial proposal for this research project I proposed to explore the territory of cultural exchange through the borders and walls, the peripheral spaces that engaged the edge and means for exchange. I have recorded sounds and photography on the border of the Abbaye and have found it a means in which to contemplate the space. However I have found the places of exchange further down the road, in the markets, on the street watching fireworks or bike races, meetings along the railway, offers of walnuts or broken french conversation about sore hips. I have spoken to Tessa, who is also here with me, about the nature of cultural exchange. I was discussing the difference between this and tourism, where experiences are taken from a place. Or as is known in social research "the parachute mentality" of placing yourself within a space to observe what is "prefaced" without allowing entry into or exchange with the "other" that is being observed. The larger question is how to elucidate this in creative terms and I thank Jude for always returning the questioning to this. I have to remain open to what opens this exchange more ..... 


Crepsular Light

Before I left, I had some good chats with a friend and fellow artist Robyn Walton. I spoke of using the start and end of the day as a means to filter the light and capture the most animal activity, she noted that this is known as 'Crepsular' see below to Wikipedia descriptions regarding this ....

'Crepuscular rays (play /krɨˈpʌskjələr/; also known as God Rays), in atmospheric optics, are rays of sunlight that appear to radiate from a single point in the sky. These rays, which stream through gaps in clouds or between other objects, are columns of sunlit air separated by darker cloud-shadowed regions. The name comes from their frequent occurrences during crepuscular hours (those around dawn and dusk), when the contrasts between light and dark are the most obvious.

Crepuscular rays are near-parallel, but appear to diverge because of linear perspective.[1] They often occur when objects such as mountain peaks or clouds partially shadow the sun's rays like a cloud cover. Various airborne compounds scatter the sunlight and make these rays visible, due to diffraction, reflection, and scattering.
Crepuscular rays can also occasionally be viewed underwater, particularly in arctic areas, appearing from ice shelves or cracks in the ice.'

Crepsular animal behaviour is described as the following 

'Crepuscular animals are those that are active primarily during twilight, that is during dawn and dusk.[1] The word is derived from the Latin word crepusculum, meaning "twilight."[1] Crepuscular is, thus, in contrast with diurnal and nocturnal behavior. Crepuscular animals may also be active on a bright moonlit night. Many animals that are casually described as nocturnal are in fact crepuscular.[2] Within the definition of crepuscular are the terms matutinal (or "matinal") andvespertine, denoting species active only in the dawn or only in the dusk, respectively.
Also, in hot areas, it may be a way of avoiding thermal stress while capitalizing on available light.
The patterns of activity are thought to be an antipredator adaptation. Many predators forage most intensely at night, whereas others are active at mid-day and see best in full sun. Thus, the crepuscular habit may reduce predation. '

The images below were taken sitting in a dry creek bed listening to the day end and making the light bow to my needs to abstract the images more.

Sonic Walls

The first ten days of my research have centred around the edges of the Abbaye and searching for recordings in sound and photography that define the place of the Abbaye. 

I have been reading Hearing Places (see full title below), while editing this material and considering some of the themes raised in the articles. The words sonic walls come from an interesting article Chapter 13 Fragile Sonic Walls - D.Ferret.

One of the first impressions I had in recording at dawn and dusk, is that there is no true silence or dark. With security lights, ever present industrial, car or other transport noises. The place is never uninhabited by the machinations of human activity. It does not stand alone, outside of the present and though it represents a chapter of the past, things permeate within.

This permeation is particularly present with sound, as it has no urban definitions and is not defined solely by its originating place, sound moves and mixes, it integrates and layers the wider spaces around.

I have recorded the light and sound of tracks of planes in the sky, as there is a regular movement of smaller aviation planes in this area. I have the sounds of air brakes and compression from trucks echoing across the valley, as birds chirp in the trees where I stand and then the doppler interruption of a 2cc motorbike cutting past the wall I am standing at. I missed the sonic boom of a military jet, I had just turned the recorder off, when it shot through the crackling warm air of the day. Just recently, I nearly jumped as I was recording, a gun shot on a Sunday in the woods, ricocheted across to me (sonically) I captured that moment in sound but there is no image for this.

So while the images I have taken record the temperature, the texture of the day, the moisture and particularities of the site where the sounds were taken, some of them distinguishing, some just a blend of happy birds. The sounds are less specific to the site, they are intersections of a wider border, the sky, the grounds (wet, dry, moist etc) the valley echo, the movement from the edges, the incessant factories or the cattle being moved between paddocks. You sometimes don't notice the texture of this borderless environment until you sit and really listen.

Being impatient  to understand and seek the "graph" of the place, my recordings were small and perhaps at times off the mark, as I stopped and started. I was shooting sound like a photograph. Later in editing, I realised they were to brief and also in spending time and settling in the space I took more time to take material, as some surprises would arrive that way. I started some small film work with this approach.

Hearing Places: Sound Place Time Culture Edited by Ros Bandt, Michelle Duffy and Dolly MacKinnon. Cambridge Scholars Publishing

Settling, failing and finding another way ...

Most often, what you imagine is never what you find!

So with any Research proposal a fair bit of room has to be allowed for the openings of other findings. Perhaps more than you could have thought and part of the lyrical moment of connecting an idea and stretching it further.

Luckily I had a little patience with what wasn't working - because it can be like looking at something sloppy when you wanted to serve a culinary delight!

The research centred around constructing solid sound …. but this place is so resoundingly solid ….. monumental and hard to define what sounds belong to it. 

My Research settled around the metaphor of a Dark Lake, the pupil and the receptor of light. The space is one magnificent reflector of light… so to make it dark in order to present something seemed to work against its nature.

More thinking and watching was required…. more searching.

So firstly to the story of the name: Noirlac

The Abbaye was originally named Notre Dame du Cher and was changed (I will add more precision on this soon) around the early part of its building program.

Folklore has it (as there is nothing in writing to confirm) that the Abbaye was changed in name because the local benefactors son drowned in a Marsh nearby. 

The Abbaye was surrounded for many years by dense dark wood land and the River Cher nearby would burst its banks and flood the low lands where the Monks had established they order.

It was a refuge from the feudal wars and dark times of the crusades. The  Cisternian principle "through this silence and simplicity, we transform ourselves, advancing from light into light'" said Gilbert de Hoyland. Instrument of salvation and vessel for prayer, in its proportions the architecture of this church expresses the quest for light … quote from pamphlet. 

The idea to use porcelain seemed relevant to its history but redundant when present to the space. The nature of the medium is quite challenging , to move it from its utilitarian to a poetic, when it has limitations in its scale and time of production, manner of manufacture etc. I did not feel grappling with this would be a good use of time on initial assessment.

So I focussed on the architecture and how it really worked on the people moving through it etc.

Liminal space : the space between : visceral space

This quote from the outline regarding  

L’abbaye de Noirlac
Centre Culturel de rencontre

Croiser les dimensions de désert et d'hospitalité, composantes de la Règle cistercienne et riches d'une résonance très actuelle ;
Le désert comme capacité d'offrir aux artistes, scientifiques, chercheurs invités, la possibilité de prendre le temps du silence et de l'écoute, indispensable à l'expérimentation, à la recherche et à l'échange.
L'hospitalité comme capacité d'aller vers la population, de partager les rencontres avec le plus grand nombre et d'explorer le lien entre démarches artistiques et questions sociétales. Faire ainsi de Noirlac un vecteur d'aménagement du territoire et de développement local.

L’abbaye, creuset d’expressions artistiques innovantes, se veut résolument ouverte au public.
Enfants, adultes, chacun trouve sa place à Noirlac et peut explorer des territoires inconnus au travers d’installations interactives, de performances sonores ou visuelles, de spectacles…

Venir à Noirlac, c’est l’occasion d’échanger avec les créateurs présents et de dialoguer entre curieux.

Venir à Noirlac, c’est prendre le temps de vivre des moments uniques, forts de sens, d’émotions et de découvertes ; c’est être émerveillé ou étonné lors de rendez-vous artistiques réguliers et pérennes, déclinés sur des temps spécifiques.

Paul Fournier, directeur

Here is a rough translation, missing some cross over but it conveys the direct empathy of Paul Fournier to the relationship of creative activity and contemplation, to the possibility of curiosity in art and for this to be engaged with visitors to the space.

Cross dimensions of desert and hospitality components of the Cistercian rule and rich resonance of a very current;
The desert as the ability to offer artists, scientists, visiting researchers, the opportunity to take the time of silence and listening, critical to experimentation, research and exchange.
Hospitality as the ability to reach out to people, share events with more and explore the link between artistic processes and societal issues. Do so on a vector Noirlac planning and local development.

The Abbey, a melting pot of innovative artistic expressions, is resolutely open to the public.
Children, adults, everyone finds his place in Noirlac and can explore unknown territories through interactive installations, performance, sound and visual entertainment ...

Noirlac come to is the opportunity to interact with the creators of dialogue between present and curious.

Coming to Noirlac means taking the time to experience unique moments, strong sense of emotion and discovery, is to be amazed or astonished at artistic events scheduled and perennial declined on specific times.

( I hope to fix this translation later too!)

This research has been supported by many

Funding support has generously been made available through the following organisations

Punctum Inc: 

Details regarding the Inhabit International Program and supporters can be found at

Abbaye Noirlac:

Regional Arts Victoria: professional development Quick Response Grant