Symposium 2010

Holy Hiatus: performing ritual, community and place

“The creative energy that was generated by both the contributors and participants was inspirational”

Symp2010DuoA two-day interdisciplinary symposium took place at the Small World Theatre, Cardigan, west Wales in September 2010 organised in conjunction with PLaCE Research Centre, The University of West England, exploring the vital role that ritual plays in creatively re-imagining places and our relationships to them. The event featured illustrated talks, performative lectures and workshops led by specialists in the creative arts, humanities and social sciences. The talks and events were documented and edited audio-visual clips are available for viewing below.

Download a PDF Holy_Hiatus_Symposium_Programme

“I experienced the event as an integrating experience. The atmosphere was relaxed throughout, and I got the sense that the group was engaged and ‘in-tune’. I enjoyed the fluidity between social exchange and focused enquiry, which was certainly helped by the venue and the staff at the venue. It seemed to me that all the people attending were creative thinkers in their own right, so that the expert accounts given by the main speakers could be engaged with fully, but did not define the overall agenda, direction or atmosphere of the event, which was more than the sum of its parts”


Slideshow of images from Ron Grimes workshop. The participants were invited to spontaneously improvise a funeral ritual, without discussion using some simple materials that were left in the room.

“I really liked the structure of the conference, the way the sessions were divided and categorised, it felt like a well-orchestrated piece of music or theatre. I was constantly moved and surprised – I cried at Sean Vicary’s film, was delighted by Simon Whitehead’s and amazed by Lou Laurens explorations of the sounds of places. The open and experimental feeling of the presentations rewarded the level of trust and safety created by the organiser.”

Holy Hiatus: performing ritual, community and place was the second inter-disciplinary conference to take place in west Wales under the title Holy Hiatus. A one-day conference in May 2008 contextualised the public art events taking place in Cardigan. In response to the level of public interest in the first symposium, a follow up two-day event ocurred in September 2010 focusing on social ritual, identity, community and place.

Holy Hiatus refers to the crossing of the boundary between inner and outer consciousness and the conference explored the vital role that ritual plays in social interaction, stressing the importance of liminal or ‘inbetween’ spaces where personal and social identities may be creatively transformed. The programme included speakers from visual and performing arts, sociology, cultural geography, religious studies, ritual studies and anthropology. The event explored the practice and lived experience of ritual activity in different aspects of cultural life and combined illustrated talks with performative lectures and workshop opportunities as well as screenings of related films. The Holy Hiatus publication documenting a series of public art events in Cardigan in 2008 was also launched.

The Symposium explored a number of related themes including:

Ritual and space
Ritual, performance and power
Ritual, music and community
Ritual, magic, folklore, human-animal relations

“Having just moved to Pembrokeshire I was thrilled that this was happening on my doorstep! I thoroughly enjoyed the event – the diversity of the participants backgrounds (both speakers and attendees) was stimulating. I enjoyed the intimacy of the event. I was also impressed and grateful for the open nature of the event and the respect and curiosity offered by all participants. Plus the location was ace! I particularly enjoyed the talk and workshop with Ronald Grimes and also the time we spent with Ceri Rhys Matthews. With both these “speakers” I felt involved with their offerings and I am particularly interested in experiential learning and exchanging of information”

Symposium Speakers
Day 1 – Saturday 25th September – Ritual and Space / Ritual and Performance

Prof. Ronald L. Grimes is Professor Emeritus of Religion and Culture at Wilfred Laurier University in Canada and was Chair of Ritual Studies at Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands. He is a co-editor of The Oxford Ritual Studies Series and the author of several books on ritual, most recently Rite Out of Place: Ritual, Media, and the Arts (Oxford University Press) and Deeply into the Bone: Re-Inventing Rites of Passage (University of California Press). Grimes presented an illustrated talk titled “Ritualizing Places, Great and Small, Here and There: The Magic of Mapping,” and conducted a workshop on ritual and space.

Dr. Barry Stephenson is based in Waterloo, Ontario. He holds a PhD in Religious Studies from the University of Calgary, and teaches and conducts research in ritual studies, sacred space, and religion and the arts. A new book and DVD Performing the Reformation: Public Ritual in the City of Luther, a study of contemporary festivals and pilgrimage in Wittenberg, Germany, was recently published with Oxford University Press. Stephenson talked about deconsecration and abandonment of sacred spaces.

Dr. Bobby C. Alexander is Associate Professor of Sociology and Public Policy and Political Economy in the School of Economic, Political, and Policy Science at The University of Texas at Dallas. His research focuses on religion and social change. Public ritual remains an interest since his early work on ritual, religion, and theatre and the role of ritual liminality in social change. A current project examines how individuals who pursue political asylum, agencies providing them legal representation, and judges hearing their cases together construct performance of credibility. For Holy Hiatus, Alexander talked about ritual liminality as ‘holy play’.

Dr. Jonathan Wooding is Senior Lecturer in Religious History and Director of the Centre for the Study of Religion in Celtic Societies at The University of Wales, Trinity St Davids. His teaching and research centre on the medieval church and society in Celtic Britain and Ireland, with an emphasis on settlement, pilgrimage, and the literature concerning the travels of saints. He has published work on St David, on Bardsey Island, and a guide to churches and chapels of Wales. Wooding co-hosts an annual conference on ‘secular monasticism’ and communities for alternative living.

Rowan O’Neill is a performance artist from Felinwynt. Her work is informed by her academic background in theology and religious studies and the contrast between British urban society and her Welsh agricultural upbringing. Her chief interest lies in the role of performance as a channel for transfigurative experience. The use of irony, traditional song and commonplace objects are key aspects of the work’s presentation. Rowan is currently undertaking a practice led PhD researching the archive of Clifford McLucas, former artistic director of the performance company Brith Gof.

 Day 2 – Sunday 26th September
Ritual, Music and Community / Ritual, Magic, Folklore and human-animal relations

Dr. Iain Biggs is the Director of the PLaCe Research Centre UWE, Bristol (Now PLaCe International). His practice marries a fine art background with a range of place-based interests. He produces books that offer a version of “deep mapping” through creative interactions with ethnography, micro-histories, cultural geography and, increasingly, with environmental concerns.

Dr. Ruth Jones has been engaged with a five-year practice-led AHRC funded research fellowship at UWE exploring ritual, community, liminality and place in participatory public art and time-based media, drawing on an interdisciplinary field of research in the arts, humanities and social

Biggs and Jones presented a performative collaborative lecture with Ruth Jones based on their mutiual interest in human-animal relationships, the Trickster and border identities.

Dr. Hayden Lorimer’s research takes its shape from landscapes, and the lives and memories of humans and animals. Previously, he has written of red deer, reindeer, crossbills and snow buntings, and of the kinds of people who have tried keep their close company. Such works of creative non-fiction are designed to find a meeting point between the recognised exercises of geography and of biography. At Holy Hiatus, Lorimer reflected on narratives of seals as creatures inhabiting the liminal and littoral edges of life. Hayden lectures in cultural geography at the University of Glasgow.

Dr Samantha Hurn is lecturer in Social Anthropology at the University of Wales, Trinity St Davids. She specializes in Anthrozoology or the comparative study of human interactions with non-human animals in a wide range of cultural contexts. Her research interests include the different ways in which humans and non-human animals perceive and engage with their environments and each other, and the various forms of indirect, inter-species communication which occur during these interactions with particular reference to farming, hunting and outdoor leisure pursuits (e.g. horse riding). She introduced and presented the film Riding the Trod a document of a 25 mile ride on horseback from Strata Florida to Abbey Cwmhir along the medieval track way ‘The Monks’ Trod’ on Friday 18th June 2010. Riding the Trod aims to recreate past journeys in a bid to better understand the archaeology of the Trod and the relationships between humans, animals and this enigmatic landscape.

Ceri Rhys Matthews is a flute player, piper and guitarist and internationally regarded as one of Wales finest and most innovative folk musicians, who has also contributed a number of papers on welsh folk traditions at international conferences. Matthews used music and storytelling to explore the ‘liminal’ in welsh folklore.

Lou Laurens is co-founder of the Welsh sonic arts collective GWRANDO (listen). Laurens has been involved with participatory arts projects involving ritual for many years. She talked about her recent projects: Acoustic Fingerprints, a series of events in used and disused chapels along the path of the River Teifi, which culminated in the performance of Pererin Variations – Capeli Dyffryn Teifi, an experimental music composition for massed community choirs: and untitled an ongoing collborative project (with Hazelden) which grew out of a work commissioned for Holy Hiatus 2008.

Yvonne Buchheim has been working on the Song Archive Project since 2003. As part of this, she created a public event Sound Water Beat in Cardigan Swimming Pool for Holy Hiatus in 2008. The Song Archive Project is a body of works that examine contemporary song culture in a visual art context in response to a song collection by Johann G. Herder (1778/9), suggesting that the cultural identity of a people is reflected through their song tradition. Buchheim talked about how Sound Water Beat evolved into an underwater sound installation Earworms in 2009 and how both of these projects have contributed to the Song Archive Project.

banner photo: Rob Irving