Annie Cattrell (Artist): Then in Now

Then in Now 

Vimeo Widget Placeholderhttps://vimeo.com/483191198


Commentary from Annie Cattrell (Artist)

Then in Now is an artwork made by combining a series of short filmic notations and observations. It acts as a visual and auditory compilation of my thoughts, imaginings and responses to some of Sophie Page’s published texts, hearing her speak about her research and observing her interpretations of medieval manuscripts at the Wellcome Library, London.

Then in Now suggests a distilling and editing of some of these experiences and an exploration of medieval ideas, as seen through the lens and context of now. During my conversations with Sophie, I was struck by the certainty and complexity of medieval thinking about the cosmos. The cosmological understanding of how the universe operated seemed to permeate into everyday medieval life, the lives and behaviour of the people at that time. Their highly imaginative and detailed beliefs can be encountered in surviving manuscripts that show beautifully hand painted illustrations and mesmerising written descriptions.

Then in Now still

Still from 'Then in Now'

Then in Now was made by observing the ceaselessness and behaviour of elemental phenomena, such as natural and candle light, tidal waters, wobbling spume in combination with specific human gestures and actions of disquiet, such as intentionally spilling candle wax and throwing stones into still water. These filmed and edited juxtapositions are intended to reappraise the continuity and timelessness of medieval thinking in the here and now. 

The individual films are captured in real-time, slow motion and time-lapse camera settings. The auditory sequences are of sound frequencies such as music, bird song and the snapping of a twig. This overlaying of diverse sounds is intended to amplify the visual, giving it further intensity of focus, atmosphere and perceptual possibilities. 

Still from Then in Now film

Still from 'Then in Now'

Commentary from Sophie Page (Historian)

The manuscript we see in the opening sequence of Then in Now is an intriguing fifteenth-century compilation (Wellcome MS 517) of diverse occult experiments to manipulate cosmic powers. There are instructions for summoning demons, acquiring a flying horse, and learning the secret of invisibility. In her film, Annie captures the slow process of leafing through several hundred pages to find magical instructions that were deliberately concealed by their owners among texts on medicine, gardening, wine and poetry. Some readers of this manuscript have left more hostile signs of their scrutiny: cut out pages, scrawled through spirit names and accusatory notes: ‘This is not worthy of the faith’. 

Still from Then in Now film

Manuscript from the opening sequence in 'Then in Now'

Practitioners of magic texts were conscious of the risks of their unorthodoxy but were nonetheless driven by a curiosity about the cosmos and how to harness its powers. Medieval people thought that the earth rested at the still centre of a dynamic cosmos, enclosed within multiple transparent spheres in continuous circular movement. Some parts of this cosmos could be felt, known and manipulated by humans, while others were the source of vaguer speculation and debate. The sphere of fire, for example, could be associated with the light and heat of a candle flame. Fire was important for cooking and as a weapon in warfare, but it also evoked the sufferings of the damned.

Annie Cattrell

Still from 'Then in Now'

Ascending further into the celestial spheres, the Moon’s qualities provoked imaginative associations in occult texts: in alchemy with the metal silver, in magic with fertility, while for astrologers the Moon ruled over fools, magicians and fishermen. At the furthest reaches of the medieval cosmos ideas about its nature became increasingly speculative. The crystalline sphere was a medieval innovation to explain a reference in Genesis to waters above the firmament. Some scholars thought it had icy solidity, others that its matter was fluid, luminous and transparent. Then in Now teases out the sense of stillness, texture and movement in the medieval universe with glass spheres, candle flames, sky, sun, and images of water.

Instagram: anniecattrell