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Lindisfarne Gospels are continuing to inspire

Visitors to Durham recently will have noticed a series of large-scale photographic portraits on posters in the streets of the city

The Lindisfarne Gospels and other treasures on display at the Palace Green Library Durham University
The Lindisfarne Gospels and other tresures on display at the Palace Green Library Durham University

Visitors to Durham recently will have noticed a series of large-scale photographic portraits on posters in the streets of the city.

These are placed along the route between Palace Green and Sigune Hamann’s exhibition iN tHe nAme Of and is partly inspired by the epic seven-year journey of 1,000 miles that the monks of Lindisfarne went on with the body of St Cuthbert and with the Lindisfarne Gospels.

The link with Durham and Lindisfarne is further emphasised in a series of 50 irregular stones collected on the beach at Lindisfarne.

Sigune had these laser cut and sand blasted with the words iN tHe nAme Of. The typeface is based on a stone in the National Museum of Scotland, inscribed with the Latin phrase “In nomine”, and made at about the same time as the Lindisfarne Gospels.

Originally the phrase was usually concluded with the word God, or father but more recently it has been adapted by the anti-war movement, as in “Not in Our Name”.

iN tHe nAme Of … asks viewers to ask the question in the name of what?

Sigune says: “I like the ambiguity that people can think about the question and I find it interesting that the Lindisfarne Gospels was a medium of communication of its day.”

The largest work, Whitehall, London, takes up the whole of the large gallery at the Durham Art Gallery in a 56-metre strip giving an almost 360-degree view of a political demonstration.

The swirls of colour and blurred imagery was in fact taken at a demonstration against the rises in student fees, but could be any large-scale event with many people present – the Durham Miners’ Gala, for example.

The image is created by winding an old 35mm film past an open camera shutter. Hamann says the process captures “the trajectories of bodies, objects and lights in motion, to produce an expansive image. Moving elements, such as people, tend to register more clearly than static backgrounds, which dissolve into ambiguity.”

That ambiguity is what particularly appeals to the artist – not just a visually, but the ambiguity of language. She is blurring the line between representation and abstraction, and also between the still image and moving ones.

Of her earlier works, Heimlich she takes us along a river in Germany, but all the images are of the landscape reflected on the surface of the water, rather than of the landscape itself.

This can cause some slightly surreal effects, with the stones on the river bed being partially visible in what otherwise looks like a normal photograph of trees and a barn, for example.

In the video work Asmannshausen, the distance between landscape and its representation is examined through other people’s experience: the artist took a tourist cruise down the Rhine.

The camera focuses on the tourists and how they are experiencing the beautiful landscape surrounding them – but most of them are experiencing it at second hand, via the lens of their video cameras or smartphones.

:: Sigune Hamann’s iN tHe nAme Of is on at the Durham Art Gallery/DLI Museum until October 6.

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