Nicola Dunsbee’s five words project

Cultural programme : St Edmunds Chapel Dover

The FIVE WORDS project will run from January – May 2020.

As a young curator, I was excited when Joanna and Clare approached me to put on a series of events to introduce St Edmund’s Chapel as a place to visit.  I wanted the events to be closely linked to the amazing history and feel of the chapel, but I wanted to create a twenty-first century interpretation.  I also wanted to keep the people of Dover in mind: arts events can often be alienating, so I wanted to make sure that the events were as accessible as possible for everyone in Dover.  When I was researching the history of the chapel and its namesake, St Edmund, I found that he said: ‘five words well said are better than five thousand said without devotion’.  So, I thought that it would be good to base my events around this theme of ‘five words’.  As a result, I created ‘The FIVE WORDS Project’.

The first event will introduce the programme, and I hope to bring as many Dovorians as possible into the space by displaying their work and giving them a sense of pride and ownership over the space.  The first event is called ‘Multiview’.  We will collect home footage of Dover and compile it so that it can be projected onto the outside of the chapel.  We will also have an exhibition of local photographs in the chapel, which will be submitted in the form of postcards so that a story or memory can be written on the back of the photograph.

The second event will be an opportunity for people to meet artists and listen to what they have to say.  ‘Art Talk’ will begin with an artist’s residency in the chapel, during which time the public are welcome to pop in and speak to the artist or watch their process.  Then, at the end of this residency, the evening event will happen.  It will begin with talks from art practitioners around Dover – be it teachers, students, photography lovers or graffiti artists.  We will then have a ‘speed-talking’ session, where people can talk to a number of artists.  The artist who was in residence will then give a talk about what they have been doing in their residency.

‘Sonic-Optic’, the third event, will transform the chapel into an immersive sound and light experience.  In churches and holy spaces, sound, such as the sound of the organ, the choir and the stony echoes, is fundamental to the experience.  Light, such as that of stained glass or candlelight, is key too, so I thought it would be interesting to re-interpret these features in a twenty-first century way.

The fourth event is ‘Small Words’.  St Edmund was an avid writer, and I wanted to think about how writing has changed in the 800 years between St Edmund’s time and our time.  We are used to writing in 280 characters.  I want to invite people to write 280 characters – an approachable and accessible amount – on the themes of Dover, the sacred or the chapel itself.  This will be read out at the event, but also displayed in the chapel.

The concluding event will be ‘Five’.  The most experimental and exciting event of them all, ‘Five’ allows artists and practitioners, such as dancers, actors, musicians and writers, to have five minutes of time at the event.  They can use this time as they wish.  For example, someone could draw in the five minutes, or dance.  The space of the chapel is fully opened up as somewhere for creativity to exist. 

 Altogether, these events work with the history of the chapel, interweaving it into modern life.  I hope that these events give people a chance to experience creativity in a heritage site that they can feel is for them.

Nicola Dunsbee at the re-opening of St Edmunds September 2019