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Rory Pilgrim

Press release

Rory Pilgrim - The Resounding Bell

The Resounding Bell was commissioned by the South London Gallery. Supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. The closing event Beyond The Echo is being developed in cooperation with the P14 Youth Theater of the Volksbühne Berlin.

An excerpt from a conversation between Rory Pilgrim and Wolfgang Tillmans:
WT: Where does the name The Resounding Bell come from, the work that I saw at the South London Gallery last year?

RP: Actually, the name was the first thing that I came up with. Before I thought about it, I just thought of the name. My favourite novel is The Bell by Iris Murdoch. She is a writer who mainly started in the fifties, a post-war writer. She is probably the most prolific British writer from that period and had this amazing ability to write about the inner lives of people. This title of the book and the image of the bell has always been important to me. The bell as a symbol of a collective ringing and marking of time which is not just a pause, like in mourning, but alerts an emergency.

The “resounding” came partly because the original commission for the work had to explore local heritage. I felt the best way to deal with this was working through history as an experience of ‘resounding’. In the current state in the UK where things are so broken, this feeling of resonance felt really important. When you say something ‘resounds’ with you, it implies a form of kinship, like an affinity. It touches you.

WT: That is what the work did to me: it had such resonance in me. Without knowing exactly what I was looking at. As you start watching, you do not quite know what is going on. You do not know that this is all about an intergenerational dialogue. I enjoyed, as I kept watching and listening, that it became sort of richer and richer in this reaching out, reaching forwards and backwards in time. Interestingly, it was also a lot around technology and the war. Somehow that is what I pick up, but the word “Brexit” is not mentioned, is it?

RP: I kind of see it as one of the successes but also maybe as a failure in the work when it is such an important moment. It did come up in the workshops and there was mixed voting records or opinions within the group. But as a way to go beyond it, it was important to acknowledge it, but not bring that word even into the work. I do not know if it sounds too light, but I felt the best way to deal with what is happening in the UK right now is to try and connect people on a very human level. I feel personally so much of the problem of what is unfolding, constantly, not just in the UK but elsewhere is this complete failure in our structures of speech and dialogue. And so, in a way, the work is trying to kind of create a form of dialogue in which there is a sort of conscious mediation through technology, because technology is especially so important in how it is both connecting and dividing people. In the work you feel it’s fragility, but hopefully also something transformative.

WT: What is so touching about The Resounding Bell is the gentleness of dialogue, because it is based on listening. You are asking something, but you are not just asking to hear yourself speak which is often the point of talking or asking. Here, they ask because they actually do want to have an answer, have a response.


Rory Pilgrim (Bristol, 1988)

Centred on emancipatory concerns, Pilgrim’s work aims to challenge the very nature of how we come together, speak, listen and strive for social change through sharing and voicing personal experience. Strongly influenced by the origins of activist, feminist and socially engaged art, Pilgrim works with others through different methods of dialogue, collaboration and workshops. Creating connections between activism, spirituality, music, technology and community, Pilgrim works in a wide range of media including sound, song writing, film, music video, drawing and live performance.

Studying at Chelsea College of Art London between 2005-2008 during the advent of social media and proliferation of the Internet, Pilgrim urgently seeks to explore how we forge new forms of connection from both behind and beyond our screens. Growing up as a child of an Anglican Church Minister, questions of social responsibility interwoven with rituals of speech, music and community are inherent within his work. For Pilgrim, the political, spiritual and struggle for social peace and justice are inseparably connected. His work seeks to create a fertile space beyond dogmas and limitations of both religion and secularism in which an individual has freedom to speak, listen and be supported by others through collective experience.

Throughout Pilgrim's work words and music are essential . With a background both in classical music and pop bands, Pilgrim uses music and songwriting as a means to explore ways in which words articulate human experience and longings sometimes successfully and sometimes incompletely. Creating spaces in which people from all generations come together and cultural backgrounds, Pilgrim hopes to provide a space where words and dialogue can still be agents of change when voiced and exchanged or written. Since 2011 a key collaborator has been David Andrews from Sheffield, UK a sign writer and poster maker painting words by hand.

Key early works of Pilgrim include Love in Uganda (2009-2010), a piece of music inviting Anglican Churches around the world to break their silence on The Anti Homosexuality Bill in Uganda which furthered an existing British Colonial law to mandate the death penalty for LGBT people. In 2012 Pilgrim was invited to create a performance that choreographed the re-opening ceremony of the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, broadcast live on National Television and attended by Queen Beatrix of The Netherlands, in a performance entitled Open. Motivated by youth protests and violence targeted at young people in 2011 through the rise of right wing governments in Europe, Pilgrim worked with 10 teenagers to create a text for a choral piece he then composed, sung by the National Youth Choir of The Netherlands. The ceremony featured speeches interspersed with verses from the anthem and included speeches from three of the teenagers, based on a political and personal concern important to them, each of the teenager's speeches ending with a question for wider society about the future.

From 2013-2016 themes of inter-generational dialogue, language, LGBT rights and the role of physical space space within the digital age were key themes of a short film trilogy entitled Sacred Repositories. As divisions between people generationally, culturally, politically and economically have increased since the financial crash of 2008 , Pilgrim’s work has in particular focused on the role of technology in this. From 2016-2018, Pilgrim created his first 11 track music video album entitled Software Gardenexploring how we unite the human, robotic and technological to create systems based on basic principles of care, kindness and empathy. With nearly 100 people involved in the work, key collaborators include singer Robyn Haddon, choreographer and artist Cassie-Augusta Jørgensen and poet and disability advocate Carol R Kallend.

In 2018 Pilgrim was commissioned by the South London Gallery to create a new work for the opening of its new Fire Station building. Working with women from 14 to 94 years old connected to South London, the commission resulted in a 7 episode film entitled The Resounding Bell. Moving between 7 generations of experience, the film questions how we learn and listen to one another so as to take action in the present and shape our collective future. The work will travel in 2019 as a solo exhibition to Between Bridges, Berlin at the moment the UK is supposedly scheduled to leave the EU. As part of the exhibition, Pilgrim will realise a sister intergenerational conversation in Germany.

Forthcoming and previous solo/duo exhibitions include Kunstverein Braunschweig (DE), MING Studio, Boise (USA), andriesse-eyck galerie, Amsterdam (NL), South London Gallery (UK), Site Gallery, Sheffield (UK) and sic! Raum für Kunst, Luzern (CH). In April 2019 Pilgrim will open the Images Festival Toronto with Software Garden, with live concert performances of the work made for Transmediale Festival at Haus der Kunst der Welt, Berlin and Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. Forthcoming commissions include Serpentine Gallery/BBC Radio.