Do I Know You?

by Gerry Lynch last modified 10 Feb, 2017 10:23 AM

Cathedral installation offers new perspective on homelessness

Identity and homelessness lie at the heart of a new film installation that will be show in Salisbury Cathedral from 2-8 March as part of the Cathedral’s 2017 Memory and Identity season.

Wiltshire artist Susan Francis’ film installation Do I Know You? is part of a wider project called Word on the Streets, inspired by conversations and creative sessions carried out with homeless people in the Salisbury area over a period of eight years. 

The idea behind the project is to take the films Susan made in response to stories she heard in shelters and drop in centres, play them back on the streets from where they had come. 

Susan said, “I wanted to share what I had learnt from spending time with people who live on the street or are without a permanent home and who feel, as a result, that they have no real identity. On the street they are hidden in plain sight, either ignored or hurried past. When you have no address you lose your identity and place in society. This is not a choice people make, it is what happened to them.”

The Cathedral film is based on the story of a homeless person that Susan has got to know in the course of her work. You hear his voice throughout the film but never see his face as Susan explains, “I deliberately used his voice and not his image because I felt my story would be far more powerful if you only heard the subject’s words and didn’t form any preconceptions about him. In my film his words play over images of people listening and responding to his story – doing the opposite to television or photo journalism.

“Another striking thing that my conversations with him brought home to me was that, out on the street, the only time he felt he had a true identity was when someone spoke to him…and not many people do that.”

Composer Howard Moody, a former Cathedral chorister and Artistic Director of the music charity La Folia, created the music for the project, working with local musician Tim Byford and individuals living in shelters and on the streets in Salisbury. 

The decision to screen Do I Know You? in the Cathedral Cloisters came about as the result of a two-year conversation between Susan Francis and the Cathedral’s Visual Arts Advisor and curator, Jacquiline Creswell.

Jacquiline said, “I was very drawn to Susan’s work. She has interrogated our privileged world, drawing focus toward the homeless men and women hidden from society’s gaze by artfully turning her lens away from them. The film works very powerfully but subtly, focusing on the listeners’ facial responses and reactions as they hear the harrowing words of the central character describing his life on the streets – his loss of identity, destitution and absence of self-worth – and causing the viewer to reflect powerfully on their own everyday interactions with the homeless. Susan’s film makes a powerful statement that sits as part of a wider programme of events, exhibitions and activities that make up this year’s Memory and Identity season at the Cathedral.”

Canon Robert Titley, Salisbury Cathedral’s Canon Treasurer and Chair of the Cathedral Art Advisory Committee said, “Word on the Streets is a powerful concept and one that resonates with the gospels, which show Jesus speaking his word not in a pulpit but on the street and putting at the very centre of his attention people who are ignored, despised or on the edge of society. We hope that this project and the issues explored through our Memory and Identity year prompt us all - visitors and congregation - to listen for the voices from our streets, especially those whom our society is leaving out.”

In addition to the film installation in the Cathedral Cloisters, a series of short films made for the Word on the Streets by Susan Francis will be projected around the city centre and form part of a special city walk. Those wishing to take part should meet at Salisbury Arts Centre at 7.30 pm on Wednesday 22 February where the tour starts.

Do I Know You? Salisbury Cathedral’s film installation launches on Wednesday 1 March and runs until 8 March in Salisbury Cathedral’s South Cloister. It will remain in place during the annual Alabaré Sleep Out, which is being held in the Cathedral Cloisters on Friday 3 March this year. Funds from the Sleep Out go towards the work Alabaré does with vulnerable and homeless people. Last year nearly 200 people joined the Sleep Out to raise fund to support the charity’s work.

Salisbury Arts Centre is also holding a panel discussion entitled Upending the Pyramid on Wednesday 1 March at 7 pm. Panellists will discuss issues of identity and homelessness raised by Susan’s project, as well as exploring the role that art can play in raising and addressing those issues. 

Word on the Streets is funded by Arts Council England, an award from the Gane Trust, Salisbury Cathedral and Salisbury Arts Centre.

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