Caverne St-Clair 20012

Re-imaging our culture 18,000 years from now · 2012

John Shipman, images from Caverne St-Clair 20012, 2012A re-imaging of the past by the distant future, Caverne St-Clair 20012 presents visitors with a large interior as though it were a lost cavern discovered 18,000 years from now. Our day-to-day material culture's artifacts are used by people of the 201st century to reconstruct ceremonies and practices of a long-lost culture in this experiential installation involving visitor participation as well as complex audio-visual elements.

Caverne is rebuilt from the shell and contents of St. Matthew's Church and artifacts discovered in the vicinity of 729 St. Clair Ave. West, Toronto. Some artifacts are exhibited at the entrance, others used as principal elements in a 12-hour reconstructed audio and visual ceremony that visitors experience in St. Matthew's extra-ordinary space. The artifacts used in the 20012 reconstruction include a complex mechanical-electrical device used for making sounds which we recognize as a pipe organ, thousands of tiny coloured images in plastic frames, a variety of small optical/audio/electrical devices such as slide projectors and sound systems; plus fragments of paper — some covered with letters, others with odd graphic notations which might be music.

Exploring Caverne St-Clair by LookUP

Visitors can walk through the site or they can explore the Caverne lying down on lookUPs: stable, comfortable, easy-to-maneuver, hand-pushed mobile recliners. During their journey, visitors see illuminated "paintings" moving across the ceiling and are surrounded by the huge sound of St. Matthew's 1924 pipe organ in concert with small audio players positioned around the Caverne.

«…we have no way of knowing the exact place these (painted) figures held in the beliefs and the rites of those persons who lived many thousands of years (ago) …These paintings before us are miraculous, they communicate a strong and intimate emotion …gazing at these pictures we sense that something is stirring, something is moving …we are left painfully in suspense by this incomparable beauty and the sympathy it awakes in us.» — Georges Bataille, Prehistoric Painting: Lascaux or the Birth of Art, 1955

Our present as past in the future

Caverne St-Clair plays with continuing attempts of our own culture to understand the past — from Bataille's ideas on the birth of art in his 1955 essay on the paintings of the Lascaux Cave, to Werner Herzog's recent film, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, about the 32,000 year-old paintings in Chauvet Cave.

Caverne 20012 is a reconstruction analogous to Black Creek Pioneer Village, Old Fort York, or Upper Canada Village without the advantages of historical records. It avoids technological speculations that often accompany visions of the future. We suggest what future sensibilities might be instead.

We playfully suggest a radically different way of perceiving images and sounds 18,000 years from now — a sensibility that favours a horizontal viewing position rather than our customary vertical position, that is comfortable with a different understanding of duration and consonance in musical performance as well as a different approach to the display of visual images in terms of narrative, sequence, motion and orientation.

By removing this present day church from its day-to-day context, we also may stimulate reflections by Torontonians on the rapid disappearance of these special spaces across our city.

Slideshow · photographs from Caverne St-Clair 20012
Fragments · download the collections as a pdf
Comments from Nuit Blanche visitors

Project contributors
John Shipman · Caverne concept and production
Mani Mazinani · Sound composition, performance and installation with St. Matthew's organist and music director  Dr. Paul E. Jessen's assistance setting up the organ
Veronica Clarke-Hanik · Visitor experience

This interactive multi-media installation was presented on 29-30 September 2012 during Scotiabank Nuit Blanche Toronto. For more information, please contact John.

Photos · Marcelle St-Amant