A Review of 'Revive!' Curated by Galitzine Mackenzie at St. Mary Magdalene's Church, London

Revive! produced and curated by Sasha Galitzine and Olga MacKenzie invites a dynamic group of young artists to engage with the Crypt of St. Mary Magdalene’s Church, on the canals of Little Venice.  All the works, including several performances, are specific to the site, both its physical layout and symbolic significance.  Works have been placed where corpses were once laid to rest before burial.  In its time, the church was built amidst a Victorian slum.  It is no coincidence that it was dedicated to St. Mary Magdalene.  The Lock Hospital for venereal disease stood nearby, in an area known for prostitution.  Up until the 1950s, nuns at the church operated a home for single mothers forced to give up their infant children in order to work. 

Arriving at the Crypt one cannot miss the colourful signage advertising a “free art exhibition” which reminds me of the signs Peggy Guggenheim placed on the Grand Canal inviting people to visit her “collezione di pittura e scultura moderna.”  Revive! follows in the footsteps of other adventurous projects including Closer to the Veg, a series of site specific installations at the Fitzroy Park Allotments in Highgate and Pompe, a Dionysian procession along Regent’s Canal with performances that were devised as a first stage towards Revive! 



The locations themselves serve to strengthen the experience of Galitzine MacKenzie’s exhibitions.  Visiting Closer to the Veg required travelling up to Highgate, but intrepid visitors were rewarded with a beautiful and sunny walk across Hampstead Heath back to central London.  Pompe was a participatory work, a procession in which attendees were struck by Cupid’s arrows, played by Imogen Lloyd.  Revive! is equally participatory, as visitors contribute to bringing the Crypt and its message of hope and progress back to life. 

Using different locations each time, the curators seek to make the venue, art, and audience work together.  Lucinda May’s Lift is re-interpretation of the plainsong notation visible on the walls of the chapel dedicated to St. Mary Magdalene.  The song, played every thirty minutes “recalls the Wantage Sisters’ monastic rhythms of worship and prayers.”  Artist collective STASIS bring grunge rave music into the church with It Just Keeps Happening in which performers use large ceramic boxing gloves by Paloma Proudfoot to accentuate their movements.  Carolyn Barker-Mill uses the Crypt as her medium, replacing missing stained glass panels.  Jonathan McCree seeks inspiration from the Crypt’s use as a mortuary: subverting the religious belief of the soul ascending to heaven while the body is lowered into the ground, McCree’s works are placed on floor for visitors to walk over. 



Perhaps an unintended result of the exhibition is that viewers are encouraged to consider the changing roles of art and religion in society.  St. Mary Magdalene’s Church was built in an effort to reclaim and reinvigorate the area.  Father Richard Temple West commissioned the design from George Edmund Street (who was also building the Royal Courts of Justice at the time) and succeeded in attracting many of the London’s richest, notable residents to worship, their “smart carriages lining the filthy streets” of the slums.  Today Father West’s role would seem to have been taken up by contemporary art.  The Old Nichol, once slum, is on the doorstep of Shoreditch House, surrounded by galleries including Kate MacGarry, Emalin, and Limoncello.  

Read more about the art curators Galitzine Mackenzie at http://www.galitzinemackenzie.com

Written by Nathan Clements-Gillespie, a contributor to Arteviste.