Shapes of Water Sounds of Hope

Gathering people of all ages, backgrounds and cultures in the mill to create a shared art. Shapes of Water, Sounds of Hope by artist Suzanne Lacy, explores the role of community vocalisation and participation in civic life.


US-based artist Suzanne Lacy began this project in in March 2015 as part of her residency in Brierfield. A pioneer of public art and socially engaged practice, Suzanne is well-known for large-scale choreographed events. For Shapes of Water Sounds of Hope, she worked closely with hundreds of residents in the Pendle area who participated in a series of community meetings and singing sessions.

Suzanne explored the wide range of vocal traditions for spiritual and civic expression that exist among the people of Pendle as a way to discover the history of Northlight Mill, formerly Smith & Nephews Mill, and the surrounding area. The music forms ranged from Folk singing, Choirs and Shape Note to Qawali, Naat and Nasheed. Shape Note has strong roots in Lancashire but has now become particular popular in the USA, while the Sufi tradition of Dhikr originated in the Middle East and is now practiced by many residents in Pendle. To learn more about Shape Note, Dr. Ron Pen, a Shape Note expert from Kentucky, USA, visited and provided insight of the tradition which originated here. We learned about the Sufi from local Pendle residents.

► Frieze review

Each of the vocal traditions explored through the project dates back many centuries and developed as a way of bringing people together in order to pronounce and celebrate commonalities This was often in domestic settings, outside traditional religious establishments. To continue with this, Suzanne used these participatory music forms to bring the local community together. This culminated in a weekend of mass community celebration at Northlight Mill in October 2016. All were invited to enjoy a public banquet; sharing food, culture and experiences.

The opportunity to participate in a spirited sing along and robust chanting experience, encouraged local communities to acknowledge commonalities, and dialogue about a shared future for the residents of Pendle was opened up. While artworks and portraits celebrated the people who had worked at the mill, which had been one of the largest employers in the area, the shared experience of music stimulated questions to imagine how the community in Pendle might shape its own future.

► Read our interview with Suzanne to learn more about her vision for the project.

► Listen to Suzanne on BBC Radio 4

Shape of Water Sounds of Hope was co-commissioned by In-Situ and Super Slow Way. Supported by partners Pearl Ltd, Pendle Community Cohesion Action NetworkBuilding Bridges Pendle and Brierfield Action in the Community.


Images courtesy Guzelian

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