St Peter's Seminary, Cardross

Archibald, D. and Rodger, J. (2015) St Peter's Seminary, Cardross. Performance Research, 20(3), pp. 103-111. (doi: 10.1080/13528165.2015.1049043)

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Completed in 1966, St Peter's Seminary at Cardross, Dunbartonshire, has been described as the ‘greatest modernist building in Scotland’. Designed as a space for the collective training of Roman Catholic priests, the building was effectively renderered obsolete before it was even completed when Vatican II (1962) championed community-based training programmes for priests. Eventually abandoned in 1980, the building has fallen into dilapidation and ruin, although the performance company NVA are planning an experimental restoration of at least certain bare elements of the building complex.<p></p> This article explores the extent to which the initial structure and the ruin of Cardross can be viewed through the lens of Negri's definition of the transition to postmodernity as a 1960s crisis of modernist regimes of measure and the functional logic of the factory system. That system provided the organisational basis of post-war society in imposing a series of spatial and temporal divisions in everyday social life in order to organise production. The organising principle of a Seminary like St Peter's Cardross can be conceived of as imposing a similar, indeed an even more comprehensive control over the entire spatio-temporal existence of the young priests within its walls. To a certain extent this rigid division can be seen in the concrete form of the building. The Seminary was designed such that the modulor dimension of one student priest's dorm is presented as an arch on the façade, and the series of these arches making up the length of the building is thus an expression of the individual's fully incorporated existence within the institution. To what extent, then, can the abandonment and gradual ruination of the strict spatially segregated and segmented complex of St Peter's Cardross be read as an extreme paradigm for the dismantling of the regime based on measures that came along with the western crisis in capital and collapse of industrial production from the 1960s on?<p></p> This question is examined through an analysis of the cinematic representation of St Peter's in two experimental films, Space and Light (1972, Murray Grigor), produced when it was a working seminary, and Space and Light Revisited (2009, Murray Grigor), an attempted shot-for-shot remake of the original filmed when it was in a state of decay. Both films have been screened simultaneously and side-by-side (at the film's 2009 Glasgow premiere and at the 2010 Berlinale) and the article explores the specific experiences of this viewing experience.<p></p> Cinema regularly deploys ruins as the locus for melodramatic action, operating as a visual parallel of the onscreen action; however, in these films St Peter's is the central object of attention, and a celebration of, and lament for, the original is offered up. While early experimental filmmakers experimented with temporality by rewinding film to reconstruct demolished walls or buildings, in this setting, the indexical qualities of the cinematic apparatus are deployed to juxtapose past and present. In doing so, they highlight the referential nature of both the cinema and the ruin as this high point of Scottish architectural modernism, commissioned by the church, lies in a state of ruination.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Archibald, Dr David
Authors: Archibald, D., and Rodger, J.
College/School:College of Arts > School of Culture and Creative Arts > Theatre Film and TV Studies
Journal Name:Performance Research
Publisher:Taylor and Francis
ISSN (Online):1469-9990

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