A contemplative stillness exists in the medieval section of the Nelson-Atkins that isn’t found anywhere else.
Walking through, one can see calm, reserved statues of Mary, draped in flowing robes, and towering suits of armor stoically standing at attention, one sitting upon a large armored horse as though waiting for an unseen enemy.
It’s a quiet section, connected both the Egyptian as well as the Greek and Roman sections. The Cloister in the very heart of the gallery is an area of great visual appeal. A simply square construction, it’s built with a large wall of stone that follows along the edges of the gallery making an empty space in the middle.
The walls of the cloister are lined with decorative window spaces and include a tile roof, the center being left open to give the illusion of an overcast sky.
On Saturday March 23, the Nelson-Atkins hosted the Conservatory Connections performance of “Soma Athanaton” (Eternal Body), a work that is a collaboration between four artists, UMKC’s Brad Van Wick, the Art Institute’s Chris Daharsh, Alli Litwicki, and Russell Thorpe, “Soma Athanaton” and was unlike most performances as it focused on the way one can interact emotionally with a space, taking inspiration from the Gregorian chants and meditation techniques used by western monks.
With various sound usage including low humming, breathing, synthesized ambient noise, and instances of wind instruments, Van Wick and Daharsh created a marvel of sound that resonated through the stones of the cloister. Audience members were allowed to either sit or stand along the walls outside the enclosure.
The droning, repeating hums of the synthesizer began to fall away as instruments such as a tenor saxophone and an alto clarinet were played, though unconventionally. They were played lower, and began to sound like the wails and cries of some hideous monster, echoing from a deep, dark, cavernous pit, which it resides.
“Soma Athanaton” was not simply a meditative exercise, it was a physical activity only enjoyed when closing ones eyes, and relaxing as the room began to disintegrate.