If a prison is a place of deprivation of liberty then what might a place of voluntary deprivation look like? An answer may be found in the 14th century and the ascetic practice of the anchorite whose life I have sought to fleetingly recreate in a new piece for winter 2018.
An anchorite is a religious recluse who would choose to withdraw from the world into an hermetic enclosure, typically a tiny ‘anchorhold’ cell attached to the body of a church.
To explore the dialogue between voluntary and forced withdrawal from society I constructed an anchorite cell, appropriately enough in the courtyard of a former police bridewell in Liverpool city centre.
The timber cell measured just 2.5m2 and featured an alms window, doorway and small skylight. It was sited adjacent to the original cell block, communicating to the prison wing via a squint in a similar manner to the medieval cell which would allow the anchorite or anchoress a view of the altar in the adjacent chancel.
To understand the experience of the anchorite however, demands more than a practical understanding of the anchorhold construction. So to complete the artwork I undertook to spend just one night in the structure, in the conviction that what little we may know of the early middle ages through reading, the experience of sleeping for just one December night in England will provide a glimpse perhaps of the spiritual devotion necessary to live years in such asceticism.
I built the cell. I entered at midnight on 12 December 2018 and left at 8am. I found some answers, but did not sleep.
Anchorite (2018) 1.2×2.5×2.5m
Anchorite was created for Act 3 of Material Matters: an artists’ collective exploring recycling and reinterpretation of raw or found materials.