- Date: 26 October 2012
- Artform: Music
- Region: South West
John Lennon's famous anti war song Imagine rang out on the bells of Exeter Cathedral to commemorate the 10th anniversary of 9/11 in September 2011.
The Arts Council funded project was created by PVA MediaLAB associate artist Cleo Evans and reached over a thousand people across the city. An online broadcast extended the audience for the project and enabled the sound of the bells to be heard around the world.
The recital of Imagine by Exeter Society of Bell Ringers was preceded by a peace walk from Exeter Mosque to Exeter Cathedral .Participants included Agnostics, Atheists Anglicans, Baptists, Buddhists, Catholics, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Pagans, Sikhs and Quakers.
The event also inspired discussion in schools across the UK through a social media project produced in partnership with education specialist DigitalME and the Imperial War Museum.
Cleo Evans said:
'Although the song was written forty years ago, its relevance is as strong as ever with religious intolerance continuing to increase globally. By being performed from a place of worship, this secular song powerfully comments upon the role of religion and world citizenship in the 21st Century. Imagine infers there should be greater religious tolerance and speaks strongly of the need for peace'
The recital presented an enormous creative and technical challenge because church bells are not designed for reproducing conventional melodies. Imagine was arranged for the cathedral bells by Ian Avery, a member of the Exeter Cathedral Society of Bell ringers who performed Imagine live for the event.
Imagine was originally programmed as part of US-based Interdependence Day, an international movement of artists, academics, politicians and faith leaders promoting world citizenship. However, they found the recital to be too controversial and recently removed their support.
The project was piloted at Liverpool Cathedral in 2009, and provoked much comment due to the nature of the song and Lennon's pronouncement that it was 'anti-religious'. An online poll conducted by The Church Times saw 60% object to the proposal, while on Facebook, Yoko Ono posted a link to a Liverpool Daily Post story about the performance, along with the comment, 'This is so beautiful, the sound of your bells will travel around the world'.
A Cathedral spokesperson said they were not surprised by the debate the idea had aroused:
'Exeter Cathedral was fully aware that this artistic project would spark discussion and we do not shrink from constructive debate. By allowing Imagine to be pealed on our bells does not mean we agree with the song's lyric content, but we recognise its power to make us think. The philosophy is a viewpoint of interdependence and that we should be working together. We also recognise the existence of other world views.'
A final outing of 'Imagine' will be performed guerilla style from a church in New York in December 2012.
Cleo is planning new projects including one which highlights our rapidly changing river life and another which examines the behaviour of UK high court judges. Both projects use a new medium and context to make social comment and provoke discussion. Cleo is currently seeking collaborators in these fields of expertise.
You can follow Cleo on Twitter @cleo_evans