I. Nothing. Lack.: MacMillan’s Sermons on Psalm 23 Remembered


The project was conceived as a contribution to the RCAHMW’s Explore Your Archive: Memory Archive, held at the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth, on November 22, 2017. One of the event’s ambitions was to explore memory in relation to dementia. Accordingly, my sound- artwork, I. Nothing. Lack., addressed the themes of remembering and forgetting, principally.

The source material for the project was derived from cassette-tape recordings of a quartet of sermons on Psalm 23. They were delivered by the Rev. J. Douglas MacMillan (1933–91) – a minister in the Free Church of Scotland and former shepherd – on four consecutive mornings, August, 13–19, 1979, at Bethel Welsh Baptist Church, Baker Street, Aberystwyth.

The recorded tape represents a technological memory of MacMillan’s preaching. On November 24, 2017, 38 years later, that memory was recalled, technologically, at the same place wherein it had been first formed. Members of the public witnessed a token re-presentation of the original audition in a digital and analogue format.

The processes by which the digitised content was transformed were derived from the deficits associated with dementia, including: erasure of information, errant recall, language abnormalities, slowing down, repetition, loss of continuity, agitation, discursive behaviour, and changes in character.

The choice of Psalm 23 at the textual anchor for the project was not arbitrary. Older people living with dementia, even in its advanced stage, while failing to form and retrieve new memories nevertheless retain their recollection of that scripture intact. This is due largely to their having committed it to memory at a formative age.

The project demonstrates how collaboration between artist-academics and public institutions, such the Commission and CADW (which also supported the endeavour), can generate new insights and synergies that would be otherwise unobtainable. And, moreover, to do so in such a way as to be publicly accessible, educative, challenging, relevant to social concerns, and contributory to an understanding and articulation of mental illness.

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