Saturday 8th October
St Chad’s Chapel, Durham University
Words By Jenny Whitfield
Walking into St Chad’s Chapel felt like a moment out of a dream. The serenity of the indoors felt so detached from the buzzing atmosphere of Durham city centre, busy on any Saturday, but exaggerated further by it being the main weekend of Durham Book Festival.
This environment was the perfect home for Kamal Kaan’s As the Cloud Takes its Last Breath. Inspired by Rumi’s poem Like This, Kaan’s eight-minute piece of mindfulness was first broadcasted on BBC Radio 3, and was then re-commissioned by the Durham Book Festival to be brought to our ears. The unique work was created to be listened to through wireless headphones, which allows you to be fully immersed in the meditative journey.
When I first entered St Chad’s College I was greeted by a volunteer who told me that when she listened to the audio installation, she didn’t want to leave the chapel. Upon listening to it myself, I fully understand why. Through the use of the headphones, you are guided through the most delicate and beautifully written monologue that focuses on the stresses and complications of everyday life.
The experience was such a surreal one that I came out beaming, feeling completely cleansed, the piece having a profound effect on me. I have enjoyed mindfulness experiences before but none that felt as genuine and otherworldly as this. The headphones make for a transgressive experience – before long it felt as though I was sat alone in that chapel. This makes the installation a personal one too, leaving the audience to decide how to best use the material. I decided to keep my eyes closed for the majority and I could sense the changing sunlight through the window.
The fact that I was startled by how peaceful and safe this work and its environment made me feel is exactly why it’s important that it exists. Mindfulness is necessary – we all must make the time to stop and take a breath during our day-to-day routines. Kaan himself told the listeners in the room that it is what you make of it, “a reflection on what it means to be alive.”