THE GLOSSARY 1994 The Union Chapel, London

The Glossary
An Unauthorised Tour in Fourteen Parts

Description: Site-specific performance event
Site: The Union Chapel, Compton Terrace, Islington, London N1
Residency: September - November 1994
Commission: The Union Chapel Project with support from The Architectural Association and London Arts Board

Since its construction in 1876, the vast wooden octagon of The Union Chapel at the end of Upper Street, Islington, in London has echoed with some of the most radical of religious and political oratory. At times James Cubitt’s ‘People’s Gothic’ masterpiece was filled with congregations of over three thousand people. Charismatic speakers challenged the Establishment in a manner characteristic of the Non-Conformist movement in the late Nineteenth Century. Although its congregation has now dwindled the building remains a potent symbol of direct action against the orthodoxy of the time.

In January 1875 the Union Chapel commissioned a group of architects to propose a design for a new building. Six of the submissions were considered, the seventh was late…

Taking the architectural competition as a presentational device, and exploring the architectural vocabulary of James Cubitt’s winning entry, the performance visited over thirty of the Chapel’s spaces. Conceived as a partial dictionary of dissent The Glossary was a live handbook to an extraordinary building in which audiences were enticed into a variety of astonishing and perplexing environments; a gilded café in fin de siecle Vienna, a subterranean world of secret meetings and forbidden languages, and a tranquil dairy producing ‘ideal foods’.

This overtly theatrical event was punctuated by speakers invited from a variety of fields, including medicine, economics and horticulture, each challenging a contemporary mainstream idea or practice thus fulfilling the Chapel’s original function as a haven for the dissenting voice.