Heart Agency



Canterbury Tales

Strange Pilgrimage: Elements of a Narrative
Using the four medieval elements of water, air, earth and fire, four contemporary artists explore the narratives within The Canterbury Tales, Matthew’s contribution being ‘fire’ for an exhibition at The Beaney House of Art & Knowledge, Canterbury.

The origins of Matthew’s work began with the burning of a paperback copy of Chaucer’s ‘The Canterbury Tales’ and then collecting what fragments remained. Using fire as ‘an editor’, brought an element of chance to the process and provided the raw material from which a new narrative emerged. This new visual narrative – these collages, assemblages and publication – are titled ‘The Arsonist’s Tale’. Chaucer uses fire as metaphor to describe character traits – from nurturing and passionate to destructive and vengeful. These characterisations are often stereotypes, seemingly describing an ‘everyman’ or ‘everywoman’. Canterbury Cathedral burnt in 1174 and again in 1872. Was this an act of man, woman, god or chance?

‘The Canterbury Tales’ was written by Geoffrey Chaucer in 1386. The book takes the form of a collection of short stories told by a group of pilgrims to each other as they travel to visit the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral. This project originated in a car journey moving through and stopping off at locations on the ‘Pilgrims Way’ – the route that Chaucer’s pilgrims travelled. Through shared conversation, encounters and re-readings, the experience and narrative produced new images and objects, re-casting Chaucer’s narrative in a contemporary context. Chaucer’s tales are morality tales, often satirical and with acid wit, they are told by and about everyday ‘characters’. The stories (and fragments of stories) have been ordered and re-ordered since Chaucer’s death and it is the collective, yet fragmentary nature of the tales – a coming together of disparate parts and voices.

View overview of project