When the Spirits Moved Them, They Moved
Shot in 2018 at the Shaker Village in Pleasant Hill, Kentucky, the three-channel 4K installation When the Spirits Moved Them, They Moved condenses a day-long performance by dancers from Louisville and Lexington into a 22-minute meditation on Shaker landscaping, architecture, song and dance as ways of organizing being-in-common. A Christian sect led to America by Mother Ann Lee in 1774, the Shakers were devoted to bringing about a utopian society founded on simplicity, celibacy and equality of race and gender. They once boasted four to five thousand Believers across 19 communities from New England to Kentucky, but only two people in the world maintain the faith today.
The three-channel video When the Spirits Moved Them, They Moved navigates through the historic meeting house and pastures of Pleasant Hill, evoking the Shakers’ lost way of life through their enduring physical sites. The outer channels are mirrored and focus on the pathways, fences, and walls that circumscribed Shaker life within highly ordered patterns of movement and rituals of faith. The center channel, meanwhile, takes place mostly in the meeting house, which weekly opened the closed Community to the World outside, as well as (during the period of Mother Ann’s Revival) to the chaos of ecstatic visions. Songs, dances, and drawings were all received as “gifts” during meetings that lasted hours. Pleasant Hill once hosted a 19-hour-long meeting in this very space.
The following text is adapted from diaries in the Village archives and is presented to viewers as an introduction to the exhibition:
On Mother Ann’s birthday the whole Society met at the Meeting House to celebrate the day. Like all Sabbaths in Shaker villages, a beautiful stillness pervaded. After the body of worshipers gathered into order, we commenced the services by one bow and opened the meeting by singing a hymn. All that were able united into ranks to step for the first song, then formed two circles for the march. At this time in a meeting it was usual to step quick and lively for two songs, sing two songs for the slow march, then two for the round dance with the circle unbroken. On this occasion the house was too crowded to march with convenience, so the dancing commenced in a promiscuous manner by the middle and young classes, and was attended with great power. The seats had to be taken out of the room to give place for the spirits to sing and dance, and the gifts and blessings of heaven were poured forth by the heavenly Orders in great abundance. We received gifts of freedom and simplicity, life and zeal, balls of love and blessing, sparks of holy fire, palms of victory, staves of strength, crowns of love, mantles and robes of wisdom, chains of union, and numerous other gifts of a similar kind, calculated to strengthen our souls and fill us with life, which continued to flow almost incessantly throughout the meeting. Sometimes when an individual would receive a bush or other emblem filled with quickening power or holy fire, we would all unite and shake heartily. A great many were wrought upon by an irresistible power, which caused the assembly to shake and reel and toss like the trees of the forest when shaken with the wind. The involuntary exercise became so violent that we discontinued ranks and all united in the dance, and one was moved upon by the departed spirit of a female of some other Nation, and all her movements and motions seemed to prove she had lived to a very old age. There was some quiet sleepy kind of spirit took possession of Illinois Green, which caused her to sit about on the floor apparently asleep for some time, then all of a sudden she sprang to her feet and whirled and jumped about the room as tho she was affrightened into a fit. About the middle of the meeting, Emma McCormack was possessed by a spirit and lay helpless for some time, continually hollowing, then suddenly sprang to her feet and danced round the room very swiftly for a short spell. After this Emma broke out in the most melodious strains that the human mind could conceive of, singing songs new to us, that appeared to be from the Spiritual world. Much praise was danced and sung that day, and towards the conclusion we received from Holy Mother Wisdom, each one a drop of her pure love … Some of those that were there say it was one of the liveliest meetings they were ever in.
The symmetrical format of the 3-channel installation refers to the highly symmetrical gift drawings produced by Shakers as depictions of the visions received during these meetings. When the Spirits Moved Them, They Moved also includes a series of photographs (dye transfer prints on aludibond) that also experiment with diptych and triptych forms inspired by Shaker gift drawings and by the relationships between the Kentucky landscape, the architecture the Shakers sited within it, and the forms of movement made possible by that architecture.
When the Spirits Moved Them, They Moved was co-directed by Erin Ellen Kelly and is part of Performed Places, our long-running collaboration (2006-present). This series of site-responsive videos draws on landscape archeology to activate the history and memory of place through movement.
Directors: Mariam Ghani & Erin Ellen Kelly
Dancers: Lauren Argo, Theresa Bautista, John Brewer, Amanda Carrick, Lauren Frederick, Lizzie Gulick, Erin Ellen Kelly, Faryn Kelly, Rob Morrow, Sanjay Saverimuttu, Ashley Thursby, Philip Velinov, Natalia Velinova
Singer: Twana Patrick
Choreography contributed by: Theresa Bautista, John Brewer, Lauren Frederick, Erin Ellen Kelly, Philip Velinov
Editor: Mariam Ghani
Cinematography, sound design and online edit: Adam Hogan
Production Manager: Robin Burke
AC: Roger Halliday
Sound Recordist: Eric Lutz
Production Assistants: Gwen Burke, Rina Lutz, J. Ryan McCleney, Don Simandl
DIT: Bob Urban
Catering: Wiltshire Pantry & Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill
Transport: Mint Julep
Produced by Indexical Films & RYAN LEE Gallery
Research support: 21c Museum Hotels
Production support: Jody Howard, Owsley Brown III
Dancers appear courtesy of the Louisville Ballet and Moving Collective
Shot on location at the Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill, Kentucky
Thanks to: Jeff Lee, Alice Gray Stites, Robert Curran, Mikelle Bruzina, Amy Bugg, Emalee Krulish, Jill Malusky, Miranda Lash, Dean Otto, Kim Schmidt, Jen Liu, Chelsea Knight and the Video Group
Intro text adapted from:
A Brief account of the proceedings of the day, and the meeting of the Society at Pleasant Hill, Ky. December 25th, 1845. / Western Reserve Historical Society VIII A-49
June, 1847 / Spiritual journal, Pleasant Hill archives
Monday, March 8, 1852 / Spiritual journal, Pleasant Hill archives
Saturday, February 14, 1857 and March 1, Sabbath 1857 / Filson Historical Society, Bohon Shaker Collection, Volume 11 of 40, “Journal Kept by James Levi Balance, April 1, 1854-March 31, 1860”
THE LORD’S DAY, MAY 25TH/ JUNE 1st  / “A Journey to Kentucky in the Year 1873,” Elder Henry C. Blinn