When the Spirits Moved Them, They Moved

Copied Mariam Ghani, Erin Ellen Kelly, When the Spirits Moved Them, They Moved, 2019, three-channel video, color, sound; 23:36 minutes, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase, 2021.23.1, © 2019, Mariam Ghani and Erin Ellen Kelly

Artwork Details

When the Spirits Moved Them, They Moved
© 2019, Mariam Ghani and Erin Ellen Kelly
Credit Line
Museum purchase
Mediums Description
three-channel video, color, sound; 23:36 minutes
  • Figure group
  • Recreation — dancing
  • Performing arts — music — voice
  • Landscape — Kentucky
  • Architecture Interior — religious — church
  • Architecture Exterior — religious — church
  • Recreation — church
Object Number

Artwork Description

In their collaborative series, Performed Places (2006--ongoing), Ghani's filmmaking and Kelly's choreography excavate layers of memory and meaning enmeshed in historic sites. Through archival research and by responding to remnants of a given spaces' former life, they develop movement, narrative, and video choreography that reanimates the past.

When the Spirits Moved Them, They Moved engages Pleasant Hill, Kentucky's Shaker Village, a nineteenth-century settlement where the preserved architecture and landscaping convey Shaker spirituality. Rooted in principles of simplicity, shared resources, and racial and gender equality, Shaker communities offer a utopian alternative to the primary settler-colonial values that shaped the United States at its founding.

Ghani and Kelly began with first-person accounts from the community's archives, assembling a textual score that guided a daylong performance. Through hymns that become rhythmic stomping and folk dances that become frenetic movements, the work traces the emotional and spiritual arc of weekly worship meetings in which spiritual gifts overtake believers' bodies. In the three-channel video, this performance is distilled from twelve hours into the choreographic journey shown on the central screen. On either side, mirrored shots of the serene environs emphasize the ordered design of Shaker life outside these chaotic convenings.

Projected life-size with surround sound, the video invites audiences to imaginatively step into this space and join this transformative gathering. The related photographs invite slower reflection on Shaker ways of being-in-common.


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