Andrea Büttner @ Tramway, until 13 Oct

Review by Jac Mantle | 25 Sep 2013
  • Andrea Buttner

Increasingly viewed as a hotbed for extremists, crazies, perverts and toxic small-mindedness, organised religion has some serious PR problems. Cleaning up its image is presumably not Andrea Büttner’s intention, but the more positive portrayal in the films she is showing here makes a refreshing change.

Both films are unexpectedly funny. Little Sisters: Luna Park Ostia (2012) features an order of nuns living outside Rome who run an arcade at an amusement park. Finding beauty in the park’s colours and liveliness, the nuns’ good humour and joyousness are palpable. Plain speaking and dressed in t-shirts, they give the impression of doing a job just like any other. One feels they would be good ambassadors for a life choice widely viewed as suspect.

The nuns featured in Little Works (2007) are altogether a more rarefied community, closer to the stereotype of leading a weird and celibate life devoted to prayer. The closed order of Carmelite nuns in West London wear a full habit and are cut off from much of the modern age. Restricted from filming inside the convent, Büttner handed her camera over to one of them to record the making of their 'little works' – small handcrafted offerings. It is probably the sisters’ seclusion from the modern world that supplies the wonderful comic moments, though Büttner ensures they are never the butt of the joke but instead come across as quite ordinary.

While Büttner has sometimes adopted the outmoded techniques of craft used by the communities she observes, the medium of video here seems to allow a more even-handed view – simply opening a window on their lives. Consequently, the films reflect back our perceptions of those communities and force us to examine them. [Jac Mantle]