Laurie Powell: Restitution

Blue Sky Idea

Proposal Info

Artist Name

  • Laurie Powell

Artist Website


  • Durham Cathedral

I want to organise a performative robbery and retrieve three sets of objects from the collection at Durham Cathedral. These will be returned to their original resting places in a ceremonious and triumphant procession and handed over to the people and communities living there now.

The robbery will be conducted by a team of actors from the relevant communities and the general public will be invited to join in with the procession. Leaving Durham and heading north, the first destination will be St Paul’s monastery in Jarrow to hand over the bones of the Venerable Bede to local representatives. Next stop will be the village green in Bamburgh where the Parish Council can decide the most suitable resting place for the head of St Oswald. Last but not least, the body of St Cuthbert and his accompanying treasures will once again cross the Pilgrim’s Way to Lindisfarne, returning the Saint to his beloved island and its inhabitants.

This tongue in cheek proposal is designed to reconnect people to their history with a festival atmosphere of restitution and memory. Furthermore it attempts to use humour to ask difficult questions about cultural ownership and gatekeeping. Artefacts have an extraordinary power to shape social narratives and can be used to either empower local communities or to homogenise and control. There is an ongoing and widespread debate around the dubiously acquired objects found in the West’s most prestigious collections, with many calling for repatriation. This exercise attempts to extend these debates to include regional and local narratives and challenge the unbalanced distribution of cultural material within the country.

Northumbrian based artist Laurie Powell uses a localised approach to develop a material culture that is intimately linked to the ecology and history of the region in which it was created. Collecting and growing materials locally, he attempts to showcase the wealth and variety that our immediate surroundings can provide. This methodology is designed to explore and demonstrate alternative forms of production, consumption and cohabitation. 

“I believe that in our age of ecological disaster and widening inequalities, we desperately need to find new ways of understanding and relating to the natural systems that sustain us. For this proposal I have explored how local heritage and cultural artefacts can empower communities and help us to engage with the places we live.” -Laurie Powell