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Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Fragmented stories and reflected peace

Yesterday I set up two installations for the annual conference of the Barking Episcopal Area Team which was held at the Royal Foundation of St Katherine.

One was the Advent Art Installation (entitled here, Reflected peace) which, through the initiative of Revd. John Brown, toured Redbridge churches during Advent 2008 and is a tryptich of painted mirrored perspex. The sombre colours and rectangular voids of this abstract artwork may recall works by Mark Rothko which hang in Tate Modern. Rothko’s later paintings have often been understood as depictions of the absence of God and the darkness of the world; an impression reinforced by Rothko’s suicide on the day that the Tate received those paintings.

Similarly, St Paul wrote that our experience in life is that of seeing in a mirror dimly; we do not see clearly and our understanding of life is clouded, he seemed to say. That may also be our experience in this installation, where the abstract colour has been applied to mirrored perspex, clouding our ability to see clearly in the mirrored panels of the installation. Yet the poet, Martin Wroe, has written that God can be seen as ‘the abstract art of paint and poem when our propaganda makes everything clear’.

In the darkness of the abstract design, we can still see reflected the candles, lit within the space where the artwork stands, and picked out on the panels, forming a star, are also lines of clear reflection. The light beaming from the star on the right panel is linked by a line to the repeated word ‘Peace’ on the left. In what ways might there be links be­tween light and peace in the darkness of our world?

What do we see as we look into the blurred and clear mirrored spaces of this installation? Essentially, as in any mirror, we see ourselves, both blurred and distinct. Are we defined by the darkness or are we one of the many points of light reflected in the darkness of this design? Is the reflection of our light blurred or distinct as we shine in the world? In what ways could we be­come light bringers and peace makers? After all, it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.”

The second installation, entitled Broken journey, fragmented story, features two discarded church noticeboards containing images and meditations from a sequence of Stations of the Cross and Resurrection which have been displayed, with omissions, in a random pattern which disrupts the agreed linear sequence of the Passion journey and narrative.

The Gospel story is rarely able to be told fully and in the way in which we might ideally wish to do so. What effect does this have on us, on those who hear the story told, and on the story itself? Is a story told in fragments disconnected and incoherent or do the fragments and omissions enable new insights and connections to be made? How does this disruption of the usual sequence and story of the ‘Stations’ make us feel? What thoughts or reflections does it prompt? What, if anything, does it illustrate about the fragmented nature of our telling of the Christian story or the Gospel message in our culture and time?
These were apposite questions to pose at a conference on Facing the future – Becoming the Church of 2016-2020. The Reflected peace installation has now been installed at St Paul's Goodmayes in readiness for the launch of the Art Trail for the Barking Episcopal Area on Thursday 17th February.


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