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Friday, 30 September 2011

Being in the World: Charles Lutyens

A retrospective exhibition of the work of Charles Lutyens, set within the span of his most extensive work - the mosaic cycle of the 'Angels of the Heavenly Host' at St Paul's Bow Common - closes officially tomorrow; although the paintings can be viewed by arrangement for a further two weeks and the sculpture of the 'Outraged Christ' will remain at the church for a further year.

"The mosaic cycle of the 'Angels of the Heavenly Host' was an intended and integral part of the church when it was designed by Robert Maguire (architect) and Keith Murray (designer) from 1956 with the Foundation stone laid in December 1958 and the building consecrated and dedicated on 30th April 1960. Work on the mosaics began in 1963 and during the next five years Charles Lutyens worked on this huge expanse of 800 square feet, day by day and piece by piece, an astonishing endeavour for one person by any reckoning."

"In the Christian and Jewish tradition angels have various functions and duties. There are those who act as Divine Messengers - great figures such as Gabriel, Raphael, Michael. There are others whose task is confined to the heavenly realms - to surround the Divine Being with ceaseless worship and praise, to wait upon and attend and minister to God. It is these beings - the 'Angels of the Heavenly Host' - that Lutyens represented on the spandrels above each of the pillars in the church."

Lutyens has said that:

"My work has always arisen out of my experience of being in the world which is, successfully or not, how I explore my creative ideas. The opportunity to make an image of 'Angels of the Heavenly Host' inevitably put me to the test in this regard. To experience the gravity of the making of this mural and the enormity of the task both spiritually and materially certainly put a measure in some way on my later creative work."

"The wooden sculpture of the 'Outraged Christ' crucified stands 15ft tall and is made of soft and hard ‘found’ wood beams and planks, split by axe and intuitively applied to the body of the sculpture by drilling and dowelling, using a construction adhesive and shaped largely by chainsaw and broad chisel. Lutyens created the head 30 years ago and held its image and intent in his mind for most of this time. 5 years ago he began to explore the sculpture further.

More generally Crucifixions depict suffering, wounded or dead, ‘sleeping’, sweet and beautiful or apparently forgiving Christs. However, in the course of work Lutyens’ sculpture has grown into an “Outraged Christ”. For him this interpretation is significant and relevant for our present times, and resonates particularly with the question “what are we doing”?"

"As an artist Lutyens has actively embarked on a more or less consistent search for images that communicate his experience of life. His art works are his representations of ‘Man and his Being in the World today’. They reference life’s experiences and are also imbued with psychological and spiritual content. His engagement with people goes beyond surface appearances; his portraits are highly charged with colour and compelling juxtapositions of shapes which expose both inner fragility and strength."


John Tavener - Song of the Angel.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Virtue reborn

I heard Tom Wright this afternoon speaking at Chelmsford Cathedral about his recent book Virtue Reborn.
Debates in society and the Church, he suggested, often oscillate between a rule book mentality and the cult of spontaneity. Sometimes utilitarianism - the greatest happiness for the greatest number - is invoked as a way out of this oscillation but, Wright argued, the development of character (virtue) is actually what makes sense of both.

Our goal as Christians is the new heaven and earth and we can anticipate in the present what we will become in the new heaven and earth. We practice in the here and now living as we shall live in the future and the more that we practice such living the more it becomes second nature and instinctual. Rules are needed initially because living in this way does not come naturally but only so that this way of living becomes spontaneous. Rules are like the crash barriers on a motorway, only needed when we have an accident.

We are designed to be image bearers, a royal priesthood; angled mirrors reflecting God out into the world and reflecting the world back to God (Revelation 4 and 5). We are people through whom God's blessings come out into the world as we practice the virtues which come straight from the heart of the Servant King. This comes about by the renewing of our minds. We have to work out and practice what is good and pleasing and acceptable to God.

The philosopher Simon Blackburn has written that the early Christians introduced four new virtues into ancient virtue ethics: humility; patience; chastity; and charity. Paul in 1 Corinthians 13 writes that love is not our duty but our destiny. We practice love here and now in order that it becomes second nature in God's kingdom.

Virtuous circles go upwards and outwards and, for Christians, involve: scripture (living in the story); stories (biographies of the virtuous); examples (e.g. Maximilian Kolbe); community (being shaped by shared sacraments).

While this brief summary doesn't do justice to Wright's argument, I felt his argument provided a framework for perceptions I've preached on previously. These include the idea that the summary of the Law is also the goal of the Law. I've illustrated this idea previously in terms of parents teaching children to cross the road. The goal of such teaching is that we can judge for ourselves when to cross the road safely wherever we are. However, beginning such teaching involves strict rules preventing the child from crossing the road by itself until the lessons have been internalised and can be applied safely without the parent's presence. In a similar way, the detailed rules of the Mosaic Law were intended to inculcate love for God, others and ourselves.


Albert Ayler - Music Is The Healing Force Of The Universe.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Patronal Festival

Next Sunday is the Patronal Festival at St John's Seven Kings. We will be displaying the winning entries in our Images of Hope Art Competition in the church from Sunday and beyond. Bishop David, the Bishop of Barking, will present the Art Competition prizes - bibles given by the Bible Society - during our 10.00am Festival Service.
Bishop David will be preaching and presiding at the 10.00am Festival Service, which will also include the following prayer of dedication for our congregation, bringing Stewardship month to a conclusion:
God has created me
to do him some definite service:
he has committed some work to me
which he has not committed to another.
I have my mission –
I may never know it in this life,
but I shall be told it in the next.
Somehow I am necessary for his purposes:
as necessary in my place
as an Archangel in his.
I have a part in this great work;
I am a link in a chain,
a bond of connection between persons.
He has not created me for nothing.
I shall do good, I shall do his work;
I shall be an angel of peace,
a preacher of truth in my own place.
Deign to fulfil your high purposes in me.
I am here to serve you, to be yours,
to be your instrument.
St John's member, Dr Winston Solomon will be licensed as an Authorised Local Preacher during this service and we will be singing the St John's Centenary hymn, which was composed by church member, Lester Amann. 
In the evening, at 6.30pm, choirs from various local churches will join us for a choral celebration entitled Sing Glory!
These will be two very special services, and all who wish to join us, as we celebrate our Patronal Festival together, will be very welcome.


John Rutter - The Lord Bless You and Keep You.

Apocalypse Now

I'm contributing, for the third consecutive year, to the Exploring Spirituality Day in the St Albans Diocese on Saturday 22nd October 2011 at Christ Church, Radlett, 9.30am - 3pm, £8 in advance, £10 on the day.
My workshop is entitled Apocalypse Now! and is described as follows: Exploring apocalyptic literature: scriptural and beyond. How should we read the apocalyptic passages and books of the Bible? What do they reveal to us of God's workings and God’s realm? And where has the line of this style of writing continued - through beyond the solely scriptural? Come with eyes wide open to the possible and the remarkable.
The theme of the day is ‘In the beginning...’ - Well loved opening words for the final reading at the Christmas Carol Service, perhaps. Or words used in the telling again at the Easter Vigil of the events surrounding the creation of our beautiful world - events that recall God’s creative impulse and enjoyment of all that was brought into being - all that was beheld as ‘good.’
Some love the King James Version, others The Message. Some like the settings of the Psalms in the NIV but prefer Mark as found in the NRSV. And what if you don’t know what any of these letters mean?!

This year’s Exploring Spirituality Day is all about the Word - in whatever translation suits you, and in the different ways in which we experience it. This year’s Workshops will afford an opportunity to explore and encounter the Word of God in ways that are new and unusual to some, as well as familiar and comfortable for others.

The gift of God’s Word is just that, gift. This year we celebrate 400 years of the King James Bible - but loving the beautiful Shakespearian quality of this particular text does not mean there is no space for anything more contemporary. We do well to enquire as to how God has continued to inspire Biblical Scholars to craft phrases that are useful and reflective of our age but that also retain depth of meaning and inspiration in purpose.

The Very Reverend Jeffrey John is keynote speaker for the day. Jeffrey is noted by many as a gifted Scholar and Preacher. For the past seven years he has served as Dean of St Albans, previously serving at Southwark Cathedral as Canon Chancellor.  


Kirk Whalum - It's What I Do.

Windows on the world (163)

Guernsey, 2011


Ruth Naomi Floyd Ensemble - Mercy.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Beyond 'Airbrushed from Art History' (3)

Caribbean Art contains a chapter covering Popular religion, festival arts and the visionary which includes the following:

"Two aspects of popular culture, the religions and the festival arts, are particularly important to the visual arts, as subjects and as sources of artistic production in their own right …

Philomé Obin … was a devout Protestant and primarily a secular artist … Obin’s best-known religious works are his contributions to the mural cycle at the Episcopal Cathedral of the Holy Trinity (1950-51) in Port-au-Prince.

The Holy Trinity mural project was executed by the major ‘primitives’ attached to the Centre d’Art at the time. It was initiated and directed by Selden Rodman and enthusiastically supported by Bishop Alfred Voegeli, an early patron of the Haitian art movement. The first section to be completed was the apse, with three major murals, The Nativity, The Crucifixion and The Ascension by Rigaud Benoit, Philomé Obin and Castera Bazile, respectively. Despite the distinct painting styles of each contributor, the apse murals form a surprisingly coherent whole, although the sugary angels and tumbling rosebuds by Gabriel Lévèque (b. 1923) in the upper section detract from the more formal compositions below. Obin also painted the stately Last Supper in the west transept chapel and Wilson Bigaud the spectacular Wedding at Cana in the east transept. The mural cycle includes smaller paintings by Bazile and several other artists. In 1954, Bishop Voegeli added a terracotta choir screen by Jasmin Joseph (b. 1923).

The biblical events represented in the Holy Trinity murals were placed in a modern, recognizably Haitian context, a revolutionary departure at the time. The actual biblical figures were represented according to conventional Christian iconography, although most were ‘Haitianized’ by combining Caucasian features with a darker skin. Some murals contain Vaudou-related motifs, such as the drums and sacrificial animals in Bigaud’s Wedding at Cana. While several participating artists were Vaudou practitioners, this does not mean that the murals are disguised Vaudou art since the references to Vaudou were included to depict typical Haitian life. Not all of this happened spontaneously, however, and contemporary accounts reveal that Rodman encouraged the artists to include anecdotic Haitian details, to the point where some felt he was interfering. While the results were generally successful, the mural project illustrate that the ‘primitives’ were already then willing and able to adapt to the demands of patronage.

Predictably, the project was at first highly controversial in Haiti. Some members of the establishment felt the murals were sacrilegious and inappropriate for a mainstream Christian church. The Holy Trinity murals were executed during the conflict about the promotion of the ‘primitives’ by the Centre d’Art and in fact contributed to the crisis. The importance of the murals to Haiti is now well recognized, although they are in urgent need of restoration …

The Jamaican intuitive sculptor and painter Mallica ‘Kapo’ Reynolds (1911 - 89) was a Revivalist bishop and, like most other Caribbean artists-priests, he claimed to have received divine instruction to start carving and painting. His subjects vary widely, from biblical figures, angels and Revivalist rituals to the landscape or market scenes, yet even his secular works portray the social and physical context of Revivalism. Many paintings and sculptures are autobiographical and include self-images of Kapo in his capacity as church leader. Some of his most outstanding works are about women and reflect the prominence of women in the cult …

… Guyanese painter and sculptor Philip Moore (b. 1921) … is associated with the Jordanites, an inspirational Guyanese church, but his work expresses a very personal, utopian vision of Guyana, an ideal of community in a country that has a history of racial and political divisiveness. Like Everald Brown in Jamaica, Moore frequently uses polymorphic imagery, but his brilliantly coloured, symbol-laden pattern structures are even more intricate …"

In Art of the South African Townships Gavin Younge describes the involvement of the churches in black art training and the subsequent rise of community-based educational initiatives:

"Another important art centre was established in Natal in the early 1960s. A radio talk, given by the Swedish missionary Helge Fosseus, resulted in the formation of a committee which raised sufficient funds to enable Ulla and Peder Gowenius to come out to South Africa in 1961 and to start a weavery and art school at Umpumulo. Two years later this was moved to the Oskarsberg Mission at Rorke’s Drift. The weaving workshop was organized co-operatively and gave employment to local women and helped subsidize the school which was known as the Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELC) Art and Craft Centre. A ceramic workshop, under Kirsten Ollson, was added in 1968.

A ex-principal of the school, Jay Johnson, has stated that the school and centre was established ‘to explore the possibilities of the arts and crafts as a means of livelihood.’ With this aim in mind the organizers have, perhaps not surprisingly, identified west Europeans as their potential market. This has led the weavery to concentrate on luxury wall and floor coverings using the finest wools and mohair. The weavers are responsible for the design and choice of colour and over the years a tradition of figurative tapestries with a strong autobiographical and narrative structure has evolved.

The largely foreign market and the fact that the weavery has not oriented itself towards a ‘village industry’ producing blankets and other locally useful goods has prompted allegations that the centre is organized along neo-colonial lines. The school has faced financial difficulties and the principal, Goran Skogland, was forced to close it temporarily at the end of 1982. However, in its twenty years of operation a number of young artists have successfully completed the two- and three-year Fine Art Certificate.

Together with Azaria Mbatha, John Muafangejo is probably the best known of these students and both have enjoyed international exposure and acclaim. Other students have become teachers. Anthony Nkotsi now teaches printmaking at the Johannesburg Art Foundation; Lionel Davis teaches at the Community Arts Project in Cape Town, and Velile Soha teaches at the Nyanga Arts Centre. Paul Sibisi, who studied at Rorke’s Drift in 1973 and 1974, won a British Council bursary in 1987 and is now a language teacher at the Umzuvela High School in Umlazi, Durban …

Mpolokeng Ramphomane’s painting For the Gift of Love is typical of the more tutored and sophisticated technique of artists living within commuting distance of Johannesburg. Nearly two metres wide, it is large in comparison with the work of other artists to have graduated from the ELC Art and Craft Centre at Rorke’s Drift. The nervous flick of brushstrokes in the background provides a bogus psychological space within which two lovers turn to face the viewer, their faces in sharp focus against a frieze of dark shadowy figures …

In 1981 his [Paul Sibisi’s] exhibition broke new ground, white viewers suddenly saw a reflection of what was going on in the closed world of the townships. His photo-journalistic treatment of police intervention in Umlazi Township also broke new ground technically. It was at this time that he began using a paint atomizer to lay down thin colour washes over ink drawings. The unusual, perhaps photographically inspired, cropping of his images, gave them added immediacy and when the critic Edward Lucie-Smith asked to be shown the work of some black artists, it was Paul Sibisi he was taken to see …

… Paul Sibisi acknowledges the influence of the nineteenth-century satirists (among them, Honoré Daumier, whose work he saw in reproduction whilst studying at Ndaleni College) but claims that his imagery is not politically motivated. ‘Artists should be above politics. I’m depicting what is happening on the street, the way I see it.’ …

Jackson Hlungwani has said that his work does not originate in himself but that ‘it comes from God Himself, and from the Lord, and from the Holy Spirit.’ He is not only referring to his sculpture, but also to his evangelistic work as the overseer of an African Independent Church called ‘Yesu Geleliya One Apostle in Sayoni Alt and Omega’ …

Although Hlungwani frequently refers to Christ as the source of life he makes little use of central Gospel themes. Instead, as Schneider notes, he dwells on one recurrent apocalyptic vision, ‘Heaven and Hell are about to be radically transfigured, and mankind will open its eyes. The old world of sin and strife is about to be replaced by the new world of forgiveness and brotherhood.’

Seeing Straight is an idealized self-portrait. We see a man pointing forward with his whole body. Hands with long outstretched fingers guide the man’s gaze forward, like the blinders on a carthorse. But the real exhortation, to ‘see straight’, derives from a curios protruberance of raw, unworked wood which rises from the subject’s head. This, according to Hlungwani, is the ‘map’ by means of which people must live their lives. It is not a concrete representation of abstract thought, but life prefigured.

[John] Muafangelo’s work is strongly autobiographical and he often includes written observations on the events he portrays in his prints. What began as labelling device after his return from his second stay at Rorke’s Drift in 1975 quickly took on an important supplementary function. Whilst the text in Battle of Rorke’s Drift (1981) is little more than a title, his New Archbishop Desmond Tutu Enthroned (1986) includes a prayer asking for God’s help. This meshing of two narrative structures, text and image, gives his work a topical currency and, on occasion, historical importance …

… A number of prints deal with the bombing of church buildings at Onilpa. The image of Bishop Kauluma outside the boarded-up windows of the seminary at Odibo in Anglican Seminary Blown Up is a catechism on the principle of Christian forgiveness. In many other prints, notably New Archbishop Desmond Tutu Enthroned and Activity Centre, black and white people are shown shaking hands in ‘love and co-operation’. This was Muafangejo’s message to the world …"


Jonathan Butler - Falling In Love With Jesus.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Inter-faith conference and lecture

Tomorrow sees a conference on inter-faith relationship which will explore how Christians can relate and work with people of other faiths. 

Those attending will hear the example of Faithful Friends, an inter-faith project which has been building friendships between people of different faiths in Forest Gate. Delegates will also hear from Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus who have worked with Christians in Forest Gate. Speakers include, Dr Philip Lewis, Specialist on Christian-Muslim Relations, who will share with us the example of Bradford and the national scene.

The conference is hosted by Faithful Friends and Bishop David, the Bishop of BarkingVenue: Emmanuel Church, Forest Gate. Date: Thursday 22nd Sept, 2011. Time: 10.30a.m. – 3.30 p.m. To book (free) contact Revd Chigor Chike 0790 515 5494 or e mail

In a similar vein, The Revd Dr Toby Howarth, Secretary for Inter Religious Affairs to the Archbishop of Canterbury and National Inter Religious Affairs Adviser for the Church of England, will give the 2011 PEN lecture entitled ‘What do we bring to the party? The Mission of the Church in a Multi Faith Neighbourhood’ at St Marylebone parish church NW1 5LT on Monday 31st October 6.30 for 7.00pm. There will be a panel of respondents and time for questions as with last year's lecture.

Both are great opportunities to exchange ideas and to network with practitioners involved with inter-faith initiatives in London and across the country.


Thea Gilmore - As I Went Out One Morning.

Expanded conversation about Dale Farm

Having moved into his new role of Diocesan Advisor for Faith in the Public Square, Paul Trathen has resumed blogging and has, as a result of earlier ministry and his chairing of the Basildon Forum of Faiths, had the opportunity to offer support to those under threat of eviction from Dale Farm. His posts on the current situation and the underlying issues can be read and should be read by clicking here. Also well worth reading in this context is Sam Norton's 'Joking about the end of the world' article.


The Clash - Should I Stay Or Should I Go?

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Difficulty of belief

Here are two different but current acoustic-soul takes on the difficulty of belief.
Mobo recommended Michael Kiwanuka, who has been compared to Bill Withers and Al Green, has an "honest, unpretentious and raw style" that "is straight to the matter, unspoilt soul music at it’s best." Kiwanuka is getting ready to believe:
"Oh my, I didn't know what it means to believe
Oh my, I didn't know what it means to believe
but if I hold on tight is it true
you take care of all that I do
Oh Lord, I'm a-getting ready to believe
Oh my, I didn't know how hard it would be
Oh my, I didn't know how hard it would be
but if I hold on tight is it true
you take care of all that I do
Oh Lord, I'm a-getting ready to believe"

Scottish singer Emeli Sandé has: had two Top 10 hits, thanks to collaborations with Chipmunk and Wiley; written for Cheryl Cole, Susan Boyle, Cher Lloyd and Leona Lewis; and is influenced by Joni Mitchell, Lauryn Hill, Aretha Franklin and Nina Simone. Sandé, by contrast to Kiwanuka, focuses on the loss of the good intentions that she links with heaven:

"Will you recognize me, when I’m stealing from the poor
You're not gonna like me, I’m nothing like before
Will you recognize me, when I lose another friend?
Will you learn to leave me, or give me one more try again

Oh heaven, oh heaven, I wake with good intentions,
But the day it always lasts too long
Then I’m gone!
Oh heaven, oh heaven, I wake with good intentions,
But the day it always lasts too long
Then I’m gone, then I’m gone, then I’m gone , then I'm gone
Then I’m gone, then I'm gone, then I’m gone , then I'm gone"

As a supplement to the above we could also include 'Believer' by Susanna and the Magical Orchestra to give a trio of songs exploring the nature of belief:

"Didn't think you would trust me.
Thought you would see what I see.
These days have been good for me too,
But I can't stay.
You know why.
Didn't want this to end like this.
Thought I might, could convert.
These nights have been sad for me too,
But I don't pray.
You know why.

You are a believer,
I am not."

We would then have songs about observation of another's belief, preparation to believe, and the difficulty of the practice of belief. It is a fascinating sociological phenomenon to find such songs being written and connecting within popular culture at a time when secularisation was supposed to have eradicated such notions.  

Gospel Reflection: Matthew 16: 21 – 28

Are you able to imagine an alternative reality or can you only see your future as being more of the same?

Jesus not only imagines an alternative reality but creates one by pursuing a path and purpose which is in opposition to the thoughts and expectations of our human nature (v 23 of Matthew 16: 21 – 28). As the songwriter T. Bone Burnett put it, Jesus’ words and actions open up a trapdoor beneath us when we think we have life sussed: “you've got to give up your life to be alive / you've got to suffer to know compassion … you find only pain if you seek after pleasure / you work like a slave if you seek after leisure.”

The alternative reality that Jesus lives out is where salvation, compassion, pleasure, leisure, and abundant life are all to be found but to touch that reality we have to be able to imagine an alternative. So, what might forgetting self, carrying your cross and losing your life look like in your workplace? What might these things mean for the organisation for which you work? If we cannot imagine how life could possibly be different, aren’t we essentially trapped in whatever reality we currently inhabit with no options for change?

Prayer: Turn my thoughts and ideas about life on their head and help me imagine how life could be different, so that I have choices for my future and my life. Amen.  


T Bone Burnett - Power Of Love.

Monday, 19 September 2011

The spiritual value of public art

This is the presentation that I gave on Saturday as part of the study day on the value of public art organised by commission4mission at St Paul's Harlow:

Over the past year or so the mainstream Art Journals have rediscovered religion. Both freize and the Public Art Review have devoted whole issues to the theme of religion and spirituality within art, while Modern Painters has also published an interesting article dealing with the same theme. So, in discussing this issue now we are tapping into a theme that is of contemporary relevance.

In this talk I want to take two quotes from the Public Art Review as my frame for considering aspects of the spiritual value of public art and, for examples, will draw primarily on my experience of church involvement with the Artscape public art programme in the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham.

The first phase of that borough’s Artscape project, the A13 Artscape project, was listed as one of the 200 most important modern and contemporary art sites around the world in Amy Dempster’s Destination Art and was then closely followed by phase two, their Town Centre Artscape project.

A13 Artscape, devised by lead artist Tom de Paor in 1996, took advantage of programmed road works to involve artists in a wide range of schemes including large scale artist-designed landscapes, major light works, new sculptural commissions, street furniture, artists residencies, community projects, temporary projects and new commissions in drama and dance to celebrate the public art. Local residents were offered the opportunity to get involved, through discussions on designs with artists and architects, and also as participants in specially commissioned dance, drama, music and visual arts projects linked to the overall scheme. A13 Artscape gained what was then the largest Arts Council National Lottery Award to a public art project of £3.895m and had an overall budget in excess of £9m.

Through A13 Artscape, the borough developed a strong commitment to involving artists and designers in the public realm and to securing funding for public art and design in future. As a direct result, their Arts Services team were directed not to end the Artscape programme following the completion of the A13 works but to move the project to the next regeneration area, Barking Town Centre. There, over £1 million was raised for the Artscape programme from external funding agencies and private companies and the project delivered more than a dozen artworks and installations.  

The work of Agnes Denes was profiled in Spring/Summer 2011 Spirituality & Religion edition of Public Art Review. Denes has written that:

"There is spirituality in a work of art when one is transfixed by it, feels elevated, moved, when one cannot get it out of one's mind and keep finding layers and mysteries in it on various levels." (The Paradox of Eco-Logic: Individual Creation vs. Social Consciousness by Agnes Denes)

Her quote identifies two aspects to the spirituality of public art; an initial sense of being transfixed combined with an ongoing impression of depth as one finds layers of meaning within the work. Similarly, but more explicitly within a Christian framework, Malcolm Guite, writing about poetry, has written about "moments when the mirror a poem holds up becomes a window into the Divine;" moments when we catch a glimpse of that 'Beauty always ancient always new', who made and kindled our imagination in the beginning and whose love draws us beyond the world." These are moments of epiphany which, as Bernard Richards has written, stand "on a borderline between the secular and the religious: what has been revealed in the mystical moment has been a sense of God, of the whole shape of the universe, of the unity of all created things."

Two of the works in the Artscape programme seem to me to embody this sense of being transfixed, elevated and moved that Denes describes. The first, Holding Pattern, is a lightwork clustered beneath a flyover on the A13 and was designed by Graham Ellard and Stephen Johnstone, in collaboration with Tom de Paor. A three-dimensional ‘light garden’ which is 70 metres long, 50 metres wide and 6 metres high, Holding Pattern takes its name from 74 stainless steel ‘needles’, each topped with a blue runway taxi light. Whether on the ground circumnavigating the roundabout or in the air crossing the flyover, the multiple points of vivid light create their own unique atmosphere which lifts the spirits of those passing through.

A similar experience is to be had at the Town Centre Artscape work, The Lighted Lady of Barking by Joost Van Santen. Again located on a roundabout, this work comprises 20 metres of white-coated steel, topped by a blue acrylic disc, which is lit at night from below by multiple colours. It stands at one of the main road entrances to the borough making a positive statement about the diversity of Barking’s multi-cultural society. Again, its effect is overwhelmingly to lift the spirits. Lighting projects have been among the most successful of the Artscape works coming into their own at night as they interact with the changing rhythms of the streetscape; dwelling, street and vehicle lighting.

While it seems to me that these two works meet the first part of Denes’ description – to do with being transfixed, elevated and moved – they don’t, to my mind, meet the second aspect of Denes’ description – that of continuing to find layers and mysteries in the work on various levels. This is because the concepts underpinning the creation of the works often do not inform the actual experience of viewing the art, despite many pieces working exceptionally well in context and becoming embedded into local culture.

For example, De Paor has described Holding Pattern as "the Campidoglio of Barking, even though you can't stand there." While you can see to some extent what he means, comparisons of that type tend to denigrate the work in our minds, making it suffer by comparison instead of enhancing a work that convinces in its own right.

A similar problem arises with the concepts that de Paor had in mind for A13 Artscape as a whole. His intention was "to choreograph serial and individual objects in space and produce a unified temporal experience - a perpetual rhythmic form whose movements are all of a piece." This was to be "a journey through interlinking, imaginative landscape on a grand scale, with ideas, themes and connections set up to fire your curiosity and make a whole new road experience." The windscreen of your vehicle was to "perform as a moving proscenium within which the changing composition" would be constantly framed. His inspiration came from an elderly woman who lived in one of the nearby tower blocks. When she was young she used to go down to the river and watch the boats go by but now, confined to her flat, she sat and watched the A13’s traffic from her high-rise window. Could you choreograph the life of the road de Paor wondered following this conversation?

Funding constraints prevented de Paor’s concept from being realised in full on the ground and the sense of the eye moving consistently and coherently from work to work has been lost as a result. Yet significant landmarks and distinct features have been created that do punctuate one’s journey through the borough. What they don’t deliver is a meshing of the viewing experience with the underpinning concepts that would enable us to keep finding layers and mysteries in the work on various levels.

To find a work that does encompass both aspects of Denes’ definition, we only need to look at her own work. One of Denes’ best known earthworks, WheatfieldA Confrontation (1982), was realized on a two-acre section of a landfill created with debris from the construction of the World Trade Centre. In the summer of 1982, Denes brought in 285 truckloads of dirt, and planted and harvested 1,000 pounds of wheat on the site that was to become Battery Park City, next to the World Financial Centre. The harvested grain travelled to 22 cities around the world in an exhibition called "The International Art Show for the End of World Hunger", organized by the Minnesota Museum of Art (l987-90). The seeds were carried away by people who planted them in many parts of the globe. For those who witnessed it, Wheatfield remains a vibrant memory — the juxtaposition of a golden wheatfield gently bending in a summer breeze, within sight of the Statue of Liberty and, looking west across the Hudson River, the country beyond. This is the sense of being transfixed, elevated and moved, that we have been exploring.

But this work also enables us to keep finding layers and mysteries in the work on various levels. Denes writes that: "Planting and harvesting a field of wheat on land worth $4.5 billion in the hub of the Great City created a powerful paradox. It was a symbol, a universal concept that represented food, energy, commerce, world trade, economics. It referred to mismanagment, waste, world hunger and ecological concerns. It called attention to our greed and misplaced priorities." Here, in my view, her concepts do mesh with the viewing experience to create this sense of spiritual depth in the work itself.

"I believe that each of us—that is, every human being—is more creative than we are typically asked to be in the course of our lives ... public art should encourage all of us to be participants in planning and creating public spaces, expressing collective values, and playing with the unknown."

This was Jon Pounds, executive director of the Chicago Public Art Group, writing in Public Art Review and using the language of belief, of community, and of the unknown; all of which again are aspects of spirituality.

Engaging local people in a variety of ways with the Artscape projects has been a major element of the work of the Council’s Arts Services team and, as curate at the historic church of St Margaret’s Barking, I was able to play a part in enabling local people to contribute to several of the projects in the Town Centre Artscape programme.

Love & Light illuminated and animated significant buildings in the Town Centre with a series of video arts installations. SDNA, a visual jockey and digital art duo filmed and digitally animated members of the church community together with the churchyard’s flora and wildlife, setting them within delicate moving imagery before projecting them onto the windows, walls, roof and tower of the church. Projected onto the clear windows of the church were moving images of the local body of Christ at St Margaret's - dancing mums, waving ladies, an eight piece dance group, the verger and curate racing each other up the Church Tower, an imaginary teenage rock band, and a number of other spinning, walking, waving, smiling members of the congregation. This piece, rightly entitled Abbey Happy, showed the church at play.

Studding this celebration of the diverse congregation at St Margaret’s were reminders of Barking's past which drew on memorials contained within the church. Captain Cook's ship, The Endeavour, sailed again next to the stained glass window commemorating Barking's fishing heritage. This window then provided motifs of sea horses, shells and water that featured in several other projections. The whole was a joyful celebration, not just of St Margaret's special history, but also of its lively and diverse present. In it the church was truly seen as a place of love, light and laughter.

The engaging of ordinary people with public art was a key feature of this project and because this engagement was set up through a local church the resulting work engaged with many positive aspects of the spirituality of that church and its people; their collective valuing of diversity, their own artistic skills and interests in dance and music, their willingness to participate in and play with something unknown.

My final example works the opposite way round. Instead of a church participating in an artist-led initiative leading to a spiritual work, this example sees Churches Together in Hertford using public art to take the spirituality of Holy Week onto the streets of their town.

Hertford stns was a project that offered the opportunity for someone to stumble upon a Station of the Cross and want to discover more and the chance to challenge a narrow view of worship by taking worship into a range of churches and public spaces.

Through artist workshops in Lent, six artworks were made, inspired by six of the Stations of the Cross, in a variety of different media. Each work was a collective response by those attending the workshop. The remaining eight stations were produced by local artists and the complete set were sited either in different places of worship throughout the town or in public, civic and outdoor locations.

The idea was to plot the sequence of stations geographically so that during Holy Week local people could make a pilgrimage, travelling from station to station with accompanying meditations to aid their spiritual journey. In addition to local churches, other Station sites will included a local Art Gallery, the Library, the Town Centre Shopping Precinct and the local Tesco Supermarket.

This project created an encounter with art and spirituality in a town centre and as local people went about their everyday lives. That encounter may have been just with one artwork but each person then had the opportunity, should they wish to, to go on the spiritual and artistic journey that the Hertford stns trail provided.

"I believe," wrote Pound, "that each of us … is more creative than we are typically asked to be in the course of our lives" and public art should encourage all of us to express collective values and play with the unknown. I hope that will be the end result of today’s discussions, presentations, visits and workshops and, if that is the case, it will I believe be an expression of spirituality.


Charles Gayle - Improv # 2.

Windows on the world - Harlow

Here is a selection of Windows on the world photographs commissioned by St Paul's Harlow which are currently on display at the church. The display at the church consists of fourteen photographs of St Paul’s Harlow and its surroundings which attempt to show unusual perspectives and hidden aspects of the church building. In line with the theme of the display, the photographs themselves are scattered around the main body of the church and therefore need to be sought out and found.
As each of us view life from our own perspective, each photograph in my Windows on the world series features a foreground object providing a frame for what can be viewed beyond. As there is always something beyond our immediate frame of reference, each photograph in the series also contains something which can be glimpsed beyond the foreground image. By framing what is beyond, the photograph seeks to act as a window onto a part of our world and at the same time signals the presence of the beyond, thereby perhaps also acting as a window into the divine in a way similar to that achieved by icons.


Windows on the world (162)

Harlow, 2011
Jan Garbarek and the Hlliiard Ensemble - Parce Mihi Domine.

Harvest Festival

Yesterday was our Harvest Festival at St John's Seven Kings. Our All-Age service focussed on care for the environment as part of our focus on stewardship throughout September. Our Harvest produce (see above) will be given to the Redbridge foodbank which is part of a national network of foodbanks, giving out nutritionally balanced emergency food to people in crisis who have nowhere else to turn. Our collection raised over £100.00 and will be donated to Jason Lee House (formerly the Redbridge Night Shelter). The sunflowers above were planted by the children of Downshall Primary School earlier in the year and are now flowering at the rear of the church.


Godspell - All Good Gifts.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Beyond 'Airbrushed from art history' (2)

Walter Navratil was considered one of the most interesting outsiders of the Austrian art scene in the second half of the twentieth century but is now an overlooked figure. I've recently found the catalogue of his 1984 exhibition at the Galerie Würthle and have been impressed with the quality and originality of his work.
Dr Agnes von der Borch, who wrote the texts to accompany the images in the catalogue, writes:

"In the presence of these two pictures [Crucifixion in yellow and Crucifixion], I regret having to speak or write at all. It seems more fitting to give myself up to the contemplation of them. For one thing, their almost two thousand year-old theme is familiar to everybody, and for another, Navratil interprets it in such a way that the viewer can no longer remain a detatched onlooker, a mere receiver of optical signals, but finds himself drawn into a close and intense involvement.

If I were a believer, I would pray ...

I am simply not up to expressing in words the beauty and the sublimity of these <<Crucifixions>>." (Click here to see a related image - Der Schwarze Christus)

In his Foreword Hans Dichand writes that to "a certain extent this is true of the whole of Walter Navratil's work ... There is much that is beyond the power of words to express, and yet we can sense the true validity of this art, its vision, its genius, if we are able, as we look at it, to listen to the voice of our hearts."

We have, of course, not been able to do so because Navratil's work has not been generally valued and discussed since his death in 2003. Borch writes that a "quick survey of Navratil's work shows him to be a painter of great stylistic versatility. Expressionism, Abstract Expressionism, Neue Sachlichkeit, Surrealism, Art brut all these traditional styles are represented in his paintings in new combinations and variations ... What Navratil certainly does is to exploit the possibilities of the style he has chosen to the absolute limit ..."

Kay Haymer wrote, in the catalogue for his 1998 exhibition at the BAWAG Foundation, "The fascination of the paintings by Walter Navratil is based on their ability to alienate the familiar and to bring it back into awareness.”


Tom Waits - Jesus Gonna Be Here.

The King James version in context

Yesterday I attended the special lecture for Bible Year 2011 arranged by Dr Graham Gould at Holy Trinity with St Augustine of Hippo Harrow Green. Entitled The King James version in context: the Church of England and the Bible in the early seventeenth century, the lecture was given by The Very Revd Dr David Hoyle, Dean of Bristol.

Hoyle began by vividly describing the awkward and difficult nature of the Reformation as it impacted in parish level where, as Eamon Duffy has demonstrated, Catholicism was in rude health. So, candlesticks and church plate had to be melted down and sold off, altar tables removed, rood screens defaced or torn down, chasubles unstitched, walls whitewashed, relics discarded and paintings of saints hidden in parishioners’ houses.

He then spoke about the central significance of the Bible to Protestantism, quoting William Chillingworth as saying, "... the Bible only, is the religion of Protestants!" Prior to the Reformation, only one translation of the Bible was in use; the Vulgate, created by St Jerome and used by Catholic churches for 1,000 years prior to the Reformation. However, sermons and prayers in services were in English and English compendiums of Gospel stories were in circulation. Bible stories were also told through the visual imagery of Catholic churches.

Leading up to the Reformation we see: English becoming established as a language of power and excitement through the work of Chaucer, Langland and others; the development of the printing press with Caxton printing collections on the Catholic saints; and the beginnings through such as Erasmus and Wycliffe of new translations of parts of the Bible. Luther understood himself to have been saved from his anxiety about Hell by his reading of scripture leading to his emphasis on sola scriptura. Tyndale was similarly convinced that the truth could not be known until we hand the scriptures in our hands in English.

Tyndale was a literary genius and 75% of the King James Version of the Bible is essentially his translation. This occurred via 'The Great Bible,' which combined Tyndale's translations of the New Testament and part of the Old - Tyndale was unable to complete his translation of the Old Testament - with the Coverdale translation (a full translation of the Bible into English based on the Vulgate) making up the gaps including the Psalms in particular. The King James Version was not a new version, being based on The Great Bible, but sought to make a good translation better through its various translation companies or committees. Interestingly, it was read aloud before being finalised and this testing by ear contributed to its subsequent influence on English language and literature.

Hoyle was particularly interesting in his emphasis on the complexity of the process of change with the irony that Henry VIII gained the title 'Defender of the Faith' for opposing Protestatism, giving instances of reluctant conformity to Protestantism, and dissatisfaction with the King James Version following its publication in contrast to the later acceptance of it as the 'Authorised' version.


Philip Bailey - Bring It To Jesus.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Meltdown .... A PowerPoint presentation

Peter Challen has sent me an interesting PowerPoint presentation entitled 'Meltdown' about the next phase of the Global Financial crash, originally prepared and circulated by Dr Mike Haywood. Let me know if you'd like a copy and I'll forward it to you.

In summary, the presentation argues that ...
The debt mountain, peak oil, population growth, resource depletion, population growth, the pension time bomb and climate change are all interconnected. Remember, only 3 dozen economists correctly predicted the 2008 global financial crisis, out of a profession of 20,000 members. Not one of the World politicians and Central Bankers saw the crisis coming, but all of them claim to know the remedy.
Meltdown did not occur in October 2008, but we were within 4 hours of it happening. It has only been deferred. The reasons for the 2008 crash have not gone away. The US housing market is still in freefall and US and European Banks are becoming increasingly insolvent, although they won't admit it. Economic growth will be stifled by rising oil prices. The bailouts are not working. World Politicians, Bankers and Economists are trying to maintain the status quo but they are losing control. Fundamentally, the real systemic causes of the crisis are rarely discussed with transparency and have not been addressed. Fractional Reserve Banking and universal public ignorance of banking practices are the cause of all our global problems.

The collapse will happen within the next couple of years. The Eurozone or USA will most probably be the epicentre. The interconnectivity of the financial system means we will all be affected. What happens next after the collapse is impossible to predict. History is replete with examples but not on a Global scale. Massive political unrest will prevail. There will be a rise in popularity of extreme left and right political parties.
Peter recommends them as a valuable set of slides, graphs and summaries that might usefully be viewed before the Moving Planet day seminar at St James Piccadilly on September 24 see


Regina Spektor - Fidelity.

Be part of London's biggest bike aerial photo

This comes from
On Saturday 24th September, bring yourself – and your bike if you want – to be part of a gigantic aerial art image. It'll be London's biggest ever bike!

That's all very nice, but why?

On the 24th, people all over the world will be coming together to take action as part of Moving Planet – a day to show we want to and can move beyond fossil fuels. Hundreds of thousands of people will converge via bike, foot, skates, kites, sailing boats all around the world to show their support for a fossil fuel free future.

Here in London our big bike will show how transport is a key part of this and that our wheels can turn and get us places without using fossil fuels.

When: 12 noon - 3pm
Where: Haggerston Park, nearest Tube station is Hoxton
What: Huge aerial art image of London's biggest bike

Join in the fun and sign up for this action here or RSVP via our FB events page.


Pink Floyd - Bike.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Jazz-shaped faith

George Luke's review in Third Way of Orin Meta by Femi Temowo summarises the way that jazz has often been used to express a Christian faith:

"Duke Ellington's 'Come Sunday' and John Coltrane's Love Supreme album are two classic examples, but it now seeing a more contemporary boom in the gospel community. The Philidelphia singer Ruth Naomi Floyd has released a string of fine albums marrying the genre with gospel; more recently she's been followed by artists such as the saxophonists Kirk Whalum, Mike Parlett and YoLanda Brown, South African guitarist Jonathan Butler, pianist Barry D - and now the Nigerian-born Brit Femi Temowo."

Luke could also have mentioned Duke Ellington's Sacred Concerts, the work of Albert Ayler and Charles Gayle, Jan Gabarek's collaborations with the Hilliard Ensemble, and, more tangentially, 'Believer' by Susanna and the Magical Orchestra, among others. For a fuller review of expressions of Christian faith within jazz see 'Spirituality under the surface of jazz'.

Luke quotes Dave Brubeck as saying, "To me, if you get into that creative part of your mind when you're playing jazz, it's just as religious as when you're writing a sacred service." He writes that Temowo is the proof of that. For more along similar lines, see Jazz theologian Robert Gelinas and his book Finding the Groove for reflections on a jazz-shaped faith.


Femi Tomowo - The Pilgrim.

Queen's Award for Voluntary Service

Outstanding voluntary work in Redbridge was recognised yesterday as two groups - Redbridge Voluntary Care Redbridge Education and Social Welfare Support Group (known locally as AWAAZ) - were yesterday given the Queen's Award for Voluntary Service by Colonel Paul Acda TD, Deputy Lieutenant. The Deputy Lieutenant presented a certificate signed by The Queen and an exclusive commemorative crystal, to representatives of both organisations on behalf of Her Majesty the Queen and the Lord Lieutenant.

This prestigious UK National Honour, which is the equivalent of an MBE for groups of volunteers,  recognises outstanding voluntary contributions and sets the national benchmark for excellence in volunteering, with the work of those awarded being judged to be of the highest standard. Six groups in London received the award this year with a total of 130 groups awarded UK-wide.
Redbridge Voluntary Care has received the Award for providing a ‘good neighbour’ service for those with needs that cannot be met elsewhere. Established 38 years ago to provide valuable help to residents when they have no one else to turn to, a broad range of help is available through Redbridge Voluntary Care including transport to hospital, clinics, etc, emergency shopping, light help in the home and visiting those who are housebound. 

Volunteers are on duty 24 hours a day every day of the year to make sure there is always someone on the phone who can help if necessary.  This can include collecting prescriptions, shopping, visiting lonely residents and providing transport.  Once a year, they also take 100 elderly house-bound residents on a drive through the Essex Countryside. If you’re interested in volunteering for Redbridge Voluntary Care Service or would like request their help, call 020 8514 0980. 

A number of members of St. John's Seven Kings are involved with Redbridge Voluntary Care as volunteers – as drivers, visitors and offering help in the home, and as duty officers, manning the helpline telephone from their homes on a rota. Dorothy Hart, Vice President of Redbridge Voluntary Care Service, is one of those volunteers from St John's and received the award on behalf of the group.  She said, “We are very touched to receive this award.  Over the years we’ve worked with some unbelievably kind volunteers that go to great lengths to help people in their time of need.  If more people came along to volunteer as result of this it would be wonderful.”

Redbridge Education and Social Welfare support group was set up in July 2002.  It supports disadvantaged women from all backgrounds by providing activities to help them build their confidence and help to lead a healthy lifestyle.  This includes help with education, training, improving health and reducing obesity through organising activities such as dance classes, yoga, keep fit, counselling and days out.

Bushra Tahir, Chair and Founder of Redbridge Education and Social Welfare Support Group, said the group’s volunteers were thrilled to win, “We are delighted as we weren’t expecting it. All our staff are volunteers and they work very hard. They really appreciated that their work was recognised. We couldn’t have achieved it without the help of our volunteers and supporters.” If you would like to find out more about Redbridge Education and Social Welfare Support, visit


The Call - Everywhere I Go.