Wikio - Top Blogs - Religion and belief

Monday, 12 May 2014

Sabbatical art pilgrimage: St Pauls Cathedral

The development of the idea and practice of installation art from the 1960s onwards has meant that it is no longer necessary to think of church commissions solely in terms of permanent commissions. This change in thinking has meant that St Pauls Cathedral, rather than attempting the tricky negotiations which would be entailed by seeking to add to its existing permanent array of art (from the delicate carvings of Grinling Gibbons in the quire to Sir James Thornhill's dome murals, as well as the Victorian mosaics and Henry Moore's Mother and Child: Hood), can instead explore the encounter between art and faith through a series of temporary interventions by artists, which have included Rebecca Horn, Yoko Ono, Antony Gormley and Bill Viola.

These interventions are often linked to particular anniversaries, as is the case with the two current temporary installations by SokariDouglas Camp CBE and Gerry Judah

All the World is now Richer by Sokari Douglas Camp, six life-sized steel figures representing successive stages of the slavery story, commemorates the abolition of slavery but here also celebrates the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr preaching at the Cathedral. The figures arrived at the Cathedral following a tour which had taken in the Houses of Parliament, Bristol Cathedral, the Greenbelt Festival, St Georges Hall Liverpool and Norwich Cathedral. At St Pauls they have been installed inside the West doors opposite contemporary icons of Christ and his mother. This positioning adds to the dignity and worth of the figures Sokari Camp has crafted; figures whose shadows also speak their worth - ‘From our rich ancestral life we were bought and used but we were brave, we were strong, we survived, all the world is richer.’ The work was inspired by the words of liberated ex-slave William Prescott: "They will remember that we were sold but they won’t remember that we were strong; they will remember that we were bought but not that we were brave.”

The Commemorative Crosses by Gerry Judah are part of the Cathedral's commemoration to the Great War of 1914-18.  These twin white cruciform sculptures, each over six metres high and recalling, in their shape and colour, the thousands of white crosses placed in the war cemeteries across the world, are angled at the head of the nave to act like doors opening into “a sacred space of hope where people in all our diversity are invited to come together to worship, to respect and to learn from each other” (The Reverend Canon Mark Oakley, Chancellor of St Pauls Cathedral). A further contrast – this time, geometric - is discovered when viewed from below as the straight lines and angles of the crosses span the great circle of the Cathedral’s dome creating a contemporary version of a Celtic cross.

On the arms of the cross are intricate models of contemporary and historical settlements decimated by conflict – such as we see daily in the news. These settlements appear like crustaceans clinging to the smooth, straight lines of the crosses; a symbol of human endurance enabled by the cross or the cross as the enduring symbol of suffering humanity? From other angles, these crosses appear to be like a futuristic space ship or the fuselage of a plane; the cross as either transport to the future or plane crash or both!

These interventions enrich both the daily pattern of worship in the Cathedral and the experience of the thousands who visit daily. Their temporary nature offers something new even for those that are regular worshippers at St Pauls, while the contrast that they provide with the existing art and permanent architecture of the Cathedral means that they also fulfil the key requirement of installation art; “a friction with its context that resists organisational pressure and instead exerts its own terms of engagement.” 

A moment of partial stillness ensues among the tourist hordes for the prayers led and said hourly. Then I see my friend Tricia Hillas, newly in post as Canon Pastor, resplendent in her robes and crossing the expanse of the Cathedral's floor led by a Verger to take a memorial service at which the Duke of Kent was to be present. The work of the Cathedral continues amongst the crowds - sometimes hidden, sometimes centre stage - while, throughout, the art and architecture soundlessly speak to all those who come.  


Leonard Cohen - The Future.

No comments: