My 3 pieces at ‘Faith in the City’ exhibition, Red Gallery, London: ‘Maltese Cross’, ‘Barbed Cross’ (two smaller square ones) and ‘Rub el Hizb’ (square one on the right). A relief to see them up unscathed: last week was a flurry of work with a 16-hour day finishing ‘Rub el Hizb’. This piece is a print which has been finished by hand with gold ink, a process which took 3 days in total to complete and became something akin to meditation. What was on one level a mechanical, linear process to get to an obvious outcome (covering the white specks in the image), became on another level a ritualistic, cyclical process of relation and unrelation. At various points I felt like I was dissolving – something to do with physical perspective and engagement with the paper, but also to do with a release from thinking (yet bound by something programmatic) and a tuning into process. Looking at it now, it has the feeling of a mirage, something trembling like a spider-web, with a lattice of representation that promises something at the same time as it falls apart. I’m not showing a better photo because it can’t capture this – or at least, I haven’t found a way for it to do so. The symbol is a reference to the Quran, where it’s used to show the division of sections of writing.
These 22 framed pictures of church/cathedral architecture open a world on pattern and symmetry. If I was to conjure up the heavy solid stone vaulting and the expanse of cavernous space that I feel in cathedrals, this is how I’d frame it. Kaleidoscope and repetition bring balance to something that’s as much about the experience as it is about the eye: it can’t be rigidly formal, but it can’t float away into ethereal emptiness either. The means of digital photographic collage here allows both. A bit like the title of Thomas Kellner’s book ‘Dancing Walls’.
Is there more to it though? What does the exhibition title ‘Deception’ suggest, along with the one or two pieces that incorporate other elements such as a skull, or the fragment of another piece of fantastical architecture, the Chrysler Building? The place for the sacred in these buildings becomes more a place for the unknown, or even something suspicious. There’s an interesting suggestion in the notion of infinity presented by the images – repeating pillars into darkness, for example – where the sense of ongoing harmony doesn’t seem to reach any conclusion. The scenes suggest to me a kind of sci-fi gaming platform, inviting a quest and encounter. I like this aspect of discovery, but I also think it lacks a sense of place described as revelation, as awesome connection with the divine. Yes, there is a ‘different universe’ here, which Mark relates to experiences of the first visitors to such buildings, but wasn’t there also a profound belief in God’s presence and power?
That said, it’s good to raise questions about the beauty in places of worship, it’s good that there’s active looking/feeling/sensing, rather than just disembodied contemplation. It surely opens the door on faith and a personal connection with the transcendent. Abstracted deity and wonder is not what the buildings are about, even if the material matter seems to say so – it’s a language of purpose and design that we may have forgotten too easily.
‘Deception’ is currently showing at the Corinium Museum until Saturday 1st October.