The Reverend Keith Elford, Director of the Board for Art in Sacred Places, invited Artwise to create an art strategy for a number of selected Cathedrals and churches in South East England. Not an easy task! Artwise selected a number of prominent and up and coming curators to each select an artist who they thought could work in these somewhat different and sometimes difficult spaces, on minimum budgets and working across a great deal of red tape - in the case of Cathedrals, with their ‘Chapters’ and Boards. This would end up being a lively and much discussed series of art installations that would run over three years and would be the major contribution to the overall Art and Sacred Places programme at this time. Art and Sacred Places programme is an ecumenical organisation supporting the interaction between art and religion.
At St. Peter's in Brighton, we worked with artists Dan Coombs and Duncan Whitely on installations that brought contemporary art ‘methodology’ and thinking into a Church context in order to examine notions of spirituality in today's society. Coombs worked with the local community and congregation to collect dozens of everyday objects. Amassing all these ‘treasures’ he created two massive walls scaling the height of the Church which posed questions about contemporary values. The most profound messaging came from this installation being shown within the walls of a Church as opposed to a ‘white cube’ gallery. This worked especially well with Whitely’s 3D sound installation which used the sounds of birds on the wing and St Peter’s own Church bells, creating meditative sonic metaphors and magnified the whole architectural space.
Secondly, we curated Angel, a dramatic work by artist Rose Finn-Kelcey (1945-2014) which used over 85,000 shimmer discs and stretched over 5 meters creating a modern day gargole as it shimmered in the wind, giving the illusion of burning flames as it spelt out the mobile phone symbol for Angel. In its day it was one of London’s most popular and largest public artworks which appealed all generations and across all denominations. Visible 24 hours a day on the façade of St. Paul's Church in East London, which itself had been a victim of a fire bombing, using mobile phone ‘language’ it became an icon of contemporary life and an incredible tool for Father Duncan Ross who used it in many of his sermons and workshops he conducted with the artist during its temporary life. Documented by an online website catalogue - which includes stunning still and moving images of the work in situ, as well as essays about the work and records of public responses - Angel was the recipient of the ACE Trust Award for temporary commissions for Art in a Religious Context category.
Finally, as a result of the Art and Sacred Places commissions, we were invited by the Portsmouth Cathedral's Fabric Commission to lead the re-design of the choir stalls and organ doors as part of the on-going art programme. Part of the challenge for the team was to create an original response whilst maintaining respect for the building's heritage. We commissioned designers Barber Osgerby to re-design the choir stalls and the now famous The Portsmouth Bench was born. This new oak bench that paired original contemporary design with conventional wood seating, received the Design Week Award for Best Furniture Design. Working together with Stefan van Raay, the then Director of Pallant House Gallery in Chichester, Patrick Caulfield was commissioned to make a design for the interior organ doors. His design reflected upon both tradition and modernity by referencing symbols from Christianity, the existing features in the cathedral and the City of Portsmouth.
Together, these commissions helped to evolve understanding of sacred spaces by encouraging contemporary audiences to discover new and exciting ways of interacting with spirituality.
Artwise’s strategy for Art and Sacred Places included collaborations with other invited curators and a full list of the projects with the participating artists and curators can be seen below:
Dan Coombs & Duncan Whitely for St Peter’s Brighton - curated by Artwise
Nathan Coley for Portsmouth Cathedral -curated by Gavin Wade
Dion Ellis for Portsmouth Cathedral – curated by Les Buckingham
Rose Finn-Kelcey for St. Pauls’ Bow, London - curated by Artwise
Deimantas Narkevicius for St Peter’s, Brighton – curated by Teresa Gleadowe
Richard Wentworth for Winchester Cathedral- curated by Smith + Fowler
Tamsin Williams for Guildford Cathedral curated by BN1 /Tamsin Dillon
Portsmouth Cathedral participating Artists and Designers
Patrick Caulfield curated by Stefan Van Raay and Susie Allen
Edward Baber & Jay Osgerby curated by Artwise Curators
Abbey Harris Mural Fund/Arts Council England/The Henry Moore Foundation/The Jerusalem Trust/The London Institute