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Category: Portsmouth Cathedral

Windows of my Mind

It’s been a few months since my last post, and as usual, it’s a reflection of how busy I’ve been elsewhere! Since the start of 2018 I’ve been doing a lot more work with Portsmouth Cathedral on their annual theme programme, which has grown significantly even compared to the previous year.

I’ve also been doing a lot more making and even responded to a commission opportunity, so this seemed a good time to fill you in on what I’ve been up to, from a making point of view.

I must include a heartfelt note of thanks here to those wonderful chaps at The Maker’s Guild: Sam, Ming and Gav who have supported me enormously and most importantly, practically with moving my ideas from concept to a solid and sturdy reality. I couldn’t have done what I’ve done so far without their help and intervention.

At the end of January this year, the first of my installations went in. It was called A Journey Through Time and involved various site-specific installations throughout Portsmouth Cathedral building. Those visitors who braved and damp and dismal weather and came along ,remarked on how much they enjoyed it and how different elements spoke to them. The installation elements included projections in St Thomas’ Chapel, an array of mostly handmade candles in the Quire, a fountain in the font (it looked amazing!) and further projections onto the ceiling of the Nave. Each of these sections reflected how time travels and how natural objects can reflect the passage of time.

The next piece I created was for Harbour Church as part of their Good Friday event called ‘Renew’. At a planning meeting I had an idea about a piece featuring lots of small pieces of glass with black splodgy paint on one side and white splodgy paint mirrored on the the other. Although that concept was a bit too complex for the time available (we had only a month to action anything!) I was able to revise it to two larger pieces of glass with words on each side: life/death and hope/doubt. Originally I was trying to fit the word ‘despair’ on the other side, but the letters were so different, I was struggling to make it work. Nemo, who’s also based at Maker’s Guild said simply: “Why don’t you pick another word that means the same thing?” Genius! Yet another benefit of accessing MG (Maker’s Guild) is collaboration.

The finished piece Life/Death Hope/Doubt was constructed with the help of the fabulous Sam Asiri, whose carpentry skills far exceed my own! It was exhibited at Harbour Church during the event and for about a week afterwards.

The font was hand painted from a template I sourced online and it’s modelled on an ambigram – that is to say, certain letters are a mirror image of each other. What you see on the glass is a reflection of your perspective: do you see death, or life? Doubt or hope? Good Friday for Christians is very much about balancing on that knife edge and swinging betweenone and the other.

This piece then saw a new lease of life in the next piece of work I created: Windows of my Mind. For various reasons, I like to try and reuse parts of previous works in new pieces, so we decided to use part of the Life/Death frame in the construction of Windows of my Mind.

This piece was originally inspired by a call out for artists from an art festival in Basingstoke. Although I couldn’t attend the festival, the idea was still percolating in my brain, awaiting the proper time. The ‘proper time’ appeared in May 2018 to coincide with the wellbeing and mental health emphasis which we had as part of the annual theme programme at the Cathedral.

The premise behind Windows of my Mind is simple enough: our mental health changes how we see things. We all have mental health, just as we all have physical health. And in the same way we can catch a cold, or strain a muscle, we can also get run down, stressed or overloaded mentally and emotionally. How people are affected by poor mental health is manifested in these different windows. For some it’s despair – cloying and sticky, miring us in grief and inaction. For others its a sense of being foggy or directionless. For some nostalgia is what distorts our view: looking back at another time and believing it to be so much better than now. The whole piece contains 14 different elements which reflect aspects of mental health and it can be viewed in Portsmouth Cathedral, on the High Street, Old Portsmouth until May 25th.

We are the stories we weave…

At the end of January 2017 I had the privilege of being invited back to Portsmouth Cathedral for the 22nd Muslim-Christian celebration. This annual gathering sees members of the Wessex Jamaat and Portsmouth Cathedral join together for readings, music, an address from both communities and of course good food and conversation!

Last year I was asked to devise a creative activity which people could engage with and they enjoyed it so much I was asked to come back again!

This is the prototype weaving card which I made. The top strip represents myself, the centre one is for my family and the third one with the sequins represents my community.

After some thought, I came up with a weaving activity, to be shared between two people: each pair was given a square of card approximately 10x10cm, with evenly spaced notches along two of the opposite sides. Embroidery thread was then looped across the card and through the notches to create a very basic warp for weaving.

Guests at the event were invited to choose 3 strips of recycled fabric, from a range which I’d brought with me. Those 3 strips would represent themselves, their faith and their family or community. People could then weave their strips into the card frame, filling approximately half of it, leaving space for someone else to fill the other half.

As always, I was both gratified and encouraged to see people willingly and enthusiastically engaging with the activity. And as they wove, they chatted about themselves and the fabric they had chosen.

What struck me was that people sometimes chose the same type of material, but for each person it represented something different.

It told their story, perhaps the same story, but from a different point of view.

I have noticed lately, that the stories we hear tend to be very much from one side, from one perspective. In the aftermath of the EU referendum and the US elections, the news channels seem to have settled themselves, for the most part, on one side or the other, with a few brave stalwarts holding the middle, fairly neutral ground. The general public then follows suit, drawn inexorably towards either end of a tunnel which offers no light at its end – only more vitriol, anger and a deep sense of fear and/or betrayal.

Our social media feeds into this isolating trend: the algorithms behind the screen are designed to filter out news which doesn’t fit your preferences, or articles or retailers which you haven’t ‘liked’ or don’t click on very often. But the danger of this is that we consume news (often unsuccessfully confused with ‘truth’) in the same way we consume our favourite TV shows, or cereal or brand of deodorant.

We hear the story, perhaps the same story, but from only one perspective.

And thus it reinforces that narrower world view and encases us in the arrogance of certainty, instead of challenging ourselves to wade out into the deeper and murkier waters of alternative viewpoints.

Professor Grace Davie of Exeter University in her book ‘Religion in Britain: a persistent paradox’ observes that as a society we have lost the skills for dialogue on religion. To put it another way, we don’t know how to talk to each other about faith, or God or spirituality without being abrasive, hurtful or just plain ignorant (that’s my paraphrase). I would argue that the same is true of politics and social in/justice, which is the outcome of political decision making.

How refreshing then, to be part of an evening where people are openly invited, in a warm and safe space, to share and celebrate that which makes us different – and yet where we have so much in common.

We share the same story, but tell it from a different perspective.

It is true that history books have often been written by the ‘winners’, although in recent years ‘alternative histories’ have been told by those minority voices, bringing a fullness to a story which had only been half-told.

Are we brave enough to hear the story we are part of, from someone else’s point of view? Could we be gracious enough to value their viewpoint, even if it’s not the same as ours?

I suspect that it is only in the murky uncertainty of the middle ground, that any peace or reconciliation can be won. The firmer, more solid ground of ‘opinion’ and ‘alternative facts’ seems to leave us with little option than to raise the ramparts and defend our position. The story then rapidly shrinks to a tale of ‘them and us’ – hardly a very noble way to forge the future.

We are the stories we weave. Are we willing to include other threads and strands in that story, or will we only consider the ‘truth’ we hold most dear?

If that’s the case, our tapestry is likely to be very small indeed.

Some of weaving squares created at the Muslim-Christian evening at Portsmouth Cathedral. These will be mounted into two frames, one of which will be given to the Wessex Jamaat, the other will reside at the Cathedral.1

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