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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.

Creative Lent #2: The Rucksack

My second reflection for Lent is around the theme of repentance, and nothing says ‘repentance’ like Yoda and a rucksack.

Not convinced? I’ll explain…

My children have been enjoying some videos on YouTube by a group called ‘Bad Lip Reading’ and I must admit, it is very clever and quite funny (for the first 2-3 times at least…) One of the videos focuses on a conversation between Luke Skywalker and Yoda whilst in training on Dagoba on the subject of Seagulls.  During this exchange Luke says “you owe me an apology” and it got me thinking: why?

Why should anyone *owe* anyone else an apology? 

We talk about owing someone money which we’ve borrowed, or owing someone a favour, if they’ve done something for us, but how does that work with an apology? If we don’t admit to something, how can it belong to us?

Whilst this was ruminating in my brain for a few days, my daily Bible readings were taking an interesting turn. For a few days we had Psalm 32, which looks like this:

Psalm 32
Of David. A maskil.[a]

1 Blessed is the one
whose transgressions are forgiven,
whose sins are covered.
2 Blessed is the one
whose sin the Lord does not count against them
and in whose spirit is no deceit.


3 When I kept silent,
my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
4 For day and night
your hand was heavy on me;
my strength was sapped
as in the heat of summer.[b]


5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you
and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, “I will confess
my transgressions to the Lord.”
And you forgave
the guilt of my sin.

That part in the middle, verses 3 & 4 is very interesting and I wondered for a while what it meant: “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away…your hand was heavy on me, my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer…” And then I realised, that heaviness, the weight described, is guilt or conviction.

Guilt or conviction is the internal acknowledgement which we hold when we know something is wrong or out of balance. It fidgets within us, restless and unsettled, all the while that the issue which caused it is unresolved. And the longer we ignore it, the stronger the feeling gets. In fact it becomes so strong that it takes more and more effort to ignore it.

It’s like wearing a heavy rucksack on your back, which you can’t see, but which you feel and carry with you. The rucksack is behind you; it bears down on your neck and shoulders and all the while it’s unresolved it gets heavier and heavier. Sometimes it’s been there so long, we actually get used to it, and we struggle to remember a time when it wasn’t there…

But why do we carry such a weight if we don’t have to?

I wonder if the fear of facing or resolving such an issue is what compels us to avoid it? We’re frightened of admitting the wrong-doing in the first place, and the longer we leave it, the harder it is to face and the weightier the issue becomes. Eventually perhaps, we start behaving differently, walking with a limp as it were, because we’ve become so accustomed to this extra weight, we’ve learnt to compensate for it. Maybe we feel it’s taken so long to resolve the original issue that in fact we ought to be bearing this additional burden, as some kind of punishment or penance for not having resolved the issue originally…

But here’s the thing: until we own the guilt, we can’t be free of it.

Until we can acknowledge to ourselves and God, and maybe our loved ones, whatever it is that has burdened us – until we can own and accept our mistake, we can’t let it go.  We can’t be set free from something which we don’t own. I can’t pay back money I don’t owe, or repay a favour which no-one did for me first. And I can’t be forgiven for something which I haven’t yet confessed.

It’s not until we admit to ourselves the guilt we’ve been carrying – the rucksack on our back – than we can take it off and be free of it.

And that takes courage – to admit to ourselves and others about the guilt which burdens us. But the words in the Psalm remind us about what awaits when we do:
5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you
and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, “I will confess
my transgressions to the Lord.”
And you forgave
the guilt of my sin.


6 Therefore let all the faithful pray to you
while you may be found;
surely the rising of the mighty waters
will not reach them.
7 You are my hiding place;

you will protect me from trouble
and surround me with songs of deliverance.

We don’t have to carry that weight around. We are not destined or fated to be burdened in that way. The ‘rising waters’ need not reach us. God doesn’t want to punish us for all eternity, in some cold, hard-hearted way. In fact the opposite is true: he sets himself to be our ‘hiding place and protector’. But until we acknowledge and accept our own wrong-doing and lay it down (admit it to ourselves and others) how can God forgive us and release us from it? We can’t yet be forgiven for something we haven’t admitted to. The equation doesn’t balance out.

And so this is my Creative Lent piece #2: a watercolour illustration of a rucksack, with a name label: “mine”. There is time, there is always time and space for all of us to acknowledge our mistakes and be freed from them. We are not destined to carry that guilt forever, and God who knows and loves you, doesn’t want that for you.

May we all find the courage to admit to our mistakes and take that step of faith which leads us to laying these things down, in the hope and trust that we can be forgiven and set free.

The expanding horizon…

After I got back from CUExpo in Canada (which I’ll write about in a separate post) I was straight back into the thick of it – ‘it’ being the end of one project and the launch of two new ones.

Students at Charter Academy. creating minature stained glass windows for a quiet area at the school.

Students at Charter Academy. creating minature stained glass windows for a quiet area at the school.

The FE Chaplaincy project packed up its’ stuff and moved in with the Deanery Youthwork project and in August 2015 I was appointed as the Creative Engagement practitioner for the newly merged Youth Chaplaincy project. Seeking to bring together the best of both worlds, Youth Chaplaincy works in local secondary schools and colleges and the aim is to ‘create a space for the bigger questions in life’.  More about that in another post!

Children weaving into the community tapestry, one of the activities which took place during LoLou Morris' residency.

Children weaving into the community tapestry, one of the activities which took place during LoLou Morris’ residency.

In addition, I’m delighted to say that the Liturgy Project was also finally brought to birth, but it’s now known as Viewpoint. Based at Portsmouth Cathedral, the project aims to explore faith and spirituality through the arts, and the Cathedral link takes you to all the blog listings, which take you through the journey the project and its artists’ have been on. More about that in another post too!

One of the noticeable changes in recent months, is my decision to give more time over to my own creative practice. This is hard as there’s always a list as long as my arm when it comes to ‘paid work’ and always something else ‘more important’ which I feel I ought to be doing…

But the truth of it is that making makes me happy, and when I’m making it helps with my sense of calm and peace and also enables me to have more ideas which feed into the projects I’m working on. You can find some of my making here on Instagram

So here’s to doing what you love, and being happy whilst doing it!

Remembering to breathe

A singing bowl

Today was the long awaited Creativity Conference, which took place at St Thomas’ Cathedral in Old Portsmouth. It was a legacy from the Creative Partnerships programme, which I used to work for, as a Creative Agent and you can look back through previous posts to find out more about that work.

For more coverage of the conference itself and the excellent speakers, please look here: http://www.facebook.com/creacon12 and here: http://creacon12.tumblr.com/

However, it was something that happened during the afternoon that I want to reflect on here, and that was the address given by Kristen Birkland from the Kaospilots.

She talked about creativity and ways of nurturing creativity. She used a creation story to illustrate how and where creativity can be seen and understood, and the commentators and people on twitter quite rightly commented that she ‘mesmerised’  and ‘captivated’ the audience.

Having visited Aarhus and the Kaospilots school myself last year, I was forcibly reminded of my visit there, and it felt to me like suddenly breathing in again after having held my breath for a long time. I don’t know if you’ve ever done that: held your breath without realising it, because you were concentrated or absorbed by something. Not for any length of time, but just a few moments, until you suddenly realise what you’re doing – and you breathe in again and feel that life-giving revitalising air swoop into your lungs.

Spending time with the Kaospilots and with other people who have been there – all dreamers in their different ways, is life-giving to me. Food for the soul. And there were a lot of moments in those keynote speeches, when what was being shared really resonated with me…which brings us to the singing bowl.

I daresay you were wondering why I’ve included it? Maybe by now you were inventing your own reasons and theories as to why? The answer is two-fold:

Firstly because Richard Sant, the Director for Creative Enterprise at the University of Portsmouth had one at the conference today, and he chimed it whenever a session was due to finish. And it struck me what a fabulous illustration it is of the second and more important reason:

About how a singing bowl actually works:

The tone is caused by the bowl vibrating. You can see this fairly clearly in the first section of the video when the large bowl is struck. The way in which the bowl is hit or rubbed makes the bowl oscillate – that is it wobbles in a oval shape, and that is what causes the sound. It is a very clear sound and it carries very effectively across a large space.

Much of what I heard today – and particularly in Kristen’s talk, resonated with me. It caused an answering vibration which I heard, felt and understood. And yet I hadn’t appreciated how much I’d missed it, until I heard it again.

 

The challenge of any conference, training or retreat is: how are you going to apply what you’ve learnt when you get back? How will you make it stick? I think for me, I need to action some things I’ve been mulling over for a while, including writing my paper on education entitled: ‘The Writer, The Illustrator and General MacNamara’, which I’ll post here when its finished. Another action is to work harder at making time to reflect. Making it a priority to create space for daydreaming, doodling, meditating and reflecting. It’s too, too easy to get caught up in the ‘doing’ part, but always far harder to employ the discipline of stopping, pausing and being still.

Perhaps I’d better invest in a singing bowl while I’m at it…?

 

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