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Tag: 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

Pay attention: life lessons from nature

Connections

I am the world’s worst person to go on a walk with.

You see, one of my hobbies is photography, and even if I’ve only got my mobile phone with me, I still want to stop and take pictures – my family often feel exasperated when they have to wait for me, as I’ve gotten distracted by something which caught my eye. I notice things and I wonder and I ask questions…

We hear a lot about mindfulness these days. In case you’ve been stranded on a desert island and haven’t heard of it, mindfulness is the practice of choosing to be more aware of your environment and yourself, in order to promote wellbeing. Some of the oldest world religions have been practising mindfulness for some time – Buddhism, Judaism and Christianity among them, encouraging followers to set aside time aside for quiet reflection and meditation.

It’s become a very popular trend over the last couple of years. As a society, we’re told we are experiencing more stress than previous generations, and the consequences of not dealing with stress properly – anxiety, depression, anger and other manifestations of poor mental health can be considerable. Looking after yourself and your mental health is important and mindfulness can be a healthy part of that, but I try and use it in a slightly different way…

As a Christian, I operate on the assumption that God can and does speak to us and that he has things to say. The challenge is not whether God can communicate as much as whether we’re actually listening! For me, mindfulness – that intentional act of stopping to pause, reflect and listen, is a key part of how I hear from God when I pray and I will often look to the natural world for inspiration.

Variety

For example, some time ago I was taking our dog for a walk, and I felt God say I should pay attention to the leaves I saw along the walk. To be honest, I’m usually paying most attention to the dog as he’s a beagle and has a habit of getting into spaces he’s not supposed to, or eating things he shouldn’t. The route was a familiar one and I didn’t expect to see anything special…but I was wrong.

Scale

 

I have included some photos I took on that walk and some observations and questions it raised for me:

Connections (top of the page): where are you connected in? Who or what do you connect to? Are there some connections which need nurturing, or some which need pruning back?

Variety (middle of the page): each leaf is different, unique. They have their own version of the variegation which makes the whole plant  distinctive. That difference is what makes the plant stand out. Do you celebrate your uniqueness, or do you try and hide it? Do you feel uncomfortable with being different to other people, or are you content to be yourself?

Scale (towards the bottom of the page): some of the ivy leaves in this photo are small, others are huge! Yet each one is necessary to the plant. Each leaf’s ability to function and contribute to the life of the plant is not determined by it’s size, but rather it’s ability to access the sun. Do you value the contribution you make? What would be missing if you weren’t there?

I think that whether or not you hold a faith, these questions would still resonate with you, and invite you to reflect on aspects of your life which you might want to change or value differently.

This year’s theme at Portsmouth Cathedral is all about ecology and the environment and it’s called All Things Bright and Beautiful. I’m involved in the planning and management of the project, and will be running some sessions, writing blog articles etc. My aspiration is to create a series of mindfulness reflection activities, based on things found in nature and along the coast, which can be shared during the year. Ultimately, I’d like to compile them all into a little book and have it properly printed – watch this space for further updates!

Enjoying the view…

img_20150725_153152-01

There’s something about seeing a place or an object from a different vantage point, which can change the way you think about it.

The photo  shows a view of the city of Portsmouth, but from Portsdown Hill.  From here it’s easier to see the green spaces and in the distance the sea is just visible. But from the heart of the city, surrounded by tower blocks and the noise of traffic, those green spaces and sea views seem a million miles away…

Our view of things can be challenged and changed – if we’re prepared to consider new ideas and be open minded. This was part of the theme of the Viewpoint project at Portsmouth Cathedral which ran from September 2016 to July 2017.

During the course of the project, there were five artists in residence, exploring the theme of faith & spirituality through their chosen practice. I was not only curator of the project, but also had the opportunity to be an artist in residence myself, as creator of the Viewfinder, a sculpture created from a recycled spinning wheel.

You can find out more here: Viewpoint project (The link takes you to a series of blog articles, describing the artists and their work.) The evaluation report and accompanying paper should be available online shortly.

 

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!

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