What did I make of the use of religious and sacred spaces on the E17 Art Trail?
My art trail included several venues which are ordinarily considered sacred; churches and religious meeting rooms for example. Of course Walthamstow is a multi faith community and many other sacred spaces exist locally, including temples, mosques and a synagogue. I haven’t been through the art trail guide seeking out which of them participated directly, especially as host venues for the art trail.
I visited St Barnabas Church, St Marys and the Quaker Meeting House. St Barnabas and St Marys hosted group shows (including performances), while the latter hosted a solo artist installation including a performance and a discussion. Between the three venues there is a plethora of artistic endeavour to reflect on and in selecting specific works to appreciate I am not, hopefully, dismissing the others out of hand.
What do I care about the use and purpose of religious places around the town?
I am secular in a formal sense in that I do not abide by the codes of a particular religion including attendance at church or any other place of worship. In the context of liberal multiculturalism I’d like to say I abide by an ethos of tolerance and understanding and so in ‘my’ community different faiths are welcome and welcoming. I may be unwitting and my liberalism, or relativism, a form of false consciousness however I think the participation of faith communities, including places of worship, on the art trail signifies hope and that hope is a constituent of the sacred. My conscience may only amount to sentiment and so I set out to visit the exhibitions to look for works of art which would provoke and confront a stronger sense of conviction.
How did the art trail artists test my sentiment?
Places of worship are often where we see some of the most elaborate and traditional emanations of artistic creativity. How would the artists express contemporary 21st century senses of place in places of worship often hundreds of years old? In Making is Connecting, Dave Gauntlett explores the contemporary relationship between work, making and hope via William Morris. Morris asserted any work worth doing offers hope - the hope of rest, the hope of product and the hope of pleasure in the work itself. This seems a fitting critical tool with which to continue looking at the art I visited whilst also bearing in mind the hazard of lapsing into pseudo religiosity. Which works/makings connected me a contemporary sense of hope/sacredness and what capacity for connection did I bring to the art?
Aser El Saqqa - War and Peace - St Mary’s Church. (E17 Art Trail - 105)
Aser exhibited a series of photographs of the British Cemetery in Gaza City. The images were displayed in the church via an installation of a large overhead projection screen, smaller digital screens mounted on the pillars, and a computer. I assumed the projection facilities belong to the church and are a part of the ordinary paraphernalia of worship there. The images of the cemetery, including landscapes and details, were accompanied by short texts giving some historical context about the cemetery. Gaza is in a region blighted by a long history of war fuelled by geopolitical, ideological, ethnic and religious conflicts and the British Cemetery is in part a memorial to British forces personnel who fought in this region in the early to mid 20th century.
It is difficult to think of any culture or civilisation in which burial grounds are not sacred, indeed sacrosanct. Aser’s images projected a sense of peacefulness, care and propriety and the gentle pace of the slide show was appropriate to the sombre subject matter and the church setting which is also a mausoleum.
The connection of hope for peace and the hope of rest in this installation is a complex relationship confronting a viewer with the enormity of collective history and one’s personal place in it. Where, how and why are you visiting the scenes? The hope of pleasure in the work itself is the motivation for peace by peaceful means while attempting to maintain a sense of connection via less rapid fire and numbing depictions of conflicts. William Morris asked, ‘what is the nature of hope which, when it is present in work, makes it worth doing?’
Asking what work is involved in the installation, ‘War and Peace’ gives many answers potentially. There is, for a start, the work of creating and maintaining the cemetery and the work of representing it. The slide show can be considered a tribute to generations of gardeners who have tended to and cared for the cemetery. In 2001, the Head Gardener was Mr Jeradeh MBE, son of Rabia who was also Head Gardener there. They arrived in Gaza in 1948 as refugees from Be’er Sheva. In 2001, Mr Jeradeh, when interviewed by The Telegraph, hoped his son Issam Ibrahim would succeed him to continue the work. There is something moving and poignant in the continuity of care revealed by the photographs. I’m unsure when Aser took the photographs and to whom we might attribute the care shown in the images however they represent a great sense of sustained humility.
The large screen dominating the projection of ‘War and Peace’ in St Mary’s was mounted in a place in close proximity to the large stained glass East Window (created in 1939). According to a ‘church art trail’ map (I picked up at St Barnabas Church) the design of the window is based on an ancient hymn, Te Deum Laudamus (Ambrosian Hymn). Translated from the Latin, this means, ‘Thee, O God, we praise’. The Wikipedia page for this hymn states the hymn is sometimes sung or given in thanksgiving for a publication of a treaty of peace and this site for the screen seems highly appropriate demanding as it does the question as to when and how peace might be achieved.
One of the themes I’m trying to explore, via reflections on the 2011 E17 Art Trail, is the art craft debate and some contemporary myths of art and craft/craftsmanship. I’m using ‘Making is Connecting’ (Dave Gauntlett) as one of the guides to this. One of DG’s hypotheses is, popular creativity especially that expressed via Web 2.0 is essentially craft, and this craftsmanship rejects and even subverts the hierarchical and elitist mores of the contemporary art world. The debate could be mere semantics - a linguistic ping pong game for theorists while others get on with the real work however I happened to catch Tony Blair talking on the news this morning in his capacity as a Middle East Peace Envoy. The statement which really caught my attention was
"Let's see if we can craft [my emphasis] something that allows the Palestinians to come to the United Nations, to advance their aspirations for statehood that also at the same time allows us to develop a framework for negotiations so that they get back to talking," Tony Blair.
Out of respect for the peace process I cannot write anything more about this statement which is not facetious except to refer to a comment made in a previous post that craft is a slippery word.
Aser El Saqqa - War and Peace - St Mary's Church
for the E17 Art Trail 2011.