STATION 10. This is the one station I did not get a chance to see, due to its more limited opening hours. Anywhere, Anytimeby Masha Trebukova is a temporary installation in the Mozes en Aäronkerk (Church of Moses and Aaron) in Amsterdam’s Waterlooplein neighborhood. It consists of a nine-foot-tall octagonal structure (a “columbarium”) covered with paintings on newspaper, as well as six large-format “books” of paintings on glossy magazine pages.
A columbarium is a room, building, or freestanding structure with niches for the public storage of funerary urns (which hold the ashes of the deceased). Ancient Romans decorated theirs with frescoes, often of peaceful scenes of the hereafter. Trebukova, on the other hand, has painted this columbarium with images of war and violence, exposing the savagery that causes death. This is not a celebration of paradise gained; it’s a lament for paradise lost.
Hear the artist briefly introduce the piece:
Trebukova used as her painting surface pages from newspapers and magazines, the headlines often creating consonance with the images while the ads create dissonance. The sleek photos selling vacations and luxury goods, enticing you to treat yourself, contrast starkly with Trebukova’s slashes and smears of color that depict masked gunmen terrorizing families, mass executions, refugees on the run, and individuals huddled over the corpses of loved ones. This contrast urges viewers to consider how our own self-absorption might be restricting our view of what’s going on in the larger world. What incinerations are being carried out as we casually engage in our leisure reading and other entertainments? The vaults in Anywhere, Anytime are fictive, but they prompt us to imagine the many bodies and places being turned to ash as armed conflict and acts of terrorism persist globally. [Images below sourced from the artist’s website]
The books are too fragile to be handled by visitors, so they are displayed open in glass cases, laid flat on a black-clothed table, and a video screen nearby loops through all the images in succession. Here is an excerpt from the video, a showcase of book five:
The book appears to have originally been a dance magazine, but Trebukova subverts the elegance associated with controlled bodily movement by recontextualizing these found images of dancers. A woman walking down a rustic road in pointe shoes is given a heavy burden on her back—a child—and a head scarf, recasting her as one of the many mothers fleeing violence in the Middle East. On the following page spread, another dancer’s graceful backbend is re-envisioned as an involuntary response to his having been shot; unlike on stage, this movement will end with a fall.
The Moses and Aaron Church is home to the Amsterdam chapter of the Community of Sant’Egidio, a Catholic lay association committed to prayer, the poor, and peace. Existing in over seventy countries, Sant’Egidio seeks especially to serve the sick, the homeless (including displaced persons), the elderly, and the imprisoned. “War is the mother of every poverty,” they say, and they have been key players in peace initiatives in Mozambique, Algeria, the Balkans, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and other areas.
STATION 11.Erica Grimm’s Salt WaterSkin Boats, a collaboration with artist and arborist Tracie Stewart and soundscape specialist Sheinagh Anderson, is an installation of five sculptural coracles made of interwoven willow, dogwood, fig, and cedar branches; animal skin and gut; cheesecloth; and bathymetric ocean maps imprinted with scientific measurements of things like glacial melt, sea-level rise, and ocean acidification. These are suspended from the ceiling along the nave of the Waalse Kerk and are lit from inside, and they are accompanied by an ambient soundscape that viewers activate by scanning a QR code.
Small lightweight boats without rudder, anchor, or keel, coracles are unstable watercraft, easily carried by currents and wind. Back in the day, Celtic Christian pilgrims would set sail in them, not having any destination in mind but rather trusting that God would steer their little boats to wherever he saw fit. In a sense, we are all “skin boats” afloat on a vast ocean, not knowing where we’ll end up. But Grimm’s incorporation of numerical data that highlight the dangerous warming, acidifying, and expanding of the world’s oceans pushes this metaphor in a new direction; the work “proposes an analogy,” writes curator Marleen Hengelaar-Rookmaaker, “between our bodies and the vast ecology of the global ocean: between the life-sustaining, precariously balanced ocean chemistry and the chemistry of our own salt-water-filled bodies.” Continue reading “Walking the Via Dolorosa through Amsterdam (Part 3)”→
STATION 4.Ocean Eden by Lynn Aldrich is a whimsical coral reef assemblage made out of everyday household cleaning supplies—sponges, scrubbers, scouring pads, mop heads, brushes, plastic gloves, and plungers, a rich biodiversity. Sea urchins, sea anemones, starfish, and snails are among the animals evoked.
Playful though it is, this bricolage of commercial products, arranged to represent an underwater ecosystem, creates a crass juxtaposition of natural and unnatural that makes the piece tragicomic. The subtext is ecological concern—in particular, for the endangerment of coral reefs. Let’s clean up our oceans, the work seems to say. The assignment of Ocean Eden to station 4, “Jesus meets his mother,” reinforces the traditional conception of nature as mother. Here we meet Mother Nature, who grieves our mistreatment of her.
Station 4 is sited at the Keizersgrachtkerk, a church built under the leadership of Abraham Kuyper just two years after the 1886 schism of the Dutch Reformed Church. (Kuyper led the conservative offshoot, the Doleantie.) Aldrich’s assemblage is visible from the street through the main glass entrance doors and so can be viewed even when the church is locked. Luckily, a staff member was there to let us in after hours through a side entrance, so we could see the work closer up. It’s located in a small lobby that dips between stairwells on either side.
STATION 5. Next on the route is the Amsterdam Museum, whose building complex served from 1580 to 1960 as Burgerweeshuis, the city orphanage. Before that it was a monastery. To mark this change of function, a large entrance gate was built in 1581 off the Kalverstraat, which, as Marleen pointed out to me, features a relief sculpture of a group of orphans gathered around the Holy Spirit, entreating passersby for help:
Wy groeien vast in tal en last. Ons tweede vaders klagen
Ay ga niet voort door dese poort, of help een luttel dragen.
We grow steadily in number and burden. Our second fathers ask with heavy hearts:
“Do not go forth through this gate without helping us a little in our care.”
Their “second fathers” are, of course, their new caretakers, who run the orphanage. These children are asking for someone to help them carry their burden (poverty, hunger, sickness, lack of education, lack of prospects for the future, feelings of abandonment, longing for love, etc.), which the fathers are helping to shoulder but who can do only so much with their limited power. This sixteenth-century sculpture and inscription resonate with the fifth station of the cross, “Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry his cross.”
But this is only supplementary to the main artwork we’ve come to see: Out of History by Iris Kensmil, located in the Schuttersgalerij (Civic Guards Gallery). Part of the Amsterdam Museum, this gallery is a covered passageway that visitors can enter for free, featuring portraits of Dutch citizens through the centuries. (Admission to the rest of the museum is €15.)
An artist of Surinamese descent committed to highlighting black contributions to Dutch history, Iris Kensmil was commissioned by the Amsterdam Museum in 2013 to create a new work to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in the Netherlands. (The Netherlands was a major player in the transatlantic slave trade from the sixteenth through nineteenth centuries.) She chose to depict three strong black figures from eighteenth-century Surinam (a former Dutch colony in the Guianas) who rose above colonial oppression to secure a position and a future for themselves.
The left panel of this triptych shows Elisabeth Samson (1715–1777), who, through her business acumen, became one of the richest women in Surinam. After this socioeconomic rise, she then successfully petitioned the Dutch government to be allowed to marry a white man, and became the first black woman in Surinam to do so; this consolidated her power. But despite overcoming huge obstacles, Elisabeth’s legacy is somewhat controversial because she amassed and maintained her wealth the same way the rest of the Dutch of Surinam did at that time—through slavery. (She owned a coffee plantation and some forty slaves.) Hear Cynthia McLeod’s super-entertaining TedX talk about Elisabeth Samson, which is just fifteen minutes long. (I could listen to this woman teach me history all day long!)
Inspired by the traditional Stations of the Cross, the pilgrimage comprises fifteen stops at thirteen locations across the city, where participants are invited to spend time before a specially chosen contemporary artwork that addresses some form of human or environmental suffering. The route starts at the Basilica of Saint Nicholas (Amsterdam’s patron saint) just across from the train station and weaves through, among other places, a park, the old Jewish quarter, a former orphanage, a church-cum–rock concert hall, a hidden house church where persecuted Catholics used to worship, and the red-light district, ending inside the Oude Kerk (Old Church), the city’s oldest extant building, located right in the heart. Not only the art but also the sites themselves were selected with intention, each one a part of the journey down this via dolorosa, “way of sorrows.”
This was my first time to Amsterdam, and it was such a good way to see the city, learn about the city, and pray for the city—all through the agent of art, which functions in this experience as a series of visual laments. When I encounter suffering or read about it in the news, I am often at a loss for how to bring it before God in prayer. I feel its heaviness but lack the words to express that feeling or to intercede in any concrete way. That’s why I’m so appreciative of artists, whose work so often becomes, for me, a nonverbal prayer addressed to my Maker, as I behold and internalize what the artist has first beheld and internalized and has then shared with me through whatever their medium. This is a gift that artists offer the church: vision, long and deep, that’s sensitive to the glories but also the woes of the world and that invites others in, through the skillful crafting of materials, to see right along with them. That act of seeing—of noticing, of giving attention to—can itself be prayer.
Amsterdam was founded as a fishing village at the end of the twelfth century with the building of a dam on the Amstel River. (The name Amstelledamme later evolved into Amsterdam.) Its sixty-plus miles of interconnected canals have earned it the nickname “Venice of the North” and make it the most watery city in the world. These navigable waterways led to Amsterdam becoming, in the seventeenth century, the foremost maritime and economic power in the world, and the wealth that came through international trade also enabled the arts and sciences to flourish throughout the country; that’s why the seventeenth century is known as the Dutch Golden Age. (Think Rembrandt and Vermeer.)
The exhibition’s subtitle, Troubled Waters, alludes to the fraught nature of Amsterdam’s identity as a historic port city into which both goods and people travel. The pioneering Dutch East India Company, an amalgamation of trading companies that is now defunct, is important in global business history as the forerunner of modern corporations, but it also cannot be separated from its involvement in the slave trade. Although slavery was formally abolished in the Netherlands in 1863, it continues in Amsterdam’s sex industry, in which a percentage of workers are victims of human trafficking; girls and women sometimes arrive in shipping containers, enslaved by pimps and even further by ignorant customers.
Other residents of Amsterdam arrive as refugees, and for many of them, water is a formidable danger that must be traversed on the way to safety.
“Troubled waters” also references the acidification, pollution, and rising temperatures of the world’s oceans, which endanger the many marine species that live there. So even the water itself bears wounds.
Although the overall tone of the pilgrimage is one of sorrow, pockets of hope are dispersed throughout, as in the empowered Surinamese painted by Iris Kensmil (station 5), Paul van Dongen’s Rising drawing that counterbalances his Judgment (station 7), Janpeter Muilwijk’s afterlife vision of his dead daughter victoriously bounding over the earth (station 9), the soothing “streams of mercy, never ceasing” that provide an auditory accompaniment to Anjet van Linge’s chiseled “Kyrie eleison” (station 12), and, of course, the inclusion of a resurrection station (station 15).
Though modeled loosely after a medieval devotional practice, Art Stations of the Cross: Troubled Waters is thoroughly modern, incorporating audio and video components, 3-D technologies, and the distinctively contemporary genre of installation art. Figurative art is still present and in some cases interacts with the traditional religious images in its environs, but it often does so transgressively—for example, the photorealistic Madonna and Child wrapped in emergency blankets in station 1 and the decapitated corpus of Christ in station 13.
For more information about Art Stations, which runs through April 22, visit http://www.artstations.org/. There you can find a map, opening times, descriptions, tie-in events, and information on where you can purchase a catalog (available in Dutch or English). Most stops along the route host a stack of brochures that condense this info and that contain a stamp card on the back, where you can mark off the stations you’ve visited. All the exhibition sites are freely accessible. (Oude Kerk waives its admission fee if you present your Art Stations brochure at the entrance desk.)
Below and in two subsequent posts, I will share some of my photos and impressions of each station. Unless otherwise specified, all photos are by my husband, Eric James Jones, and are the property of ArtandTheology.org. Feel free to use them noncommercially, with credit to the artists and a link back to this webpage.
STATION 1. The route starts at the neo-Baroque Church of St. Nicholas, which temporarily houses one of my favorite and arguably the most confrontational of all the works on the tour: Hans Versteeg’s Madonna del Mare Nostrum: Of, Mantel der Liefde (Our Lady of the Mediterranean Sea: Or, Cloak of Love). A young dark-skinned mother holds her toddler son, both of them wrapped in a thermal blanket like the ones given to refugees to prevent hypothermia. Replacing Mary’s traditional ultramarine robe with a “robe” of metallized polyethylene terephthalate, whose gold surface glints in the sun, emphasizes how she and her boy are clothed not only in holiness but also in need. Because of how the artist chose to frame the composition, we don’t know if the figures are standing in a boat that’s still at sea or on the shore. Regardless, their strongly frontal positioning and their direct stares seem to ask the viewer, “Will you receive us?” Continue reading “Walking the Via Dolorosa through Amsterdam (Part 1)”→
It’s great to see how many gatherings are happening this spring around faith and the arts. I wish I could attend them all, but travel costs require me to be selective. I’m happy to say that I’ll be at the contemporary art symposium in Amsterdam in March (and taking a few side trips while I’m there) and the Anselm Society conference, “Your Imagination Redeemed,” in April, which convenes in the beautiful foothills of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. If you’ll be at either, let me know so that I can be sure to meet you!
(This post has been updated to reflect new information.)
Calvin Symposium on Worship Date: January 24–26, 2019 Location: Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan Cost: $270 (general; single-day options available); $30 (students) Organizers:Calvin Institute of Christian Worship and the Center for Excellence in Preaching Presenters:A very long list! Description: “The conference brings together a wide audience of artists, musicians, pastors, scholars, students, worship leaders and planners, and other interested worshipers. People come from around the world for a time of fellowship, worship, and learning together, seeking to develop their gifts, encourage each other and renew their commitment to the full ministry of the church.” There are tons of seminars and workshops to choose from, on topics such as congregational songwriting, multilingual singing for English-speaking congregations, skills and drills for the emerging worship leader, technology in worship, worship in times of crisis and trauma, engaging our bodies in worship, the visual arts in worship, using the Psalms in worship, music as exegetical art, the art and science of repetition in worship, and much more. One of the plenary sessions is on “The Many Streams of African American Congregational Song.”
Note: Although online registration has closed, walk-up registration is available. Also, the worship services and plenary sessions will be live-streamed for free (see times).
“Worship, Theology, and the Arts in a Divided World” Date: February 9, 2019 Location: Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California Cost: $75 (general); $25 (student) – or, live-stream for free! (registration still required) [update: videos: Morning Session; Afternoon Session] Organizer:Brehm Center Presenters: David M. Bailey, Makoto Fujimura, W. David O. Taylor, Kutter Callaway, Lauralee Farrer, Todd E. Johnson, Robert K. Johnston, Roberta R. King, Shannon Sigler, Edwin M. Wilmington Description: “To say that we live in a divided world is to state the obvious. Less obvious, perhaps, is to believe that worship might become a vehicle for reconciliation, or that theology might serve as an invaluable aid to mend our personal and social brokenness, or that the arts might forge unity across the divides—whether political or economic, racial or relational, linguistic or cultural, whether in the academy or in the public square, whether inside the church or outside of it. But that is exactly what this conference wishes to suggest.
“A primary goal of this conference is to show how worship, theology, and the arts can become sources of good news to our divided world as well as resources to make tangible that good news by God’s grace. A secondary goal is to generate practical helps that extend beyond the immediate context of the conference in order to serve the broader community. This involves not just the presentations themselves, but online resource offerings: for instance, a one-page resource for small groups on art and racial reconciliation; a Spotify playlist for both pastors and worship leaders; a ‘top 10’ list of most common mistakes in multicultural worship; an annotated resource on global worship; a handout for church leaders on art in a post-Christian society; and more.”
“Modernist Prodigals: Aesthetic Aftermaths of Religious Conversion” (panel discussion) Date: February 13, 2019 Location: New York Hilton Midtown, Manhattan Cost: This is one of the 300+ sessions available to registrants of the College Art Association’s Annual Conference. (Registration starts at $185 and is restricted to CAA members.) Organizer: Anne Greeley Panelists: Linda Stratford, Emily Worjun Wing, Zoë Marie-Jones, Elliott H. King, Douglas R. Giebel Description: “Over the past two decades, the long-presumed secularity of modern art has been called increasingly into question. Numerous scholars, from Sally Promey, to Jonathan Anderson and William Dyrness, to Thomas Crow, have challenged the secularization theory promulgated by art historians during the latter half of the twentieth century. Though the academy no longer finds it ‘inadmissible,’ as Rosalind Krauss once did, to connect the spiritual with the avant-garde, and while many religious impulses can be discerned throughout the field of modern art, it is nevertheless the case that many modern artists rejected religion outright—though some only temporarily.
“This panel aims to build on the discussion initiated by Jeffrey Abt in his 2014 panel on ‘Religion and the Avant-Garde.’ It seeks to further clarify modern art’s relationship to religion by examining the lives and work of certain ‘modernist prodigals,’ who during a period of religious apathy or disbelief made significant contributions to modernism before turning, or returning, to organized religion. If art can be said to constitute a mode of thought, and if thought is radically altered through religious conversion, then what might a study of the works of such artists, ‘pre-’ and ‘post-’conversion, reveal about the perceived compatibility of modern art (or of certain iterations or aspects thereof) with a religious worldview? Alternatively, what might it reveal about an artist’s faith?”
“Art Matters” Date: February 16, 2019 Location: Leith School of Art, Edinburgh, Scotland Cost: ₤25 Organizer: Morphē Arts Description: “A day symposium on art, faith and social responsibility. We will discuss the importance of the creative arts in the formation and care of culture from the perspective of Christian belief. The morning will be a series of short talks from artists, musicians, writers, designers, theologians and art philosophers on why the arts matter at this time. An afternoon symposium will lead into a drawing workshop (TBC) followed by an evening music event.”
“The Breath and the Clay” Date: March 22–24, 2019 Location: Awake Church, Winston-Salem, North Carolina Cost: from $150 Organizer: The Breath and the Clay Presenters: Stephen Roach, Josh Garrels, Emily P. Freeman, Amena Brown, CJ Casciotta, Marie Teilhard, Molly Kate Skaggs, Kelly Archer, and others Description: “The Breath & the Clay is a creative arts gathering exploring the intersections of art, faith & culture. The weekend event features keynote speakers, performances, workshops and our curated Art Gallery juried by Ned Bustard of CIVA.” To learn more about the Breath and the Clay movement, check out its official podcast, Makers & Mystics.
“I Believe in Contemporary Art” Date: March 23, 2019 Location: Doopsgezinde Singelkerk, Amsterdam Cost: TBA Organizer:ArtWay Presenters: Adrienne Dengerink Chaplin, Alastair Gordon, and others (TBA) Description: This day-long symposium with workshops is tied to the Art Stations of the Cross exhibition in Amsterdam, which will run from Ash Wednesday through Holy Saturday (March 6–April 20). As with previous iterations of this project in London, Washington, DC, and New York, the art—this time selected by Marleen Hengelaar-Rookmaaker and Aniko Ouweneel-Tóth—is dispersed in locations throughout the city, and a free digital audio guide will be provided. More details to come.
“Sacrament & Story: Recasting Worship Through the Arts” Date: April 5, 2019 Location: Resonance at SOMA Towers, Bellevue, Washington Cost: $80 Organizer:Brehm Cascadia Presenters: Tamisha Tyler, Stephen Newby, Jeffrey Overstreet, Shannon Sigler, and more Description: “How do artists experience the world? How do creative hearts respond to the Story of God? . . . We believe that artists have a unique capacity to recast God’s Story in ways that are experiential, accessible, and enlivening. The arts can create spaces for worship that encompass a broader understanding of the nature of the Triune God—with room for joy, lament, fear, delight, and mystery. Will you join us as we explore how the arts can help us reimagine and more fully engage God’s Story in our worship and in the world?”
“Majesty: An Art & Faith Incubator” Date: April 18–21, 2019 Location: Nelson, New Zealand Cost: $360 (includes all workshops and materials) Organizer:ATELIER Studio|Gallery Description: “A new resurgence of creativity in the kingdom of God is underway – a Renaissance, if you will, highlighting again the importance and significance of the arts in the body of Christ and to the world. Many artists with a living faith in Jesus Christ have existed only on the periphery, many are isolated, and many are underground. Still, yet, there are many in art schools and in the marketplace, and there are also many rising in their God-given identities returning to the purpose of creative expression.
“The definition of what it means to be creative and a follower of Jesus is far broader than what we might encounter during a Sunday service, it is far more powerful than what the term ‘Christian art’ could ever signify, and far more necessary than what many forms of Christian expression would give credence to. . . .
“MAJESTY calls artists of faith together, to engage in a greater devotion to the One, to release a greater purpose through their making, and to reveal a greater promise – the heart of God. . . . [At this gathering,] visual art-making workshops, times of worship, new ideas and discussion, prophetic input, and plenty of ‘making time’ all flow together to release a new fire in the creative soul.”
“Your Imagination Redeemed” Date: April 26–27, 2019 Location: The Pinery at the Hill, Colorado Springs, Colorado Cost: $225 Organizer:Anselm Society Presenters: Hans Boersma, John Skillen, Junius Johnson Description: “For nearly two thousand years, the church held that the good, the true, and the beautiful were inseparable. But somewhere along the line, they got fragmented. And the result has been a disenchanted Christianity; a slew of inadequate books, music, and movies; and generations of Christians missing out on the redeemed imagination. The disenchanted, the lost, and the Church itself need a renaissance of the Christian imagination. . . . We will explore the redeemed imagination, meet the sacred on its own terms, and carry its light back into our lives, creative arts, and congregations.”
Here are some recently published articles on religious art that I enjoyed, and I hope you do too:
“Shouldering the ‘Yoke of Love’: The Shared Passion of Simon and Jesus in Stone and Verse” by Victoria Emily Jones, Literary Life: Like Jonathan Stockland, I remember visiting Nicholas Mynheer’s home and seeing his Simon and Jesus sculpture and being moved by it. Stockland wrote a poem in response to his encounter, one that fits nicely within the tradition of ekphrastic poetry (poems about a visual work of art). Jump on over to LiteraryLife.org to read my reflection on it, from Sunday. As I was writing this essay, lines like “borders of despair” and “tents of desperation” rang out especially loudly, reminding me of the cross being borne by Latin American immigrants seeking entry into the United States, many of them fleeing violence in their home countries.
“Theology, Arts, and Culture Series: An Interview with Penny Warden” (+ Part 2), Transpositions: The British artist Penny Warden is best known for her fifteen Stations of the Cross paintings at Blackburn Cathedral. In this excellent two-part interview, she answers questions such as: What does “Christian art” mean in today’s culture? Is there a place for the didactic in religious art? What contemporary artists are making compelling art of theological relevance? Warden also discusses the challenges and advantages of making permanent art for a worship space, how theology informs her practice, the role of tradition versus innovation, and more.
“Creating Sacred Space through Art and Light: The Vision of the Calvary Chapel Sacred Art Renovation”: Aesthetic renovations are underway at Biola University’s chapel in Southern California. Not only are significant changes in flooring, walls, seating, and lighting being made, but new permanent art installations have been commissioned by Danish artists Maja Lisa Engelhardt and Peter Brandes: Engelhardt is making an abstract, gilded Resurrection altarpiece for the west wall and a gilded bronze cross for the wooden entry doors, while Brandes is creating thirty-two hand-blown stained glass windows depicting biblical narratives. This is the first time the husband and wife have collaborated this closely on an art project.
The impetus for this revitalization was a concern that the sacred function and experience of the chapel and its interior architectural space had gradually become disassociated as a result of the increased multipurpose demands put upon the space. “The new artwork and proposed renovations seek to restore the chapel’s sacredness through creating a greater architectural and artistic balance between the interior space and the worship experience,” the Biola news article states. Click on the link to learn more or to contribute to the renovation fund.
“A Model for All Humanity: Mark Wallinger’s Ecce Homo” by Nigel Halliday, ArtWay: The marbleized plastic sculpture Ecce Homo by Mark Wallinger is one of my favorite works of contemporary religious art, and Halliday introduces it beautifully. The artist created it in 1999 to top the empty Fourth Plinth in London’s Trafalgar Square—where the plinths in the three other corners display sculptures of British royals and military commanders. Though the sculpture has since been removed (and shown elsewhere) to allow for the rotation of other new public artworks, Halliday shows how its original location is key to interpreting its meaning, which has to do with worldly power and glory versus spiritual power and glory.
Meet the animals of the medieval bestiary, a Christian compendium of real and imagined beasts, The Iris: The blog of the J. Paul Getty Trust recently ran a series of features interpreting the symbolism of various animals from medieval bestiaries. (“A bestiary is a collection of stories about animals—including land creatures, fish, birds, and serpents [some real, some fantastical]—whose properties and behaviors were interpreted as symbols for God’s divine order.”) The phoenix, for example, is a mythical bird who sets himself on fire but on the third day rises again from the ashes of his pyre—a symbol of Christ. Another common symbol of Christ cemented by bestiaries and found in much medieval Crucifixion art is the pelican, who was said to peck at her breast until it bleeds, and then the blood feeds (or, in another variation, revives from the dead) her young. To learn more about this medieval literature genre, visit http://bestiary.ca.
“Crossings: Art and Christianity Now,” February 9–May 10, 2018, Southwell Minster, Nottinghamshire, England: Featuring works in a variety of media by thirty-six contemporary artists, this major exhibition will unfold in two parts: “Crucifixion Now,” on view during Lent through March 21, and “Resurrection Now,” on view during Easter from April 1 to May 10. Each artist produced two new works, one for each phase, exploring the twin aspects of the gospel story: death and new life. Supporting events include music, lectures, workshops, and a conference on March 10, “The Spirit in Art Now.” Entry is free, and exhibition guides (with color photos and descriptions of all the artworks) are available for £5.
One outstanding work from the exhibition is a triptych by Sophie Hacker (artist previously featured here), formed from a variety of found materials, including cedarwood, Icelandic black sand, rusted metal, and metallic leafs. During Lent it will remain closed, showing a jagged cross “marked with stark wounds” against a background of soil and blood, but on Easter it will open, “giv[ing] way inside to rounded forms and lustrous colours, revealing all at once the stone rolled away, the cave filled with glory and the triumph of God in Trinity.”
“Chichester Art Pilgrimage Trail,” Chichester, West Sussex, England: A twelfth-century Norman-Gothic structure filled with medieval, Victorian, and modern art, Chichester Cathedral is a beautiful blend of old and new. I’ve come across many of its modern art treasures before in essays and books—the tapestry by John Piper, Noli me tangere by Graham Sutherland, the Icon of the Divine Light altarpiece by Cecil Collins, and Marc Chagall’s Psalm 150 window. All these artists, commissioned by Walter Hussey (one of the twentieth century’s biggest champions of religious art), were giants in the field.
These pieces and more are the subjects of an audio tour released this Lent on the Alight app. (If geography prevents you from walking the trail in person, travel it from your armchair, like me!) Starting at one of the three old Roman gates to the walled city, the trail runs via the “market cross” to the cathedral, with thirteen stops inside. Besides those listed above, they are the rare Anglo-Saxon Lazarus reliefs, the Arundel Tomb, the Lambert Barnard panels, the nineteenth-century south transept window, a St. Richard icon, The Baptism of Christ by Hans Feibusch, the Anglo-German Tapestry by Ursula Benker-Schirmer, The Refugee by Diana Brandenburger, and Five Wounds by Michael Clark. The latter two, pictured below, are new to me; in addition to learning more about them through the Alight commentary, you can also read a discussion group report (a debrief of visitor reactions) on the Bishop Otter Scholar’s blog.
Clark’s piece comprises five tiny canvases built up with layers of jewel-like glaze and set into the cathedral’s walls—two at the west end (representing Christ’s foot wounds), one in each transept (hand wounds)—and high altar (side wound). The Rev. Canon Dr. Anthony Cane, chancellor at the cathedral, says,
When I see Michael Clark’s Wounds of Christ, they remind me that the imposing cathedral building would not exist without the particular flesh and blood of a human life, a life visibly marked by suffering. The five wounds are mapped onto the cruciform shape of the architecture, so that the very space I walk through becomes the body of Christ. Most artworks are looked at; this one is lived within.
“Stations of the Cross” in New York City, February 14–April 1, 2018: After success with the “public art pilgrimage” model they used in London in Lent 2016 and then later in Washington, DC, Aaron Rosen and a team of other Christian theologians and art writers decided to organize a contemplative journey across Manhattan. Weaving through religious as well as secular spaces, from The Cloisters museum to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine to the 9/11 Memorial, this trail aims to raise awareness of those in need of refuge through art. The same app that hosts the Chichester Art Pilgrimage also hosts this Stations tour, providing easy navigation through the city and audio commentary on each artwork. Participating artists come from different faith backgrounds, and programmed events include concerts, artist talks, panel discussions with local refugee organizations, and interfaith scripture readings related to hospitality and care for the stranger. The next event is Monday, February 26, at 7 p.m.: a free performance of Marcel Dupré’s Stations of the Cross organ suite at St. James’s Church.
I found Nicola Green’s Sacrifice/Embrace silkscreen print, on view as station 7 at the Church of St. Paul the Apostle, particularly engaging. Read or listen to Fr. Frank Sabatté’s reflection on the work on the Art 2018 page.
“Through Light,”February 23–April 8, 2018, Patmos Art Center, Community of Jesus, Orleans, Massachusetts: In this two-person show of abstract sacred art, Italian Catholic artist Filippo Rossi and American Protestant artist Susan Kanaga, CJ, explore imagery of light. I’ve been to the ecumenical monastery on Cape Cod where this exhibition is being held and had the privilege of seeing both artists’ work there on the grounds. I don’t usually take to nonrepresentational paintings, but theirs drew me in richly. If you attend the exhibition, be sure to spend some time nearby inside the beautiful Church of the Transfiguration and Priory Books and Gifts. (Paraclete Press, whose catalog is full of books on the visual and literary arts and choral music recordings, is the publishing arm of the Community of Jesus.)
INSTALLATION: Doubt by Susie MacMurray,February 14–March 30, 2018, Southwark Cathedral, London: For the seventh year in a row, Southwark Cathedral has commissioned a contemporary art installation during the season of Lent. This year Susie MacMurray has created a large nest of black plastic netting suspended from the ceiling above the high altar, evoking a dark cloud; it’s called Doubt. The Very Rev. Andrew Nunn, dean of Southwark, says,
Popular imagination might expect faith to be lived out in bright clear sunshine, but from that moment when Moses climbed the holy mountain, shrouded in cloud, and experienced the presence of God, [darkness] has been a familiar experience and theme. . . . And as Jesus died on the cross the clouds brought night into day and the onlookers were plunged into darkness.
An embodiment of the difficulties of faith, the cloud is nevertheless made of open mesh that allows some light to pass through. As sub dean Michael Rawson points out, “As you look at the cloud, above is a representation of Jesus in the stained-glass window, so Jesus is shining through that cloud of doubt.”
I like the concept but am unsure how I feel about its dominant placement in the sanctuary. I’ve only seen photos, but its presence seems oppressive, like it could impinge on worship. I’d be interested to hear how parishioners have responded.
To see more of MacMurray’s site-specific installations, click here.
INSTALLATION: De profundis by Miguel Rothschild, St. Matthew’s Church, Berlin: Over eight meters long and suspended by 1,500 strands of fishing wire, the fabric installation De profundis by multimedia artist Miguel Rothschild mimics the texture of an ocean surface. Its title is the Latin incipit for Psalm 130, translated as “Out of the depths” (it’s a traditional Lenten practice to pray the penitential psalms):
Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD!
O LORD, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my pleas for mercy!
If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities,
O LORD, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
that you may be feared.
I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the LORD
more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning.
O Israel, hope in the LORD!
For with the LORD there is steadfast love,
and with him is plentiful redemption.
And he will redeem Israel
from all his iniquities.
Recalling the medieval German liturgical use of what’s known as a hungertuch (read more here), the fabric will cover the high altar until Easter. Water has many associations in the Bible, both positive and negative. Sometimes it signifies judgment, as in the story of Noah, or turbulent suffering, as in Psalm 42:7 (“Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls; all your breakers and your waves have gone over me.”). But God’s praiseworthy righteousness is also referred to as a “mighty flood” that crashes into our moral deserts (Amos 5:24), and the psalmist proclaims, “With you is the fountain of life” (Psalm 36:9). Rothschild’s installation, which looks like a rushing stream inundating the sanctuary, is a strong and multivalent visual—and I imagine it’s all the more so for those who live with it for weeks as worshipers in that space.
Originating in the thirteenth century, the Stations of the Cross is a Christian devotional practice whereby participants immerse themselves in the story of Jesus Christ’s final sufferings by metaphorically journeying with him from his trial to his entombment. The road between is known as the Via Dolorosa (“Way of Sorrows”) or Via Crucis (“Way of the Cross”).
In this eighteen-stop tour we will walk this road with Jesus, recognizing along the way the many other paths of sorrow that were traveled in America’s history and that are still being traveled today. Migrant workers, soldiers, prisoners, victims of racial discrimination and violence, the poor and the homeless, the grieving, and the mentally ill are among the many people we will meet through these paintings, sculptures, and mixed-media works that bear witness to human suffering.
The American novelist and social critic James Baldwin said of Beauford Delaney, one of the artists on our tour, “The reality of his seeing caused me to begin to see.” That is my hope: that as we encounter these visual narratives of suffering from our nation’s past and present, we will begin to see. This tour obviously doesn’t cover all the oppressed groups in the US, but this is a starting point for further conversation, discovery, intercessory prayer, confession, and action.
My other hope is that we will be led to a deeper engagement with the biblical narrative—with Jesus’s way of sorrows and why he walked it, what it achieved.
Jesus began his public ministry by reading these words from an Isaiah scroll at his local synagogue at Nazareth:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
Then, as Luke 4:20–21 tells us, “he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, ‘Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’” This was a very bold move: here, he is claiming to be the messianic servant of the Lord prophesied about in Isaiah 61, who would bring spiritual and, ultimately, material salvation to the world. But the cost of this salvation, the Hebrew prophet tells us, is suffering; the messianic servant must suffer and die. “He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).
Below you will find eighteen audio tracks of art commentary available for free streaming or download, as well as transcripts and artwork locations. If you are taking this tour virtually, you can click on any of the featured images to jump to that object’s museum page, where you can zoom in on details.
Mark Dean’s videos are not literal depictions of the Stations of the Cross, the journey Jesus walked on the day of his crucifixion. Instead, Dean appropriated a few frames of iconic film footage together with extracts of popular music and then slowed down, reversed, looped or otherwise altered these so that the images he selected were amplified through their repetition. As an example, in the first Stations of the Cross video, a clip of Julie Andrews as the novice Maria from the opening scenes of The Sound of Music was layered over an extract, from the Alfred Hitchcock film Psycho, of a car arriving at Bates Motel where Marion Crane would be murdered by Norman Bates. The blue of the sky and the innocence suggested by Maria’s religious vocation was in contrast with the footage from Psycho, which was indicative of the violent death to which Jesus was condemned. [Read more of the review, plus an interview with the artist, here.]
“Featured Artist: Nicholas Mynheer” by Victoria Emily Jones: This month I wrote a profile on British artist Nicholas Mynheer for Transpositions, the official blog of the Institute for Theology, Imagination, and the Arts at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. (There’s a glitch with their publishing tool that is preventing all the artworks from displaying, but all the ones I discuss in the article can be found at www.mynheer-art.co.uk.) A painter, sculptor, and glass designer, Nick works almost exclusively on religious subjects, in a style that blends influences from medieval, primitive, and expressionist art. I met him in 2013 and got to see his studio and his work in situ in various Oxford churches. His love of God and place was obvious from my spending just one afternoon with him. Other articles I’ve written are on Nick’s Wilcote Altarpiece, Islip Screen, and 1991 Crucifixion painting (which I own).
Season 14 of So You Think You Can Dancepremiered last Monday (the only TV show I never miss!). Watching dancers draws me into a deeper awe of God, as I see all the creative potentialities of the human body he designed. Here are my two favorite auditions from episode 1. The first is husband-wife duo Kristina Androsenko and Vasily Anokhin performing ballroom. The second is a modern dance number performed by Russian twins Anastasiia and Viktoriia; they gave no comment on the dance’s motivation or meaning, but it’s clear that it represents trauma of some kind.
“Why we need Mary Oliver’s poems” by Debra Dean Murphy: “Oliver is a mystic of the natural world, not a theologian of the church. . . . Her theological orientation is not that of orthodox Christianity. Nevertheless, Christians have much to gain from reading Oliver . . .” Her poems are “occasions for transfiguring the imagination and a summons to wonder and delight”; they remind us “of what it means to attend to what is before us in any given moment,” teach us to adopt “a posture of receptivity that Christians sometimes speak of as part of our vocation—the calling to live more fully into our humanity as persons bearing the imago dei, to mirror the divine dance of mutual presence, mutual receptivity, mutual love.” Some of my favorite Oliver poems are “Praying,”“I Wake Close to Morning,”“Messenger,”“The Summer Day,” and “How the Grass and the Flowers Came to Exist, a God-Tale.”
NEW SONG: “Weep with Me” by Rend Collective: Written last month in response to the Manchester Arena bombing, “Weep with Me” is a contemporary lament psalm in which the speaker asks God to do what the title says: weep with him. To feel his pain and respond. It’s introduced and performed acoustically by band member Chris Llewellyn in the video below.
Can worship and suffering co-exist? Can pain and praise inhabit the same space? Can we sing that God is good when life is not? When there are more questions than answers? The Bible says a resounding yes: these songs are called laments and they make up a massive portion of the Psalms.
We felt it was fitting to let you hear this lament we’ve written today as we prepare to play tonight in Manchester. We can’t make the pain go away. We refuse to provide cheap, shallow answers. But hopefully this song can give us some vocabulary to bring our raw, open wounds before the wounded healer, who weeps with us in our distress. We pray that we can begin to raise a costly, honest and broken hallelujah. That is what it means to worship in Spirit and in Truth.
The Swiss artist Albert Chavaz (1907–1990) is best known for his paintings, but he also worked in mosaic, ceramics, engraving, and stained glass. In 1963 the parish of Vercorin, a small village in the Swiss Alps, tore down the nave of its twelfth-century Saint Boniface Church, leaving the bell tower and chancel intact. Beside this site they built a new church, commissioning Chavaz to design and make a set of stained glass windows on the Stations of the Cross.
These windows were installed in 1965, a total length of about forty feet, running in a horizontal band above the entryway. They tell the story of Christ’s journey using large swaths of vibrant color to make up the figures, set against a ground of mainly grays and blues. For the last station, Chavaz chose to replace the traditional Burial of Christ with the Resurrection.
As you may have noticed, I’ve had to ease up lately on my self-imposed one-post-a-week rule to accommodate other projects. For February and March, I’ve been teaching an adult Sunday school course at my church called “Art and the Church: Seeing the Sacred in Global Christian Art”; I have a really great group of people exploring the topic with me, and I’ve enjoyed seeing which images they respond to most. I’ve also been invited by three separate entities to produce content on their platforms this spring: by a missions organization, to curate an online gallery of Passion art; by a divinity school, to write a post for its blog; and by a Christian ministry at Brown University, to deliver a talk to undergraduates. Moreover, I just returned from a trip to California, where I attended a Biola University–sponsored art symposium called “Art in a Postsecular Age”; I got to meet Matthew Milliner and Jonathan Anderson and hear from a panel of other distinguished speakers.
So, while I had every intention of getting this list out last week to coincide with the start of Lent, slide preparations, permissions e-mails, and travels have claimed my focus. I regret that all this revving up has come during a season dedicated to slowing down. Please forgive the slackness, but I’ve decided to practice the “holy pause” for the next forty days (through Easter Sunday). To fast from my obsession with productivity. I will still honor my obligation to those who have commissioned me for specific tasks, but I will be lightening up on the frequency of blog posts. In lieu of Lent-related Art & Theology content, I lift up the following supports for your journey.
Online devotional with visual art and music: Each Lenten season since 2012, Kevin Greene, an associate pastor at West End Presbyterian Church in Richmond, Virginia, has published an online devotional that comprises for each day an art image, a short scripture reading, a prayer, and a music file. I absolutely love this model, with its spare style: because the entries are light on text, they invite silence, contemplation, seeing, listening. Greene’s image selection is stellar. He doesn’t go for the obvious choices but rather aims at something more atmospheric, more slant. Among the painted subjects, for example, you’ll find a stairway, a storm, a dancer, a reaper; day 1, Ash Wednesday, was a sailboat on troubled waters (pictured below). Fine-art viewing isn’t something that’s typically a part of Protestant devotional practice, so in response to questions he’s received, Greene has described how art operates on the imagination and the spirit. I’ve been greatly blessed moving through the first week of Lent with this companion, and I can’t wait to dive into the backlist entries later on. You can sign up via e-mail in the left sidebar, or simply bookmark the website and visit it each morning.
Lent Photo Challenge: The UK-based Bible Society invites people to take one photo per day throughout the season based on rotating themes (e.g., wilderness, hospitality, ask), then share them on social media using the hashtag #LentChallenge. Today is the sixth day of Lent (Sundays are excluded from the traditional forty-day count), and the assigned theme is “fear.”
Essays, short stories, poems, art: Founded in 1989, Image journal seeks “to demonstrate the continued vitality and diversity of contemporary art and literature that engage with the religious traditions of Western culture.” This Lent they’ve curated a selection of literary essays, short stories, poems, and art images from their back issues and their blog, Good Letters, that relate to the season, as well as to Easter. I especially enjoyed “Jeffrey Mongrain: An Iconography of Eloquence.” A few selections might be accessible only to subscribers (you can subscribe here; you won’t be disappointed!). Also available: the book God For Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Lent and Easter, a full-color devotional with contributions by some of Image’s favorites. Lent is not about becoming lost in our brokenness, the description says, but about cleansing the palate so that we can taste life more fully.
“Lent Is Here to Throw Us Off Again: Finding healing in repetition, community, and art” by W. David O. Taylor: An excellent introduction to Lent, addressing unselfing, dying a good death, opening up vacant space, and praying with the eyes. This Christianity Today article is adapted from the foreword Taylor wrote for artist James B. Janknegt’s new book, Lenten Meditations, which features forty of Janknegt’s paintings on the parables of Jesus, along with written reflections. Artists like Janknegt, Taylor writes, “fix before us an image of a world broken by our own doing, but not abandoned by God. They question our habits of sight. They arrest our attention. See this image. See it for the first time, again. See what has become hidden and distorted. See the neglected things. See the small but good things. It is in this way that artists can rescue us from what the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge calls the ‘film of familiarity’ and the ‘lethargy of custom.’”
Stations of the Cross in Washington, DC: This Lent, Dr. Aaron Rosen and the Rev. Dr. Catriona Laing of the Church of the Epiphany have organized a combination pilgrimage and art exhibition, featuring works located throughout Washington, DC, in places both sacred and secular. Mostly contemporary, some newly commissioned, the works include George Segal’s Depression Bread Line, the Vietnam Women’s Memorial by Glenna Goodacre, Barnett Newman’s Stations cycle at the National Gallery of Art, a video installation at First Congregational United Church of Christ by Leni Diner Dothan, and more. Participants can follow the stations by downloading the app “Alight: Art and the Sacred,” which offers maps and audio commentary (my friend Peggy Parker is a contributor!). (If you don’t have a smartphone, you can view the maps and listen to the commentary through a browser by following the primary link above.) Also check out the accompanying devotional guide.
Lent by The Brilliance: This 2012 EP by The Brilliance, a duo comprising David Gungor and John Arndt, has seven tracks: “Dust We Are,”“Now and at the Hour of Our Death” (the rerelease on Brother removes the invocation to Mary), “Dayspring of Life,”“Does Your Heart Break?,” “Holy Communion,” “Violent Loving God,” and “Have You Forsaken Me?” Each one is a beautiful prayer, the words organized around a string quartet. Some take the shape of praise, others lament. God is supplicated for peace, mercy, light. The first track well captures the spirit of Lent: “Be still my soul and let it go, just let it go.” Click here to read a 2015 Hallels interview with The Brilliance, or here to listen to a podcast interview by David Santistevan.