St James’s Piccadilly has hosted two striking and disruptive art installations in recent months. Below we hear from the artists concerned.
Her floe-fall lament by Sara Mark
At Advent, close to the culmination of the Paris Climate Change Summit (COP21), Sara Mark’s ice melt sculpture was placed at the entrance to the sanctuary at St James’s Piccadilly, preventing people from walking down the central isle. The sound of the sculpture was audible throughout the morning service. See the video at www.sjp.org.uk/ice-melt-2015.html.
Her Floe-fall Lament (COP21) – Sara Mark, 2016. Frozen water, steel, wood-ash. Duration 20 hours. Size approx. 200 x 200 cms. Photo credit. Sara Mark, 2016.
Sara comments: “Her floe-fall lament (COP21) was made by freezing 66 litres of water into an oil drum. I placed it in the central aisle of the church to cause maximum disruption to the usual events on Sunday and the constant amplified sound of the melt-water pouring into the oil barrel beneath was an insistent reminder of something happening in real-time elsewhere in the World.
My first ice-melt piece was made in 2006, after attending a Climate Change seminar for artists at the RSA. I was so shocked by what I saw and heard, I wondered how I could make work about anything else. Since then I have used ice as a symbol for issues that need time to transform and resolve. The outcome is inevitable. The ice melts drop by drop, but with it come release, warmth and a certain stillness after perhaps several days of thaw and agitation.”
About her work as Place Maker and Artist, Sara writes: “My art practice is deeply embedded in Place. I explore the relationship between the ‘site-specific’ and the ‘Universal’, by means of installations, poetry and performance. I am interested in whether inanimate objects and space can be imbued with ‘presence’ by time, ritual and the self-transforming languages of materials. The outcomes are objects, installations, video and performance.”
In our next newsletter we will bring news of the Watching Loft Residency which Sara has completed at All Saints, West Dulwich. Sara’s website is at www.saramark.uk.
Flight by Arabella Dorman
From just before Christmas 2015 to 9th February this year, visitors entering the church were immediately confronted with a 30’ inflatable dinghy dominating the nave. Tilted towards the altar, as though in danger of imminent capsize, it was illuminated with rippling light. Two adult life jackets, and one child’s, were suspended from it. Both ugly and strangely beautiful, it cast a shadow both literal and symbolic on carol services, concerts and everything else that took place in the church during this period.
The public reaction was generally sympathetic, though inevitably there was some hostility: why ‘spoil’ sacred space with politics and current events? The artist, Arabella Dorman, explains what led her to bring a boat built for 15, but which was carrying 62 men, women and children when rescued by the Greek coastguard in November, from Lesbos to Central London.
“I travelled to Lesbos as a war artist in 2015, having spent the past decade exploring the human face of conflict and its consequences in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nowhere however, have I been so overwhelmed by the tragedy of war than by the human drama unfolding on the beaches of Lesbos. What I saw was timeless, biblical, it was humanity laid bare. Flight was my response.
In hanging the installation above the nave of St James’s, I was picking up on the tradition of hanging boats from church ceilings, linking the Latin word NAVIS (‘ship’) to ‘nave’, which symbolises the Church as the collective boat in which we find refuge.
The three lifejackets evoked the flight of the Holy Family to Egypt and ask the viewer to engage with the subject on both a metaphysical and physical level. The setting of the boat invites the viewer to embark upon their own spiritual journey, while a suspended interplay of light, form and shadows above the nave reflects the uncertain, rootless and volatile experience of life as a refugee.
My interest lies in the men, women and children behind the headlines, the individual stories behind the politics. I attempt to illuminate and to reveal the human face of conflict, and to find light in the darkest corners of existence.
Flight is as much about light as it is about the darkness from which it emerges. It is about exile and desperation, but it is also about courage, faith and hope. It asks us to consider the hope that a life can be rebuilt in another land, and to seek the light within ourselves that will validate that hope, the light that will not allow us to turn our backs in prejudice and fear on the plight of thousands.
I know that art cannot change the world, but I hope that those who stood in the nave of St James’s felt something of the cry of anguish that I felt standing on the coast of Lesbos. Flight is that cry. It is a plea that such suffering cannot go on. It is a call to resistance against the horrors of war and the greed of the traffickers. It is an act of empathy and solidarity as we reach out to our fellow humans. And it is a tribute to those hopeful, terrified souls who now lie in watery graves at the bottom of the Mediterranean.
At a time when the darkness seems to grow closer, with a deepening of complexities, apprehensions and divisions between East & West, my work is about the urgent need for empathy, understanding & respect for our fellow human beings in plight.”
Amongst the comments made by passers by:
“I saw the boat through the door, and just had to come in.”
“It’s a brave thing to do in a church.”
This article, Flight, first appeared in 197 Piccadilly, Church Without Walls, a magazine produced by St James’s Piccadilly – Spring 2016.
Arabella Dorman is a portrait painter and war artist, whose work hangs in public institutions and private collections around the world. Arabella’s recent installation, Flight, at St James’s Piccadilly received global critical acclaim, while her last exhibition, Before the Dawn, raised over £30,000 for charities Afghanaid and Walking with the Wounded.
Arabella’s website is at www.arabelladorman.com.