Yesterday evening we welcomed Nicholas Pope back to the Minster for the opening of the Baldock Pope Zahle exhibition running across the Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art and Sunderland Minster, 19 March – 18 June 2016. He is a most gracious man, living with increasing frailty with great dignity, and it has been a joy to work with him in showing Yahweh and the Seraphim, which reflects Pope’s theological focus in the light of his own mortality.
I don’t think there is any particular reason why it should be so, but the conversations I’ve had concerning the installation seem to take on a daily theme. Yesterday’s conversations revolved around how different the sculpture looks, not only against changing light, but against the changing backdrop of an altar frontal that has been purple for Lent, is now red for Holy Week, will be stripped on Maundy Thursday and bare on Good Friday, and gold and white for Eastertide. This in turn led into conversations about the foundational stories of the Christian faith and the ways in which we tell and enter-into them together, which raises questions such as:
How is our corporate life coloured by the changing seasons of the Church year, the changing acts of our story?
How might the particular emphases of the seasons highlight different aspects of our own particular personal life, enabling us to live more freely, more fully?
Reaction to the work has been varied, as might be imagined. We wouldn’t want it any other way: art needs to provoke a reaction in us, for us to explore, and taking offence is as valid as taking delight or even being unsure, so long as we own our responses. As it happens, viewers have been overwhelmingly positive so far; but even the negative views give rise to significant reflection. A very few feel it unfortunate or inappropriate to locate the work in the chancel, in front of the high altar. While I do not share that view, it is helpful to me in as much as it raises questions such as:
Is there anything in my manner of living that is incongruous for someone who asserts the lordship of Jesus?
Anything that is an affront to his self-giving, or which displaces him from his rightful place?
Is there anything of which the Holy Spirit might want to convict me, which Jesus would wish to confront?
And if so, where ought I to bring it, if not to his feet?