On Saturday, 9th April, I led an event at the Bishop’s Palace and Chichester Cathedral as part of Slow Art Day. Slow Art Day is an international event – or rather, series of events – which happens every year in early April; individual hosts set up events which ask participants to look at art slowly. Participants look at five works of art for ten minutes each, then discuss the experience afterwards.
The idea behind the initiative is to encourage visitors to galleries and other venues to experience spending longer looking at a small number of works of art, rather than trying to look at every work in a venue and barely seeing them.
We looked at four works in the Cathedral: Cecil Collins’ Icon of the Divine Light (1973), the Chagall Window (1978), the Piper Tapestry (1966), and Paul Benney’s temporary installation, Speaking in Tongues (2014). The fifth work was Hans Feibusch’s mural of the Ascension (1953) in the Bishop’s Chapel (where some people also spent time looking at the Chichester Roundel, c.1250, depicting the Madonna and Child).
This selection of works was largely made for practical reasons – they are all large enough, and have enough space (and where possible, seating) around them to be viewed by a group. I would have liked to have been able to include more of a variety of works in terms of historical period, but there was still plenty of variables in terms of the mediums of the works (painting, stained glass, tapestry) and the subject-matter (some relating to biblical narratives, others more symbolic).
In my regular discussion group, I usually say a bit about the works whilst we are looking at them, and we tend to then have some discussion in situ. Here, I did not introduce the works, and asked participants to view quietly. I did give participants a sheet with some information about each work and some questions to think about whilst looking.
The event generated some debate among participants over opinions on specific works of art — Cecil Collins’ Icon of Divine Light and Paul Benney’s Speaking in Tongues installation in particular divided opinion. I was pleased that the experience drew out such personal reactions.
Although the Slow Art Day initiative is secular in origin and I billed it as an art event, rather than a religious one, it translated well into a sacred space, and some of the participants said that they found it a spiritual experience. I’m thinking about experimenting further with this format, and perhaps trying an even slower viewing experience (people said that ten minutes went quickly).
You can read some other snippets about the event in the tweets below. You can also find more from other Slow Art Day events via the hashtag #SlowArtDay2016.
Thank you to all the participants who made Slow Art Day in at the Palace and Cathedral such a rich experience.