Saturday saw the last in the series of discussion groups reflecting on art in Chichester Cathedral. We looked at two of the more recent works in the Cathedral: Michael Clark’s ‘Five Wounds‘ (1994) and Diana Brandenburger’s ‘The Refugee‘ (exh. 2008).
Clark’s ‘Five Wounds’ is a very unusual piece, which consists of five tiny panels, each depicting a wound, inserted into the walls of the Cathedral, representing the wounds of Christ: one either side of the West doors (representing the nail wounds in Christ’s feet), one in each of the North and South transepts (the nail in each hand), and one at the high altar (the side wound).
This work is sometimes referred to as the first conceptual work of art in an English Cathedral, because its power lies (at least) as much in the concept behind the tiny panels as in the panels themselves as literal depictions of wounds. What Clark’s work does is transform the Cathedral into the wounded body of Christ — or perhaps, better, emphasises such a view of the building, and those who worship in and visit it, for the church as the body of Christ is an idea from St Paul. The whole Cathedral becomes Clark’s artwork, and the panels are literally embedded into the walls of the building, making them of the Cathedral, unlike the other works which we have looked at, which could in theory be (re)moved.
Looking at the panels in situ, it was notable that several other visitors’ (and one Cathedral volunteer’s!) interest was piqued by a group of people staring intently at what at a passing glance might be mistaken for imperfections in the walls of the building. This sparked one of our lines of conversation, with one participant highlighting how daily life is full of distractions, and often we overlook what is most important. In a related vein, another participant felt that the work is quite a challenging one for the church, calling for us to focus on the wounded Christ, rather than on pomp and hierarchies.
From the suffering of Christ, we moved on to consider the suffering of Diana Brandenburger’s ‘The Refugee’ – a powerful sculpture which resonates with the current migrant crisis. Brandenburger worked with victims of torture and persecution, and a number of participants felt that this experience seems to resonate in her work.
One of our conversations around this piece was concerned with the gender of the figure: one participant had previously seen it as a woman wearing a shawl but had realised that the figure is actually wearing what seems to be a man’s jacket over its head. However, some participants felt that the gender remains ambiguous, making it a more universal figure. It was also noted that a refugee may not be wearing his or her own clothes, but whatever he or she can get hold of. Another participant observed that the jacket looks like a suit jacket – the kind of thing a businessperson might wear, and a reminder of the normal life this person led before his or her current plight.
I hope to be able to share more detail from this and previous group discussions in a suitable format in due course. In the meantime, thank you again to all the participants throughout the series. I have really enjoyed the sessions, and they have really enriched my understanding of the art in the Cathedral.