Category Archives: Reviews

Books we have read and recommend; exhibitions, films …

Review: The Methodist Art Collection comes to town.

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When we were first married we worshipped in a village Methodist Church near Margate; an austere little chapel it was, whitewashed walls and uncomfortable benches. Thank God we did not have to sit under hour long nineteenth century non-conformist sermons, but were fed with wise words from Fr Martin Symonds, of Ramsgate Abbey.

That was more than a few years ago, but the austere image of Methodism is fixed in my mind, which expects churches to be bathed in coloured light from stained glass windows and peopled by statues of the saints who have gone before us.

Not all windows or statues in English Catholic churches would merit inclusion in a travelling art exhibition.

The Methodist Church has built up a collection of modern art, largely looking at Jesus, in one way or another. You can view the works here: http://www.methodist.org.uk/prayer-and-worship/mmac/index . The website will lead you to videos and other resources around these images.

Instead of hanging on church walls, the collection is sent out to proclaim the Good News in its own way; through exhibitions around the UK and in the future to Dublin, Rome and beyond. Until Saint George’s Day 2017 it is in Canterbury’s Beaney Museum.

Not all the images inspire me to ‘prayer and worship’, but I am hard-wired to David Jones, represented here by a delicate woodblock of The Three Kings, passing a David Jones signature passion-resurrection image: a war-blasted tree-cum-cross, sprouting new growth. The Magi approach a starlit Bethlehem amid Welsh hills that bring to mind a woman’s torso and raised knees at the moment of childbirth: the star’s rays beam down like a searchlight upon the haven where the Child lies, under the hill within his Mother’s womb.

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Next to Jones’s tiny, monochrome image hangs The Dalit Madonna, a big, bright work by Jyoti Sahi. While this glorious work picks up themes from Eastern and Western European tradition, such as the sun and moon in the sky, and the Babe blessing from the womb, the artist integrates these with his own Indian culture. The sun is represented by a marigold; the moon by a crescent, including Hinduism and Islam in this birth. Then the Infant is seated within an oval reminiscent of the traditional mandala of Eastern icons, yet despite his foetal position and naturalistic drawing, he is clearly blessing the viewer; he is strong but clearly dependent on his mother, who bends her body in worship and protection, her breast ready to comfort and nurture. Many Catholic preachers would tell you that Mary, who conceived Jesus before her marriage, would have been considered an outcast; an untouchable like this Dalit mother, a radiant human being who clearly loves her son, the centre of her world and being. And how many unwed mothers were condemned by the Catholic Church in recent times?

The one Old Testament story on view here is that of Cain and Abel. We could be among Jones’s Welsh hills, or the Lake District, or even the Downs of the Isle of Wight where John Reilly lived and worked. Cain is a stocky, almost Calibanesque figure, at work within the pale he has set around his neat, well-ordered, smallholding. He pauses in his digging to stare up at his brother, a slim, radiant type of the Good Shepherd, who like Abel would be killed by his own. Suddenly that spade looks menacing: a ploughshare about to become a sword. And yet one cannot help a twinge of sympathy for one who wants his world to be under control, without any disturbing incursions from his brother’s nomadic flocks; that brother who stands nearby with eyes for the far horizon, not for him.

The Lord’s eyes, too, are on a far horizon in Christ writes in the dust – the woman taken in adultery by Clive Hicks Jenkins. In a nightmare of blues, Jesus is almost cartwheeling as, with arms outstretched as on the Cross, he looks away from the scene, away from the woman and her accusers, away from us bystanders looking on. The woman, with her Magdalenesque red hair, high heels and little black dress, is bound, as Christ soon would be, a halter around her throat.The light that glows upon her skin is reflected from Christ, apart from the tiny white triangle of her underwear, visible beneath her skirt which she cannot pull down with her hands tied behind her back. It takes a few moments to see that her accusers already have rocks in their hands, awaiting the moment when Christ’s assent to her killing is given. A moment that never comes. Would we back these men up, if we were there? Were these the men who stoned Stephen? Was Paul among them? Was this the first step on the road to Damascus?

Go and sin no more, Jesus told that woman. A good motto for the Christian life.

Even in the first two pictures reviewed here, the effects of sin creep in: the tree from Flanders, the outcast mother. We see the sin in Cain’s illusory self-sufficiency and his inherent jealousy; loud and clear in those shadowy, self-righteous stones, poised for murder. But like Jones’s three kings, each of us can follow the star, which leads us to a fleshly, humble place. The damage of our sinfulness will not prevent the Cross from being the tree of Life.

If you get the chance to see this exhibition on its travels, do spend some time with a few of the works. Others among them may speak to you louder than these four have done to me. Stop, look, listen.

MMB

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23 February: Detective Stories for a Post-Truth Age

We are told that we are living in a ‘post-truth age’. The President of the United States has his staff put out alternative facts – or lies – when the verifiable truth is uncomfortable. Climate change is a conspiracy theory. The Muslims (en masse) are out to get us. A referendum is held, lies are told, 37% of people vote to leave the EU – but the people have spoken, although those living overseas could not vote, any more than Scots living in England were able to vote in the Scottish Independence Referendum.

1968, Czechoslovakia. The half-million strong, Russian-led Warsaw pact armies invaded to put down the Prague Spring. 18 months ago we briefly remembered that event and the Velvet Revolution that followed, before 1968 was forgotten, bringing freedom to millions. Click on  Wenceslas .

1968 – 1989 was an era of post-truth in Czechoslovakia following the “Entry of the Fraternal Armies Rendering Brotherly Help to the Czechs and Slovaks”. Jews are Zionists who want to turn the clock back and have no regard for the historical role of the working class. It is a crime to leave the country: if you do so, your family will suffer. A professor may find himself swinging a pickaxe for revisionist crimes. Others might be executed as political criminals. A policeman almost imperceptibly sinks into the grey, sad world of a class warfare he has never really believed in. Crimes his team have solved go unpunished because they are committed by people with connections.

I had never read any of Josef Skvorecky’s books till I picked up The End of Lieutenant Boruvka in a charity shop. I will be seeking out more of them. The short stories flow gently on, leading us into ever greater collusion with evil, crises of conscience sliding past as dear ones are protected, blackmail is applied.

Is there redemption? It often looks bleak for Lieutenant Boruvka, who is often hemmed in, with little choice over what to do with the results of his investigations. Find this book and read it, and pray for perseverance in seeking out and telling the truth, and in forming and following your conscience.

MMB.

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10 February: From Canterbury to Dallas

From Canterbury to Dallas (event)

As I left the Crypt of Canterbury Cathedral today, I was drawn into the treasury room. Often there is one precious, ancient object to gaze upon. Today it was something old, something new.

The Church of the Incarnation in Dallas has commissioned from the Canterbury Cathedral glaziers, new windows taken from old – eight hundred years  old – windows in Canterbury. A selection is now on display including this panel of the sacrifice of Isaac, the angel risking his hand and wing to withstand the blow Abraham is about to deliver.

The new windows, made using mediaeval techniques, are vibrant and unmarked by the centuries of weather and pollution that have damaged the originals. Unlike the old monks of Canterbury, the ministers at Dallas will be able to bring every detail of the windows to the scrutiny of viewers using modern IT. The monks would have embraced IT, of course, as an aid to spreading the Good News – as Agnellus Mirror does in our own small way.

I shall return more than once before the windows are parcelled up and dispatched to Texas: they are on display here until 22 February, closing at 16.00 each day.

MMB.

 

Read and watch more at these links:

Canterbury to Dallas 1

Canterbury to Dallas 2

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8 January: Open Heart, Open Mind, I: Judging according to God.

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A reflection from Fr Andrew SDC 1869-1946. Fr Andrew was a pioneering Anglican Franciscan in the East End of London; more of his reflections will appear during the year.

Whereas the world judges people by their actions, and on the  whole is right to do so, God judges the actions by the people who do them. The world would have said of the widow, ‘She only gave two mites’; Our Lord said of the two mites, ‘They were given by a widow who had nothing else, they are worth millions.’ The world was shocked when Mary Magdalene kissed our Lord’s feet. The world said, ‘He let a woman kiss him.’ Our Lord said, ‘The kiss came from a penitent, and had more love in it than all the banquets of the rich Pharisees put together.’

Saint Luke records Jesus’ words:

All these have of their abundance cast into the offerings of God: but she of her want, hath cast in all the living that she had.  Luke 21:4

Thou gavest me no kiss; but she, since she came in, hath not ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint; but she with ointment hath anointed my feet. Wherefore I say to thee: Many sins are forgiven her, because she hath loved much. But to whom less is forgiven, he loveth less. And he said to her: Thy sins are forgiven thee.                Luke 7:45-48

Mary Magdalene Washing Christ’s Feet, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Image released for non-commercial use. 

WT

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Book Review: David Jones in the Great War, by Thomas Dilworth.

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David Jones in the Great War, by Thomas Dilworth. Enitharmon Press.

Born in South London, the artist and poet David Jones nevertheless grew up a fervent Welsh patriot, absorbing the romantic epics of Welsh history with its battles and brave warriors. Hardly surprising then, that he should volunteer in the Royal Welch Fusiliers when the Great War broke out.

Thomas Dilworth takes us through Jones’s wartime life as if inviting the reader to be a third party to a conversation between friends, and indeed the book is largely the fruit of interviews with David Jones and his friends. Like other poets and former soldiers Jones never got the Great War out of his system and he suffered depression and breakdowns in the years that followed.

He had spent the war as a private, unlike university educated poets Sassoon, Brooke and Owen, who were seen as natural officers. Jones resisted promotion, preferring the company of the Welshmen and Cockneys in the ranks. An officer once encouraged him to apply for a commission, saying, ‘You’re an educated man. Where were you educated?’ At Jones’s reply, ‘Camberwell School of Art and Craft’, he fell silent and never again would Jones be considered for promotion.

Jones was not alone in becoming aware of the iniquities of the class system through his wartime experiences. He had chance to contrast British public school officers with the French alongside, where there was greater camaraderie and an officer could encourage his troops with ‘mes enfants’. He also served in Ireland after the Easter Rising, and became acutely aware of the contrast between Britain’s defence of ‘poor little Belgium’ and the oppressing of Irish aspirations.

Above all Jones was an artist and one who took opportunities to exercise his gift while at war. At times he was detailed to draw maps of battlefields for his superiors; of those that survive, few can be clearly reproduced, but Dilworth gives us many pencil sketches of broken buildings, battlefields, equipment and men. There were months when drawing his companions became too painful, knowing he might soon lose sight of them forever. There is a sketch of a robed and stoled priest, about to distribute Communion. Dilworth links this to a moment of epiphany for Jones, when he came across a Catholic celebration of Mass in a battered barn. Seeing his Irish companions transformed at their devotions was a step towards his conversion.

Just as that experience would have been impossible to explain back home, so too the privations of mud, rats, lice, noise, explosions, shells, smells, death that remained with Jones the rest of his life.

Thomas Dilworth is a warm companion to bring us to Jones and his subsequent poetry and art. Read this book, make friends with Jones, turn to his poetry, and let it speak.

 

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4 September: Sister Johanna’s Poetry

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As I’m sure I’ve said before, surprises can be good for you. Here come seven surprises in the shape of poems from Sister Johanna OSB of Minster Abbey. What an amazing friend she is turning out to be; Enjoy!

(And no apologies for keeping you in a state of anticipation. Savour each one, one at a time!)

WT.

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Shadows of the Wanderer in Chichester.

Shadows of the Wanderer

 

NAIB has drawn our attention to this exhibition in  Chichester Cathedral’s North Transept until Monday 14th November 2016.

Ana Maria Pacheco’s outstanding and powerful installation Shadows of the Wanderer is a multi-piece figurative sculpture in polychromed wood, in which ten over life-size darkly robed figures witness the struggle of a young man to carry an older man on his shoulders.  This powerful image resonates with contemporary and topical issues of exile, migration and the displacement of people struggling to flee persecution.   Ana was inspired by Virgil’s Aeneid, where the hero Aeneas carries his lame father Anchises on his back, leading a band of refugees from the ravaged ruins of Troy.

Ana Maria Pacheco (sculptor, painter and printmaker) was born in Brazil.  Following degrees in both art and music she went on to complete a postgraduate course in music and education at the Federal University of Brazil in Rio de Janeiro.  She then taught and lectured for several years at the Pontifical Catholic University of Goiás and the Federal University of Goiás before leaving for London in 1973 on a British Council Scholarship to the Slade School of Fine Art. Since then she has lived and worked in England

Her work is deeply rooted in Latin American and European social history and culture and deals with serious narratives and enduring themes (journeys, spirituality, mythology, unchecked power) that contribute to the many layers of interpretation and meaning in her work.    It has a strong humanist message and is capable of arousing extreme emotions.

Shadows of the Wanderer

Shadows of the Wanderer

The exhibition was officially opened on Friday 15th July 2016 by David Elliott, Curator and Writer.

This exhibition has been curated by Jacquiline Creswell (Salisbury Cathedral’s Visual Arts Advisor), Pratt Contemporary and Chichester Cathedral’s Exhibitions Committee.

Chichester Cathedral: Shadows of the wanderer.shtml 

 

 

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Interruption: Third Person Singular

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I just found a passage that sums up why stories like David’s are so valuable. It comes at the end of a story told by Ali Smith, The Third Person:

The third person is another pair of eyes. The third person is a presentiment of God. The third person is a way to tell a story. The third person is a revitalisation of the dead.

It’s a theatre of living people…

It’s a box for the endless music that’s there between people, waiting to be played.

Ali Smith The First Person and Other Stories: London, Hamish Hamilton, 2008.

Endless Music, maybe waiting for you to play it. Enjoy looking through David’s – or his protagonists’ eyes! Enjoy Ali Smith’s stories – and all the others – as well; let their ‘presentiments of God’ revitalise a deadened corner of your heart.

And look out this coming week for Tom’s continuation of David’s SciFi story as those Chihuahuas return to Kent!

 WT

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Interruption! March 8th: Rat Island – Book Review.

RAT ISLAND by William Stolzenburg

Rat Island by William Stolzenburg, Bloomsbury, 2011. Review by MMB.

From the first I was sympathetic to the thesis of this book. When I read it, the squirrels in a nearby empty house had been culling unripe apricots from our tree, taking a quick nibble and throwing them away. That is a minor annoyance compared to the devastation described in Rat Island. This book charts how humankind has unwittingly damaged many species of animals and plants and driven some to extinction.

The story goes back hundreds of years and could be told across the world, but Stolzenburg concentrates on islands: those colonised by boat people around the Pacific Ocean, including New Zealand and Hawaii, and a number off the coast of North America, including the once aptly named Rat Island.

Until recently it seemed that simple human greed and ignorance had killed the forests of Easter Island, but rats were introduced to islands, sometimes for food, often accidentally. They prevented any regeneration of Easter Island forests by eating tree seeds. Elsewhere the rodents chewed through plants, insects, and brooding seabirds, upsetting the balance of nature, wiping out endemic species.

Control measures often made things worse. Weasels are as partial to eggs as the rodents they were supposed to eliminate in New Zealand, and satisfying their appetites drove the flightless, ground nesting Kakapo parrot to the very edge of extinction. Foxes, too, were all too happy to dine on nesting seabirds, literally sitting ducks.

Stolzenburg describes, in sometimes breathless prose, the faltering attempts to safeguard endangered species, and the resistance that fieldworkers and scientists faced from politicians, the public and well-meaning naturalists concerned about cruelty to rats dying from poison. He also documents the transformation when habitats were restored to the creatures that belong there. A good, informative read that puts next door’s squirrels into a global perspective. If you take Christian stewardship of creation seriously, it’s worth reading this well-researched and referenced book.

 

 

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