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Adam’s trust betrayed?

15 November 2013

Katy Hounsell-Robert visits a theological ecological exhibition

Memorial to the whales: Whale's Eye, For Those
in Peril on the Sea by Roger Stephen

Memorial to the whales: Whale's Eye, For Those
in Peril on the Sea by Roger Stephen

"STEWARDS of the Earth", the theme of this year's Sarum College exhibition in Salisbury, has understandably inspired a wide variety of thinking and artistic treatment in sculpture, installation, painting, and photography. As with previous exhibitions, the works, accompanied by a free catalogue, are placed in various communal areas of the college, including the front garden.

Some themes show how in past times we worked more closely with nature, and how we still can; others show how self-aggrandisement and greed has led to the destruction and imbalance of the natural world, but also how amazing and beautiful creation is from its beginning.

Chris Drury has been weaving nature and culture together over many years, travelling the world to create pure and beautiful art-forms from natural resources. His striking ink-jet print The Carbon Sinkis constructed from beetle-killed pine logs and coal, portraying how when the coal was burnt locally it killed off the pine beetle who would have devastated the pine forests; but when the coal was exported elsewhere for profit, the beetles thrived at the expense of the forests.

The original was installed at the University of Wyoming, and caused enormous controversy, as the University receives funding from the energy industry.

Laurence Dube-Rushby is also passionate about art arising from the environment, and guides community groups of all ages to create art from the land around them. For A Thousand Sheep, they collected, washed and spun the fleeces of 1000 sheep, using the locally grown red madder plant, which was once used for the army's red coats, to dye the wool. She says that farming the land and the sacrifice of life to defend it is part of our life. For practical reasons, the huge installation is shown in a dramatic photograph, but it has been on tour and will shortly go on tour again.

Asking whether we are doing the right thing for the earth is Ben Crayshaw's three large oil-on-canvas paintings hung on the far wall of the restaurant. Gleeman is a series of small black waves over partly obscured human and animal shapes. "In the Middle Ages," he says, "Gleemen were jugglers and performers in village squares, but were also accused of base morals and witchcraft. Perhaps we are juggling unwisely with the earth's resources." Next to it, however, is Amor Fati, showing a boat on the high seas, which suggests that everything that happens in life, including loss or suffering, is good.

In the same pattern of thought, Tracy Sheppard has engraved a lead crystal platter In Whose Hand (". . . is the soul of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind", Job 22.10), partly as a question. The hand in the middle of the platter transforms into a dandelion clock, and the seeds are dispersing, suggesting time is running out. But it can also be interpreted so that the hand is cradling creation and keeping it safe. Sheppard has worked as a glass engraver for many years and always brings a subtle but penetrating message to her work.

A sad, gentle sculpture is the Whale's Eye by the stone sculptor Roger Stephens. A small, unblinking eye and shape of a whale head are carved in a block of polished Cornish Polyphant soapstone, as a memorial to the whales that have been killed for commercial profit.

Benita Kevill Davies recalls the Bronze Age in her oil-on-canvas Barrow. She says that "Their builders expressed in them a profound sense of connection with their surroundings, their smooth roundnesses encapsulating the forms of the downland on which they stand."

Going back even further, she imagines in Genesis 1, 2 and 3 how earth was without form, while two paintings both titled And the Trees of the Field Shall Know I am the Lordlink respect for nature with the need for God's justice.

Using modern techniques of digital photography to explore spiritual meaning, Sheona Beaumont incorporates aerial and landscape photographs in 6 Days of Uncreation to create six colourful photographic prints showing the beauty, variety, and instability of the planet, inspired by the opening chapters of Genesis. This was part of her thesis on biblical themes in contemporary photography for her Ph.D., and the essay on her website is also well worth a read.

Another young photographer was George Smith, who combined his love of plants, gardening, and photography to portray Order out of Chaos, The Absence of Darkness, and The Colour of Light in three colourful pieces. Sadly, he died a year ago, at the age of 17, before he could develop his gifts further.

Sophie Hacker's unusual cross in a focal position on the staircase is made from the Cedar of Lebanon tree that fell in Salisbury Cathedral Close a decade ago, and was used by the cathedral stonemasons as a cutting-wheel chuck. The incisions and gouges were made as a result of preliminary shaping of stone used on the cathedral. She has used pigments and ground gold, silver, copper, and lead softly to enhance its shape.

An artist who abhors computers and machinery to design and carve memorials and epitaphs is Robyn Golden-Hann, who has contributed two small carved blocks glorifying creation in a very simple and beautiful way, placed by the restaurant door. Tim Harrisson, who sculpts exterior pieces that blend with the natural environment of landscape, parks, or gardens, finds that the almost ideal position for his two The Recumbent Stones is the college's front lawn rather than anywhere inside the building. "For me," he says, "an experience of landscape is about seeing what I call the root - that is, the landscape stripped bare with its essential physical qualities of structure and material revealed."

This is the fourth and last ex-hibition of artists responding to a biblical brief to be organised at Sarum College by the Revd Maggie Guillebaud. The previous titles were "The Word", "The Art of Healing", and "Through a Glass Darkly". As the college firmly believes in the arts as a means of exploring and expressing religious truths, there will be further programmes in the future. 

The exhibition runs at Sarum College, 19 The Close, Salisbury, until 6 December.

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