“THE intrinsic purity of glass captures our imaginations,” wrote Jacquiline Cresswell, who has curated many exhibitions of glass sculpture in cathedrals around the UK. “The alchemical transformation of sand into crystal-clear objects and the sense of wonder that accompanies the moments of transformation when a molten mass becomes a precious solid form commands respect and reverence.”
The transformation of base material into something fine and precious can also be seen in spiritual terms, as when John the Baptist says of Jesus Christ: “He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matthew 3.11), which makes Amy Cushing’s new piece of hanging glass sculpture Enlightenment, commissioned by Chichester Cathedral, so appropriate in the way it is suspended over the baptismal font during the Christmas and winter period (until 2 March).
The baptistery in Chichester Cathedral is situated in the traditional position near the west door under the south-west tower, where warm sunlight pours through the stained-glass window in the early evening. The architecture and design is typically Norman, and the present font appears Norman, being a simple round basin on a stand, incorporating a shining copper bowl. The only encircling decoration is the unambiguous quotation from Ephesians 4.5, “One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism”. It was, in fact, designed by John Skelton and made in 1983 from dark-green polished Cornish polyphant stone from Bodmin Moor. The large painting The Baptism of Christ by Hans Feibusch, on the adjacent wall, is also modern (1951), but again has a simple and timeless feeling about it.
Cushing is skilled and experienced at creating site-specific pieces that complement the surroundings. Enlightenment follows this timeless cathedral pattern. From the triforium hangs a three-metre column of approximately 500 small hand-made pieces, hanging alternately horizontally and vertically, and seeming like fragmented crosses. The colours are delicate. The lower pieces contain fine copper flakes to reflect the shining copper bowl, while the higher pieces appear green, fading into the lightest aqua, reflecting the stained-glass window and giving an ethereal feeling of rising to heaven.
As a child, Cushing says that she spent all her spare time drawing, painting, and making 3D objects, and was lucky that her mother had trained in ceramics and glass and could guide and help develop her daughter’s talent. This eventually led Cushing to graduate from Chelsea College of Art and Design, specialising in ceramics and glass for her BA in Public Art, and since then winning many awards. She is inspired by colour sequence, reflection, light and shadow, mixing and combining materials, geometry and iridescence, all of which are evident in this uplifting, meticulous, and unique work.
While adults appreciate Enlightenment from a standing position, the infant about to be baptised is held uncomfortably supine in the arms of a strange person in odd-smelling garments and chanting unfamiliar words, but can, perhaps, gaze up at the shining “mobile” and enjoy the important ceremony in which he or she is the main participant.