IN A year when so many have been unable to travel, this exhibition takes viewers on a virtual journey around the world from Russia to the United States. In a year when so many have died, each Station of this exhibition responds to a monument or memorial bearing witness to this traumatic season through the work of artists who find in Christ’s Passion a frame through which to fashion a present response.
Stations of the Cross is a public art project that for six years has sought to use the story of the Passion to prompt reflection in response to challenges of social justice. In previous years, a team of curators in each city that hosted the project designed a bespoke route with 14 stops, creating a contemporary pilgrimage marked by works of art, old and new. Drawing on the traditional Christian practice of walking and praying the 14 Stations, the journey undertaken to see artworks was a key element of an experience designed to engage people of all faiths and none in experiencing, as one of the exhibition’s co-curators Dr Aaron Rosen writes, “the incidental insights and revelations that come from navigating urban spaces in search of sacred experiences”.
© the artistJon Henry, Untitled #55 Little Rock, Arkansas, 2020
None of that was possible in 2021, necessitating a significant reimagining of the project on the part of Rosen and the Revd Dr Catriona Laing to sustain the concept in its sixth year. The result is an exhibition of photographs and video stills that use the frame of memorials to connect the myriad traumas of the Passion with those of the past year. At every one of these locations, we are encouraged to pause in the uncertainty and pain, pray if that is part of our practice, read reflections, and listen to recordings by the artists themselves.
The sequence begins with Yola Monakhov Stockton’s image of a cell for Russian political prisoners at Trubetskoy Bastion Prison, St Petersburg. This deliberately bleak, nondescript cell from the main political prison of Tsarist Russia could, in fact, be located almost anywhere and be from almost any time. This prison held Leon Trotsky and Maxim Gorky, among many others, but this cell is essentially no different from the one in Jerusalem into which Jesus would have been thrown. We are challenged to reflect on those held captive today at the hands of capricious imperial powers with similar cruelty and indifference.
The online pilgrimage ends with Scott Hocking’s The Egg and Michigan Central Train Station, a site-specific sculptural installation and photography project created within Detroit’s 100-year-old former train depot. In these unused abandoned and decaying spaces, Hocking built a huge egg from thousands of sheet-marble fragments, remnants of the once marble-lined corridor walls. Appropriately for Station 15, The Next Day, his project was based on the ancient symbolic meanings of the egg as representing unborn potential yet to be hatched, new beginnings, new creation.© the artist Arabella Dorman, Suspended, 2018
In between are familiar images, such as the Washington Monument, turned on their head to evoke the disorientating populism of the past four years in the US, or the stilled vacancy of London’s Millennium Wheel lit by a blue light to honour NHS workers. Suspended, an installation artwork shown in Canterbury Cathedral, hung hundreds of items of clothing discarded by refugees arriving on the beaches of Lesbos, having recently fled war, persecution, and poverty.
Jon Henry’s Stranger Fruit, of which #55 is shown here, was created in response to the senseless murders of black men across the nation by police violence. Henry photographed mothers with their sons in their environment, re-enacting what it must feel like to endure that pain. In the aftermath of devastating wildfires, S. Billie Mandle’s photograph reminds the viewer that the natural world can, within minutes, turn into a crematorium.
From the overwhelming toll of the pandemic to tragic examples of systemic racism and climate crises of staggering proportions, the works in this Global Stations of the Cross call us to see the suffering of the Other in our midst and understand what it must feel like to endure that pain.
“Stations of the Cross: Monuments to the Future, Global, 2021” is at www.luceartsandreligion.org/global-2021.