AN OUTLYING fragment of Epping Forest in east London connects St Andrew’s, Leytonstone, and Shri Nathji Sanatan Hindu temple. This is common ground on which “Call to Holy Ground” as a community art project first came alive and which forms the Holy Ground to which we are now called through video and sculptural installations and a sound walk.
The temple was inaugurated in 1980 in a former church and is dedicated to Shri Ram and Shrinathji and many other deities such as Shiv Parivaar, Amba Mataji, Jalaram Bapa. and Hanumanji. St Andrew’s dates from 1886 and has a history of engaging with the arts which has resulted in windows by Margaret Chilton, banners and a window by Hilary Davies, and Stations of the Cross by Lewis Davies. “Call to Holy Ground” adds to an existing interfaith engagement and that local artistic heritage.
Stephen White & Co.Call To Holy Ground, The Ground Mother, FourthLand, 2021
“Call to Holy Ground” is both the culmination and an echo of the community art project undertaken by FourthLand (the artists Isik Sayarer and Eva Knutsdotter) with Christian and Hindu faith communities in Leytonstone. Commissioned by Art and Christianity, it began as a series of listening sessions exploring ideas around pilgrimage, offerings, and community, which resulted in a story that now forms the core of the sound work. This, in turn, sparked a sequence of collective actions, costumes, and artefacts used in the video and displayed in the sculptural installations.
“Call to Holy Ground” brings together many journeys from the personal spiritual journeys that brought the participants to the project, their journeys of exploration within the project, those created within the artworks, and those formed by the sequencing of these installations and walk. Rituals and symbols from the two faiths have been incorporated in ways that honour the authenticity of the participants and their practices, while also taking some outside of the interior spaces that are sacred to these communities and reimaging them in the common ground of the natural world.
Gestures or actions — such as censing, pouring, and gathering — have been identified that are common to the rituals of both faiths while put to different uses within them. These have been re-presented in improvised performances that are both beautiful and deeply symbolic. Ideas and symbols of offering are central to the project, relations between the two faith communities, and the sacred actions included.
The video work presents a performance of ritualistic gestures filmed in Epping Forest, alongside elemental expressions. The sound work — to be heard while walking through the woods between church and temple — is a meditative action spoken by the artists, alongside echoes of stories, chants, songs, and poems collected from those participating in the project.
The sculptural installations use costumes made for the video work to create objects and spaces for contemplation. The Ground Mother, at St Andrew’s, is a cloak-like work in three parts made from fabric, hide, oak, wax, mirrors, scrolls, branches, and seeds. The piece includes materials offered to the project by participants from both communities. Earth scripture, in the temple, is an installation in the form of hand-stitched symbols of shared stories, domestic items and objects collected from the forest, and a glass vessel containing water from the rivers Ganges and Lea, inspired by ceremonial water offerings.
Within the works, there is a subtle and sensitive interweaving of symbols and rituals, not a merging or blurring of faith and practice. This is art as meeting place, and as estuary, becoming a breeding ground for ideas and improvisation. The project has formed a bridge (built on existing relations between the communities) between faiths, generations, and spiritual and ecological practices for those involved, and now creates a pilgrimage for those who come through the elements, with participants and artists, exploring the sacred essence of ground that is both common and holy together with its connection to our inner landscape.
Stephen White & Co.Call To Holy Ground video projection, FourthLand, 2021
The project began with a call for fellow pilgrims — pilgrims who would, in the words of Alison Millbank, “redraw topography as a sacred field, rendering the whole landscape as a sacred field of power”. This iteration of the project remains a call for fellow pilgrims. This is art that asks not simply to be viewed, but for active collaboration and involvement.
The field for involvement is open, meaning that the original reflection with which the project began remains relevant for all who come to hear and see and follow the call: “This land is holy ground / as our feet walk on the earth / the soul of our feet / meeting the soul of the earth / We become intertwined / our lightness and depth connects with sky / our depth and lightness connects with ground / where is your place of Holy Ground? / which route would you take? / how will you travel there? / what will you take with you / to connect with this experience? / We invite you to make a journey / to your place of Holy ground / to / listen in and to listen within to what speaks to you”.
“Call to Holy Ground” runs until 17 July. Open Mon., Wed., Thurs., Sat., and Sun., 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday service from 10 a.m. at St Andrew’s, Colworth Road, London E11. www.artandchristianity.org/fourthland