Shadows and Light - Sculptor Peter Tilley
- by Rev Dr Rod Pattenden
The sculpture of artist Peter Tilley was the third in a series of art works that were installed this year in the Adamstown Uniting Church in Newcastle, Australia. The works chosen for this installation were all based on the figure of the male form, standing naked, in a gesture where the figure twists slightly to one side. This gesture conveyed a range of possible meanings from a slight wariness to a more profound sense of tiredness or resignation. Each of the three figures installed at various points in the church carried no clear signs of being a Christ, and were all placed to the side of the main liturgical space therefore appearing as an observing figure, a silent participant in the movement of the space. The most striking element of visual interest was the manner in which the artist had drawn attention to the nature of the shadow that was cast by each of these forms.
The main figure, half life size, cast a shadow made from a field made up of pieces of coal. The material substance of carbon reflects the words of the funeral service, ‘dust to dust, ashes to ashes’, but also had particular resonance for the context of Newcastle as a port that is one of the word’s largest exporters of coal. A second smaller figure installed at the entrance to the church, looks down at a rising curl of steel bearing a cut out reflection of its own form. This communicates some of the often repressed vigour contained in the things that we hide or repress. The shadow, whether we see it or not, is a source of energy that has potential to replenish our sense of aliveness. The final work was a small figure made of lead that looks down upon a shadow made up of tiny perforations in a rectangular sheet of steel that was illuminated by a violet light from below. This shadow was alive with pixilated light and effervescent energy! It was placed strategically at the main doors of the building. These three sculptural works were supported by a number of wall works that also played with this same idea of the shadow.
The presence of these highlighted shadows in the church invited both liturgical and pastoral responses and allowed for a level of innovation through these forms. In the sermons delivered during this month, it allowed reflection on the nature of shame, and the things that we might leave at the door of the church on our entry. While our regular prayers of confession tend to concentrate on specific actions, these art works evoked an awareness of the more deep seated views people have about their sense of self worth and social valuing. Biblical imagery and liturgical forms invite listeners to come into the light. These art works remind us that this would involve our shadows being seen, our shame being acknowledged and our lives being seen more holistically within the light of Christ. Most local worshipping communities have long histories where relationships sometimes become ossified and where shame is the greatest fear. Seeing and naming shadows offers the potential for change where new forms of relationships can occur.
This focus on the shadow was the key reason that this artist was invited to exhibit these works. It did involve taking a risk that there might be some offence or at least discomfort with a naked male form in the church. This is not simply a matter of dealing with social conventions but perhaps more profoundly with the embodied anxieties people carry with them about the condition of nakedness. My pastoral response was to clothe these figures with introductory words that invited people to tolerate a certain level of discomfort with this world of shadowlands. In coming to the light we see our shadows ever more clearly. Rather than developing liturgical blindness, here was an opportunity to see more clearly the energies of our unacknowledged selves and to invite them into a conversation with the light that we believe illuminates this sacred space. The temporary housing of these works that work to highlight the shadow has been an invitation for a worshipping community to think visually about their embodied experience. This was in turn reflected in the words developed for our call to worship, confessions and absolution, intercessions and the final invitation to live our lives as the light bearers of Christ in the world.
Rod Pattenden, Adamstown Uniting Church
All photos by John Cliff