The children sent out (3)

Just a couple more photos from the city centre. The lads on BMXs seemed quite bemused when I had a chat with them about what I was doing but they were happy to do some stunts for me to photograph with the figure.

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Quite a few people have accused me of being cruel for sending the children out like this – and when I’m in bed, hearing the rain against the window, thinking of them all fending for themselves I’m inclined to agree (how strong our anthropomorphic instinct is that I can lie in the dark worrying about lumps of clay!). I will post some reflections on the process and experience in the next few days.

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The children sent out (2)

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Setting the figures out in an urban environment is quite a different experience to doing it out in the Peak District. Except for the odd rambler, there’s usually no one about so I can potter around without worrying what anyone might think. In the city centre, however, people are pushing past all the time – so I just have to get on with it.

It didn’t take me long to realise that it’s much easier to be invisible, or at least ignored, in the city than in the countryside. Whilst every passer by would chat to me out in the Peaks, hundreds of people must have walked around me as I scrambled around on me knees in the centre of Sheffield without even breaking their stride.

I’ve already started to receive photos of the figures out in the countryside (I left details of the project and my email address with them). It will be interesting to see if I get any photos from the more urban areas.

Here they are, some of the quiet and constant witnesses out in the city:

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The children sent out (1)

So the children have been sent out into the wilderness. It’s been quite an adventure distributing them around Sheffield and the surrounding area – with feelings of sadness (many of them I won’t see again) and exhilaration. It’s also led to some interesting encounters; notably a group of pensioners walking in the Peak District in full hiking gear who were fascinated by this woefully ill-attired arty type scrambling around in the mud. When I told them about my plan for the clay figures they were delighted and resolved to keep an eye on the one I was setting down as they walked by each week. I hope the other figures elicit the same delight when they are discovered.  

Here are photos of some of the figures I’ve sent out into the Peak District, I will post more pictures over the next few days. If you are near Sheffield and would like a list of the general locations of all 40 figures then drop me an email and you can see if you can find them.

This one looks sad to be left hidden away in a pile of rubbish:

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Whilst this one is sheltered and cushioned in the damp clay I fear he will soon return to the earth:

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This is the one I was most concerned about leaving. He won’t last long, exposed on the high rocks. But what a view as he melts into oblivion:

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More information on the upcoming wilderness exhibition will be posted soon at www.wilderness-exhibition.com

Children of clay

Here’s another piece I’m planning for the upcoming wilderness exhibition. I’m not sure whether it will work or not, if not you can be witness to my failure (see if I care!).

I’m in the process of making 40 figures in clay. Leaving the clay soft, rather than allowing it to harden they will then be sent out into the world. I will leave them in and around Sheffield, out in the open, totally exposed for forty days. In the city, the suburbs and the countryside; some for all to see, others hidden away.

I don’t know what I’ll find after the forty days – maybe they will all survive intact or be washed away by the rain, or stolen, or cleared away by a street sweeper, or trodden on. They will be at the mercy of the world.

This is a photo of the first batch:

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I feel quite attached to them now, strange how we have an innate instinct to see personality in inanimate objects (a quirk in the way our brains work that probably led to belief in god – but that’s another story). Perhaps it was a mistake to give them faces, like naming an animal that you will soon slaughter for food. Nevertheless, I will overcome my paternal instincts and send them out on their adventures.

 Go well, children of clay, and may some of you return in one piece…

Shadows on the blank canvas

‘Everyone carries a shadow and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.’

(Carl Jung; Psychology and Religion)

I’m just in the process of putting together an exhibition for Lent on the theme of ‘Wilderness’. There are some stunning artists who have offered to contribute so it should be a really exciting and thought provoking show (I will post more details here soon). Over the last week or so I have begun to work on my piece for the show and am taking photos of the process as the images emerge. Here are the first two:

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They are plywood boards that I have painted white with primer. My shadow falls across the blank surface and as the sun recedes it fades.

Wandering in the wilderness, in the featureless desert, our only companion would be our shadow – the image left from where we have blocked out the light. The wilderness is the place where we are confronted by the darkness of ourselves which is a terrifying prospect.

For Carl Jung the shadow self is an essential aspect of who we are. It contains all that we are ashamed of, all that horrifies us about ourselves. And yet, if we can accept or even befriend our shadow rather than reacting with revulsion or pretending it doesn’t exist, then he/she/it will have much to teach us and will allow us to live more fully as human beings. In fact Jung views the shadow as the foundation of our creativity.

There are clear parallels between the shadow self and the church’s ideas about sin (not a very helpful word these days I fear) – both pertain to the question we all must face of what to do with the darkness in our lives. Traditionally the Church has taught us that we must get rid of it and cleanse ourselves to be pure and holy. But I wonder if Jung’s ideas give us a way that is more life-giving, a way that still resonates with the story of Christ but that enables us to grow as human beings and realise our full potential in the world.

This leads me towards a view of holiness that isn’t about being kept clean and undefiled but a gritty holiness that you can only find in the dirt – in our own shadows and shadows of those around us. As we kneel in that dirt with grubby clothes rather than pure white robes it’s only there that we can wash each other’s feet.