One of the things I love about my role is working with other artists. Keith Barley has contributed to a couple of exhibitions I’ve been involved with and I was thrilled that he agreed to create an installation piece to accompany Soul of Sheffield. Keith has taken one of the side rooms of the office space where we’re creating the city for his own piece Sole Cité.
Here are some images:
He has layered up sand, coal and grit to form these columns. I was moved when I saw it for the first time; the piece feels both epic in scope as well as achingly fragile. The strata suggest aeons of time with human footprints only on the narrow final layer: the rock and deep history on which the city is built. At the same time I get the feeling that the piece could collapse at any moment, like sandcastles on the beach and as I draw close to it the childish urge to touch or crush the structures wells up from inside, it would be so easy to destroy them.
One of the aims of this whole project is to explore what it means to make sacred space in an ordinary place and what could be more ordinary than a sterile and anonymous office? This piece and the larger model of the city makes people gasp in wonder, and that sense of awe, amazement and surprise is for me an important aspect of the sacred.
Sacred space should also open up possibilities of experience, of different ways of seeing the world and being in the world. If we have the courage to engage with those possibilities then we will be changed by the experience. Art can do this in very powerful ways and with the Soul of Sheffield project I am excited by the prospect of opening up those possibilities not in church spaces or other places controlled by religious institutions but out in the world where ordinary people live and work.
It’s far from easy though. The whole process has felt, like Keith’s piece of work, both epic, as we touch the deep, soul-full places of creative community, and so fragile as we face practical and logistical issues that could bring the whole thing crashing down at any moment. I will share the story of some of those struggles in a later post.