Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Greenbelt 1

We've just returned, exhausted from a very busy and very successful Greenbelt. We were involved in a number of things and I'll write about all of these over the next few days but we'll start today with the Ice Age Contemplation.

The idea for this came some time ago when considering this year's theme which was 'Standing in the Long Now'. This is all about taking time, letting things happen, experiencing the moment, being patient. From this the idea came for a huge block of ice with things embedded in it which would slowly become free as the ice melted over the weekend.

We found a great company (Iceworks) who were prepared to put the block together for us and we added a spire to make the whole thing a little church like. Embedded in the ice were a number of little perspex crosses, some rosaries, sunflowers and in the spire a statuette of Jesus. The tonne and a half sculpture was delivered Friday midday and looked fab because the ice was so clear and the objects were visible floating in mid-block. It immediately began to melt and for the first day or so was covered in a living stream of water which not only looked beautiful but also began to change the shape, especially where the spire sat on the block.

As soon as the first ray of sunlight hit the block cracks began to appear and one in particular enhanced the whole effect. A feathery, flowery crack appeared in the spire directly above Jesus head making it look for all the world as though he had a halo above him, it was beautiful. People were fascinated by the whole thing and kept walking up to it and touching it, stroking it, licking it and taking photographs of it. Teenagers started to play games to see who could hold onto the ice longest and teams of people would rub away at certain areas to change the shape of the ice.

Slowly this awed interest began to change into something more violent and aggressive. Kids started to chip away at the ice to try and get at the things within and this gradually escalated.

Before long they were using hammers, stones and concrete blocks to hack at the ice which began to look less and less beautiful. Various people tried to stop this vandalism but it always started up again and by late Saturday afternoon all that was left was a large, ugly, grey lump which had been pushed off it's plinth and begun to migrate across the grass.

Lots of people were upset by this treatment but there are three things that we can take away from this:

1. You can't predict how people will react. The whole point of creating this kind of interactive art is to allow people to respond in the way they want to. We may not like their response but it's their response and it is authentic and valid nevertheless.

2. You can't always hold on to beauty. This artwork was designed to disappear, the vandalism merely speeded up that process. Because the initial sculpture was so beautiful we want to hold onto that moment but it was always destined to degrade and be defiled. Jesus' friends wanted to preserve the beauty of the transfiguration with some kind of memorial but he wouldn't allow that and instructed them to keep the event a secret. Modern life wants to capture everything for posterity as we saw with all the photographs being taken. Sometimes it's good just to experience the present and move on.

3. Isn't this a 'bit like Jesus'?! He was beaten and destroyed, made to look ugly and disfigured and it would have been a lot more distressing than watching a bunch of kids hitting an iceblock with sticks. Although I'd hesitate to draw specific parallels, there's something here about the violence of mankind being taken out on the beauty of God that I find quite profound.

So in all it's been a great lesson in what can happen when you put something out these and let things happen. I've learnt from it and I hope many others will too.

Come back in the next few days to read about the Prayer Wall, Light and the Burning Bush.