Thursday, December 22, 2016

Vessels of Mind and Matter...

Towers of Canterbury cathedral
When the opportunity came up to return to Canterbury earlier this week, I knew where I would be heading... There is only so much shopping I can do before reaching the point of thinking there must be more than this and realising that I have crossed the commercial saturation threshold.
I have never had the slightest religious beliefs or leanings of any sort whatsoever, but the need to gather thoughts and recover the basic senses seems to be growing on me. This is even more apparent at Christmas when this frenzy of buying and accumulation leaves me wondering if that's all there is. Not, of course, that I consider myself somehow 'above' all of this, as I do relish a good old shop but commercial binging is like gorging on junk food on a long-term basis. Just like our cupboards, our minds are being clogged up by this drive to purchase ever more clutter. Given our burning desire to spend, spend, spend, Plutarch's remark that "The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled." starts to take on an ironic tone.

To counter this desire to acquire stuff, the French notion of recueillement seems increasingly appropriate. Whilst the verb recueillir means to collect and gather, the reflexive form se recueillir refers to acts of simply drawing together one's thoughts or gathering in actual spiritual contemplation. For many, the obvious setting for any form of recueillement would perhaps be a religious edifice, but nature offers the same opportunity. In such a place or space, we are contained in something bigger and far more enduring than ourselves and our greedy mortality.

Mural plaque from the gardens in the cathedral grounds.
Even without the religious dimension that derives from the belief in a faith, old edifices play a vital role on so many levels. Through their sheer age alone, they have a force and size, spanning the centuries, vessels of the past to the present day, showing the aspirations of us mere humans, tripping along the streets of time, in weakness and strength. We are constantly reminded of our unique, all-too-human condition; reaching upwards, but still rooted in the profane.

From the cathedral gardens...
On display in the crypt of the cathedral is a piece of artwork by the modern-day sculptor, Antony Gormley. All cameras were banned, so no photos here, unfortunately. 'Transport' is suspended from the vaulted ceiling above the site of the first tomb of Thomas Becket, martyred archbishop and "troublesome priest" under Henry II's reign. Murdered at the altar of the cathedral in December 1170, Thomas Becket was slain for his faith and the old iron nails of Gormley's work indeed recall the nails of crucifixion. These were actually taken from the lead roof of the transept following restoration work and quite literally give body to an artistic venture that seeks to convey the evocative. The 2-metre-long work hangs from a single support and the modernity of the stark, yet ephemeral floatiing form creates a strange impressive in a site that is over 800 years old. These ancient nails form the body of this human effigy so that it resembles a voodoo doll, solely composed of the pins that have pierced the body. This bodily 'container' is less, yet more than a body in 3-dimensional volume. The artist wrote that "The body is less a thing than a place." and I liked this harmony of body and building - as vessels intertwined and interchangeable. "Through it (the body) come all the impressions of the wider world and all other bodies in space; palpable, perceivable and imaginable."  The title of the piece, 'Transport', transmits the sense of constant movement through this place of "prayer and creativity" the passage of time in space, what is infinite and finite.

All in all, I couldn't have had a better day...

Holly in the grounds.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please share your ideas...