Last week was FORUM, the annual conference for CU leaders run by uccf:thechristianunions. This year, Dan Curtis was our artist-in-residence for the week. As well as generally helping us all to think about the arts from a Christian point of view, Dan was also given the task of producing a piece of work over the course of the week. I really liked what he came up with, and here are a few photos (although they don’t really do it justice)…
Dan’s a sculptor (and also a comedian – he’s just come back from the Edinburgh fringe), but I think you’d probably call it an installation – it was intimately connected with the space it was displayed in. Dan told me he works quite cautiously, but I think the subtlety of the final result is part of what kept me thinking about it…
The piece is made out of bits and pieces Dan found around the Quinta Hall site – old windows, bits of wood and stonework. They were arranged on an outdoor platform, part of one of the tents that were put up as a meeting venue.
The different pieces were strewn about the space as though they might have just been left there by accident, but at the same time they were arranged in ways which could only have been intentional. Dan had almost recreated the rubbish dump where he’d found the stuff in the first place, but at the same time the deliberate placement of the bits and pieces forced you to look more closely at what was going on. And it also prodded you to think about the way it interacted with it’s location. The floor of the tent had been covered in brand new blue carpet, which made it feel less like a tent and therefore more permanent. But the large tear in the carpet revealed the wooden flooring underneath as a reminder that this was only a temporary structure. Then it spilled over onto the grass, which connected what was going on in the tent to the inescapable fact that it was outside.
The piece of work was about the relationship between Quinta Hall, the large country house on the hill, and the temporary structures of the tents we’d put up in the grounds. It really got me thinking about the passage of time, and what we really mean by the word “temporary.” The tents were around for less than a fortnight. The house has been there for more than a century. But is the house really anything other than temporary? It may have been there for a long time, but it’s slowly crumbling – the assorted debris Dan had assembled was testimony to that. A stone-built house might last longer than a canvas tent, but it won’t last forever.
Depending on your view of the world, that could be all there is – a constant cycle of creation and disintegration as things appear and then disappear. It might be a boulder on the seashore gradually being pounded into sand, or a building which is gradually dissolving in other ways. And I think Dan’s sculpture captured this brilliantly. While he was showing the temporary nature of the tent by bringing in bits of the house, he was also doing the opposite – the artificial scrapheap highlighted that the house was disintegrating too. It was being covered up cosmetically, but the sculpture showed the reality of what is happening. If you come back in a hundred years, will the house still be there?
Which raises important questions about where we put our hope. Is it in property and belongings, things which will crumble and disappear, whether in a fortnight or in a century? Or is it in something which will last?
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
– Matthew 6v19-21