Altar/d Art Installation series
Adamstown Uniting Church
by Rev Dr Rod Pattenden - photos by John Cliff
Lottie Consalvo, ‘How Much’, 2017, acrylic on board, 180 x 488 cms.
The large abstract work by Lottie Consalvo, ‘How Much’, has graced the Adamstown Uniting Church during August this year as the fourth in the Altar/d art installation series. This project has offered 6 contemporary artists the opportunity to situate work at the most sensitive point in the building, as the visual focus during the liturgical celebrations and the many concerts that take place in this vibrant space exploring faith, justice and creativity in Newcastle, Australia. The vast size of this gestural abstract work, being nearly five metres long, was sufficient to take on the architectural volume of the space and to look like it belonged. But the work also challenged people’s assumptions about whether it was an object of decoration, art or imagination.
Because of the abstract nature of the work’s appearance, it also proved to be one the most challenging, to date, in terms of its reception on Sunday mornings!
For the artist, it was a welcome invitation to participate in this series as her recent work has concerned itself with articulating spaces that express an intuitive sense of peripheral support and what I might call grace. Consalvo has been exploring a simple set of forms that remind the viewer of altars, hills, valleys, containers, places where one is kept safe and there is intimate if not spiritual connection. It was a happy opportunity for the artist to exhibit this work for the first time in the Church. The reception of the work did however present a challenge to parishioners who may have no background in contemporary abstract art. Many eyes were wanting to quickly nail down what the work represented, what it stood for, wanting to stabilise its meaning. Abstract art requires a stepping back from such rapid labelling, and allowing the time needed for a conversation that brings forth memories, intuitive knowing and deeper life experience.
I was interested in one conversation on the first Sunday the work arrived in the space. After the service, one retired women came and talked to me about her youthful participation in athletic events and in particular the activity of running over hurdles. For her, the work conveyed this sense of going over and under that such running requires. In her wisdom she noted, that in turn life in general also requires such skills of negotiation. We are always needing to weave in and around, under and over, trying to find rest and a sense of arrival, to find grace, to be at rest. I think she is clearly in the sort of territory of knowing that this work invites us to remember. It would be like closing one’s eyes in our own familiar domestic space, and navigating through our finger tips a safe passage through the territory of these nurturing spaces. These perceptions awaken us to our sensual lives and the nature of our memory. Such memories are not all abstract but are most often stored under our finger tips and at the end of our eye lashes! This work reminds us that seeing, after all, is an embodied thing!
As liturgist, the presence of this work activated, over several weeks, a heightened awareness of my peripheral vision, and an awareness of a subversive element. I noticed the ordered seating, the lines of sight, and most profoundly the underlying geometry of how people participate, move, and see in the space. I hold the view that this space is populated by a movement of people activated by grace. But the underlying architectural and spatial structures of our tradition often rely on Romanesque models that are activated by a geometry of pure forms, such as circles, squares and the occasional triangle. They convey, through a dependence on sacred geometry, the perfection of the divine, and by contrast, the imperfection of being human. This vast fluid and gestural work by a female artist subverts this dominant language of perfect forms. This is particularly subversive given that the language of perfect forms has always been aligned with a more masculine and rational vocabulary that admires order and control. This work speaks to us with other tongues, that are fluid and open ended, that allow for the filling up of spaces for diverse human habitation. As liturgist I was relieved of the requirement to teach the gathered community a choreography based in disciplined control. There must be more beauty to the movements made by God’s people than the comfortable repetition found in line dancing. This work allowed for the many gestures that mark the passage of our diverse and graceful lives.
Rev Dr Rod Pattenden
All photos by John Cliff. Zoom the images from the Altar/d exhibit below: