Translations, Transfusions, Transfigurations

For the year of 2004 I was Artist in Residence at Worcester Cathedral for which I won an Arts Council England Award.

Essay by Lalitte Stolper, Research Fellow in Art, Worcester University. 

A sacred building, amongst other things, is where the living go to come to terms with death.  Worcester Cathedral, for all its grandeur, its royal tomb and aristocratic engravings, has always found place for less renowned incisions against mortality. A cockleshell pilgrim lies under a marked flagstone, and amongst the cathedral’s treasures, as carefully preserved as King John’s shroud, we find the flayed skin of a thief who tried to strip the building of its sanctus bell. Examine the walls: everyone in particular seems to have scratched their name, to tell us they were here, to turn a personal moment into public eternity.

The moment she enters the cathedral, the artist sees it as an inscribed – wounded – body.  She projects onto it a personal body – that of her mother, who is dying.  It is questionable to expose the private life behind the public artist – but impossible to explain these works without lifting that particular veil.  Gaze translates, transfuses and transfigures her grief into art.

Translations [Dean’s Chapel, wall]

At first she keeps her distance.  The stones are photographed, then replicated in layers of paper, glue and gritty carborundum.  She digs into the surface for what is lost in this translation, but does not find all that  she’s looking for.

Transfusions  [Dean’s Chapel, wall]

She pares the newspapers of phrases she needs: “a study of loneliness, repression and destructive passion”.  How much will she veil or unveil of mother’s control, her own resistance?

Mourning both their lives, she returns to childish things – gets glue all over her hands, lets it congeal and dry, then peels off see-through skin.  She soaks bandages in oil and pigment. They darken and smell pungent, and she remembers the removal of dressings.  She takes the newsprint parings and rolls them with the glue-skins in the bandages – tight, tighter.  She tears a window in a painter’s canvas, like the Jewish mourner tearing his suit, and orders the scrolls inside.  They are messages, sent but unopened.  Still not  satisfied, she oils more bandages and pleats them into parcels: dark little gifts to ornament a mantelpiece.

Transfigurations – [Dean’s Chapel, centre]

At last she breathes.  The works become bigger than she is and rise off the ground.  Each one opens around a space her own size: translucent; un-torn; hiding nothing.  She wonders if she is empty now too.

She names the results of her labours as neutrally as she can, but they are still “very raw – the most real I’ve ever made.”