Monday, April 27, 2015

Jon Vogler on his piece for Station 11 - 'Christ is nailed to the cross'

"When I was small I had a crucifix – a cross about six inches long of some dark wood with a figure cast in some silver metal.  I didn’t think much about it – I certainly didn’t reflect on the hideous act it depicted.  It was just one of the things I had, like the box of wooden bricks and the furry black cat stuffed with straw.  And just as the cat was about cuddling something at night and the bricks were about building a castle and knocking it down, so the crucifix was about praying, with my mother and sister, that the war would end soon.

So it was an acute sense of things and the materials they are made from that led to me becoming an engineer and, later, attempting sculpture.  There are other ways that artists represent ideas – as lines drawn with a pencil or as paint brushed on a canvas, as music or video or  text.   One of the wonderful features of this exhibition, besides  the spiritual diversity of the artists, is the diversity of the media that have been used.  But for me the piece had to be about things and materials because they are so immediate and so tangible.

The crucifixion is one of the great subjects of art throughout the Christian era.  However since Grunewald’s Isenheim altarpiece, painted five hundred years ago, which still makes me cringe every time I look at a picture of it, the image of the crucified figure has become perhaps too familiar. Do you scream when you see it in the window of the SPCK bookshop?  Probably not.   Muslims refuse to portray the human figure and perhaps they have a point .  So what object could I use that would express the physical awfulness of the execution?   Screwfix and the builders’ merchants didn’t sell nails of sufficient nastiness, so I found coach bolts and forged them; that means heating them to white hot and hammering them on a big cast-iron anvil.   You cannot get an action more physical than that nor, as I soon found, more tiring.  I was grateful to Leon Varga, the workshop technician at the College of Art (whose amazing angels’ wing backpacks you see here) who did much of the work and did it better than I could, to make the nails even more sinister.

My house contains a thousand things that are no longer of use but might come in handy one day.  The long wooden ladder was one and so was the box of all Jill’s discarded leather handbags.   The aged hand-saw, which has no symbolism but the task of  preventing the heavy nails and hammer head from sinking down out of sight, was actually removed from the scrap metal bin in the nick of time.  It made me reflect that the Roman soldiers probably had  a similar store of old tools and scrap materials in a shed behind their barracks.

I hope you will handle the eleventh station.   Draw one of the nails out of its holster or put your foot on the bottom rung of the ladder.  Art shouldn’t be remote or only aesthetic or intellectual.   It should be a way of helping us see common things, common events, in new ways; ways that excite or perplex or amaze us.  That is why the eleventh station of the cross doesn’t need a replica Christ made of resin or wood or bronze; because there are replicas of him all around us and all we have to do is to open our eyes and see."

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