The Art Diary September 2023 – Rev Jonathan Evens

September Art Diary

The September Art Diary includes The Sainsbury Centre, The Barber Institute of Fine Arts, Cross Lane Projects, Strawberry Hill House & Garden, Chelmsford Museum and England & Co.

The Art world’s current focus on big issues as part of its curatorial practice continues, in particular with exhibitions exploring, as has ‘Dear Earth’ at Hayward Gallery, themes of care, hope, and emotional and spiritual connection with our environment.

This month, the Sainsbury Centre launches the first of its new ‘Big Question’ seasons exploring the theme of ‘Planet for our Future: How do we adapt to a Transforming World?’ The Sainsbury Centre is setting the exploration of big issues at the heart of its exhibition programming, seeking to empower art to address fundamental societal challenges. Their approach understands art as alive and capable of engaging people with the fundamental questions of life. They will see artworks from all over the world travelling to the Centre to pose urgent, global questions to visitors and help them find the answers. Future Seasons will ask: What is truth? (Spring 2024), Why do people take drugs? (Autumn 2024); How do we resuscitate a dying sea? (Spring 2025), Can humans stop killing each other? (Autumn 2025); and What is the meaning of life? (Spring 2026).

September Art Diary
Mary Mattingly, Blockades, Boulders and Weights 2013,photographic print courtesy of Mary Mattingly

‘Planet for our Future’ has an interconnected programme of exhibitions, interventions, collection displays, an artist residency, museum-late, artist-led workshops, and special projects, taking place across the whole art landscape and out into neighbouring communities. It aims to empower art to generate a living dialogue with visitors, inviting them to consider the global challenges of pollution, environmental destruction, and climate change. The aim is to mobilise the Sainsbury Centre as a space of hope through the transformative power of art: a space where we can imagine better futures in which collective human behaviour mitigates the effects of climate change.

There are three main facets to ‘Planet for our Future’. The first is ‘The Stuff of Life | The Life of Stuff’ (10 September 2023 – 14 January 2024), an exhibition where visitors will meet artworks composed of salvaged materials, re-synthesised fragments, and e-waste. They will also encounter new environmental zones where synthetic and organic matter interact, providing a fertile ground for inventing mythical worlds, dystopias and speculative future narratives. Through challenging, empathic, and creative encounters with the artworks, visitors will be asked to reimagine their relationship to synthetic materials and commodities designed not to last and consider who is responsible for consumption, over-production, and waste streams in modern society. Ultimately, these artworks demonstrate the ingenuity of human creativity to reimagine our relationships with the planet and inspire people to engage with our shared future positively.

Next is ‘Sediment Spirit: Towards the Activation of Art in the Anthropocene’ (15 October 2023 – 30 March 2024) – curated by John Kenneth Paranada, the first Curator of Art and Climate Change at a UK museum – an exhibition bringing together local and international artworks from the 1960s to the present day which are responding to the climate crisis in all its complexities. These provocative and interactive artworks invite audiences to view the Earth as a living and responsive being that we play an active part in sustaining. ‘Sediment Spirit’ acts to remind audiences that our home is not just the house, the building, town or country we reside in, but the Earth itself. The artworks expand our capacity to reimagine our surroundings and how we might exist within them more sustainably to provoke new ways of living, offering ways forward by providing hope and imagination.

September Art Diary 2023
Fabrice Monteiro, The Prophecy Untitled No 12 Ngai 2017 photograph courtesy of MAGNIN-A

Finally, the Peruvian artist Claudia Martínez Garay will come for an artist residency during September and October, responding to the question ‘How do we adapt to a Transforming World?’ in dialogue with the Sainsbury Centre collection. Martínez Garay will make new work that reanimates the fragments of lost histories, underscoring the diverse connections of Peruvian Indigenous cultures with the natural world. The work will be presented alongside ‘Sediment Spirit’, marking the first time this internationally respected artist has shown work in a major UK art institution.

Moving further south, ‘Storm Warning’ is a collaborative project between Focal Point Gallery and Newlyn Art Gallery & The Exchange, which seeks to raise awareness of the impact of the climate crisis on coastal communities in South Essex and Cornwall. For this exhibition, invited artists were asked to explore issues and research into the impact of climate change and work being done to respond to this crisis, particularly for those living in coastal communities. The project highlights work already taking place by partners at the forefront of climate action, such as Cornwall Wildlife Trust and Essex Wildlife Trust, Southend City Council, and The Environment Agency, through projects piloting pioneering nature-based solutions to reach carbon-neutral objectives in both Cornwall and Essex.

Each artist has taken a different approach and area of research to create new works for each venue. Among those included, Something & Son have researched the benefits of seagrass meadows, which support diverse marine ecosystems, defend against coastal erosion and combat climate change: a hectare of seagrass may store two tonnes of CO2 a year and hold it for centuries. In collaboration with Cornwall and Essex Wildlife Trusts, who are conserving existing seagrass and restoring new beds, they have engineered a new, sustainable seeding gun that will be presented in the gallery and available for future use, alongside prints that offer a reimagining of the South Essex Coast and South Cornwall with natural sea defence system, rather than man-made.

Rebecca Chesney’s ‘With far-heard whisper, o’er the sea’, 2019, is an 8.75m long drawing showing more than 100 years of mean sea level data recorded at Newlyn Tidal Observatory since 1916. Each specially made record card represents a year, and the pencil line undulates and slowly rises across the gallery wall. Combining field recordings and spoken word, Chesney, with artist Lubaina Himid, has also created a sound piece to conjure up a message of urgency, originally commissioned by TONSPUR Kunstverein Wien.

‘Hope on the Horizon’ is a sea shanty written by Heloise Tunstall-Behrens in collaboration with poet Ella Frears. Through this commission, Heloise brought together a group of people from Newlyn and Penzance to brainstorm ways the local area could adapt to sea level rise. Stimulated by inputs from Prof Ilan Kelman (Professor of Disasters and Health at UCL), the group responded with their fears as well as hopes for the future. Ella Frears also gathered creative materials from the group through writing tasks, which informed her libretto for the sea shanty.

David Watkins has created two scaled topographical representations of the South Essex coastline and Mount’s Bay titled ‘Slowly Sinking’ and ‘Slowly Rising’. Water gradually fills the models, making apparent the potential impact of the sea level on our coastal communities and how an increase in sea temperature and more turbulent weather can contribute to an increase in severe flooding.

Remaining in Essex but moving to Chelmsford, ‘Electrum Spektrum’ is a spotlight installation by Basildon-born artist George Morl. The installation has also grown collaboratively from a series of projects and evolving conversations with students in Cornwall and Essex. Since 2020, Morl has been working in partnership with students from Elm Class, Nancealverne School in Penzance, and support centres in Essex, two regions linked by the development of wireless radio. The installation traces the evolution of social and technological networks, from the discovery of electricity in Colchester to wireless radio in Chelmsford, which founded GPS and gaming interfaces. Morl says: “I was born into the digital age of the 1990s. As a teenager, the online space was a place of self-mythology and connection through imagination and performance. Video games and social media for many people, in particular fellow disabled people, can support alternative communication, support and resource.”

Drawing on their continuing conversations, works by students and Morl present paintings and digitally produced portraits that explore the online world’s power dynamics through fantasy and artifice. Their collaboration has also explored fiction in gaming and art, developing communication history and creating artwork and their own workshops. The installation also includes work from their collaborative collection of art. In 2022, they began to build an art collection together centred on the needs of disabled people and encompassing a broad range of sensory engagements. The works trace the evolution of social and technological networks and reflect on conversations about their experiences of online spaces. They have acquired artworks by artists such as Grayson Perry, with the selection based on their own interests and accessibility needs. Morl identifies with Perry’s use of imagination and construction of identity in his art and sees parallels with using virtual spaces as a young person. Perry’s work inspired Morl to study art at South Essex College in 2013.

Another collaborative artist is Güler Ates, a Turkish artist based in the UK, who, on her first trip to the United States, has two simultaneous solo exhibitions in Maine (Parsonage Gallery) and Washington, DC (Henry Luce III Center for the Arts & Religion). Drawing upon her own experiences of displacement as she moved from Eastern Turkey to the UK, Ates has collaborated extensively with members of immigrant and refugee communities, producing work that explores what it means to try and create new lives, identities, and homes in the wake of traumas such as the Syrian Civil War. A recent project saw her working with refugees and asylum seekers in the UK, the Netherlands and Turkey. It resulted in a multi-layered text installation, shown with her photographs at Onze Lieve Vrouwekerk in Amsterdam in 2019.

Ates is best known for her images of ambiguous figures veiled in shimmering robes, often situated in historic homes and museums, from England to Italy to India. Her US exhibitions feature a selection of these photographs, but they also demonstrate Ates’s restless experiments in both theme and medium, bringing in haunting sound installations alongside video work. Recently, she has begun creating quilts with poetic passages drawn from the people she interviews and works with. As she observes, sewing can open space for women to process traumatic experiences together. Her multidisciplinary work explores intersecting themes, including diasporic experience, the ambiguities of domestic space, and the legacies of colonialism.

A new plaque commemorating the 250th anniversary of the baptism of Quobna Ottobah Cugoano at St James’s Church was dedicated on 20 August 2023. Cugoano was one of the most prominent abolitionists of the time and a significant but largely forgotten figure in the history of Black Britain. He described his personal experience of being trafficked at the age of 13 to work on a plantation in Grenada and bought by a merchant to England, where he gained his freedom in 1772, in his book ‘Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil of Slavery’ published in 1787. His baptism, in 1773, was an act which promised his ongoing freedom; however, he didn’t live long enough to see slavery abolished by the UK Parliament.

The 250th anniversary of his baptism is being commemorated with an art commission by Trinidad-based artist Che Lovelace that will be installed at the church entrance and unveiled on 20 September 2023. Seen by all visitors to St James’s, it will be the first permanent art commission to commemorate Cugoano’s life anywhere in the world. Lovelace paints the intersecting lives of the people, flora and fauna of his native Trinidad. Infused with rich colours and bold shapes, his paintings straddle the boundary between magical realism, abstraction and the beauty of the natural world. Lovelace was selected by a process led by curator Ekow Eshun and involving members of the church’s congregation and clergy. The commission is part of St James’s cultural programme overseen by Creative Director Richard Parry, previously Director, Glasgow International.

Lovelace joins St James’s history of connection with artists and creatives. Considered amongst Sir Christopher Wren’s finest churches and housing a remarkable reredos carved by Grinling Gibbons, St James’s is the place where Angelica Kauffman, one of the founders of the Royal Academy, was married in 1767. Caricaturist James Gillray (1756-1815) and portraitist Mary Beale (1633-1699) were buried in the courtyard. William Blake (1757-1827) was baptised in the Grinling Gibbons font, and Mary Delany (1700-1788), an artist who created intricate ‘paper mosaiks’ of botanical specimens, has a memorial (although sadly only recognising her as a daughter and wife and not for her creativity). Considered “The Artists’ Church”, the relationship between St James’s and the Royal Academy is long and deep. The Rector, today the Reverend Lucy Winkett, is Chaplain to the RA and the church hosts the annual Varnishing Day service following a procession along Piccadilly marking the opening of the Summer Exhibition. Most recently, St James’s has developed a reputation for presenting surprising, challenging, charged creative work that engages audiences in subjects close to the Church’s values, for example, Justin Butcher’s installation for Bethlehem Unwrapped (2013), Arabella Dorman’s Flight (2015) and Suspended (2017), Glasgow-based Iranian artist Iman Tajik’s installation Radical Welcome for the 2022 Embark Festival, and Jesse Darling’s commission Miserere (2022), ahead of the artist being shortlisted for this year’s Turner Prize.

‘Halo’ is a transcendent light installation nestled within the storied architecture of St. Stephen Walbrook, a church which, designed by Sir Christopher Wren, stands as a symbol of London’s resilience and enduring spirit, rising from the ashes of the Great Fire of London in 1666. ‘Halo’ integrates two complementary layers to create an immersive experience. The first layer features a meticulously designed conical pendulum, carefully embedded with integrated lights. Suspended from the apex of the church, the pendulum traces a celestial-like path around the church’s central attraction – the renowned travertine marble altar created by Henry Moore. The pendulum’s circular motion evokes the eternal movement of celestial bodies, offering a hypnotic spectacle that provokes a meditative state of wonder in viewers.

Further enhancing this celestial theme, the installation’s second layer bathes the church’s grand dome in an otherworldly illumination. Taking cues from natural phenomena such as the aurora borealis and the sun’s corona, this element introduces slow-evolving colour transitions and motions. The dome’s transformative lighting not only amplifies the meditative aura of the space but also breathes new life into it, inviting viewers from all walks of life to immerse themselves in a unified appreciation of history, art, and spirituality. ‘Halo’ offers a captivating journey into the past and an evocative exploration of the celestial, encouraging the viewer to find spiritual resonance within the timeless and the ethereal.

Storytelling is at the heart of the majority of Christian images from the past. For centuries, before many could read, most people learned the story of Christ’s life through paintings, drawings, print and sculpture. Episodes from that story feature in a large proportion of all the art created over the last two millennia: in the Barber’s Institute of Fine Arts’ Green Gallery, for instance, more than two-thirds of the masterpieces on display feature scenes from the life of Jesus. A particularly effective method for representing the narrative was through positioning episodes from Christ’s life chronologically – the approach adopted in ‘Storytelling: A Life of Christ on Paper’ in the Barber’s print gallery, which focuses on Italian prints and drawings from the 15th to 17th centuries, in keeping with the works found in the surrounding Green Gallery. In uniting emotive and dramatic compositions, the story of Christ is revealed as we follow him from birth, through death to resurrection.

Strawberry Hill House & Garden is displaying one of the most important series of woodcuts in Albrecht Dürer’s career, the ‘Great Passion’, which is rarely seen in its complete set, as well as several other key works from the era. The ‘Great Passion’ series, which is commonly cited as one of his greatest works, was started around 1497 and finished in 1510. The cycle begins with the Last Supper, follows Christ’s descent into Limbo, and finishes with the resurrection of Christ. The grotesque as a metaphor for evil had been a growing mainstay for Northern artists at the turn of the century, and this finds its pinnacle in Dürer’s depiction of the enemies of Christ, including the Devil. In ‘The Harrowing of Hell’, the central figure of Christ uplifts good souls from the depths of hell, surrounded by light, while malformed creatures burst out of the shadows in an attempt to maintain the Devil’s domain.

The frontispiece and eleven full-page woodcuts show Dürer’s style in transition, as the influence of the Italian Renaissance led him to create clearer compositions, highlighting symmetry and balance, as opposed to the busy aesthetic of his earlier gothic-inspired output. In marrying these two traditions, a new vision is revealed, both monumental and naturalistic. Through this display, visitors can see a formative work in the European woodcut tradition, highlighting how a new technique helped bolster one of art’s greatest imaginative minds.

The tradition of the grotesque and fantastic continues in the work of Paul Rumsey, which is on show at Chappell Gallery. Rumsey writes: “The word ‘grotesque’ is derived from ‘grottos’, the caves, the buried palaces of Rome, where Renaissance artists discovered fantastical Roman decoration. They adopted this style, and it spread throughout Europe. The origins of the grotesque lie in antiquity, the hybrid creatures of mythology, where the forms of nature, animal, human and vegetable, even mineral, are mixed together, some of which feature in my drawings, including the monstrous children of Echidna and Typhon: Cerberus, Hydra, Chimaera and Sphinx. Another of its roots is classical satire. Lucian’s True Story is a comic voyage including a trip to the moon, which influenced Rabelais, Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, and the Tales of Baron Munchausen. The comic grotesque is also alive in the decorative margins of medieval manuscripts, where hybrid monsters such as Blemmyae (the inspiration for my ‘Bodyheads’) and Sciapods recur. In the Renaissance, the fantastic is also found in images of hell and apocalypse by Durer, Bosch and Bruegel, and such extraordinary works as the Isenheim altarpiece by Grunewald, the Room of Giants by Giulio Romano, the vegetable portraits of Archimboldo and the ruined cities of De Nome.”

Walsingham in North Norfolk is steeped in history with a long history of religious pilgrimage and is home to the ruins of two medieval monastic houses. Known as England’s Nazareth since, Richeldis de Faverches, a Saxon noblewoman, was given a vision in 1061 of the house in Nazareth where Gabriel had announced the news of the birth of Jesus. This Holy House was miraculously constructed in Walsingham one night, while Richeldis kept a vigil of prayer. Inspired by this miraculous happening, across the Spring Bank Holiday, works of painting, moving image, installation and sculpture appeared at sites in Walsingham village, with seekers and curious folk being invited to join artists as ‘pilgrims’ led through Walsingham, encountering performances, actions and demonstrations. This special event sought to create a basis for shared dialogue, conviviality and reflection ‘in search of the miraculous.’

A closing event reflecting on ‘In Search of the Miraculous’ has been organised by England & Co on 7 September at the Southeran Building in London. Films by Anne Bean and Oona Grimes commissioned for the project, plus a short documentary film of the weekend made by Studio MaBa, will be screened, followed by a short sound work by Ansuman Biswas and then Bean, Grimes, Richard Wilson and Joseph Morgan Schofield will be in conversation, chaired by Jane England. Additionally, ‘Warship-Worship’, a work by Richard Wilson commissioned and shown as part of ‘In Search of the Miraculous,’ will be on view in the space from 5 – 8 September.

‘Entwined’ at Cromwell Place is another exhibition exploring aspects of spirituality. Each artist in this exhibition, organised by Sundaram Tagore Gallery, explores the intersections among nature, philosophy, spirituality and the natural sciences. Defying distinctions between the internal and external, material and nonmaterial, living or dead, their photographs reveal the artists’ fascination with nature, humankind’s interaction with the earth, and the impact of one on the other.

From Gayatri Ganju’s dream imagery to the reflection on community in Pamela Singh’s, the photographers take on, in artist Carolina Caycedo’s terms, “the feminine and feminist labour of care at the centre of environmentalism.” Instead of viewing the landscape through a window that separates, the artists engage in spiritual fieldwork to enter their landscapes. In ‘The Girl Who Cried Wolf’, Ganju explores how mythologies and legends influence contemporary Cambodian thinking about environmental change. Singh’s photographs form an extended, entrancing journal tantamount to a waking dream, a search for affirmation of self within our perceived yet speculative world and tracing her lifelong quest for spirituality. In Serena Chopra and Qiana Mestrich’s images, inanimate objects appear alive, an inflexion that expresses the abundance of the earth and the mysteries of nature that endure even during times of rapid industrialisation and uncertainty. Chopra’s latest series, ‘Shinrin, ‘ veers away from portraits of communities toward an in-depth study of trees and forest life in Binsar, a sanctuary on top of a mountain in the lower Himalayas. In these images, she captures the eternal aspect of the old-growth forests and their inherent resilience that thrives within the transience of events in nature. In ‘Thrall’, Mestrich externalises her thoughts around recent political, social, and cultural discussions on white supremacy and Black consciousness by integrating the outdoor studio, staged portraiture, still life, and family photography.

Finally, ‘Landscape of the Gods’ is an exhibition bringing together the work of nine artists to explore interconnections with the landscape, the ceremonial, the mythical, the man-made, the dystopian, the inhabited and the emotive. The idea of the exhibition, curated by painter Rebecca Scott, developed from a conversation with the artist Michael Petry, in which they discussed Petry’s ongoing visual investigation into the places of the Gods and Scott’s own emotive exploration of the Cumbrian landscape surrounding her. These two have been joined for this exhibition by Alun Williams, whose paintings mix figuration with abstraction to challenge our perceptions of the way we imagine characters from history and religion; Mark Fairnington, whose landscape paintings examine how a subjective response to the landscape can be framed within a collective experience; Alex Giles, whose post-painterly abstract paintings express a love of movement, humour, natural forms, and the incidental beauty of the mundane; Bex Massey, who examines the role of painting and the language of display in the face of popular culture; Julian Cooper, whose paintings peel off an outer layer of landscapes to reveal the further possibilities beneath; Lee Maelzer, who puts used things and redundant sites to poetic purpose on canvas; Martin Greenland, who makes his work a delicate balance between the believable, based upon what is seen, and the unbelievable, which is about the unseen, the imagined.


‘The Stuff of Life | The Life of Stuff’, 10 September 2023 – 14 January 2024, and ‘Sediment Spirit: Towards the Activation of Art in the Anthropocene’, 15 October 2023 – 30 March 2024, Sainsbury Centre.  Visit Here

Storm Warning: What does climate change mean for coastal communities?’, Focal Point Gallery, 4 October 2023 – 6 January 2024, and Newlyn Art Gallery & The Exchange, Penzance, 18 November 2023 – 13 April 2024. Visit Here

‘George Morl: Elecktrum Spectrum’, Chelmsford Museum, 19 August 2023 – 14 January 2024. Visit Here

‘En Route’ by Güler Ates, Henry Luce III Center for the Arts & Religion, Washington, DC 5 September – 28 November. Visit Here

‘Passages’ by Güler Ates, The Parsonage Gallery, Searsport, Maine, until 18 September. Visit Here

St James Piccadilly’s programme of events commemorating Quobna Ottobah Cugoano’s baptismal anniversary year – Visit Here

‘Halo’ by Studio Waldemeyer, St Stephen Walbrook, 16 – 24 September 2023. Visit Here

‘Storytelling: A Life of Christ on Paper’, The Barber Institute of Fine Arts, 12 May – 24 September 2023. Visit Here

‘The Devil is in the Detail: Dürer’s Great Passion and Early Woodcuts from the Schroder Collection’, Strawberry Hill House & Garden, 15 October 2023 – 10 April 2024. Visit Here

Paul Rumsey: Drawings, Chappell Gallery, 19 August – 10 September 2023. Visit Here

‘In Search of the Miraculous’ closing event, England & Co at Sotheran Building, 7 September 2023. Visit Here

Landscape of the Gods, Cross Lane Projects, 29 July to 23 September 2023. Visit Here

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Lead Image: ‘We Are Having The Time of Our Lives’, 2019, SUPERFLEX. Courtesy of von Bartha. Photo credit Pinelopi Gerasimou. Courtesy of Onassis Stegi


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