Lenten Reflection and Creative Process
For four years running Christ Church Cathedral has hosted during Lent a programme of creative reflection. The theme varies from year to year, but each year has involved a small group of artists engaging in scriptural reflection or in different practices of prayer around a selected theme.
I Wonder as I Wander…, Lent 2019
We travel a wandering path, from garden to city. We ponder our place in the midst of a creation in which the heavens declare the glory of God. Wondering and wandering, we seek rest in God’s presence and strength for the journey onward. The artists involved reflect on their participation in this years creative Lenten programme:
A series of talks, guided reflections and creative experiments took place in the immense space of the cathedral, the culmination of which we chose to call ‘Metamorphosis Workbook Number One.’ This itself forms part of the larger collection of work, ‘Flora and Fauna’ currently being formed by Maria Nilsson Waller. We visualised the thoughts, images, questions and reflections that surfaced during this time as forming a kind of eco-system, then used words to map out a ‘field-guide’ to that eco-system. Visitors to the final event were invited to visit each of the forts encountering poetry, dance, film, sound and live performance.
Maria Nilsson Waller writes:
This is the fourth year of me working in the cathedral during lent. I am grateful for this space to listen, discuss and reflect, and believe that spaces like this that generously allows all sorts of people to meet are rare in a more and more segregated society. A place for conversations and questions around life and spirit to take place is much needed in our times and I believe the church as well as the theatres and galleries can be those places when used well. I hope that our offering this year brought the art world and the church closer together and allowed space for reflection and contemplation.
We were working collaboratively and cross genre, including sound, music, text, installation and movement. For me, a personal highlight from the performance was when we joined the material from all three different forts in the centre in an attempt to build a new world, reflecting on revelations. As I was performing our duet, I realized that to some extent this could be an image of us approaching God. I had to transform from animal states in my body, into upright human positions of rest and care while approaching this mysterious blue fabric clad figure (Stace). I believe that approaching the holy is somehow a bit like approaching a being from another dimension, in a process that will transform us and turn us more human, loving and caring as we go.
Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.’ –Matthew 11:28
When I remember to see Christ in another person, when I am able to trust that God has a path for each of us, and a plan for our well-being I can take a break from trying to control and judge and impress others. This need to influence, to feel in charge is a heavy burden. Art and Christianity are two areas in my life where I can practice putting down that burden and shifting my focus towards meeting Christ in others.
Stace Gill writes:
Metamorphosis takes places in shelters designed, sweated, imagined! by the creature whose soft body requires a designated space to explore and transform! When we were children, softer, we built forts for privacy to be, to become, to explore, to know and to practice, to share secrets, to play, to unite with our pals – invisible to the adults and world they created outside our temporary cocoon! Here we created and ruled, over and over, not grasping the fort but flowing and allowing it to shape us, to form us until the next fort, when we gather again and we reshape; creators and rulers of our unique universes finding harmony with visitors and allowing them to flow freely too in this uncharted shelter, vessel, cocoon – fort.
Maria Nilsson Waller is a dance artist, choreographer and designer. She trained at the Royal Swedish Ballet school and Salzburg Experimental Academy of Dance. Maria regularly collaborates with artists from other disciplines such as choreographers, musicians, photographers, theatre and filmmakers and also composes music and designs for her own work. She has been awarded support by Konstnärsnämnden Sweden, the Irish Arts council, Dance Ireland, Dublin City Council, Culture Ireland, Region Jämtland Härjedalen and Kulturrådet, Sweden. She received the prestigious HATCH residency by Dance Ireland 2017, and Riksteaterns Production Residency, 2018 for Flora Fauna Project.
Stace Gill is a singer, writer and musician with The Sei (formerly OCHO). She has been releasing music with various record labels for over 10 years and has now joined forces with Maria on an ongoing dance/music collaboration called Flora Fauna Project. Stace is also the Creative Director at D-Light Studios – a multi functional space for art, culture and community projects and events.
Emma Fitzgerald is a member of St Patrick’s Parish in Greystones. She is a performer and choreographer whose work combines story-telling, dance and song. Emma’s work has been performed in New York, London and across Ireland with support from The Arts Council, Dance Ireland and Culture Ireland amongst others.
Abigail Sines is Dean’s Vicar in Christ Church Cathedral. As part of the cathedral’s Spirituality Programme, she seeks to make space for creative responses to Biblical texts and themes throughout the seasons in the church year.
Strong Threads, Lent 2018
Marian Nilsson Waller, Choreographer
Strong Threads was the third year of creative collaboration with Christ Church Cathedral during Lent. After 2 previous years of site specific promenade pieces that made use of and explored the unique architecture of the church I longed for a process that put more emphasis on the body and choreography. I felt drawn to create movement portraits of some the women surrounding Jesus, and was happy to see the concept expand to include some of the Old Testament women as well. I like the idea of thinking of the sacred story as a tapestry where all the threads and life stories throughout time is part of constructing the image. The fact that we chose this theme in a year where #metoo and #repeal8th swept over us seem timely.
We designed a process where conversations around each biblical character organically took us through a range of topics each week. It was fantastic to get input and shared thinking from a diverse group of fellow humans. While it all served as fodder to the final dance piece, each week and each conversation on its own felt like a precious thing in itself to me, and allowed me to engage with my dancers in a deeper way outside of the making of movement. Facilitating these kind of open “think tanks” as part of choreographic creation is a method I would like to keep and incorporate in my other projects as well, together with more time to contemplate and sit quietly in a space. At the end the solos where made by creating individual “scores” where text and music was also part of the presentation. Fragments of the original texts, the weekly conversations as well as poems and images that we used for inspiration was shared with the visitors as well, encouraging them to take their own journey into contemplation as part of the final presentation. I can only again express my appreciation to Christ Church for daring to open its doors to create a meeting space for artists and wider society and to allow different kinds of conversations and creativity can take place. This is a rare and precious thing, and very few places like this exist.
Call and Response, Lent 2017
Rachel Austin, Songwriter and Sound Artist
When Abigail Sines introduced me to Maria Nilsson Waller during the planning stages of Call and Response, we immediately found a rapport. Together, we dreamt up a process that would invite attendees to actively participate in a ritual that would reflect upon both the joy and gravity of Christ’s death and resurrection.
To begin, we gave a workshop in the Lady Chapel called Giving Voice, which focused on breath work and singing. I recorded it and used it as the bedrock for the collaboration with Maria.
Next, I re-recorded the sound from the workshop in the same spot where it took place; this process allowed me to hear the notes of the building and, in a very real sense, perform with the space. Christ Church Cathedral’s ornately carved arches, ancient tiles, and varying sizes of chapels sent the notes echoing across the building. I was creating a literal duet between the voices and the pure tone of Christ Church Cathedral.
Most Wednesdays in Lent found me sitting quietly with headphones recording at my computer, occasionally drooling as I listened to the Cathedral’s clearest resonances ringing out. On the fourth Wednesday, the frequencies began to shimmer off the multifaceted chapel ceiling and I really began to drool, hypnotised by the surprises drawn from the transcendent space.
Throughout this time, I also recorded questions that tourists and workshop participants found pressing upon them during Lent:
“When I wake up in the morning… what can I expect?”
“The more you try not to worry, not to be anxious – it seems like it just makes you more anxious. How are you supposed to be free from being worried?”
“I am gazing at the icon of the three angels at the table, reaching out to one another – the Trinity. But where is God? In the violence of this world, where is God – who is love? Why do ‘Christians’ hate and judge one another? Why do they judge others? Did Christ come to save just those who follow him? What about all the good Muslims, Hindus, Humanists?”
Maria and I met regularly to discuss how our work and thoughts were shaping up. We were both in turbulent moments; she was making decisions about her living situation. I was reeling: I’d spent the previous year traveling and had returned to Ireland after 3 months in the US, living there during the initial months of Trump’s presidency. Participating in all kinds of protests from ones with threats and impending gun violence to the larger scale one in DC, I stepped back onto Irish soil a changed person.
So our theme of giving voice to questions, of voicing the deeper untouchable parts of ourselves – this hung heavily upon us while we tried to make sense of the death and resurrection of Christ.
I spent my evenings sitting and listening solely to the Cathedral. As I sat, I wrote and wrote. I asked difficult questions and, for the first time in years, just sat with them. They manifested in my dreams, they manifested in my writings, they manifested in my conversations with Abigail and Maria. I realised that what comes out of Christ’s act is people’s desperate need for redemption, our desperate hope that whatever storm rages around us, that it’s leading us to a better place.