Contemporary Art in a Sacred Space


‘An Artist in Residence’ : An ethnographic longitudinal study Investigating Contemporary Art in a Sacred Space.’

This research was a longitudinal study looking at impact of contemporary artwork within a sacred space.  Conducted over five years this research follows a unique artist in residence programme. Through participant observation, surveys and narrative data, interaction between viewer, artwork and sacred space is thematically analysed.  This research identifies how participation with new structured art events and exhibitions has enabled a form of art culture to infiltrate and impact upon viewers of the artwork and wider population within the place it was established and observed. Results show development of the new artist in residence programme led to positive social, cultural, economic and geographical impact upon both the participants and sacred space, facilitating social action, agency, forging identity and sense of place, creating educational outreach and developing engagement and opportunities with new demographic, inspiring further art practice, enabling a change in perception and new constructs of meaning for a place. 

The field of study is a Cathedral city in Staffordshire, UK: Lichfield,  with a population at the time of 2011 census of 32,219.  A five year artist residency was appointed whereby the artist would produce and direct a range of artworks and exhibitions for the Cathedral and explore through a variety of visual arts mediums ways in which to communicate, create openness and accessibility to reach a wider audience, with aims to encourage the message and work of the Cathedral to engage with the community beyond the walls of the Cathedral itself. 

This request fit with the professional working of the artist whom had been working and developing artwork in the area since 2005 developing projects with the intention to help strengthen the artistic culture in the area where he was born.  Members of the local community, tourists and viewers of the new evolving public art programme have been interacting with the artworks and exhibitions taking place over the five year research duration. This research has followed the individual art projects created and recorded the interactions between visiting viewers, artworks created and the sacred space as host venue to such creations. 

The art projects observed for this longitudinal study were as follows:    

‘A City as Sculpture Exhibition’ – Exhibition in 2015 of 60 works of art by Peter Walker positioned in the outdoor grounds and interior of Lichfield Cathedral including, paintings, sculptures, and drawings.  

‘The Cathedral Illuminated’A large scale production art event with Son et Lumiere displays projected on the exterior and interior of Lichfield Cathedral and surrounding buildings.  Peter Walker visual artwork together with music by composer David Harper (Luxmuralis Artistic Collaboration) Attendee figures reaching 20,000 people each year.  Works include : ’The Angels Are Coming’ 2016, ‘Star of Wonder, Star of Light’, 2017, ‘Peace on Earth’, 2018, ‘The Beginning’ 2019.

Large scale installation artworks included educational outreach and mass participation in the creation of individual temporary sculptural installation artwork inside the Cathedral (including 2016: ’Starry Starry Night’, 2017: 10,000 Angels, 2018: Peace Doves, 2019: ‘In the Image and Likeness’) 

‘Before Action’ – A large scale exhibition August 2016 commemorating the battle of the Somme and WW1 inclusive of projection/digital artwork, installations, filmed readings by Eddie Redmayne OBE, sculpture and audio poetry.  6,000 people attended over 3 nights. 

‘Mr Turner comes to Lichfield’ – Exhibition April- June 2017 showcasing artworks exploring JMW Turner, including watercolour by Turner to be auctioned, depictions of Lichfield Cathedral by Peter Walker also work by John Piper and local artists who engaged with a competition to display their works within the exhibition.  19,640 people attended. 

‘The Great Exhibition’Large scale interior exhibition with each year covering a different theme and including unique temporary art installations, 2017:  ‘Earth, What a Wonderful World.’ , 2018: ‘Imagine Peace’ , 2019: Space, God, The Universe and Everything (including art installation ‘One Small Step’).  During The Great Exhibition each year the interior of Lichfield Cathedral was transformed with contemporary art, light, sound, installation art, and sculpture with a different theme each year. Viewers were encouraged to go on a walking journey around the interior space of the Cathedral exploring an experiential event designed to educate, inform and engage people with the artwork, space and subject matter at different areas around the interior of the sacred space. A unique and new operational model of working was established with the creation of this new annual feature. 

 ‘Imagining the Crucifixion’ Feb -April 2018 and ‘Journey to the Cross’ March – April 2019, this was a two part exhibition over two years, Peter Walker interpretation of the Stations of the Cross, including digital art, paintings, and drawings. Designed to engage people with the liturgical story in a new and contemporary art historical way. 

Total attendees 21,126.

 ‘The Consequence of War’ Exhibition curated by Peter Walker April – June 2018, designed to mark 100 years since the armistice of WW1 in 1918. Also Including artwork by Henry Moore, Graham Sutherland. 21,122 people attended. 

‘Poppy Fields’ - 2018 event with interior son et lumiere projection of Poppies in the Nave, including installation artwork (adaptation of ‘Before Action’) in commemoration of 100 years since Armistice.  Including display of 8 Victoria Crosses. Poppy fields was also taken on tour to other UK cathedrals. 5,272 people attended Lichfield Cathedral. 

The Peace Woodland – 1,918 trees saved from destruction and planted as a living artwork in Beacon Park, Lichfield. In commemoration of the Armistice and for future generations to have a permanent living artwork in the city. 

‘Light from Light’ - a light art installation for All souls day, 3 Beams of light on the three spires of the Cathedral and interior installation of white light beams in the shape of a cross.

‘Samuel Johnson Coming Home’  Exhibition September 2019 curated by Peter Walker of the portrait of the famous son of Lichfield, Samuel Johnson painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds, displayed in Lichfield Cathedral as part of a major National Portrait Gallery project.  Johnson’s portrait was displayed in Lichfield Cathedral’s Chapter House alongside a selection of notable books from the Cathedral library and a painting of Samuel Johnson visiting the Cathedral on loan from the Samuel Johnson Birthplace Museum.  25,572 attendees

St Chad StatueThe creation of a new bronze statue to be sited on the grounds of Lichfield Cathedral.  Including design stages, armature and clay construction, engagement with public via open studio and exhibition of drawings, installation and unveiling. 

Each of the above projects have been observed, with data collected where possible at the events and exhibitions as they occurred. Focus of study has been on demographics attending including looking at age, gender, location travelled, religious beliefs, previous participation with art exhibitions at the venue, level of importance of art exhibitions, return viewers, overall participant experience, economic impact, and educational outreach. Both qualitative and quantitative data was collected on site. 



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