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Seeing and not seeing - more confrontations with art... / 24 May 2014

I rolled through some really powerful rain. There were rumbles of thunder and Salisbury Cathedral Close was deserted. Visibility was poor, water was splashing onto the stones of the sculpture 'Sanctuary' and steaming off rather like a vintage Hitchcock movie.
I've done my best with the stones, on March 15th I blogged my initial reaction. Last week on a sunny day I took my lunch and joined the hordes of tourists sunbathing on their stored heat. I watched small children play with one of the smaller pieces that they had managed to dislodge and roll around the green. I searched their eyes, their body language for reactions to the stones as something other than the happy convenience of somewhere free to sit and eat lunch. I laid fingers on the polished surfaces of a jagged, faceted sphere; imagined myself sucked into the vortex of a sliced doughnut of shimmering stone; I have repeatedly failed to find the 'contained sanctuary within the larger contemplative sanctuary of the Close'.


Hovering in the swirls of steam and battered by the rain, My unconscious made sudden connection to the work of Icelandic photographer Anna Maria Sigurjonsdottir. (Both Sanctuary (John  Maine) and Eyjafjallajokull (Anna Maria Sigurjonsdottir) are exhibits in the current Salisbury International Arts Festival).


Anna Maria's photographs are stunning. Eyjafjallajokull includes images of spectacular ash clouds from the erupting volcano. Each one is immaculate, the unframed images might be almost ready to step in to. Except that all that pixel perfection somehow slithers away from me. On my way from Salisbury Arts Centre where the photographs are being exhibited, the irony of rolling from the crisp and calm illusion of Eyjafjallajokull into the wet and blurry turmoil of Sanctuary, is not lost on me. 
I wanted to be overwhelmed by the vaste emptiness of Iceland, to know the power of nature taking my breath away, the threat of ash tormenting my lungs, the chaos and majesty of the uncontainable. To my dismay, instead of being able to immerse myself in nature's powerful indifference to me, I was confronted by my own indifference: indifference to the caged and polished perfection of this curiosity with the similar incongruence of lions in a zoo.
Drenched in the midst of Sanctuary stonework being rain-battered into the earth, my thoughts are being slammed home by the rumbling majesty of Salisbury thunder. Here are two exhibitions offering me quite the opposite of what I seek, titles that lead me astray with contradictions to my lived experiences. Titles that offer me no way in; break down no barriers; leave me feeling embarrassed, like when you open your arms to someone who looks you in the eye before slowly, wilfully, turning their back.


So what am I avoiding? What is it I don't want to see?
I'm having to work so hard to glimpse anything, but maybe both exhibitions are offering me the opportunity to explore the nature and illusion of 'safe' and the human need to find or create recognisably non-threatening realities? Is this the opportunity to explore someone else's sanctuary? Someone else's idea of living inside the monster?

 


Here was bread, food for poet,
printed out in haunting glimpses
that chased me back to words,
possibly strained in translation, where
acknowledging the sins of God
Omar Khayyam politely asks
a darkened deity to accept
the forgiveness of man; takes it
upon his shoulders to forgive
the devising of the snake. And
are there women who, similarly,
offer this olive branch? Or are they
too busy with the peace of poetry
up to their elbows - bread dough being
just perfect for the removal
of printing ink from the hard to reach
crannies of printmakers fingernails.
And the starving people mocked by
the non-food of Communion bread,
do they too yearn for flesh-pink ham;
fantasise a sexist Tavern Green?
What kind of love means more
to hungry folk than bread?
And the poet - is she too hungry
for inspiration?