THE WORLD GOES POP
Until 24 January 2016
If you thought Pop Art was cheerful and fun, let Tate Modern disabuse you. In this show we have all the apparatus of Pop Art – acrylic paint, unmodulated colour, montage, the supremacy of the idea, and quirky juxtaposition. And it is largely at the service of agitprop, anti-Americanism, anti-consumerism, anti-fascism, and militant feminism. It’s not Roy Lichtenstein or Andy Warhol. It’s not Richard Hamilton or Peter Blake. Is it Pop Art at all?
If Pop Art is the easily digestible art from the 1950s to the 1980s with the characteristics listed above, then World Pop certainly derived from Pop Art. Andy Warhol shows how this is so. He used techniques that World Pop copied. He makes a point – perhaps just one point – about the consumer society that World Pop amplified. But Warhol went on to commercialise his take on consumerism into a lifetime’s career. You might call that knowing irony or a sell-out. Or (to be kinder) a tease by the enfant terrible who becomes an Establishment darling. But Warhol’s mainstream Pop Art is ‘Pop.’ It is popular in a way that many of the artists in this show are not.
Mainstream Pop Art is popular because it is consumerist, and whether the artists in this show liked it or not – and many of them didn’t – consumerism goes down very well with consumers. At Tate Modern, Hollywood culture is criticised by those who want to preserve their own national cultures and by middle class intellectuals – but Hollywood sells because Hollywood appeals.
A more interesting difference between mainstream Pop Art and World Pop is that, in many cases, World Pop came from countries where there was significantly less freedom than the US: countries like France and Japan; or, more seriously, Romania and Spain. Curiously, the Spanish Pop Art scene was not only allowed to flourish under Franco but even self-critiqued to the extent that artists began to suggest that political exhortation and agitprop are boring. Of course, there is no Pop Art from the People’s Republic of China or the Soviet Union – countries that many of these artists looked up to.
The flipside of World Pop’s politics is that this show doesn’t have much of mainstream Pop Art’s humour or hedonism. Mainstream Pop Art celebrated being young and sexy. World Pop preached against patriarchy and the objectification of women. Those are serious topics; but not ones likely to be popular with the buying public, however just and important they are.
And in justice to the show’s curators, they are aware of this. But if it is the case that the British and American originators of Pop Art defined and limited the movement that they founded in an imperialist way, then World Pop artists need to win their place at the table with works that hold their own against mainstream Pop Art in their wit and invention and technical panache. Not many do. Ushio Shinohara’s ‘Doll Festival,’ one of the show’s signature pieces, does stand out with more than a hint of Madame Butterfly about it. It is one of the few works that might be remembered. And Boris Bućan’s series of brand logos transformed into art to comment on the relationship of branding and art in Yugoslavia does work. It’s amusing, and makes its point about the capture and degradation of Art by Business. That is not a simply a twentieth-century American evil: In Renaissance Florence the masters of the universe sponsored Botticelli and Michelangelo just as commercially as Ernst and Young have sponsored, ‘The EY Exhibition: The World Goes Pop.’
Amongst other works worth a look, Bernard Raucillac’s ‘Triptych’ satirises the part played by the United States in the Vietnam War and imagines what it would be like if Viet Cong soldiers stormed into American homes in the way G.I.s did Vietnamese homes. Jana Želibská’s ‘Kandarya – Mahadeva’, a neon and plastic Hindu Temple, is also entertaining and originally thought to be too lewd for public display. At least it isn’t earnest.
THE PARISH OF ST PETER
AND THE HOLY APOSTLES,
A New History
Privately printed, 155pp, pbk
Available from St Peter’s Vicarage,
23 Wyndham Square, Plymouth, PL1 5EG
This is a full, well-illustrated, and detailed account of an important church in Plymouth: important as the first CofE church in the Catholic Revival to have a recognised place for women in the service of God in the form of the Devonport Sisters of Mercy, founded by Priscilla Lydia Sellon in the middle of a cholera outbreak.
Sellon and her helpers worked tirelessly throughout the epidemic; and some of the Sisters were among those who later went to the Crimea to work with Florence Nightingale. The part of the book that deals with the Sisters of Mercy indicates the distinctive part played by Catholic women in the early period of the revival and since, which helped to establish the ethos of Anglo-Catholicism and the success of the Oxford Movement in the west of England.
St Peter’s was prominent in this movement, devoting itself to love of God and of his people: especially by bringing to the poor care, welfare, friendship, and accommodation; and, for the young, education grounded in the Christian faith. The work continued through many vicissitudes and under the leadership of a succession of devoted priests. It has gained the admiration of Catholics all over the world as a ‘pioneer’ church.
One of the most intriguing sections of the book describes – but with too much discretion for the curious reader – the development of the school after the war by a new headmistress who apparently wanted to open the school, firmly catholic in its character, to ‘other schools of thought’. This led to the resignation of the parish priest from the board of governors. The word used by the author is the Revd Tickner’s ‘stand’: a word that hints at a breakdown in relations. It sounds enthralling.
The parish had a very well equipped youth club; but this was hit by social change with the advent of ‘pop’ music and related developments. Another interesting part of the book deals with controversies in the CofE over liturgy and innovations like the ordination of women.
St Peter’s Church was destroyed in the bombing raids of the Second World War. It was later rebuilt at great expense, and has recently been restored and reordered. This history is a very worthwhile book.
CHRIST IN A CHOPPIE BOX
Sermons from North East England
Michael Sadgrove, ed. Carol Harrison
Sacristy Press, 254pp, pbk
978 1910519103, £11.99
‘You really walk into these things, don’t you?’ Not words spoken by Edmund Blackadder to the hapless Baldrick in the BBC comedy series; but said to me by Michael Sadgrove, with a characteristic twinkle in his eye, on one occasion when I had failed to see that what he had just said to me was a light hearted quip and not a serious comment.
Like the Archbishop of Canterbury, who has written the foreword to this book, I owe Michael as great debt of gratitude for his kindness to me personally when I was the newly appointed Provost of Wakefield. At that time he was Provost of the neighbouring cathedral of Sheffield, and his advice and care meant a tremendous amount to me as I settled into my new ministry.
Michael’s often deadpan delivery conceals an impish but kind sense of humour. His ability to move seamlessly from humour to deep insight to scholarly comment means that you have to be swift on your feet in conversation with him.
This combination of so many aspects of this talented and attractive personality comes out very strongly in the collection of his sermons delivered, mostly from the cathedral pulpit, during his twelve years as Dean of Durham. This selection from the many sermons he must have preached is edited and introduced by Carol Harrison, who is now Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity at Oxford. As she says in her introduction, she also owes much to Michael’s wisdom and kindness on her own Christian journey.
The sermons printed cover a very large range of subjects and would have been preached on occasions ranging from times of international trauma – the attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001, for example, or the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 – to the more intimate marking of anniversaries of personal life, and to reflective moments on Christian ministry.
I could spend a long time walking you, gentle reader, through these sermons. But what struck me about this book was what an excellent insight it has on the part played by the sermon and the preacher in what I might call ‘The Christian Experience’.
There is a tendency in some of the more Protestant parts of the Church to see the sermon as being a ‘freestanding’ thing in itself. Michael firmly squashes this notion by reminding us that a sermon is part of the liturgy. He calls preaching à public liturgical act’. Citing John Wesley’s description of the Eucharist as a ‘converting ordinance’, he emphasises that ‘the liturgy is holy theatre in which numinous reality can be felt and touched. This is the setting in which preaching has its natural home’.
But Michael is also incredibly helpful in his reflections and advice to his fellow preachers. Just as there is ‘holy theatre’, as above, so there is ‘deadly theatre’: which he translates into ‘deadly preaching’! He goes on to list his ‘top sins’ committed by deadly preachers. These include being too long; ignoring the text; playing to the galley; lacking shape or direction; falling into cliché, but above all – being boring.
He suggests that preaching is a kind of art and the preacher is an artist. The sermon is an art form and that the preacher’s material as an artist is words. Readers will not need me to remind them of the power of words, and of their ability to inspire and to kill inspiration. Michael reminds those who would preach not only of the context in which they must preach (worship), but also the heavy privilege they bear to be artists of the Word of God.
I was very pleased to be asked to review this book. It is one that I shall continue to quarry, not only through the sermons for material for my own poor attempts at preaching; but also for the wisdom and humour Michael deploys to help the preacher and listener see what the art of preaching is and is for. I strongly comment it to priests for themselves and to laypeople as a gift for their priests.
If by the way, you were wondering what the ‘Choppie Box’ of the title is, then Michael explains it. The trough out of which pit ponies in the North East of England used to feed was called a ‘Choppie Box’. When the Durham Cathedral Christmas Crib was built by an ex-miner, he used a genuine choppie box for the manger. That in turn gave Michael a wonderful idea for a Christmas sermon, which is itself printed in this wonderful book.
TREMBLING ON THE EDGE OF ETERNITY
Fr Augustine Hoey – A
Anthony Pinchin & Graeme Jolly obl.OSB
St Michael’s Abbey Press, 140pp, hbk
978 0907077688, £9.95
Available from www.theabbeyshop.com
When I was in formation for the priesthood at the College of the Resurrection, Mirfield, the name of Fr Augustine Hoey was one of legend. He was someone of whom I was vaguely aware, and was often talked about with awe and trembling. A close friend of mine, a Sister of the Society of St Margaret, often talked about helping on missions with him as he packed people into the confessional with his wit and the powerful preaching that was typical of the Mirfield Missions of the time.
It is only recently I have had the privilege to meet Fr Augustine, walking through Walsingham in his now-trademark long black coat and clerical hat: quiet and gentle but with a delicious twinkle in his eyes.
This beautifully produced memoir is written in a very easy and readable style, so that one would almost think that Fr Augustine had written the text himself (though there are extensive quotations from his own writings); and the contributors – among them Lord Williams of Oystermouth, Mgr John Armitage, and many members of the Community of the Resurrection – stand as testament to the book and the man himself.
The book gives a picture of the Church of England and the Mirfield Missions from the 1960s to the 1980s, as well as deep insights into Fr Augustine’s own faith. It is amazing to think that, in his hundredth year, he is probably one of the few people who remember the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham in the very early days: a place, for him, ‘Trembling on the edge of Eternity’.
MUCH ADO ABOUT SOMETHING
A vision of Christian maturity
SPCK, 252pp, pbk
978 0281073627, £12.99
Since Freud, psychology and religion have been at war; so it is rare to find folk who speak with authority on both – let alone one – able to build from both realms to spiritual profit. Much ado about something as a title invokes the ‘some-thing-who-is-no-thing’: God the Holy Spirit, under whose guidance Dr Larry Culliford provides this ‘vision of Christian maturity’. It is an invitation to loosen from ‘sadness, anxiety, anger, bewilderment, doubt, guilt and shame’; and to allowing in ‘the unforced, intuitive emergence and expression of loving kindness, wisdom, compassion and creativity’ that honours Jesus Christ as spiritual teacher and saviour, while being open to other religious traditions. It is a practical ‘work-out-your-own-salvation’ book with the conviction that God works through human maturation; and that, as Thomas Merton put it, ‘to be a saint is to be myself… discovering my true self’.
Larry Culliford is a committed Anglican who has worked for 20 years as an NHS psychiatrist. This book builds on his previous work – Love, Healing and Happiness – as well as a series of popular self-help books that Larry has written under the pen-name of Patrick Whiteside. As a psychiatrist he concludes that a lot of human misery is linked to spiritual deficit, since the five realms of the physical, biological, psychological, social, and spiritual are interwoven: we are victims of the neglect of the latter in western culture.
In psychological talk we have let the unitary mastership of the right brain be usurped by its dualistic left brain counterpart. The latter ‘is so averse to uncertainty and intolerant of doubt that it can only cope by picking one interpretation as correct’; whereas ‘the right brain lives contentedly, so to speak, with change and uncertainty’.
The author admires Thomas Merton, whose later writings open up a vision of inclusion across religions as mature followers of each find affinity in increasing spiritual depth. There are rich Merton quotes, such as the affirmation that ‘we are living in a world that is absolutely transparent and the divine is shining through it all the time. This is not just a nice story or fable… it is true’, and this definition: ‘Contemplation is the highest expression of man’s intellectual and spiritual life. It is that life itself, fully awake, fully alive, fully aware that it is alive. It is spiritual wonder. It is spontaneous awe at the sacredness of life, of being’.
Culliford looks to the east – with its unitary and holistic spiritualities – and tends to rewrite Christian spirituality to shade out dualism, which is a challenge to assertive ways of evangelisation. His book is a great encouragement for unveiling self-seeking as counter to what God is all about in Jesus Christ; and in its affirming of disciplines that aid spiritual maturation. Wisdom and compassion go together: enthusiasm without sympathy and sympathy without enthusiasm are equally alien before God.
Given the human insight in Much ado about something, and its confident treatment of Christianity in relation to other faiths, this is a good book for helping open minded spiritual seekers follow the Holy Spirit into the Church as a spiritual body, which it is, and which the author does a good job at evidencing.
Being a Collection of Twenty Four
Conferences Divided into Three
John Cassian, Translated by A Father of
the Oxford Oratory
Gracewing, 572pp, pbk
978 0852448397, £25
There have been few English translations of the full Collations – or Conferences – of John Cassian. This new publication from Gracewing is a welcome addition to the canon, albeit not as scholarly an edition as that edited by Boniface Ramsey and published in 1997.
Cassian was born in Dacia, modern Romania, in about 360. As a young man – along with an older friend, Germanus – he became a monk in Bethlehem. From Palestine they both went to Egypt and stayed there, perhaps for ten years, making the acquaintance of famous ascetics mainly in the Delta region. After Egypt they went to Constantinople, where the bishop St John Chrysostom ordained Cassian deacon and Germanus priest; then they went on to Rome where Cassian was ordained priest. He possibly left there to minister in Antioch. Finally, he settled near Marseilles and founded two monasteries, one for men and one for women, in about 415. His Institutes contain the ordinary rules for the monastic life and other teachings for the guidance of his monks, which had a profound influence on subsequent western monastic life.
The twenty-four Conferences were also written in Latin in Marseilles. They contain Cassian’s recollections of the teachings of the many Desert Fathers, whom he had met long before; and also incorporate his own insights and reflections on the ascetic life. His conversations with the monks in Egypt would have been in Greek. Conference 13 – which has been regarded as doctrinally suspect for its supposed ‘semi-Pelagianism’ – is here described by the anonymous translator of this edition as ‘being sometimes inconsistent’. Cassian died a few years after 430.
The emphasis in each chapter of the Conferences is always on the teaching of an Abba, who is sometimes described. Cassian and Germanus listen avidly but rarely pose even a question to the experienced, usually elderly, holy monk. The conferences are divided into three parts: ten in the first, seven in the second, and seven in the third. The conferences are attributed to fifteen Abbas, and the subjects range widely even during a single conference.
The first and second Conferences are attributed to Abba Moses, and concern the goal and end of the monk: purity of heart that leads the monk to eternal life in God’s kingdom. The subject of the second Conference is discretion: a highly necessary virtue in the ascetic life. Abba Moses came from Nubia, and had been a brigand and a murderer before becoming a monk; but Cassian thought him remarkable and incomparable. Abba Paphnutius provides the third Conference, on the necessity of renunciation of the desires of the flesh and of the spirit. Two conferences by Abba Isaac, who knew St Antony, give advice on prayer. Every monk aims to be constant and persevering in prayer, which requires rejection of vice and the practice of virtue, so that prayer becomes unceasing. Whatever he does or thinks or receives will be prayer.
Other conferences are devoted to perfection, chastity, friendship, mortifications, and many other subjects.
The seventeenth Conference, on making promises, leads to a discussion about lying. It is an exercise in discretion occasioned by Cassian and Germanus’s asking whether they should keep the promise made to their superiors in Bethlehem that they would return. They decided to stay in Egypt for another seven years; but they did eventually return, and were allowed to go back to Egypt almost immediately.
Cassian is more of a psychologist than a speculative theologian. He was a master of the inner life with a keen insight into human needs and the workings of the human mind. The Fifth Conference, for instance, demonstrates a shrewd understanding of the eight principal vices and gives a clear presentation of their inter-connections. Often in the conferences he shows a great capacity to analyse and systematize his material. His common sense ensures that he recommends nothing impossible or hard. He advocates moderation in the exercise of spiritual disciplines.
John Cassian came to realise that the solitary life was not for everyone, and nor was it more perfect than the sound practice of coenobitism or community life. He intended the Conferences to guide his monks and nuns in Marseilles. Soon they were circulating in religious communities everywhere, and much of his teaching was incorporated into the Rule of St Benedict: anyone who desires to live a good and prayerful life will benefit from this collection of the wisdom of the Desert Fathers. It is important, however, to use them with discretion, and therefore the advice of a wise guide is essential. The preacher will find in these Conferences plenty of subjects to consider and develop. ND
Crispin Harrison CR