Where do you worship?
February 4, 2015

Bill Viola's new commission in St Paul's Cathedral and Ruper Newman's light show within a chapel revive the age-old link between the church and the gallery for the digital ag

Light and colour have always been an important trope in Christian art and allegory; illiterate medieval congregations would have looked at the stained glass images to decode the Latin Mass they were unable to understand. Projection mapping connects the digital to the physical, and in Rupert Newman’s light projections, to the spiritual. A galactic-themed show at the Guildhall is his most recent commission, whilstAltered Perspectives, first premiered during last year’s Frieze London, was encored in December at the chapel in the House of St. Barnabus.

Falling somewhere between animation and abstraction, Newman’s light shows map kaleidoscopic arrangements of colours and shapes to the contours of buildings. A curious interplay between reality and illusion emerges, the projections at once transporting us from and bringing us closer to the space. A recurring sequence of coloured shards of glass that build, shatter and collapse creates an experience both reflective and dramatic. His light pieces begin as paintings on paper, the cyclical nature of the work reflected in his processes. “The majority of my projects are reverse engineered - I know the technological boundaries, and work backwards from there,” he explains.

Newman’s background in textiles brings an important focus on materials; in Altered Perspectives, the light seems to create ripples and waves as it cloaks the walls, transforming the stone through textural illusion. This elemental quality finds a resonance in Martyrs, Bill Viola’s long-term installation commission at St. Paul’s Cathedral, in which four videos depict stoic individuals overwhelmed by earth, air, fire and water. The dramatic tension of this ritual is somewhat diluted as its seven-minute video loop becomes a cycle, their endurance emerging in each reiteration as increasingly inevitable. Here, a tangible counterpoint to the perilous uncertainty that so often characterises religious rhetoric is given, instead offering a safe certainty in the repetition inherent to the technology of Viola’s medium.


A curious interplay between reality and illusion emerges, the projections at once transporting us from and bringing us closer to the space.


Viola’s piece comes as the latest in a career-long focus on spiritual suggestion in art, which will be followed up this year with a companion piece, Mary. The blank faces of the martyrs are reiterated in the somewhat eerie absence of sound amidst the tourist bustle of St. Paul’s. Newman’s work, on the other hand, finds the “additional dimension of sound vital in providing a sonic transcription of opposition to the visual geometry of the piece, creating an immersive and mesmeric event,” as he states in our emailed correspondence.

It is certainly clear that Newman’s pieces are events in themselves; site-specific and ephemeral, the role of the viewer is caught somewhere between audience and congregation. This is only heightened by the choral soundtrack and smell of burnt sage that accompanies Altered Perspectives. Meanwhile at St. Paul’s, Viola’s Martyrs deliberately references the Greek meaning ‘witness’, again bringing an interior focus on the viewer’s position. Striking parallels can also be found in the two artists’ stated aims: Viola hopes to make works that act as “practical objects of traditional contemplation and devotion”, while Newman wishes his work to be “positive … even therapeutic.”

Both artists also reference a modern association between art galleries and churches, suggesting the idea that these spaces affect our behaviours and moods in similar ways. The Catholic Church was the most important patron of Western art for centuries, and Martyrs is only the latest in St. Paul’s ongoing arts programme, which counts Yoko Ono, Rebecca Horn and Antony Gormley as alumni. The intersection of church and gallery is perhaps most apparent when looking out from the Golden Gallery of St. Paul’s and faced with another temple of worship, Tate Modern, to which Viola’s work will be consigned following its tenure at the Cathedral. Both Viola and Newman immerse their audience in an awareness of this dual, hallowed atmosphere, challenging them to yield to a sense of spirituality that balances divinity with agnosticism. Together, their pieces bring a stillness and sense of wonder that feels a little like prayer.


Rupert Newman’s upcoming commissions will be shown at Milner Hall and the London Business School.

Bill Viola’s next commission at St. Paul’s, 'Mary', will be installed later this year.



Google: Words Beyond Grammar
In a time when most of our exchanges with the world take place on the Internet, Boris Groys examines how Google has taken on the traditional role of religion and philosophy. Selected by Libreria for our New Mythologies reading list.
Battling the Gods
Journeying into the ancient Mediterranean, Tim Whitmarsh shines a light on atheism’s first thousand years and uncovers the history and tradition of non-belief. Curated by Libreria for our New Mythologies launch.
The artist capturing water with code
Sophia Collier carves liquid moments in time, making incredible shimmering sculptures that capture fluid waves with computer code
Maintenant Festival
Set in Rennes, France, Maintenant festival is organized by Electroni[k] association and presents from 7th to 16th October a snapshot of artistic contemporary creativity in visual arts, music and new technologies. Line-up includes Masayoshi Fujita, Aurora Halal, Jackson, Pearson Sound, Ben UFO, Lena Willikens as well as installations by Joris Strijbos & Daan Johan or Studio PSK among others. Maintenant is part of SHAPE (www.shapeplatform.eu)
Katie Paterson delves into outer space to find her home
In a moving exhibition at Manchester’s The Lowry, the artist journeys into the cosmos to uncover the universal connections that keep us together
Straight-talking minimalism in Dan Flavin show
‘It is what it is and it ain’t nothing else’ – Flavin’s iconic fluorescent light works at Ikon Gallery offer an immersion in a spiritual sense of space
Sebastian Kite uses light and colour to alter perception
The artist collaborates on ‘Hue’ to create projections that respond to the ambience of a space. Featured in our partnership with WeTransfer
New ballet explores the potential of light
UVA joins forces with choreographer Benjamin Millepied to produce Clear, Loud, Bright, Forward, an innovative new production held at the Paris Opera Ballet
We will meet in the place where there is no darkness
'We will meet in the place where there is no darkness' is a site-specific installation exploring the relationship between space, light and sound by artist-architect Sebastian Kite. A weekly dance performance enables a different reading of the installation.
Step into Philippe Parreno’s visionary world
Philippe Parreno’s latest exhibition comes to a monumental hangar in Milan, tackling the introspection of post-digital society through a series of innovative installations