Curating Worship: Greenbelt, Animalism and the Familiar

19 09 2009

Lots of people are talking about curating worship.  Mark Pierson is probably the first person who I encountered talking about it, and he’s written a useful post here

I’ve encountered some suspicion that it is alt.worship/emerging people appropriating a term so they sound “more artsy”.  I don’t think so and the work of Mark and of Jonny Baker and others would suggest that is about a shift in our theology and practice of worship. 

There was a panel about curation at Greenbelt and the notes from that and my own experiences of going to exhibitions and engaging with new spaces (sabbatical touristing?!) have been sparking some thinking about curation.  The Greenbelt panellists, convened by Jonny Baker talked about curation as constructing an environment for engagement, attending to navigation, experience and flow.  Curation is a site of message sending.  It’s a way of providing for the viewer to get involved.

One of the things I’ve been thinking about is how we respond to unfamiliar environments.  I’ve noticed a lot as I’ve wandered around London on my own, with no familiar landmarks or faces, that I think I see people I know out of the corner of my eye: those who people my familiar landscape.  My eye is constantly looking for someone or something I know.

At the National Media Museum  (which is in Bradford, not London) I saw the animalism exhibition [Very engaging, loved Don McCullin too, but that’s for another post].  One of the works is James and Other Apes by James Mollison: rows of tightly cropped ape faces – portraits of orphaned and maltreated apes now in sanctuaries.  Oddly, (? it felt odd anyway) I started to assign gender to the ape faces.  To order them, make sense of them. 

It is making me think a lot about the way we make installations and curate worship spaces.  About entry points.  About accessibility.  About being confrotned by the categories with which we order the world.  How in all of that, do we invite encounters with grace?  (which connects to something Cheryl Lawrie said on the panel – she curates spaces which are about “the city as a place in which grace might become real”).

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