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Stations of the Cross, St Stephen Walbrook, London, 2017

Laura Moffatt, ‘Stations of the Cross and Resurrection’, Art & Christianity, No 90, Summer 2017
Muriel Zagha, ‘From Psycho to Transcendence’, Elephant, 2017
Stations of the Cross | Stations of the Resurrection, Stations 2017, catalogue, ISBN 978-1-5272-0874-2s 

from the series Stations of the Cross

© acknowledgements:
artist’s original footage
As I Roved Out (Planxty) 


The Second Station: Jesus carries his cross

A reading from The Symbolic Christology of Paul Tillich, by H.D. McDonald:

It is a … characteristic of the symbol that it should participate in the reality which it represents. A true religious symbol is one which not only points to the divine but participates in the power of the divine to which it points. In some sense it radiates the power and meaning for which it stands. Tillich shows particular anxiety to labour the point by a constant reiteration. Symbols cannot be created at will. In this respect they are to be distinguished from signs. Symbols are, so to speak, socially created; they are due to the ‘unconscious-conscious reaction of the group’. The individual, it is declared, can devise signs for his own ends, but the symbol is given; and it carries with it the ‘acceptability’ of the group. The sign is therefore arbitrary, possessing no ‘innate power’, and having no ‘necessary character’. Symbols have the power of opening up dimensions of reality which would otherwise remain obscured or closed. ‘Religious symbols mediate ultimate reality through things, persons, events which because of their mediating functions receive the quality of “holy”’.

Symbols have the power to integrate or disintegrate either individuals or groups. They can create or destroy. The religious symbol in particular has all the characteristics of representative symbols. They are essentially ‘figurative’, and they must be ‘perceptible’ in the sense that in the symbol the intrinsically invisible, ideal, or transcendent is represented, and is thus given ‘objectivity’. But the distinguishing feature of religious symbols is to be found in the fact ‘that they are a representation of that which is unconditionally beyond the conceptual sphere; they point to the reality implied in the religious act, to what concerns us ultimately’.

‘Original footage (shot by the artist) of a bird trapped within an airport lobby is set against the Irish folk ballad As I Roved Out, recorded by Planxty in 1975. As Christy Moore starts singing, the bird launches into flight, but is restricted by the large glass windows of the atrium. The astragals form a cross. The bird drops to the floor and hops forward to rest at the base of this ‘cross’, all the time shifting in and out of focus. The sense of confinement is in contrast with the space beyond where aeroplanes are assumed to be taking off and landing. The song lyrics speak of the regrets of a man who jilts his true love in favour of ‘the lassie with the land’. This may be understood as a reference to Judas’ betrayal of Jesus, or to Simon Peter denying Jesus three times the night after his arrest. Either way, the viewer is placed in the position of the betrayer: in the song, the singer looks over and spies his true love ‘under yon willow tree’, in this context an oblique reference to Jesus carrying his cross; the slipping focus of the camera and the exhaustion of the bird a metaphor for his failing physical strength. The image also reverberates with Jesus’ words to his disciples, ‘Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care… So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.’ In this passage in Matthew’s Gospel, he also predicts, ‘Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child.”

Lucy Newman Cleeve, ‘From Station to Station – In the Order of Signs’