The Sparrow

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video and sound
duration: 5 min

Stations of the Cross, St Stephen Walbrook, London, 2017
Stations 2020, Arts Chaplaincy Projects, 2020

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) 

Commentary by Lucy Newman Cleeve for Stations 2020

The Second Station: Jesus carries his cross

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. Such imagery finds new resonances in this current season of lockdown, where entire populations are self-isolating and aircraft fleet are grounded, leaving families separated across borders and continents. 

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 do not 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.’ The song ends with the words, “In hopes that you and I will meet again.” It is a hope with which many at this time can identify.