May 2012 After the Decision

May 19, 2012

May 2012. After the Decision.

From the News Release of 11th May 2012

‘Trustees for Quakers in Britain have agreed to go ahead with an inspiring refurbishment of the large meeting space in Friends House, London. However, in a move which will dismay some and reassure others, Trustees have decided to decline the offer to incorporate a feature called a Skyspace, including a retractable roof, created by Quaker artist James Turrell and instead opted for a plain fixed glass roof light.  Trustees say they heard concerns that to install the major artwork may be in conflict with Quaker commitment to become a low-carbon sustainable community and may not be a right use of money.

So where now for those who are disappointed but not dismayed?  The concerns, or arguments ( in an academic sense of cases argued for) about the greenness of the project are strong.  Without full knowledge of the technicalities I am prepared to accept them.  In the context of the Quaker decisions last year to adjust our communal life style to a simpler, greener one this fits in. In the context of not spending money ‘unnecessarily’ when many in our neighbourhoods are short of necessities and fearful of the future this fits in.  Some Skyspaces are almost rudimentary in character, in rough country, open to the rain, but still have costs to run them.  In a large building in a city the costs would be considerable. For me these two arguments are the clinchers.

Light is significant for Quakers. Trustees, in their minute said: ‘The central importance of light, both natural and artificial, in the installation resonates with the longstanding significance of light in the expression of faith for Quakers.  There are many who are enthusiastic about this aspect of the Skyspace.  However, we have also heard concerns that the installation does not necessarily reflect our concept of the Light being from within, reflecting our experiential approach to spirituality and faith.’

What about art and theology?  Ah well, those are things that Quakers do not indulge in much. In the 20th Century they grew to appreciate the arts, to make art themselves, to give artworks to each other and their buildings, but I can’t think of examples of Quakers buying art or commissioning art.  James Turrell  talks about his Quaker grandmother’s use of ‘the light’ but his own explanations and interpretations of the effects of light are drawn from physics and art.   It is we who introduce our concepts about the Quaker experiential approach to spirituality, and I think misunderstand it in this minute.  So these two points are not clinchers, but tentative explorations of the risks of art and defining spirituality. Yorkshire Quaker Arts Projects, working alongside Yorkshire Sculpture Park, will help continue these explorations.

 So what now?  Still ‘the light is ours, the sky is ours, and we are all equal before it’.  We can all celebrate this without a Turrell installation in Friends House. We can note the light from the sky wherever it occurs, framed in buildings or between our fingers.  We shall have a striking feature in the large meeting room, which will call to mind the more concentrated experience in Turrell Skyspaces.  And wherever we are  we can continue to ‘go inside to greet the light’ in all its meanings and challenges.



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