On Saturday 26 May Canterbury Cathedral became home to a series of large-scale installations by international glass artists Baldwin & Guggisberg for the exhibition Under an Equal Sky. The exhibition will continue until 11 November this year.
Programmed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War, Under an Equal Sky will take visitors on a journey round the Cathedral that begins with a 20-metre installation of 100 glass amphorae suspended in the shape of a ship and ends with a glass wall filled with multi-coloured vessels.
Under an Equal Sky brings together 10 new works reflecting on themes of war and remembrance, and asks the viewer to consider in particular the civilian casualties of war as well as the importance of community and empathy for others. Baldwin & Guggisberg work mostly in glass, an ancient medium that has changed little in hundreds of years and lends itself to story-telling in an ecclesiastical setting. Using the symbolism of boats and empty vessels, their work brings to mind some of the familiar images of our times: refugees packed into boats fleeing for their lives, and migrants seeking new horizons.
Canterbury Cathedral, its rich history and community, is central to the exhibition. The Cathedral Crypt provided sanctuary for the Huguenots in the 16th and 17th centuries when they were fleeing persecution in Europe and their descendants still worship in French there every week.
The exhibition coincides with the Cathedral’s five-year, £25 million programme of essential conservation work made possible thanks to a £13.8m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, match funded by Canterbury Cathedral Trust through private donors and benefactors. Philip Baldwin and Monica Guggisberg comment: ‘The focal point of the exhibition, Boat of Remembrance, would not have been possible if it hadn’t been for the Nave roof being covered by a safety deck, giving us the perfect hanging opportunity. In some ways the restoration project has been the making of the show. The building is a World Heritage site and so it’s been a challenge – but also an honour – making pieces that work with the space.’
Under an Equal Sky opens with Boat of Remembrance, an installation in the Cathedral’s Nave of 100 clear glass amphorae hanging in the shape of a ship, each one representing a year of remembrance but also underscoring the continuing consequences of war: the 22.5 million people forcibly displaced from their homes and seeking safety abroad (according to UNHCR statistics), as well as those who are still losing their lives in conflict.
Other highlights include a series of four glass sentinels, The Four Assassins, positioned close to the site of Thomas Becket’s murder in 1170, which the artists see as representing that inner voice of conscience that helps distinguish right from wrong; Ordnance Boat, a glass-sided barque filled with used ammunition, which is the artists’ rebuttal to the use of euphemisms such as ‘collateral damage’; and Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow, a triptych in the Cathedral’s Eastern Crypt that reflects on the challenges of future change.
Baldwin & Guggisberg have also collaborated with the Cathedral’s stonemasons to create The Stone Boat crafted from Caen stone. Working with craftspeople whose skills have been practised in the Cathedral for hundreds of years and using the material from which the building itself was made, the artists have found a way of binding the Cathedral community past and present – as well as themselves – into a single work.
The Very Revd Dr Robert Willis, Dean of Canterbury Cathedral comments: ‘During a time of reconstruction and restoration for the Cathedral, it is wonderful for us to have this opportunity to help people in body, mind and spirit to explore this place and discover new aspects of the message it seeks to convey. We are deeply grateful to Philip and Monica for this gift of their creativity and vision.’
Philip Baldwin and Monica Guggisberg have lived and worked together for nearly 40 years, in Sweden, Switzerland, France and now in rural Wales. They work predominantly in glass, and exhibit all over the world. They are represented in numerous private and museum collections internationally.
Baldwin & Guggisberg: Under an Equal Sky, a series of installations for Canterbury Cathedral, runs from 26 May to 11 November 2018.