Art and Sacred Places


About ASP

ASP Blog

Support ASP

Get Involved

Past projects



Latest news and comments



Registered Charity No: 1157364


Dion Ellis - Entrance

Dion Ellis was commissioned to create Entrance over the baptismal font of Portsmouth Cathedral

Les Buckingham wrote: 'At the end of his analysis of Piero della Francesca’s Baptism of Christ, the art historian Philip Hendy concludes:

Colour and light are here inseparable. In unison they create the atmosphere of the picture, physical and spiritual; and it is no more possible to distinguish the physical from the spiritual than it is the colour from the light.1

The twentieth-century artist has come a long way since then. The painstaking depiction of the Umbrian landscape in paint by Piero della Francesca can now be captured in thousands of different ways. Reality can be reproduced in its minutest detail so that each glint of light bouncing off water can be reproduced in any number of media – photography, cinema, video. If nature contains, as artist John Ruskin thought, the essence of the spirit, of spirituality itself, then surely now is the time to observe it.

Dion Ellis’s video installation Entrance is realistic. It might even be said that it is as realistic as image can be. Its format echoes reality too: a landscape screen, a viewing experience that is a combination of cinema and television, a walk-in movie. Western culture is obsessed with different forms of reality: the ever-popular nature programme takes us inside a lion’s den; human life, warts and all, confronts viewers of The Royle Family; the entire nation is transfixed by Big Brother. In the end we do not watch these representations of reality in search of an ever-increasing closeness to it. We watch them in order to go beyond reality: to realise that the lion’s life is quite mundane, to gain insight into the family unit and what makes it tick, for psychological and human insight into various individuals in Big Brother. In other words, reality is only the starting point for abstract speculation about the nature of personality, the complexities of family life, for lions or the Royles.

It must not be forgotten that both reality and spiritual realisation are humanly wrought, and that the artist brings a set of skills, intentions and imagination to the quest to understand reality. Entrance is a slow-motion video projection of a waterfall. It was inspired by many different things: readings about the significance of water for the human physical and spiritual condition, the beauty of waterfalls in nature, and the specific beauty of places like the Becka and Canonteign Falls in Dartmoor. In conceiving the work for Portsmouth Cathedral, Ellis took her cue from the baptismal font, which occupies a central position on the main access of the Church, and is thus different from other places of worship. The artist read the words of St Cyril of Jerusalem that run round the edge of the font, drawing inspiration from them.

...down into the water it was like night and you could see nothing: but when you came up again it was like finding yourself in the day. That one moment was your death and your birth: that saving water was both your grave and your mother.

It is important to ask how much Ellis’s slice of reality takes us beyond ourselves, makes us question what is depicted and gives us insight into the meaning of water and rocks glistening in the sunlight. Entrance points us back towards reality itself, towards the ‘liquid vastness, the triumph of motion, of momentum over the immovable’2 and to realise that the ‘narratives of our mortality, from birth to death, are visited frequently through the medium of water, the element which sustains life’.3 In directing the viewer back to reality, Ellis opens up the realm of the spirit.'

1. Philip Hendy, Piero della Francesca and the Early Renaissance, Weidenfeld and Nicholson 1968, p. 71. 2. Poem by Burton quoted in Edward C. Rashleigh, Among the Waterfalls of the World, Jarrolds, 1935, p. 53. 3. The Art of Bill Viola, A Theological Reflection, Bill Viola Essay by David Jasper in The Messenger. Catalogue published by The Chaplaincy to the Arts and Recreation in North East England, ed F. Sparrow, p. 13.

Entrance was exhibited at Portsmouth Cathedral from 27th October to 17th December 2000

Ellis's work was part of the Art 2000 Projects in Sacred Places where five arrtists were curator selected, in collaboration, with the venues, to make new works for five major churches in the south of England. This was important because it reflected Art and Sacred Places's (then known as Art 2000) desire to build a new partnership between the church and artists and, in doing so, to match the best contemporary standards and practice for art events.

The Catalogue for Art 2000 Projects in Sacred Places containing text contributions by Sacha Craddock and Father Friedhelm Mennekes is available from Art and Sacred Places

Project funders and supporters included: The Arts Council, The Jerwood Charitable Foundation, The Jerusalem Trust, The National Lottery Millennium Festival Fund, Southern Arts, South East Arts

Art and Sacred Places - MMXVI-MMXVII