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Richard Wentworth - Recall

Richard Wentworth responded to Winchester Cathedral

Extracts from a conversation between Richard Wentworth and Canon Keith Walker in Winchester Cathedral on 27th January 2001 follow:

Keith Walker: Your work involves the idea of disturbing convention, of looking for hidden meanings and discovering perspectives that arenít immediately familiar. What was it about the Cathedral that caught your attention, and why?

Richard Wentworth: The absolute miracle is that this place actually exists. The building has a definable series of volumes that meet each other more or less coherently. Sometimes there are hilarious moments when they donít, where you know there wasnít a set of drawings and they never got planning permission.

I happened to see an American book in a second-hand bookshop which speculates on what the timber work was like in these buildings. To build everything at the top itís got to be supported. Weíre talking about people working with candles and ropes and, if theyíre lucky, a donkey and a horse. There are drawings that speculate how to put that scale of timber form-work up at those heights, and then find a way of removing the support. Terrifying, courageous stuff!

As you move through the Cathedral, thereís this tooth-and-grain to the building, which just never lets up. Itís drenched in the fall of feet. Thereís as much memory in the stones that have no text on them as there is in the ones that are very busy telling you this guy was rich, or this woman was important. Every component is incredibly talkative. That was what completely involved me when I first came. There was also the way you talked about sacred and profane space, about the threshold of this building.

KW: I was taking up the mediaeval perception that there is ordinary human space, and there is sacred space. Our word Ďprofaneí comes from Latin roots, literally meaning Ďbefore the templeí. We have corrupted the word and only use it pejoratively. Then thereís the sacred space within the sacred building, which is reckoned to be an instrument and a pointer to the Kingdom of God. A mediaeval person coming to this building would feel and think that as they came through the doors they passed through a threshold of consciousness. The Cathedral would unfold, like a flower unfolding, with the story of salvation.

RW: The moment you spontaneously described the move from secular to sacred, I wondered if I could make something like a doorframe that could also function as a trestle or support. Think how many trestles are at work every day and what they are doing. I used steel because it is as pervasive in the modern world as stone was in the culture that built the Cathedral. Itís in everything, every doorway you walk through. It is what makes the world not fall down.

Every door and every window plays its part in the realm between public and private, reflecting how sophisticated the codes that we follow in urban space are. Sometimes we enjoy small acts of transgression. Some spaces are permanently contested. For example, pillows are absolutely domestic and private, but incredibly symbolic, very recognisable. We immediately have a trigger mechanism that takes us into the privacy of the pillow. It is the site of all our most extravagant fantasies; itís where we dream, and itís where we go to places we canít believe weíve been to, because we didnít think we even meant to go there. So in a sense itís a site of uncontrollable individual expression.

The most time-consuming aspect of Recall was something that doesnít actually appear in the finished work, which is very like the experience of being in a church. I built a huge bell out of wood in my studio, about 4.5 meters in diameter at the base. More and more timber was used, the shape was getting more and more ridiculous, and yet I knew this was never going to be part of the finished piece. It was a form. It was a thing you make a cake in, a thing you make a hat on. It was a huge and elaborate tradition. A jig. A template.

Then, with my youngest son advising me on how stupid I was being, a full-size Ďcastí of a bell was made out of metal cable, which was like a three-dimensional drawing made up of wire longitudes and latitudes. This gave a taste of a certain scale of production which is completely absent in the finished product. I think that because people donít generally make anything any more, not even dinner, we have some very funny absences from our experiences. Iíve never seen a dead person, but it would have been absolutely impossible 50 or 60 years ago for me not to have seen one. When we started to take the cable off the wooden structure, nothing was left. All this desire, design, preparation, calculation, focus, had evaporated before me. It was folded up and lying neatly on a blanket. I tell you this not because Iím trying to romanticise the process of making, but just to show the way that beliefs can collapse in on themselves, and then expand. There was a moment of breathing life back into the work when installing it. I thought 'Yeah! Now you're doing what I wanted you to do.'

Recall was exhibited at Winchester Cathedral from 16th December 2000 to 28th January 2001

Wentworth's work was part of the Art 2000 Projects in Sacred Places where five artists 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, MJT Productions and FN Metalwork.

Art and Sacred Places - MMXVI-MMXVII