Spirituality and Arts Updates at The Church of St. Luke and St. Matthew
Community Arts Collaborations Grow at The Church of St. Luke and St. Matthew
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|Students of St. Savior Catholic Academy Visit Stations of the Cross Exhibit at Church of St. Luke and St. Matthew, Brooklyn
By Catherine Kohn
One canvas is blood red – a cross can be faintly seen by looking very closely. A nail wrapped in wire stands alone on another. Yet another uses sharp geometric shapes and bright colors.
Fourteen different local artists created 14 Stations of the Cross on display at The Church of St. Luke and St. Matthew in the Clinton Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn. Each piece displays a different emotion, a different style and reflects a different culture and perspective. However, each one also tells the same powerful story – the journey of Christ’s sacrifice – the crucifixion.
On this particular day, middle school students from St. Savior Catholic Academy are visiting. Anders Knuttson, the artist who curated the installation and also created the blood red painting titled Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry the cross, is there to help answer questions. Father Michael Sniffen, the Rector of the church, says these young people have offered “some very deep theological insights” during their visit.
He explains that at the final station in this series where Jesus is laid in the tomb, the artist, Andrea Spiros, chose to use an antique nail wrapped in wire and placed in the center of a very simple painting. One student asked “why is there a nail?” and Father Sniffen asked the other students if they had any ideas. One proposed that Jesus had become quite thin at the end of this journey, while another said that it might be because Jesus still had the wounds of the crucifixion when he was laid in the tomb. Still another said “it’s because in the world nails holds things together, and Christ holds the world together.”
The groups of students stopped to examine and pray at each station. “This is just a traditional way of the cross – a simple prayer and a very small scripture reading at each station,” said Father Sniffen. “They are going station by station and sharing the books, taking turns reading the scripture passages.”
When asked if any of the paintings puzzled the students, Father Sniffen said, “The more abstract stations, the ones that don’t have literal pictures of events.”
One example Father Sniffen gave was of Station 5 by Knuttson, the almost completely red canvas with a cross buried deep into the background so that it is almost invisible. “The artist of that station is here today and he was speaking to the students about how he wanted to express the passion purely through his interior experience of color, you can see in the painting there is a faint image of the cross… but it’s a very abstract, impressionistic image of more an emotion of that station than a literal depiction.”
Father Sniffen explained that art associated with the Stations of the Cross “are usually old, 19th century or reproductions of Renaissance stations, stained glass, or they’re just a cross.”
This installation offers visitors a new perspective. “One of the outcomes for me has been that the diversity of the artists speaks to the diversity of Brooklyn, even though these stations are so different they seem to work together to tell the story. You can see their culture and imagery depicted in the stations.”
So how did all this come about?
“I curated exhibitions for the last seven years or so, mostly in and around the neighborhood here – around Brooklyn,” Knuttson explained. “A couple of years ago when there was a change at the church, I was asked to curate exhibitions at the church, which I did. And that was something new for the congregation, for the people there. It was well received; people liked it. It was up for a couple of weeks and then we took it down. A friend of mine, Audrey Anastasi, she had these 14 stations – actually 15 images of the Stations of the Cross – they were small, 12 by 12. They had been in another venue before and she asked if they might be interested in showing it at St. Luke’s. It turned out they had permanently installed small Stations – they were relief pieces that were cast in epoxy or something like that … but no one really looked at them, or paid attention to them.” Knuttson asked Father Sniffen if they could display the series during Lent and he agreed. “So we took down what was there and put up Audrey’s work and it looked sensational.”
Anastasi’s work stayed up until the Occupy Sandy group moved in boxes as part of storm relief work, Knuttson said, “and filled the church to the brim … and there were so many people running around that I became concerned that somebody would brush into one of the works, so that’s when we took it down. And then we had the fire (caused by arson in December 2012) and there was the reconstruction. And as that was going on, my wife Doris came up with the idea of inviting 14 different artists to do 14 different works for the stations. So we checked in again with Father Michael and he said yes.”
A that point Knuttson drew on his 25 years of living in Brooklyn as an artist. “I know a lot of artists in this area – well over 100. So I was thinking through who might be interested and interesting for this project so I came up with a list and then we invited those people over to my loft space here, so we sat down… and then we presented this idea and started to talk about it. We had a dialogue – a conversation – and different people were approaching this in different ways, obviously from their own experience and background.”
These were not artists who generally worked on religious topics. Knuttson explained that “some said, ‘Well I’m not really a church person’ or ‘I feel like I’m a spiritual person but I’m not really subscribing to doctrines’ and so on. So we all decided it’s not really about that – it’s about the story, yes, but it’s also about something much bigger.” Knuttson said they talked about how “it was about violence and being accused falsely or under trumped-up pretenses and our feelings about all of that. And that kind of tied it together with more universal and eternal themes.”
“Many of us felt that the Stations of the Cross could be a bridge for each one of us to meditate over and think about what we would want to express either about the story itself – as literal as we want it to be – or to take the feeling that we have and internalize it in some way and then express it in whatever way we want it to do.”
The art work will be on display through Easter and then will go to several galleries and churches around the country to be displayed, finally coming back to Brooklyn. Eventually they hope to give them to another worshipping community. But the question as to whether the Stations will be given as an entire set or split up is still under discussion.
“There also seems to be a lot of interest in doing this every year, to invite different artists each year to interpret the passion anew,” said Father Sniffen. They are also considering inviting art students to create an installation of the Stations of the Cross. “Because this has been so attractive to people in putting them in touch with the story of the passion we are thinking about inviting students. Pratt School for the Arts is right up the street. Joseph College is right up the street. That is another possibility,” he added.
The end of the tour to learn about these unique Stations of the Cross winds down and the students sit crowded in the pews with Father Sniffen pacing back and forth in front of them. He encourages them to ask questions. They speak about how each artist conveyed a different experience. One of the students asks about the story of the crucifixion. He tells them about the significance of the cross – how it was an instrument of torture and cruelty and degradation inflicted by the Romans at the time – that the cross was supposed to remind Christians that it was an object of shame and death. Then he pauses and tells them “it is the resurrection that is the end of the story, not the crucifixion,” that there is light at the end.
He asks “if you were to tell someone what the journey of the cross was like today, how would you explain it? In what ways are people suffering?”
The children answer.
“Some people are being persecuted.”
“Just like Jesus falls, we all fall.
“People still sacrifice their lives to help others.”
Other Current Spirituality and Arts opportunities
Company Class (for pre-professional dancers) with Artists-in-Resdence, Gallim Dance
Neighborhood Dance (for any ability level) with Caroline Fermin of Gallim Dance
Afro-Caribbean Community Dance
Saturdays 1:30pm-2:30pm (Free and open to the public)
Sunday Mornings 9:15-10:45. The Choir sings the 11am Mass