Das Platforms / Contemporary Art

High & Lofty: The Ecclesiastical Banner Project

by Vaughan O

13 Nov 2011

Parramatta Artists Studios, Sydney

10 September – 28 October 2011

The combination of art and religion has always scared me.

Marked by a suburban upbringing, visions of the amateurish or excessive come to mind; hyper-realistic paintings of grimacing saints, cringe-worthy handicrafts and hyperbolic sculpture.

Similarly, my connection to church buildings is tainted by the suburban. Composed of brick or concrete, their functional appearance usually resembles more closely a bunker than a gothic cathedral; besieged rather than imposing.

Yet within High & Lofty: the Ecclesiastical Banner Project, art and religion form an intriguing partnership.

Clearly the product of careful brokerage, coordination and negotiation by curator David Capra, High & Lofty was located within churches located within Parramatta’s Central Business District.  St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta Mission Leigh Memorial Church, All Saints’ Church Parramatta and Parramatta Artists Studios hosted a diverse yet cohesive series of banners produced by contemporary artists.

Each installation carried a sense of aplomb and clarity that reflected a sophisticated secular consideration of each site. There was playfulness present in many of the banners, such as Giselle Stanborough’s video projection, titled Faith In Progress, at Parramatta Mission Leigh Memorial Church. Installed between two stained glass windows and emulating their shape, Stanborough’s work cleverly referenced two banner traditions: ecclesiastical banners and internet banner advertisements. Imitating the insufferable low-frame rate advertisements synonymous with internet browsing, Stanborough’s banner cannily drew the project into a distinctly contemporary context.

The most charming work was, unsurprisingly perhaps, also the simplest. Tully Arnot and Charles Dennington’s large fabric banner in St Patrick’s Cathedral, resembling an enormous post-it note, read simply “Be excellent to each other”. While the placement of a quote from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure within a church (to my mind one of the crowning glories of the project) is clearly tongue-in-cheek, it is a message that resonates within its context. Using the shared language of popular culture, Arnot & Dennigton’s banner deciphered the fundamental teachings of any religion; faith, compassion and civility.

The combination of a diverse range of distinctly secular contemporary practices, ideologically loaded spaces and challenging architectural environments could have relegated this project to the kitsch or overly ambitious, however, High & Lofty was nothing if not finely balanced. The considered nature of the installation, sensitivity to the ideology of religious space and the compatibility of each artist with the site their work inhabited were notable qualities of the project.

Exhibiting Artists: Tully Arnot and Charles Dennington, Bababa International, David Capra, George Egerton-Warburton, Lisa Reid, Giselle Stanborough, Sarah Newall.