13 October 2021

A space in Lichfield Cathedral
‘for exploration, examination
and experimentation’

‘The Laboratory’ is an installation by the artist Peter Walker in the South Transept of Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

‘The Laboratory’ is a free and contemporary installation artwork by the artist Peter Walker and features sound compositions by David Harper.

This is an opportunity to explore the fascinating world around us through the eyes of a scientist.

‘The Laboratory’ is an art installation by Peter Walker, a sculptor and artist in residence at Lichfield Cathedral. It is designed to invoke the sense of a space for exploration, examination and experimentation. Rather than a direct depiction of a scientific laboratory, it has been created to specifically to be viewed inside this sacred space of the South Transept of the cathedral to allow contemplation on the relationship between science and religion.

‘Creativity in the arts and the sciences comes from many places. But it is often in the studio for the artist, or the laboratory for the scientist, that those ideas come to life,’ Peter Walker says in a panel at the exhibition.

‘We draw inspiration from our experiences, our environment and the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world and use that inspiration to direct our approaches towards depicting or dissecting, experimenting, and observing the existence of everything that surrounds us.

‘The installation is more than creating a space that reminds us of a laboratory. It is an artwork in itself that creates intrigue, bringing to together diverse elements and presenting them in a way that will make us ask questions. Having the installation in the Cathedral, brings in further depths and levels to the installation, allowing people to consider the links between science, creativity and spirituality,’ he says.

The Dean of Lichfield, the Very Revd Adrian Dorber, says: ‘In order to have a good look at things, or delve into the innermost workings of something, or see how things change or relate to other things, the place and conditions have be right. You might also need to search, aided by the right kind of apparatus and with dedicated time to observe. A laboratory is a place where all that investigation and exploring can happen. In a laboratory you learn by doing; spending time to look carefully and experimenting with different elements to see how they change or react.’

He continues: ‘Careful, disciplined observation and research, begun in laboratories, have unlocked the secrets of the natural world for us. It has led to invention, to new technologies, to medical advances and, sadly, to ways in which that knowledge can be put to destructive and malicious uses. What we discover drives us on to greater exploration: how do we live together with all forms of life, animal vegetable or mineral? How does our knowledge affect our emotional and ethical lives? Is there meaning and purpose in life?’

He concludes: ‘I like to think Cathedrals, Churches and all holy places are laboratories of the spirit. Here the conditions and routines help us uncover who we are in relation to one another and all other species; the effects our environment and history has on us. Above all standing on holy ground encourages us to bring all that we know into dialogue with human frailty, vulnerability and need, as well as those instincts for joy, delight, happiness, thanksgiving, praise, and love. The human race has been called “the world’s high priest” because we notice and can say what we experience. Think of this place as your very own Laboratory of the Spirit.’

I was amused by a quotation from Albert Einstein on one of the panels: ‘If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?’

The installation is the centrepiece for a range of free family activities that continues through the October half term and every day until 1 November. ‘The Laboratory’ is supported by Scientists In Congregations.

At the same time, Lichfield Cathedral is hosting a Retrospective exhibition of Peter Walker’s work at the cathedral. Looking back over five years of this unique and rich partnership, the exhibition revisits the extensive projects, sculptures, installations, and other artworks that have been created and reflects on the impact and legacy of his extraordinary creations.

This was also my first opportunity see Peter Walker’s new statue of Saint Chad, which was dedicated four months by Bishop Michael Ipgrave of Lichfield on 26 June.

This major new sculpture of Lichfield’s patron saint was commissioned by Lichfield Cathedral. Saint Chad now stands at the south-east corner of the cathedral, facing down Dam Street, with Stowe Pool to his left and Minster Pool to his right, his hand raised in blessing and welcoming all who visit Lichfield.

While the statue was in creation, a living artwork of flowers was created around the plinth. The Hope Garden includes 50,000 spring flowers, planted as a gift of hope for the city and for visitors to the cathedral. The flowers will bloom around Saint Chad’s Day, 2 March, each year in readiness for Easter. This date also marks the anniversary of the lockdown at the start of the pandemic.

‘Hope springs from the ground even after the harshest of winters,’ says Dean Adrian Dorber.

Peter Walker’s new statue of Saint Chad at Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

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