14 May 2009

Icons in Transformation

Patrick Comerford

The Russian-born icon writer and artist, Ludmila Pawlowska, is bringing an exhibition of her icons to Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, next month for a major exhibition.

This exhibition, from Thursday 11 June to Sunday 19 July 2009, is the only Irish venue for an international tour that includes cathedrals and churches throughout Europe, including Scandinavia, Britain and Switzerland.

During the exhibition, Christ Church Cathedral will be transformed with the display in the pillars in the cathedral nave of twelve major works on the theme “Your face I am looking for.”

Visitors will have the opportunity to view about 100 contemporary works by Ludmila that have been inspired by traditional icons. In addition, about 25 traditional Russian Icons from the workshop of the Vassilevsky Monastery in Suzdal and the workshop of Danilov Monastery in Moscow will be exhibited.

According to Ludmilla, “Christ Church Cathedral is a beautiful and perfect space for such an exhibition, where a spirit of icons is mixed with a contemporary approach. We use floor, walls and roof for [the] different art technique[s] which will be presented – icons, paintings, sculpture, installation, photography and slideshow with projectors.”

Ludmila was drawn to icons following her mother’s death. In her own words, she recalls: “I have been able to work through sorrow with help of my painting. This short step between life and death sharpened my awareness of the existential issues of life and my subjects took on an ethereal aspect and [have] been inspired [by the] Russian icon tradition.

“In my art, I also use the icon symbolism of colours – especially: blue, as the colour of the sky/heaven – the mystery of divine life. Red is firstly the symbol of life – the life that Christ gave humanity through the shedding of his blood. Gold, the divine light – not regarded as a colour but as a form of light. What fascinates me most in the art of icons is the deep sensitivity they radiate. When I am looking at an icon I am irresistibly attracted.”

The exhibition has received very positive reviews on its tour. During its most recent exhibition in Hereford, the Hereford Times described it as “unique and unmissable” and “dramatic and intriguing.”

The Dean of Christ Church, the Very Revd Dermot Dunne said: “We’re very excited that the ‘Icons in Transformation’ Exhibition will be visiting Dublin and Christ Church Cathedral this summer. Icons are of course, most strongly associated with Eastern Orthodox Christianity including its Greek, Russian and Romanian traditions. I think it’s particularly apt that Christ Church hosts this exhibition as the cathedral’s foundation dates back to around 1030 and therefore pre-dates the Great Schism in 1054 that separated Western from Orthodox Christianity. In bringing ‘Icons in Transformation’ to Christ Church, we are not only displaying these magnificent works of art and devotion to the people of Dublin but we are also bridging a millennium-long gap between Eastern and Western Christianity.”

The exhibition will be officially opened by playwright, novelist and poet, Sebastian Barry on Wednesday 10 June.

Then, as part of the month-long exhibition, I have been asked to organise a series of lectures on “Icons in Liturgy and Culture” on Saturday 27 June.

The speakers at the one-day conference will include Dom Gregory Collins of Glenstal Abbey, author of the Glenstal Book of Icons; Tim Thurston of Lyric FM; and Dr Sarah Smyth of the Department of Russian and Slavonic Studies in Trinity College Dublin.

The exhibition is being assisted by Norden, the Nordic Arts Council.

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