Here is something for your visual meditation this Good Friday. It is a short film by Emilie Voirin, who graduated last year from the Product Design Course at the Royal College of Art.
Play link to ‘Pieta’ on Vimeo.
I really like the questions about religious practice and art that Emilie asks as a product designer – they were great conversations.
For the majority of us thankfully, holding the body of a dead adult child is not an experience we are likely to have. Yet religious practice does set aside days of the year as invitations to contemplate subjects we might prefer to ignore. And there are many places where, tragically, the Pieta experience happens to many.
Today is Good Friday – the day of the year when Christians remember Jesus’ death and this scene of his body being held by Mary his mother. So time to ponder both art and life.
These are Emilie’s own words on the project;
“I have deconstructed the gesture of the famous Pieta, which depicts the Virgin Mary cradling the dead body of Jesus, and created tools to reproduce it as a filmed performance. In this way I want to reinvigorate traditional religious art by re-contextualizing its production, conveying the power of religious codes and their interpretation through the language of objects.”
I had a fascinating conversation with Shruti Grover hearing about her GU Bank project. Shruti has just completed the MA in Innovation Design Engineering at the RCA.
GU Bank is an award wining project offers a solution to male migrant workers in India who, arriving without work in the city and then working for very low wages, have no access to toilets and sewage systems. The incentive element to use the portable bags for solid human waste (where the GU comes from) is that they can be exchanged for bio-gas or mobile phone credits.
You can see more about Shruti’s work and the GU Bank here.
Our Mindfulness Meditation has really taken off this year. A group of students from Imperial and the RCA have met each week since October. We have been slowly working through the exercises in the book ‘Mindfulness, a practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world’ by Mark Williams and Danny Penman.
The book applies the research of psychologists and psychiatrists at the Oxford Mindfulness Center. With a science evidence base behind it Mindfulness is something that I can use in this scientific college. It also helps that Mark Williams research is linked to the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The key feature of Mindfulness is switching our attention away from thinking and into our senses and body. This is another good thing to be doing in a place that rates mental activity very highly! It is not that thinking is bad for us. Rather that there is more to us than just mental activity. the meditations help us to note all our other sensory experiences – or data. This allows us to move our attention away from unceasing mental activity to notice the sounds, smells, sights, and sheer physicality of life.
I am going to write more about Mindfulness. It has been great at bringing together people from both religious and philosophical world views. And it has been a fascinating process for me as Christian. Since my own student days I have been drawn to silence, meditation and the contemplative tradition. But for now there is more information at http://oxfordmindfulness.org/about-mindfulness/
If you are a member of Imperial, RCA or RCM see here for details of sessions.
Another a-typical day in Chaplaincy! We have just hosted Ingrid, Christoph and Nikolaus from the Catholic Diocese of Graz-Seckau in Austria. They were part of a group of 12 sent out to Germany, France and the UK to look at different forms of Church life.
We managed to give them a snapshot of a day in the life of Chaplaincy. We went on a tour the campus and called in at the Electrical and Electronic Engineering Workshop to see some undergraduate engineering projects (many thanks to Vic Boddy from EEE pictured above).
We also visited the prayer rooms. Our visitors attended the Catholic and Anglican mid-day services and had lunch with students and staff. The in the afternoon Ingrid and Nikolaus came on a tour and discussion on ‘burials and death’ at the Victoria and Albert Museum. We had set this up for students of the Royal College of Art. ‘Hello, welcome, let’s talk about death, burials and cremations!’ Rikke took Christophe to the Mandarin Chinese Christian group meeting in Chaplaincy and then to Silent RCA. We all met up at More House to hear about the work of the Chemin-neuf from Miguel and Audrey.
Pictures of the day are on Ingrid’s blog – a few entries down.
– if you are not a German speaker enjoy the peculiar results of Google Translator!
Silent RCA began back in 2009 and grew out conversations with several students from different world views about the place of silence in our lives. One of these conversations about silence was with Josphine Winther from Jewellery.
Together we started to meet for 15 minutes of silence each week inviting others to join us. She has recently sent me a link to her work on silence including her piece from the RCA Show 2010.
Initially Josephine explored the idea of having a sound proof room in the show to give people a taste of silence. However, the slowed down and silent metronomes lured visitors into a deep attentive listening and a special kind of silence in noisy chaos of the Show. We found ourselves leaning in towards the metronomes listening for and waiting for the metronomes to tick. But of course they never did and we keep on listening. Silence and stillness in the midst all the noise and activity of a busy gallery.
Here’s a video of the the Silent Metronomes on her website.
Here are the photos of Koby Barhad’s project.He is studying on the Design Interactions course at the Royal College of Art. He asked me to take part in an early trial. He had written a stream of consciouness peice about his day. This came up on the far laptop screen but just one word at a time.
I was able to type my response to his words on the laptop in front of me. But again I could only see one word. As soon as I pressed the space bar the word I had just written disappeared! Very quickly I lost all sense of what I had written. It was quite liberating not being able to look back over the sentence. It meant not being able to worry if I was making sense. So I just wrote and wrote and wrote. Soon I found tears running down my face as I found myself writing about being a father. It was like a moment in therapy. It was a really positive liberating experience. No need to worry about writing something to share or if others will understand it, just write for oneself! is this writing as a way to self-awareness or what my Buddhist friends call ‘mindfulness’?
More info on Koby’s project at
Hi, welcome back. Clearly my blogging habit fell away in late January! So here is a new start. The last post was about the invitation to offer an afternoon of silence in the sauna. This we did. Bethany from Dept 21 and Aloka, Rikke and myself were joined by 15 people at different times during the afternoon. Rikke brought coloured pencils and paper and many people wrote or drew pictures and then added them to the fire. It was an activity that picked up both Christian and Buddhist prayer practices. It was a great time, sitting quietly in that small space being joined in the darkness by unknown people as the wind howled around and the buses rushed passed.
Aloka, my Buddhist colleague, and I have just been invited to host an afternoon of silence in the sauna! No, it’s not going to be naked silence!
The RCA has a student led project called Department 21 that promotes interdisciplinary working among artists and designers. They are building a ‘sauna tent’ outside the RCA and the Albert Hall. Each afternoon as the sauna slowly warms up for the steamy evening sweat session various events will take place.
These ‘happenings’ will include;
‘MOVED’ with a movement workshop based on Japanese butoh dance.
‘HEARD’ will use recordings taken during the student protests to raise questions about the body in public space.
‘SILENCE’ when the venue is dedicated to silent reflection or contemplation.
‘SPOKEN’ looking at speech, maybe poetry, on short topics that can be spoken about in a hot space.
So Aloka and I are now planning how to make the most of this interesting space for silence that will be built next to the Number 9 bus stop.