Review of WESSIELING: Holy Chic, St Dominic’s Priory.
by Sarah Davies, Holy Biscuit intern
I entered St. Dominic’s Priory Church for the first time through an unassuming wooden door, stepping out of the grey Newcastle drizzle into a magnificent room with high, sweeping arches. The airy interior with the glowing colours of floral displays and stained glass windows took me by surprise, an unexpected pleasure behind the easily overlooked dark stone exterior. My viewing of WESSIELING’s site specific installation ‘Holy Chic’ was accompanied by atmospheric organ music and the dramatic movement of dancers rehearsing for a performance.
At first glance, a visitor to the church might not be aware that there is a contemporary art installation on display here – the work is so subtly and sensitively placed that it seems to form a natural part of the building’s décor. Gold plaques sit quietly between the relief renderings of the stages of the cross, unobtrusive and tasteful. On closer inspection however, viewers might find the wording on the plaques a little less harmonious than their aesthetics. Here, the artist has taken Bible verses suggested by St Dominic’s congregation and positioned them beside phrases or terminology from the fashion world.
“The ultimate bag guide” sits alongside “The mystery of faith”; two phrases with equivalent word structure but very different implications. One is deep, the other shallow; one important, the other trivial. While some might perceive these playful pairings as mocking or trivialising the scriptures, I found the converse to be true: when juxtaposed with these vital, timeless truths the fashion world is shown to be fleeting and insubstantial.
The choice of accompanying verses and phrases is thought-provoking and brings certain meanings to light -for example; “Eighties revival” is paired with “I have come that they might have life and have it to the full”. A revival is bringing something back to life, so there is a comment here about life and its value. Placed between images of the crucified body of Christ, ideas of resurrection and fullness of life are particularly poignant. When “The essential must haves” is accompanied by “Blessed are those who have not seen yet have believed”, the value of possessions is compared against the value of faith; the material world measured against the immaterial. In another intriguing partnership, ideas of permanence, consistency and durability are contrasted with the temporary, ever-changing nature of fashion. “New season style rules” sits uneasily next to “Three things will last forever: faith, hope and love, but the greatest of these is love”.
The other component of this installation is the large letters mounted on the pillars which run along the length of the nave on either side. When viewed from the back of the church, looking towards the altar, the letters join to form, on the one side, the phrase “I am the new black”, and on the other side “I am the bread of life”. These are both bold claims, one being eternal and substantial while the other is temporary and changeable. The red and gold letters stand attractively on the pillars, complimenting their surroundings and reminiscent of the ornate lettering painstakingly inscribed in illuminated manuscripts. In this church founded by the monastic Dominican order, this association seems fitting and relevant.
Holy Chic is open to visitors until Monday 4th July, more information here.
“WESSIELING’s work concerns the aestheticisation of the everyday through the lens of fashion. Her practice uses text and installation to create work that addresses the cultural property and soft power of fashion. A trained cultural historian, WESSIELING studied fine art at Central Saint Martin College of Art and Design. Both academic writing and visual art practice spin off her inquiry of the (in)tangible assets of fashion, consumption, globalisation, (post)colonialism, cultural hybridity and authenticity.” (excerpt from artist’s statement)
The Eliot Smith Company (dancers I saw rehearsing) are performing ‘Spirit of Fire: The Passion of Dominic Guzman’ this Friday 1st July at 7.30pm, details here.