Our lives are filled with physical and conceptual spaces. Social circles, systems of commerce, domestic abodes, the academy, church. We can, though, find it difficult to navigate this constellation of forces and experiences in which we exist. This year’s Transept exhibition, Enfolding: A Study of Margins and Centres, considered these different kinds of spaces. Entering the exhibition, hosted in the main sanctuary of Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church in St Andrews, one saw a polyphony of insides and outsides, comings and goings, moments of isolation and the overcoming of isolation.
There was a striking cohesiveness brought into view by this polyphony. Each of the works was in its own way studying something, a concept, an image, sounds, movements, places or people. These intimate and detailed studies reveal stress-points in our experiences. They confront us with difficulties, opacity and confusion. ‘Where does one begin?’ Sherrill Keefe asks in the plaque for her work Autre, a mixed media artwork that abstractly depicts a system, culture or society. How do we navigate our way through systems when it may be difficult to even locate ourselves therein? Where am I? Where are you? Why are we here? How do we get there? No single answer emerges but, instead, invitations to think more and respond differently.
These works also reveal moments of joy, comfort and enlightening—guilt transformed into communion with God in the space of a confessional; thread and stitches become an exegesis; abstract atmosphere is now a quest for safe harbour. We are given glimpses into latent possibilities and realities of how we might understand our situations differently. In Bell Ringer, a collage made my Amelie Logue for the exhibition, the viewer is given to ponder how the tradition of calling people to prayer with bells indicates a paradoxical trajectory of sound: ‘Sacred spaces can be in the center or in the margin, and bells cross those boundaries, inviting in or sending out’. Echoing the presence of divine love, the ringing of bells seems to scandalize space itself. The margins are sought out and become a centre, and the centre folds in on itself to bring near what was far.
Not just Bell Ringer, but many other pieces in the exhibition challenge and transform our sense of belonging through the presencing of the divine. From questioning our own situatedness, our belongings, longings for warmth, safety, community and communion, there emerges the sense that divine love permeates these different margins and centres, and finds you, enfolds you unexpectedly. In the margin of death and joy, the centre of conflict and peace, there the divine is also.
In these different spaces, margins and centres and insides and outsides, we can find ourselves challenged and transformed, but we find not only ourselves there. Our situations are not only our own but affect and are affected by others. Many of our current spaces and systems attest to this because they are undeniable failures. Culture wars, algorithmic control of discourse and resources, climate crisis, all these speak of complicity, limitation, violence and pain in our public and private spaces. In light of so many failures, what should we strive toward to make meaningful ways of living? Transept’s exhibition indicates the complexity of these problem. People are complex. So are the spaces we live in. But solutions to the problems we face are not something we find in isolation. Instead, the way forward is in the spaces where we find ourselves and find ourselves with others.