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Elizabeth Kwant: “Across the UK there’s an amnesia about this time in history.”

Thanks to our Sputnik Patrons, we’ve given a grant to visual artist Elizabeth Kwant. Elizabeth is a Manchester based artist, researcher and curator, who focuses her work on highly raw social issues such as colonialism, immigration detention, and modern slavery.

Her new film, ‘Volta do Mar’, continues that journey closer to home; a meditative performance focused on the interwoven histories of peoples and places in the UK, and the trauma that we find there. We asked our good friend Ally Gordon, from Morphe Arts, to find out more. We were really struck by Elizabeth’s work, and really happy that we could help bring this next piece to the finish line.

Making collaborative work, retelling important stories, and facing up to the demands of social justice are priceless processes. Why not join Patrons scheme for as little as £5/month, and we can give out more micro-grants to artists like Beth, who are taking risks to make difficult work.

Can you tell us a little about your new project, ‘Volta do Mar’?

I’ve been working on this project for a few years now, in an ongoing way. Let me backtrack a little bit to explain where I came from! Back in 2018, I spent a year in the archives of the international slavery museum in Liverpool. I spent time looking into the legacies of transatlantic slavery in the North-West of England.

So looking at the compensation which followed abolition – those plantation owners who received money for slaves; and where did that money go, basically?

That project culminated in a moving image installation, in the museum, in the transatlantic gallery, which was co-created with female survivors of modern day slavery. Through the process I had been looking at trauma, and how we hold it in our bodies; I really wanted women who had experienced a similar trauma to be able to respond to that history through their own stories.

During that time I did all that research, and in some ways it was behind the film but didn’t translate into the film itself. I wanted those women’s voices to be heard, so I didn’t go too deeply into the history around it. So I came away with all these ideas brewing! Volta do Mar comes from that period of time, where I had been researching into Cumbria, where I’m from originally – I was born in a small town called Whitehaven. 

As I began to look into the history of colonialism in Cumbria, I realised that Whitehaven was one of the most important port cities in the 18th Century, in the UK, for the trade in tobacco, and later sugar.

Often when one thinks about slavery in the UK we think about Glasgow or Bristol – so that’s an interesting part of the history in Britain.

I think with Cumbria you think of holidays, lakes, the National Trust, the picture perfect postcards! Interestingly I’ve come up against a reluctance to even look into this history, from institutions, tourist sites, even locals in some ways. Across the UK there’s an amnesia about that time in history. It’s generally not taught in schools. So I felt I wanted to somehow perform in some of these locations and places, and bring a kind of embodied presence into those spaces – particularly focused on Whitehaven.

How do you hope this project will help to highlight this part of history?

I think things work on multiple levels with art; often we’re told things in books or in a lecture style, quite a didactic way. I think artwork creates a space to engage with ideas on a heart level, an emotional level.

I really hope that my work does that, the moving image installations that I make do create a physical space as well; I like people to go in and experience the work, I particularly don’t like  showing work on a cinema screen, that sit-down, flat, passive experience. 

The last piece I made was in a circular room, and people walked in and were surrounded by women who were survivors of slavery, but who were on eye level, so they were engaging with them on an equal par.

It makes me think how art can open a space to discuss things that otherwise we can’t talk about; or to exist in a liminal space where we’re being intuitive over ideas that are difficult to comprehend.

There’s the personal aspect where I’ve been grappling with this as a white Brit; how do I authentically look at these histories in my work? Do I even have a right to? Some would say I don’t, and these issues are really complex. That’s why in the past I’ve chosen to work more collaboratively.

It’s wonderful to hear that Ruth Naomi Floyd is involved in the project, and of course Ruth often sings about her personal family story and her great great grandmother, who was treated truly awfully. Her music brings me to tears! Can you say a little more about that involvement?

I heard Ruth play the jazz flute recently! I’d been up in Cumbria filming, and thinking about the sound; I knew that I wanted to layer sounds. I really love working with found sounds; I wanted the sound of the mining machinery, because it was the coal mines in Whitehaven that exported coal to Ireland, and collected slaves from Africa afterwards. And the sound of the Solway Firth which is the sea there, next to the town.

So I have these layers of sounds that provide a base. When I heard Ruth play, it was just very evocative and emotive, and I thought that’s it

I really love to be able to collaborate with an artist of Black American heritage, whose family history is linked into the history of slavery; and also somebody who is such a wonderful advocate for racial justice. I can’t think of anybody better to put sound with the film.

So Ruth is going to be composing jazz flute. It won’t necessarily be vocals. She’ll be responding to my performances in the sites. The film is, I suppose, about lament, and in places quite ritualistic. Ruth will be responding to the history of the sites, and also the visuals of the film. And we hope that later in the year she’ll be able to actually visit the sites and respond more emotively to the history of the places.

It strikes me that a work of art of this nature, a performance of film with music, is less didactic, less instructive, but speaks to true events and can be a way to talk about things which are true, in an emotive way. Would that we had more lament in the world!

To find out more about Elizabeth and her work, follow her on Instagram, or see her website.

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Leeza Awojobi: “If I’m not writing, there’s usually something deeper going on”

With the help of our Patrons, we’ve given a grant to Bristol-based performance poet Leeza Awojobi. Leeza’s new piece, ‘The Frayed Elephant’, is a poetry, audio and storytelling piece more akin to a participatory art installation. It’s a new frontier for Leeza, and still in the development stages, so we asked London poet Traysi Benjamin-Matthew to find out more. Along the way they discuss ideas of truth, the problems of social media, and being a whole person outside of your artistic practice.

We love to help out artists who are trying new things in their practice, to encourage them to be bold, stretch themselves, and open up new conversations with their work. Join our Patrons scheme for as little as £5/month, and we can keep supporting artists like Leeza who are doing exactly that.

Hi Leeza! Can you introduce yourself, and your background as an artist?

My name is Leeza Awojobi. I’m a Bristol-based poet and producer. I’ve been doing performance poetry for about four and a half years now. I like to summarise my poetry with the themes/words ‘eyes and oath’. So ‘eyes’ refer to observation, perception, and intent; and an ‘oath’ is a testimony of truth, or a solemn promise. And these are two ideas I regularly go back to in my practice, and I feel like they really ground my work.

Can you tell us about the piece that Sputnik is helping to fund?

So thanks to you guys, I get to develop this idea that’s probably been a year and a half in the making. It’s called ‘The Frayed Elephant’. It’s a poetry, audio and storytelling piece that features materials. So currently I imagine it to be a solitary experience, where people listen to the poetry and storytelling pieces on headphones, and at the same time they get to play with, interact and respond to materials.

Why that title, the Frayed Elephant?

That title basically comes from a parable that I came across called ‘the blind men and the elephant.’ It’s the story of six blind men who are all feeling on different parts of the elephant – one is feeling the trunk and says ‘ an elephant is like a snake’. Another is feeling a leg and says ‘no, no, an elephant is like a tree’.

The moral is that because we’re coming from different perspectives, we shouldn’t judge each other on claims to truth.

But the ‘Frayed Elephant’ also came out of a critique I heard of that story – if there’s no absolute truth, if it’s all just for grabs, who is the person looking into the frame? Who is the person who claims to see the whole picture, and has the objective view to say that everyone else is blind? I think the moral is a good one, that we should strive towards tolerance, or shouldn’t allow our personal angle to create division; but how do we exist, and co-exist in a society without any anchoring?

Do you find something limiting in the usual ‘performance’ dynamic between artist and audience? Or how would you see it?

That’s a good question, I wouldn’t say there are limitations. I think there are just different ways of viewing performance. I want to enable whoever I engage with, in this piece at least, to engage more actively.

There’s so much you can do in that kind of traditional, unidirectional way of storytelling that we’re used to. But this is just a different way of doing it.

Can you tell us why you feel connected to the material personally, and why it’s important to make this work?

I guess this grew out of – partly that parable – but it also came out of my relationship with social media. Gradually over the years I’ve just taken myself off various platforms. I’ve always had a very back-and-forth relationship with social media. It wasn’t an environment that I felt I could thrive in, if I wanted to engage with it properly.

Any top tips for those who are starting out in poetry?

Definitely write! Sometimes, it comes out so clunky, it’s not flowing; but just having that regular time of writing – twice a week, for example.

At various times I’ve written every day. I don’t do that all the time – for some people that’s their thing, I don’t put that pressure on myself but I do write regularly, and if I feel like I’m getting stuck, I do make an effort to not stay there.

And how do you do that? How do you get out of the space of being unable to write?

I think to be honest my faith helps a lot. We’re whole people. The way society is set up, and the way work can be set up, is that we cut ourselves off from different parts of ourselves. But we’re whole people.

If I’m not writing, there’s usually something deeper going on. Maybe I’m stuck because I feel overwhelmed, and the pressure of being an artist is too much; maybe I’m looking at my work and thinking ‘this is rubbish’! But whether it’s rubbish or not, who am I outside of my work?

Because as artists we’re pouring ourselves out, we can get so wrapped up in our practice and that can be where our identity is rooted. But actually I try to be careful about that. While poetry is always going to be inside me, it can’t be all that ultimately defines me, or all that I live for.

You’ve been writing poetry for a while. Can you tell me when you felt actually “I am a poet”?

That’s a good question! It’s kind of difficult to answer because I did have a moment when I decided to pursue it professionally, but I’ve been writing since I was a kid. But that moment came about through the mentorship I received when I did a Christian internship; I had the privilege of being mentored by Cully and Ally from Morphe Arts.

It wasn’t something I had been encouraged to do or seen other people in my sphere do. But with their encouragement and others, they helped me realise, “you can do this, this is a thing, this is legitimate!’ People do see the value of poetry and engaging with people culturally.

That’s another tip surely, surrounding yourself with like-minded people who can mentor and guide you along that poetry journey, isn’t it? So what’s next, what will you be working on?

Well what’s next is this, really! I’m really looking forward to returning to my ideas and thinking about who I can potentially collaborate with. I want it to be an audio piece which may or may not feature music, for example. So that’s what I’ll be doing!

Follow Leeza aka @eyesandoath on Instagram, or find out more at her website.

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Samuel O’Donnell: “It really means a lot for someone to take interest in your work.”

Thanks to Sputnik Patrons, we’ve given a grant to painter Sam O’Donnell. Alongside pursuing his own craft, Sam is a part-time church leader in Glasgow, and he approached us with a promising community project: opening a gallery space in the city centre, to exhibit local painters. We’re supporting the launch exhibition, ‘Opening’, which runs from 15th to 29th September. We asked our friend Katrina Moss—who runs the Chaiya Arts Award—to speak to Sam about how this project came about.

We love the idea of Adelaide Place church giving part of their building over to the broader creative community. As Sam says, getting exhibited in a professional gallery space means a lot to an artist, and the spirit of generosity here exemplifies what Sputnik is about. If that inspires you too, why not join Patrons scheme for as little as £5/month.. and we can give out more micro-grants to artists like Sam, who are busy blessing the place they live.

Can you introduce yourself to our readers?

Hi, I’m Sam O’Donnell, I live up in Glasgow. I’ve been here for about 10 years now; I’m from Manchester originally, and I moved here to study at Glasgow School of Art. I’m a painter, but I’m also on staff here at a city centre church called Adelaide Place Baptist Church. So I paint part-time and work for the church part-time.

So tell us a bit more about the project that Sputnik is helping to fund.

So, I’m going to be launching a new gallery space, here in the church building. It’s going to be called ‘A Place’ gallery. Sputnik is helping with the launch exhibition, the first exhibition of the gallery, from the 15th to the 29th of September. 

It’s coinciding with the Doors Open Days festival that happens in the city, where lots of buildings in the city are open to the public to explore. The exhibition has about 15 painters in it, who are based in Scotland or have significant ties to Glasgow.

The 15 artists that are taking part, are they artists that share your faith, or otherwise?

All the artists—they’re not people from the church, they’re all practising artists of varying degrees, people from all walks of life.

Are the exhibitions going to be based around a theme? And what was the catalyst behind the idea?

There’s no particular theme; this first exhibition is a group exhibition, just to get more people in the room, and get the gallery on the map a little. The idea in the future will be solo shows, with some of the artists I’ve already been talking to.

The impetus behind the galleries—it’s been a long road, an idea I’ve had for maybe 6 or 7 years. It’s coincided a little bit with what’s going on at the church, where we’ve recently completed some renovation works. So basically we have this room that’s off to the side of the church building, that’s not a liturgical space or a ‘worship’ space.

Like many artists I’m sure, straight after graduation I experienced very few opportunities. When things did finally come around, an exhibition or show I could be part of, it really meant a lot. It really means a lot to be approached, for someone to take interest in your work.

So I felt the church has the opportunity to do that, to offer something that’s generous to artists: to take interest in their work on their terms. And to do that with a gallery space that would be professional, that would make sense in the contemporary artist environment. To do that generously.

Everybody I’ve spoken to is so honoured and thrilled to be involved, so it’s been a really meaningful process.

I know from talking to artists that’s one of the hardest things—how you get connected to a gallery space, and get your work seen by a wider audience. I wondered how the church felt when you approached them about taking this space?

I’m lucky and privileged to be in a church that already values creativity and what creatives bring. I’ve been part of the church community about 10 years, and on staff for about 7 of those. My role has always been in the creative arts. So the church has already had an investment in that. And there’s always been an entrepreneurial spirit, to want to bless the city we’re part of.

So you do a mix of different styles in your own painting. What inspires your own personal creativity?

It maybe sounds strange to frame it this way, but one of the most important things for me is to make a commitment, and follow it through. When I was studying I felt like I had to make a decision to become a painter. Today there’s so many ways to be an artist, so many mediums you can work with. To make a decision to stick to one medium, and go the long distance in that art form – it’s quite a decision to make.

And so for me that’s then what inspires the creative field I’m in; I suppose I know what I’m there to do even when I’m not quite feeling it or if I don’t have any ideas. I know what I’m committed to, and that helps me to build the long distance.

In terms of my Christian faith as well, to make a lifelong step in faith is to make a decision in that way. So the things go hand in hand.

For anyone in Glasgow, you can catch the exhibition, ‘Opening’, between the 15th and 29th of September at Adelaide Place. The opening evening is Friday 15th from 6-9pm. See more at – and to support more projects like this, sign up as a Patron here!

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Ali Mylon: “What is it to feel at home, to feel safe?”

With the help of our Patrons, we’ve given one of this term’s grants to actor, musician and writer Ali Mylon, who is developing an original theatre script about home, identity and meeting ‘the other’. We invited Harri Mardlin, director of LifeBox Theatre Company, to speak to Ali about the project’s journey, and what it represents in her own personal and professional life.

We love to support creative professionals who are stretching their ambitions into new places. It’s not easy to do, and it requires support! Join our Patrons scheme for as little as £5/month, and we can give out more micro-grants to artists like Ali, who are articulating important stories for us all.

Answers have been edited for brevity, watch the whole interview above:

Please introduce yourself Ali!

I’m Ali Mylon, primarily an actor-musician, although I work in voiceover as well. I’ve worked in TV, film, theatre, and commercials. I took a music degree, and then in my late 20s contacted the drama school that had offered me a place at 18 – so I retrained at that stage. I’ve been working in the industry for nearly 15 years now.

Tell us about the project that Sputnik is funding.

Several years ago I started making a theatre piece, with music, called Dance With Me. It’s set around the time of the Brexit vote. It’s a story of two people: Annette, who’s a Polish migrant, and Tony, who’s a taxi driver from Sheffield. It’s really a story about their meeting, their friendship, and actually how their friendship draws out of them their needs, their wants, their perception of home and what it means to create a safe environment for their families.

I’m really interested to know how you feel connected to the material, and why you think it’s important to make this work.

At the time of the Brexit vote, I was teaching English as a foreign language, in a class of primarily Polish students. Everything was so heightened then – I saw the impact it had on individuals and the community. At the same time, I came back from London to Sheffield, got a taxi ride and had this really interesting conversation with the taxi driver. It just really struck me that even though on paper the ‘Leave’ and ‘Remain’ vote seemed poles apart, the two characters and their needs and wants were very similar.

I started imagining, what if these two characters met? How would their prejudices impact each other? Could they draw out from themselves what is it to feel ‘at home’? Is it about being in a specific country? Is it about feeling safe? Or is it much more an inward struggle about feeling you’ve ‘arrived’, that you’re at peace?

It’s also a bit of a personal testimony of how I grew as a performer and individual, how I became much more comfortable in my own skin. I feel like I’m actually Ali Mylon, and content and happy to be who I am.

It’s a good place to reach isn’t it?

It is a good place! It’s obviously a work in progress. But it’s that inward battle of just knowing what it is to feel comfortable, and content.

As performers, that can be a real challenge I think.

Because everything out there is so uncontrollable, and constantly shifts. As a performer, 95% of life is about rejection, not getting the jobs, or working out whether something is a good thing for you to pursue, or not. But actually if you’re coming from a place where you feel contentment – that sort of changes everything really.

Who’s your target audience, and why is that?

I’m working with a fantastic director, Sally Proctor. She’s assistant director for the National Theatre, and she’s really passionate about community work, telling stories that are authentic, and truthful.

She really wants us to work closely with the Polish community in Sheffield, but also the working men’s community. So I suppose we want to work in these communities and tell these stories, so that’s a target audience in itself; but also the people of Sheffield, and anyone who wants to hear this story.

The time of Brexit was significant, it heightened things, and maybe those questions that it raised within us are still as relevant today as they were; just maybe they’ve been dampened down a bit.

What would you hope for the future of the piece?

I’d love it to be told in Sheffield theatres, for it to become a production! Obviously I’m aiming high, I’d like it to be taken on by the larger theatres, but I’d be happy for it to be taken on in community centres and smaller venues. I just think it’s a story that is valuable and important to tell.

Follow Ali on the website formerly/still known as Twitter, here.. and become a Patron!

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Shelley Ruddock (View35 Films): “We think of ourselves as a dream team”

Thanks to our patrons community, we’ve given a grant towards View35 Film’s new original project, ‘The Draw’. The Edinburgh-based “dream team” led by Shelley and Tom Ruddock are writing, directing and producing their own dystopian drama—and our self-confessed film nerd Jonny Mellor spoke to Shelley to find out more.

Art doesn’t grow on trees! It costs money to make, especially for those with big ambitions. Even micro-grants make a difference to projects like these, as well as being an irreplaceable encouragement to those making them. Join our Patrons scheme for as little as £5 / month – and we can help companies like View35 to keep challenging themselves, drawing stories out of the Christian imagination.

Answers have been edited for brevity, watch the whole interview above:

Can you introduce yourself?

I’m Shelley Ruddock – I’m a film producer, and also the co-founder of View35 Films, which is based in Edinburgh and London.

And you work in partnership with your husband Tom? What roles do you both take?

We see ourselves really as a dream team! We are a real partnership as you say – he is a writer/director, I specialise as a producer; but we also both have a lot of experience across different roles. We really do see it as “us” when we make a project, and we love working together on the stories that Tom’s created.

What are some of the different projects you’ve worked on, that you’re proud of?

What I love about our job is that we have so much variety. We had a cool job with Lego recently—we got to go into Warner Brothers studios, on a night shoot, and walk around the place.

You contacted us about your first feature film—can you fill us in on that?

We’re so grateful for the help – it’s our first feature film, a sci-fi drama set in an alternate present, called The Draw. There’s a lot of twists and turns along the way, but essentially it’s a story about human connection.

One of our crew members put it perfectly as a merge between Black Mirror and 1984! We’ve filmed principal photography—we did a three-week shoot in Edinburgh already, and we’ll be doing a pick-up shoot in London, and we’re in the midst of post-production.

We’re aiming to have it finished by September/October in time for the Sundance deadline, to give us a good goal to work towards. We’d love to release it early next year, but it all depends how it does on film festivals, and pushing to streaming platforms after that. Next year, hopefully, will be the release.

For anyone reading, how can they help bring this vision to life?

We are still raising money for the London side of the shoot and for the post-production, to help us make the best film we can possible make. Anybody can support Tom and me through the Buy Me a Coffee website — or they can get in touch with us, if somebody would like to be more involved in the journey, to be a partner in it.

Find View35’s website here, or follow them on Instagram.

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Jem Bunce: “In a remote place, you become smaller — everything seems bigger around you.”

With the help of our patrons community, we’ve given a grant to Cornwall visual artist Jem Bunce. Sputnik’s Jemma Mellor spoke to Jem about his new opportunity voyaging to the Outer Hebrides, with a plan to develop new artworks and see what other inspiration happens along the way!

Often the financial risk gets in the way of artists saying “yes” to the unusual and even life-changing opportunities that may come their way. Join our Patrons scheme for as little as £5 / month – and we can help artists to take risks and detours like this one, building their craft as they go.

Jem, who are you and what do you do?

I’m Jem – I live in beautiful Cornwall, and I’m an odd-jobber and an artist!

Can you tell us about the project you’re about to embark on?

A friend of mine invited me to sail around the Inner and Outer Hebrides for two weeks. I’m just going to take my sketchbook, I’m going to draw. When I do any drawing, I don’t really know where it’s going, but I’m going to record – not just places I see, but my experience. I’ll get back with piles of paper, and maybe turn them into prints, paintings, and so on. 

It’s an experience, which I’ll record visually. And it’s apparently an incredibly beautiful place, and very remote. The plan is — if we can — we’ll go to this remote island, St Kilda. There’s now no population there. Four-hundred metre high cliffs; a huge bird population. It’ll be quite dramatic – even just the journey there!

Your work often begins with sketching on location. What particularly drew you the Scottish Isles, and the potential extremes there?

We live in a remote-ish part of the country anyway. Cornwall is absolutely beautiful, and we live right in the middle of it. Having lived in towns, in London and other places – when you live in a remote place, you become smaller because everything seems bigger around you. The sky seems bigger, the landscape seems bigger; there’s something about your connection, understanding what you see but also yourself in that environment.

Hopefully being in the Outer Hebrides will be like that, to the next degree. I think the subject matter is “me”, and the experience of being there.

You’ll sketch locations but then bring it all back into the studio. Is there something that changes in that transition?

It’s an open-ended journey when you start out on a drawing. Sometimes I make things difficult for myself — or arguably easier — I set myself targets: ”five drawings in twenty-five minutes” or something, where I don’t have time to think. So I’m making intuitive, quick marks —and then the sketchbook will lie closed for a few months, maybe a year. When I come back to it, I’m reacting to that drawing, to the marks I’ve made. 

In terms of art and faith, where does that come in for you?

Creation is, certainly, completely extravagant. God is just this extraordinary creator; everything’s just crazy and intricate and diverse. And then God says ‘I want you to create, as well’… we’ve got something of his creative nature in us. That in itself is a legitimate reason for being. At a basic level, that’s where my faith comes into it.

Also, painting is really hard; I genuinely go into it saying “God, will you help me..” When I’m looking at nature, I can actually talk to the person who made it — that’s crazy! This amazing relationship with the creator, this glorious sense of connection — that informs my work.

Follow Jem Bunce on Instagram, or see his website.

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What We’ve Funded: June 2023

Our Sputnik Patrons program collects monthly donations from our Patrons community and distributes it to Christian artists around the UK. Here’s a snapshot of what we’ve helped to fund, as of June 2023.

We believe arts for profit is bad for everyone. Putting money and markets at the heart of our society hollows out our common life. That’s why we raise money to give away to artists without strings attached – so they can create for the common good rather than being pressured to make what sells.

The deadline for new grant applications is 1st July; you can get your application in here already. Or why not become a Patron for as little as £5 / month?

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Nova Grace Productions: “Sometimes dance expresses more than language can”

With the help of our patrons community, we’ve given a grant to dance company Nova Grace Productions. Our good friend Marlita Hill spoke to Nova Grace’s Rosy Nevard about their new project, ‘Unlocked’—a project which emerged out of lockdown, taking their creative performances developed over Zoom and converting them into a new stage production.

As Rosy says, it’s tough to make the profit margins work on original productions! It’s a joy to help artists realise the projects that they want to create. Join our Patrons scheme for as little as £5 / month – and we can help companies like Nova Grace bring their brilliant ideas to the public.

You’re the artistic director of Nova Grace Productions. What should we know about Nova Grace?

We’re a collection of lovely dancers, Christian and non-Christian. I co-founded the company back in 2016 as a social enterprise. Our initial way of doing things didn’t work out—we’re now a charity. We do all sorts of projects, working internationally—giving people a chance to be involved in dance, to spread to joy, and use it as a way to connect with people.

We’ve started to do our own creative projects, too—theatre, choreography and dance.

Tell us more about what Sputnik is funding.

Thanks so much to Sputnik, and the supporters and patrons—it really does make a huge difference.

The whole project developed out of lockdown; theatres were closed, we had no work to do, back in March 2020. We started doing ballet classes on Zoom, just to keep active, and keep in touch. We started creating, and exploring the environment of our homes.

In the end, we had four 15-minute sections that we’d created at different moments in time, as the lockdowns came and went. We put them together for a virtual performance on Zoom; but as soon as we were able to get back together, we decided to adapt it for stage. We’ve now added a fifth section, using memory and spoken word, using people’s voices. We’re taking it on tour this week!

What was it like to adapt this work from a virtual context to a stage production?

It was so joyful to be back together again. Zoom kept us going, but it was so difficult dance-wise, to stay in time with each other! But adapting the piece has meant so much decision-making. It’s been exhausting.

But it has been fun and exciting. To have a live audience and that feedback, the energy and atmosphere, that’s what theatre is. So I’m really looking forward to it.

When people come to see ‘Unlocked’, what do you hope they walk away with?

We want people to come on the journey with us. Not everybody wants to talk about lockdown—we lived through it, we want to forget about it. But we feel it’s important to talk about things.

We want people to engage with their thoughts and emotions. To find positivity: we did get through it; but also it’s a nod to the hard times, and to the people who lost their lives, the sadness of the whole thing. We want to acknowledge it and pay our respects to it.

Your work explores social issues and difficult topics. What led you to do this, and why is dance the right medium?

Dance is the right medium because we’re dancers! Dance is the tool that I have. But the reason I really believe in it is that it can be interpreted by each person; it speaks without words, and sometimes expresses more than language can.

You’re normally sat in silence watching dance, so you have time to reflection, and your own thoughts, depending what moves you within what you’re seeing.

Finally, how do your faith and art inform one another in the way you work?

It definitely informs how I approach my work; often I don’t have a lot of confidence, in taking risks or pushing ideas that you don’t necessarily feel you’re qualified to pursue. But my confidence and my strength definitely comes from my faith.

And also how I work with other people—the Christians in our company want to use our work relationships to shine God’s light, to show patience, kindness, gentleness, to other people. Because those are not things that are always seen in pressurised environments, like theatre environments can be!

Follow Nova Grace Productions on Instagram, or see their website.

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Kwakzino: “There’s never been such a healthy time for artists to express themselves.”

With the help of our patrons community, we’ve given a grant to London rapper Kwakzino, for his new project ‘Livewire’. Our good friend Joel Wilson spoke to Kwakz about his journey, process and hopes; they also discuss why hip-hop and grime seem uniquely accepting of expressions of faith, with mainstream artists from Stormzy to Kendrick leading the trend.

We love to support artists who are embedded in their scene and serving their community, while they work on their craft. Join our Patrons scheme for as little as £5 / month – and we can help artists like Kwakzino to keep getting better and better.

Can you introduce yourself and your creative work?

My name is Kwakz, aka Kwakzino. I’m a lyricist, rapper – I also do youthwork, putting on community projects for young people. I feel the Lord gave me a gift when I was young, sparked a passion in me when I was 13 years old, and it’s continued with me ever since.

What was your pivotal moment when you took your art more seriously?

I remember hearing different sounds in school – and back in my day we had pirate radio stations, so I remember trying to tune in my cassette player to find a particular station. I started trying to write and rap lyrics to my peers – then I found likeminded individuals, so I become part of a tribe. We called it a crew back then. It was buzzing, that’s the only way to describe it, this new sound in London at the time.

How much has your inspiration changed over time? Who gives you that same energy?

That’s a whole different conversation! My inspiration comes from things closer to home – my sons, my wife, friends and family members. I’m very thankful to even be alive, to have a family, to see my kids grow. That’s what inspires me.

I can’t deny God’s love when I see my boys waking up, jumping around, farting! I’ve got to give thanks. It’s not easy out here.

Tell us a little about the project Sputnik is funding.

The project is a song called Livewire. It just sounds clean, very professional. That’s my friend Illusion – he’s a real maestro on the keyboard. The beat kind of reminds me of 21 Seconds from 20 years ago – we’ve captured that kind of sound, but then pairing it with 20 years life experience since then. It’s reflecting on the journey, and how God came into my life.

Before God came into my life, I was like a live wire, a ball of energy. Until God came and grounded me. That’s why I like to say it’s ‘because of him’, he’s connected me, and now I’m in the circuit and now everything’s flowing, instead of being all over the place.

So who’s your audience for this? What do you want people to get from your work?

It’s a question I’ve asked myself for years. My music is targeted at the hopeless – because God gave me hope – but not in an inauthentic way, or cheesy way, just in an honest way.

But it’s also for people with hope, to encourage those with hope for them to get active on their projects, for them to want to take on life, help others, show love, be grateful.

What’s special about grime or hip-hop that people can talk about faith, and people seem to accept that? Christian faith is perceived as mainstream for rappers.

It’s a very deep question. I take my hat off to Stormzy, because he’s been more vulnerable than I’ve ever been. I believe God had his hand on Stormzy in that.

I think Hip-hop is unapologetic. Grime is unapologetic. That allows people to say what they want to say on those types of beats. We’ve had Lil Nas X rapping what he wants to rap about. Lil Uzi Vert rapping what he wants to rap about. And then we’ve got the Novelist, I Am Deyah, others who have a faith and they’re not ashamed to say it.

There’s never been such a healthy time for artists to express themselves. I’m a Christian and I make music, but the majority of my fans are not Christians.

Can you talk a little bit about themes or concepts that are recurring in your work?

Well God worked on me. I was living a negative lifestyle; selling drugs, robbing, treating girls wrong. It was anger. God knew I didn’t want to live the lifestyle. I hated myself. I couldn’t even look myself in the mirror. Every day my mindset was- who am I going to abuse? Who am I going to negatively affect today?

God provided me a way out. I was facing jail – the judge said if you ever come back to me, you’re going straight to jail. I managed to get out of my area my God’s grace. That’s when I started working with young people – I didn’t want them to be making the same steps I had. I’ve been doing youthwork heavily for the last 8 years.

Because of my life, and the circle my life has gone on, in my music I talk about this. What it was like before God, what it’s like since God. I won’t lie, I wrote about it so much, I hated it! I was sick and tired of talking about the street. I’ve talked about it. I was like God, I need a new song now.

I want to talk about family life. I’ve not written a song about my kids, but they’re everything to me. But that’s what’s to come. 

Keep up with Kwakzino on Instagram.

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Eek & Wild: “It challenges their expectations of what dance is”

Thanks to our generous patrons, we’ve given a grant to Eek & Wild, a fresh, fun and joy-filled dance company. Emily, Ella and Katie began making work together in lockdown, and have since become Artists in Residence at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, where they’ll be staging their new creative project, ‘Sculpt’. Our friend Sarah Rabone spoke to the trio about their process and journey so far.

We love to support projects like ‘Sculpt’, that are serving the community around them while also allowing for embodied, free creative expression. Join our Patrons scheme for as little as £5 / month – and we can keep supporting artists like Eek & Wild in their boundary-breaking explorations.

So who is Eek and Wild?

Katie Albon: Eek and Wild is the three of us – we are all independent dancers, all self-employed; we formed together as a company during lockdown because we all wanted something fun to do. We decided to make c couple of dance films together, and really loved working together. So we’ve just evolved into making work together more regularly.

Tell us a little more about the project that Sputnik is going to be funding, ‘Sculpt’.

Ella Fleetwood: We’ve been artists in residence at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital for nearly two years now. We’ve been working on the children’s ward, performing our pop-up dances, which are really short – can be performed by the bedside. But we wanted to make something really big, something where we can really move, and push ourselves physically and artistically.

The hospital had been looking at getting some work that happens in the atrium spaces, something really big and impactful. The hospital has a huge art collection, with amazing sculptures all over the hospital. We chose three of the sculptures, and started to chat with the children on the wards about them, and if they could imagine a dance about them.

Katie: So we took the children’s ideas and some of our own ideas and formed these three dances based on the sculptures. It’s been a long process; we’ve been able to use the hospital’s studio space. But more recently the Sputnik funding has enabled us to get some space of our own and refine what we’ve made, to rehearse it and spend a bit more time together.

Ella: There’s a real difference between having a sketch and having something ‘performance ready’. That’s what the funding has helped us to do. 

What are the joys and maybe the difficult practicalities of working in a hospital context, at bedsides and around machines?

Emily Yong: One of the joys is that it’s a much more intimate performance. You’re making time and space for an individual child, and I think that makes them feel quite special. They get choice over what they see. And I think it also broadens the horizons and expectations of what dance is. When we say “would you like to see a dance today”, they think we’re going to take them into a different space; and we say “no we can do it right here by your bed” — they have no idea what they’re going to see.

Katie: It is tricky because you’re in a tiny room, there’s a bed, there’s machines, a sink behind you, a rail above you, and there’s three of us! But it causes us to have to think on our feet, and we all love improvisation, we all love to play. Because we’ve worked together a while, we can read each other well.

The other challenge is wearing a mask – our work is playful and fun, we use our faces a lot. Though you can do a lot with your eyes, in terms of connection.

You’ve talked about choice and interaction. I can imagine a child might want to move and collaborate with you in some way; in the future would you think about pushing that idea of collaboration, to moving with your audiences?

Ella: On the wards, at the end of our dance we have an open invite to interaction, which often leads to some sort of improvisation. So it can sometimes lead to movement with the children. 

With this new show we have no idea what’s going to happen! I think we’re open and excited at the prospect that interaction could happen. There’s an invite there. 

Katie: It also comes down to hospital precautions; it’s taken a lot for us to be allowed to perform in a public space. I’m hoping it can go there – if we’re told it’s safe enough. 

Being dancers and Christians, how does that dynamic work for you?

Emily: We all work in different contexts, sometimes a faith-based one, sometimes outside that. I think we’re just the same person in each context. We’re not “more Christian” in one area. 

There’s so many beautiful aspects of the Christian faith – love, peace, joy, kindness, patience; I hope those underpin the way I behave in any context, and in everyday life too. Maybe the separation of pockets of life isn’t that helpful a view. Our faith permeates into everything.

To follow Eek and Wild, follow them on Instagram, Twitter or see their website.

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What We’ve Funded: February 2023

Our Sputnik Patrons program collects monthly donations from our Patrons community and distributes it to Christian artists around the UK. Here’s a snapshot of what we’ve helped to fund, as of February 2023.

We believe arts for profit is bad for everyone. Putting money and markets at the heart of our society hollows out our common life. That’s why we raise money to give away to artists without strings attached – so they can create for the common good rather than being pressured to make what sells.

The deadline for new grants is passed – the next one is 1st July, but you can get your application in here already. Or why not become a Patron for as little as £5 / month?

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Janet Kutin: Reality with weirdness creeping in

Our patrons community has helped us to give a grant to illustrator, animator and storyteller, Janet Kutin—aka the INKtrovert—whose meditative approach to her illustration comes through in vivid, multi-layered characters. Janet approached us with a very personal project, giving her the opportunity to expand into writing along with her illustrations, to produce a “small, but personally ambitious” anthology.

We often find artists have passion projects locked away in them just waiting for the opportunity to be expressed, and these can often be incredibly moving, full-blooded works that shed light on the world around us. Join our Patrons scheme for as little as £5 / month – and we can keep supporting artists like Janet who have even more hidden depths to show us all.

Hi Jae. Can you introduce yourself to our good readers.

Hey, I’m ‘The INKtrovert’… but yes, more commonly known as Jae… and also sometimes Janet. I’m a film-obsessed Storyteller that’s been trading (and hiding) under that not-so-covert-personally-trait brand name for about 10 years now, having started during University—but long before that, I was telling stories in my journals and on the covers of my school books.

You’re an Illustrator, an Animator, but most of all a Storyteller. How do these elements come together in your practice?

They get involved with each other, because although my role has mainly been illustrating, concepts naturally branch out. I usually have specific ideas that I don’t want to be limited.

I personally use animation and writing in varied ways, or collaborate with others, rather than execute certain parts of a project myself—because I have a healthy awareness of where I lack in my abilities. It really depends on the project, but Illustration is my primary practice—I know it very well. Some briefs, whether self-initiated or not, call for an extension of myself so that’s why I chose the title Storyteller. It neatly explains what I do, but also sparks intrigue because the word can mean something different to everyone, resulting in more questions about my work, which is not bad.

You have the ability to be able to give even simply drawn characters real personality. What is your process regarding creating engaging characters through your work?

My process is slow and probably seems unnecessarily long to most people. By that I mean I delight in studying characteristics, researching beyond what I am seeing and including salient themes or elements even if it is a simple task; I meditate on them, if that makes sense. I love hiding motifs and small but (to me) significant details in my work that may appear random to some. To be honest, I don’t think I can fully articulate how I give ‘life’ to some of my drawings—I think that’s just how I see them in my head so they actually look normal to me! I guess my artistic expression mixed with years of skill-learning has developed a collectively weird, familiar method to my making.

It’s a privilege to be able to support a new project you’re working on through our patrons scheme. Can you talk us through it?

So this project started years ago when I was having a bit of a rough time in all areas of my life. When something like this happens, I tend to write rather than draw; it flows more naturally. I was frustrated and confused about a lot of things going on with me. So, not wanting to simply write about what was happening exactly, I tried a more productive approach to process it all. This anthology I am putting together is a raw, written reflection on myself with a few illustrations here and there (in addition to some somewhat colourful prints to keep the mood light). It’s small, but ambitious on a personal level, so my only hope is that I can produce something I can boldly share.

To keep up with Jae’s work, follow her on Instagram.

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Sarah Grace Dye: International experiments in making paper

Our patrons community has helped us to give a grant to visual artist, curator, collector, story teller and educator, Sarah Grace Dye. Sarah approached us with an incredibly unique project: in partnership with carpet makers in Uzbekistan, she’s developed a technique for making paper from scraps of silk; we’re funding her journey there to teach the methodology to the workshop owners themselves.

Cross-cultural, environmental, creative projects like this – infused with the uniqueness of Sarah’s own material-making practice – don’t just pop up everyday. Join our Patrons scheme for as little as £5 / month – and we can keep supporting great artists like Sarah take experimental leaps into life. Find out more here.

Hi Sarah. Who are you and what do you do?

I am a visual artist, curator, collector, story teller and educator from Sheffield, now living in Frankfurt. I make artists’ books, make paper and draw. I love paper. 

After University, I found my home teaching on an extended diploma course in Art and Design (amongst other things) at the Arts University Bournemouth. I think my 12 years there were actually my training ground for what I do, and who I am now, artistically. It was such a vast and varied course—I taught all sorts of things, and was able to sneak into sessions taught by others to learn new techniques and processes.

That is where I was introduced to paper-making and some forms of book binding, all of which are key to my practice now. Working with some wonderful students and staff over those years was a privilege and an enormous source of inspiration. I think I learnt more than I taught! I still teach now (mostly via zoom) but it is in smaller groups or one on one with tailored sessions for each group/person.

Your artistic practice has all sorts of different facets – from drawing, to curating collections, to making paper. How did you find your way into these specific disciplines? Do you see your practice further evolving into different areas in the future?

My practice is all about re-using the resources we have around us in our homes. I make paper from household waste, as well as making inks and dyes. I love to draw, and have a regular drawing and mark-making practice as part of a couple of Zoom drawing groups with other fascinating women from around the world.

I have always been fascinated by books in a kind of love-hate relationship. My parents were collectors (or hoarders!) and had a huge library of books. They both were theological scholars and so had many very old fascinating books in English, Latin and Greek. I was mesmerised by these books. I loved the smell, the touch and the patterns the words made on the page and often there would be etchings of diagrams and pictures.

I have to confess to never reading any of them! I was not a fan of reading. I am dyslexic and reading was a struggle so not enjoyable whereas drawing was completely consuming for me and took me to my happy place. I still have a very old complete set of the greek new testament and a 150 + year old copy of Josephus ‘The Life of Christ’ for example that fascinate me. As a child my parents kept a cupboard of packaging, paper, plastic bottles glue and scissors that were accessible at all times, we were always encouraged to create and express ourselves.

I am always excited to learn new techniques and processes, especially in the current climate as we learn so much more about how we can help sustain our planet through our use of its resources. My practice is always evolving, often in response to a circumstance. I got stuck in Frankfurt in March 2020 for five months with no materials and no money to buy anything. That was when paper-making came into its own, and I researched and gleaned information about making natural ink and dyes to provide something interesting to draw with. I collected tea bags and packaging from around the house to use that paper for book making and to draw on.

Curating was a natural step for me. I am an inherent organiser. I am interested in the detail of things and how one thing reacts to another. Even as a teenager my bedroom walls were covered in pictures carefully placed to make a pleasing whole. I have always collected things. My parents had many friends living abroad, who would come and visit and bring me amazing little gifts, many of which I still have.

As well as being an accomplished artist, you also have experience of working with artists as a university tutor and community builder. What lessons have you learnt about nurturing and encouraging creative gifts in others?

I am a firm believer that everyone has the ability to create, regardless of what they might think! I love the challenge of presenting an opportunity and then teasing out whatever creativity is lurking dormant. Encouragement and enthusiasm are the most important aspects of teaching. 

Firstly: nothing is wrong. The worst mistake you can make will always teach you something, even if that is to never do that thing again! I would also encourage students to never throw work away. I can’t tell you how many times a student has hated something they have created, only to love it several weeks later after it has been put away in a draw.

Secondly: we are all unique. You will never create like me, or me like you; we have our own marks and style. It is simply a case of uncovering what is already there, and developing that uniqueness. Yes, it is important to glean knowledge from others, and be inspired; but then make it your own.

Thirdly: having space without pressure is also a key to creativity. It can be difficult to find that in our busy lives, but in my experience finding that space can enrich the rest of your day/week no end. For me just making some marks with ink or a pencil, never mind what it looks like, is a tonic in any situation. It is the doing and connection to the creativity inside of us that is important. 

When I moved back to Sheffield, I had a small self-contained flat in the attic of where I lived. I started a residency program for people to come and spend between one week to a month free of charge in that space to focus on whatever creative project they had bubbling up. I worked closely with Bank Street Arts in Sheffield, and often the residency would end up with an exhibition in that space. I would try my best to support whatever the project was in whatever way they needed while they were there. It has always been completely delightful to see people blossom and fill up with joy being given that space to explore what they love. Thats what it’s all about for me.

I think the key to building community and support is simply to really listen. What does the community need? Then you can act upon it in whatever small way you can. We each have to recognise how important we are as part of the whole and not wait for someone else to start.

Through our patrons scheme, we are helping to fund a fascinating project you are working on. Can you bring us all up to speed on what you’re doing?

I am currently experimenting with using little scraps of silk threads mixed with egg boxes to make paper. I have a dear friend who moved to Uzbekistan many years ago and set up a carpet workshop. He researched the process and designs and then taught the locals their own traditional skills in natural silk dying and weaving to create the most beautiful carpets. This knowledge had been lost during the Soviet era where traditional crafts were not allowed. You can read his story in the book A Carpet Ride to Khiva: Seven Years on the Silk Road by Chris Aslan Alexander. Today, it is a thriving workshop that employs many.

I mentioned to him that I use the fluff from the dryer to make my paper soft and strong, and he asked if maybe I could try to make paper with the silk scraps that are left on the floor after a carpet is finished. These scraps are currently discarded as rubbish. This prospect just ignited an excitement in me that I hadn’t felt in a long time. So a parcel arrived from Uzbekistan with little bags of coordinated silk scraps for me to play with.

Technically you are not supposed to use animal fibres for the paper making process, just plant fibres, but I never take no for an answer and love a problem to solve! I have successfully made paper and am now exploring both felt-making from the scraps and also a line of products that can be made with the paper/felt to sell at the carpet workshop. I am travelling to the workshop at Easter to share my methods and show them the products with the hope that they will generate a new line of income from their own waste materials.

I am so grateful for the money I was granted as it paid my bills for a month so I could concentrate on my experimentation without worry. It basically offered me the space I mentioned earlier! There is much more experimentation to come before I travel there, but that only fills me with joy and excitement at what might be discovered next.

Follow Sarah Grace Dye on Instagram, or see her website.

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Jessie Dipper: Songs that make space for people

Thanks to our wonderful patrons, we’ve given a grant to folk-grunge singer-songwriter Jessie Dipper, who recently completed a UK tour supporting Scouting for Girls. As is often the case for lesser-known artists, Jessie had to raise her own funds to join the tour, and we were delighted that we could help her seize this opportunity. We talked about songwriting as hospitality, putting others first, and growing in collaboration.

We love to support artists of faith simply trying to make an honest living in the messy world of the creative industries. Join our Patrons scheme for as little as £5 / month – and we can keep supporting great artists like Jessie as they progress.

Hi Jessie. Who are you and what do you do?

Hey, I’m a folk-grunge rock singer-songwriter and performer. I live in Wales, play guitar and write songs!

What one song in your back catalogue best sums you up as an artist? (And why?)

I released a song called Little Miss London on my latest album Sticky Floors and to this day is one of my favourite released songs to date. It was written on the last train out from London back home to where I was living at the time (Birmingham). And I met this incredible woman, who I coined the name ‘Little Miss London’. She had an incredible way of drawing people to her with raucous conversation, and we soon got chatting. We talked about life and the universe with each other and those around us.

It soon became apparent to me that beneath this bravado of bright red lipstick and fur coat, she was a woman quite on her own, and vulnerably still working out what life meant. A week later I finished the song I had begun writing with and about her, and Little Miss London was born. This song sums me up as an artist because I think there’s a Little Miss London in us all – we all dress ourselves up and go about our day hoping people don’t see through us, but beneath it all, we’re vulnerable and questioning, and I have a great hope that kindness is what brings our true selves to the surface, just as this song demonstrates.

You are presently supporting Scouting for Girls on tour and we’re delighted to have been able to support you with some of the tour costs through our patrons scheme. How did this come about and how has the tour gone so far?

The tour came about through some connections I had made over the last few years, through my producer who put me in front of an independent label and bookers. The management of Scouting For Girls saw what I did and were interested In having me on, and thus had an agreement drafted up for me to buy-on to the tour (a common arrangement for up and coming artists).

This was a great commitment to uphold as it required a significant amount of funding, which I chose to crowdfund over the months of July through to September. Incredibly, we were able to hit the target, thanks to everyone who decided to partner with me in supporting this major step. I was so grateful for Sputnik’s contribution, which provided direct financial support in covering additional costs such as accommodation, travel costs and food costs for my team whilst touring the UK. Although we hit a few stumbling blocks along the way, I can say with certainty that we achieved everything we set out to do, and it gives me great hope for my career ahead.

You recently taken on music full time. How have you found that transition? What lessons have you learnt so far?

I’d made the transition before back in 2018, and was able to support myself from then until May 2020 when Covid-19 impacted everyone’s lives. So I’d done it before, but I knew the path was not easy, and it felt like starting all over again. It was a difficult transition to make, but in September 2022 I was finally able to make the move once again back into full time music.

It continues to be an act of faith, to rely on income earned from my work in music to support what I do and increase my capacity for connection. But this was a necessary step. I am convinced that in order to step into this calling of a career in the ‘sticky floor-ed places’, and to achieve a level of success where that career is sustainable, I need to give myself wholeheartedly to it. I’ve had to learn to continually hold things lightly, to not take things too seriously, and surround myself with people that I can trust and will get the job done. Even when a decision seems to be easy, it doesn’t always mean it’s the right one, and thus the discernment process for this is of absolute importance.

Follow Jessie Dipper on Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, or her website.

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Amanda Aiken: Characters that write their own stories

This term we’ve given a grant to Amanda Aiken, an illustrator based in the Scottish borders. Having worked on features, short films, and TV shows, Amanda is looking to develop her skills from a storyboard artist into a story artist — a role where pure visuals and sheer imagination helps to form the key beats from which a story and script develops. We talked about that difference, and her ambitions for her own project, ‘The Wait’.

We love to support industry professionals in their personal development and giving them a chance to stretch their wings into new areas. Join our Patrons scheme for as little as £5 / month – and we can keep supporting great artists like Amanda as they grow.

Hi Amanda. Could you introduce yourself?

Hello! I’m a storyboard artist, primarily in animation. I also animate at times. I’ve worked on feature films, TV shows, commercials – all kinds of things! I’m also a voracious reader, doodler, dog owner, Aunt to a lovely niece and nephew, and notebook collector. I still have all my notebooks of doodles and stories, some from before I went to school.

As a storyboard artist I take a script and draw panels from it, outlining the story of the show/movie before it reaches the animation stage. This results in an animatic, a video of drawn panels with music and dialogue that’s used as a guide for the rest of the project. I enjoy my work but I’d like to move more into the area of a story artist. Rather than starting with a script, story artists create the whole story and its visuals. It’s the story creation rather than the drawing that’s my favourite part of the job.

Storyboarding is a bit like getting to direct but with far less pressure and responsibility. I can choose camera angles and influence the emotion of a scene. If something isn’t working out, there are times I can even make changes to the overall story.

You are presently working on a graphic novel and we are delighted to be able to
support this through our patrons scheme. What is this project about?

I occasionally write short stories—it’s a good way to bring an idea to fruition more quickly!—and these sometimes develop into storyboards or short films. These stories are usually a response to something that’s happened to me, or that I’m frustrated about. Often the stories are best left as the written word, or forgotten about altogether, but with The Wait I decided I wanted to draw it as a short comic/graphic novel. Living as a Christian has caused a lot of people to challenge me why I wait for God in certain areas. The story, though not about the Christian faith, is about waiting, and the challenge of doing so when everyone around you questions why you wait.

Because my drawings are generally loose and rough a lot of my artistic ‘challenges’ to myself are to create finished pieces. Several years ago I illustrated another short story, Kinsey’s Sword, which can now be purchased online. The process of roughing out the illustrations was great fun. Designing the characters and refining the illustrations to a place I was happy with was, at times, torturous. Yet I was proud and pleased with the result and meant to make something similar again; unfortunately I’m an excellent procrastinator and I kept putting it off.

With The Wait I knew it would be an even greater challenge as I’d have to design a much larger cast of characters and locations as well as settling on a finished look. That’s why I’ve had the rough of the graphic novel sitting in a folder for well over a year! So I decided to ask Sputnik for funding to set aside time to research and draw the character designs. I also plan to use some of the money for print samples, as I’d like the final story to be published in print and online.

What do you think are most important features of a good story? What kind of stories
do you most enjoy telling?

What I’m always wondering, whether I’m reading or watching a movie or writing or drawing, is whether the actions that are taking place make sense. It’s not whether I would react in the same way, it’s whether a decision is odd for a character. If I don’t believe a character could have made that choice, then nobody else will either.

There are many other things that make up good stories but what I’m seeking to do is to satisfy the audience in some way. That could be by either fulfilling or frustrating expectations. To do this, I create for myself. What do I want to see happen? What happens if that goes as expected? What if it doesn’t? I note my own reactions and dive deeper into the most interesting and satisfying threads that are uncovered. Sometimes these things might only interest me, but that’s what’s most important. The stories I’ve written and drawn have one main thing in common: they’re stories I want to read or see.

I lean to the fantastical and magical, but I’ve always enjoyed juxtaposing that with reality. The ideas in my notebooks are wide-ranging. I don’t overlook any of them because they don’t fit with a preferred theme. Instead, I consider how solid the overall idea is and how strongly it takes hold of me.

To follow Amanda and her work, see her website or Instagram.

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The Moses Brothers: Music for life, healing and solace

This term we’ve given a grant to the musical family trio known as the Moses Brothers: Davidson, Emmanuel and Richard. Although prolific creators, little of their music has made its way to the wider public – until now! We were delighted to be part of their journey to release multiple projects this year, and so we chatted about their process, and what it’s like to grow up in a household with instruments always at your fingertips.

We love to see ambitious young creators, working hard to improve themselves and their craft. Join our Patrons scheme for as little as £5 / month – and we can keep supporting great artists like the Moses Brothers as they develop.

So, who are the Moses Brothers and how did you come to make such beautiful music together? 

So kind of you. We are the Moses Brothers, and we are in fact related as we all have the same mum and dad. We started playing music and writing songs at a young age, alongside each other — so as you can imagine, there is a shared musical history, having spent some formative years exploring our craft together. We’re still learning, and growing, and it’s incredibly kind of you to consider our music as beautiful.

Growing up, we were blessed to have parents and also friends, Paul and Kath Sollitt, who saw music in us and gave us our first instruments including a guitar and an upright piano. They saw music in us before we even saw it in ourselves. Because of their generosity, we now play multiple instruments, write, produce, engineer and mix songs! 

Through our patrons scheme, we are supporting you in completing a new album. Can you tell us more about this? 

We already have 7 songs in the ‘part one’ version of our album entitled Sunrise. There are songs on this such as How Could I Forget that were formed in a dream when Davidson was 9 years old. The next album or project is a continuation of that, and hopefully shows a small side of God’s love and creativity. And we hope to release more projects this half of 2023. This album will be an independent release were we record, mix and write the album as brothers together.   

This project is, in part, being produced in connection with Mental Wellbeing Services. Do you specifically make music as music therapy and does making music in a wellbeing context change the way you work? 

Although Sunrise explores themes of mental health, there is another project that could be produced in connection with Mental Wellbeing Services. This is a 3-piece instrumental single with our talented friend Caleb Hakim on electric guitar, Rich on cello and Davidson on grand piano. We have received many words about our music being healing to people. “He is healer (Jehova Rapha)” — we hold onto these words.

To stay connected with the Moses Brothers, follow them on Instagram here.

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Tolkien and the Dyscatastrophe

Having succeeded in destroying the One Ring, Sam and Frodo are rescued from the slopes of Mount Doom and carried to Ithilien. Sam awakes in a scene that takes place in the chapter ‘The Field of Cormallen’.

When Sam awoke, he found that he was lying on some soft bed, but over him gently swayed wide beechen boughs, and through their young leaves sunlight glimmered, green and gold. All the air was full of a sweet mingled scent.

He remembered that smell: the fragrance of Ithilien. ‘Bless me!’ he mused. ‘How long have I been asleep?’ For the scent had borne him back to the day when he had lit his little fire under the sunny bank; and for a moment all else between was out of waking memory. He stretched and drew a deep breath. ‘Why, what a dream I’ve had!’ he muttered. ‘I am glad to wake!’ He sat up and then he saw that Frodo was lying beside him, and slept peacefully, one hand behind his head, and the other resting upon the coverlet. It was the right hand, and the third finger was missing.

Full memory flooded back, and Sam cried aloud: ‘It wasn’t a dream! Then where are we?’

And a voice spoke softly behind: ‘In the land of Ithilien, and in the keeping of the King; and he awaits you.’ With that Gandalf stood before him, robed in white, his beard now gleaming like pure snow in the twinkling of the leafy sunlight. ‘Well, Master Samwise, how do you feel?’ he said.

But Sam lay back, and stared with open mouth, and for a moment, between bewilderment and great joy, he could not answer. At last he gasped: ‘Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself. Is everything sad going to come untrue? What’s happened to the world?’

‘A great Shadow has departed,’ said Gandalf, and then he laughed and the sound was like music, or like water in a parched land; and as he listened the thought came to Sam that he had not heard laughter, the pure sound of merriment, for days upon days without count. It fell upon his ears like the echo of all the joys he had ever known. But he himself burst into tears.

This is one of my favourite passages in all of Tolkien’s work, and these paragraphs encapsulate some of the best things in Middle-earth. The gentle reassurance of Gandalf’s presence, the beauty of the natural world, the simple honesty of Samwise Gamgee and Tolkien’s sublime use of the English language.

For Tolkien the eucatastrophe is not as simple as a happy ending. He describes the joy it is intended to deliver as being ‘poignant as grief.’ Neither does it deny ‘dyscatasrophe … sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance.’

Dyscatastrophe is an essential part of Tolkien’s writing. Readers are often divided on whether Tolkien’s vision of the world was fundamentally optimistic or pessimistic. Loss and death are central themes in his work and this perhaps has some autobiographical basis. Tolkien himself was orphaned by the age of 12 and lost a significant number of close childhood friends in the Battle of the Somme.

On the Field of Cormallen, a Great Shadow has indeed departed from the world. Sauron is defeated, and Gandalf has even has returned from death. Sam’s question, ‘is everything sad going to come untrue?’ is often used by Christians as a kind of apologetic for what life will be like in the age to come. I believe Tolkien’s answer is a complex mix of yes and no, and perhaps this is why he frames it as a question. As Sam looks to his master, peacefully asleep, he notices the finger that is missing. There are some things that are lost forever, and evil leaves its mark.

Readers are often divided on whether Tolkien’s vision of the world was fundamentally optimistic or pessimistic.

The doom of Frodo Baggins is the prime example of this. Though successful in his quest, the wounds of that journey; the Witch-King’s knife on Weathertop and Shelob’s sting in Cirith Ungol, cannot be healed in this world. ‘We set out to save the Shire,’ he tells Sam, ‘and it has been saved – but not for me.’ The destruction of evil also comes at the cost of Gollum’s redemption, one of the greatest causes for hope throughout the story. Arwen’s marriage to Aragorn is an occasion of some joy that will be for the enriching and enoblement of the whole world. But it comes at a cost; one day, she will die.

The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit are comparatively cheery compared to much of his other work. Tolkien famously abandoned a sequel called ‘The Return of Shadow’ because it was too depressing even for him. Those of you who have read The Silmarillion, which was published by Tolkien’s son Christopher after his death will know from those mythic tales that Tolkien’s world is filled with enormously sorrowful and permanent loss. Beren and Lúthien, itself a very sad story primarily concerned with love and mortality is comfortably uplifting compared to the tales that frame it, in which the forces of evil seem to be inexorably stronger than those of good. The Battle of Unnumbered Tears, The Fall of Gondolin, The Tragedy of Túrin Turambar. There’s a story where a spider attacks two trees; it lasts for about a page and it is genuinely one of the saddest things I’ve ever read.

This sense of loss is perhaps a reflection of Tolkien’s own familiarity with death, and his particularly premodern Catholic faith, which itself mourns the loss of an Old World and worships a saviour who, though fully glorified, still bears His wounds. Tolkien states that eucatastrophe ‘denies … universal, final defeat’, but admits that it does so ‘in the face of much evidence.’ Is there a better description of what discipleship of Christ should represent?

I’ve felt myself growing closer to what Tolkien describes – a continual denial of universal final defeat in spite of all that we read of in history and continue to see around us.

I have spent most of my life in a very respectable, modern, evangelical protestant church tradition. There are a significant number of Tolkien fans in this sphere, perhaps a surprising number given his status as a Catholic and a general distrust of all things Roman (spoken or otherwise) amongst English protestants. I was encouraged within this tradition to believe that there is tonnes of very credible evidence to be a Christian; that in a Holmesian sense I only needed to remove the impossible to discover the risen Christ; the final remaining option. Over time, and as I’ve seen more of just what the world is capable of inflicting, I’ve felt myself growing closer to what Tolkien describes – a continual denial of universal final defeat in spite of all that we read of in history and continue to see around us.

This is different to the certainty of the blind optimism that ‘everything will all be fine in the end’, but is also different from the certainty of that very orderly and rational basis for faith that was once my own. Both represent a kind of despair – a surrendering to something because it is the only option. Tolkien’s faith and the work it fuelled communicates something far less coercive, yet full of grace even in the midst of devastating sorrow.

The Lord of the Rings isn’t really an apologetic for anything – Tolkien left the proselytising to his close friend CS Lewis. Nevertheless, the beauty, goodness and truth of his work have been profoundly compelling for me during a dark and difficult couple of years. They have certainly contributed to a renewal and refreshment in my faith. Tolkien’s treatment of the dyscatastrophic has played an enormous role in that.

In the margin of a small notebook I have scrawled the lines ‘nice puritan-ness is confused as Christianity. We prefer a G-rated lie to an R-rated truth.’ There isn’t any reference for who said this (although they are clearly Americans), but I think it rings true as a conclusion here. So much of Christian cultural output is depressingly safe and upbeat when compared to a scriptural tradition and a real world that are profoundly messy, equivocal and riddled with dyscatastrophe. The eucatastrophe doesn’t deny the reality of sorrow and failure, nor does it swoop in all deus ex machina and just fix everything. The beautiful disaster doesn’t abolish the catastrophe but redeems it, incorporating even its most discordant notes into a greater music. In this, Tolkien claims one can glimpse the ‘far-off gleam of echo of evangelium in the real world.’

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Rachel Zylstra: Taking time in a distracted age

This term we’ve given a grant to American-born, Edinburgh-based musician Rachel Zylstra, thanks to our amazing community of Sputnik Patrons. Rachel’s piano-led folk songs wear their heart on their sleeve, and form an important part of her life and emotional journey – as she shares here. We had a great chat about the development of her craft, and the role of music in our lives.

We love to see honest, full-blooded art, digging into the human experience without either cynicism on one hand, or gloss on the other. Join our Patrons scheme for as little as £5 / month – and we can keep supporting great artists like Rachel.

Hi Rachel. Can you introduce yourself?

Hi! Yes, I can try. Stream of consciousness list… I’m a child of the Midwest (US), former theatre nerd, former (?) actual nerd, former didn’t-call-myself-a hipster, folksy artsy type, friend, wife, mom, daughter, sister, music-maker, bargain-hunter, improviser, procrastinator, ENFP, lover of God, and there but for the grace of God go I.

You have a new EP coming out and we’re delighted to be supporting this through our patron scheme. What can we expect from the new project?

I am delighted and grateful for your patronage! My albums have often been produced on a 5-7 year lag from when bulk of the material was actually written, and this one follows trend. When I moved temporarily to Scotland in 2016, my life was about to change big-time but I didn’t know it yet. This new project will be an EP of 6 piano-and-vocal-led songs written in the 2 years following that move, during which I traversed through making friends with solitude, making human friends, job-seeking, a bad relationship, a last break-up, falling in love, and then learning how to be married… not a new season’s turning so much as a new season exploding.

These songs are partial documentation of that era and I’m excited to finally get them realized onto a record, alongside other albums reflecting other times of life.

Your music often seems to reflect transitions and seasons in your own life. How much do you make music to help you process your own experiences and how much do you create with the audience in mind?

For this answer, I’ll exempt music created for the church, which is another passion and takes a different approach. My personal music making is usually, for better or worse, personal processing: articulating my perspective to myself, and trying to create beauty and suss out the meaning even in the mundane or more regrettable parts of my story. I’ve not veered away from this habit very often in 20+ years of writing songs.

What I have found is that when you’ve written genuinely and specifically about your own heart’s experiences, failings, and fulfillments, listeners who get it, get it. They’ll respond. There are listeners who will hear their own story told, will strip away your specifics and subconsciously fill in their own details as they listen, and in that feel not alone, feel understood. This is one of the joys of being what I call a ‘confessional’ singer-songwriter. When it happens, it’s always a gift.

You’ve been doing this for a while now and clearly have considerable experience as a songwriter, recording artist and performer. What 3 pieces of advice would you give to any young songwriters or musicians who are just getting started?

One: Don’t compare yourself to other artists’ timelines or speedier routes to exposure. I felt like I was behind even in my early 20s. If I hadn’t had a catch-up mentality so early on, I would have taken a breath, a class or two, workshopped my songs more frequently, chosen more meaningful networking (ie, with people and in settings I cared about, rather than just what was dictated to me as “the thing/event/website all young artists must flock to”), and spent more time preparing myself to be my own best advocate for my music.

Two: This advice might be a bit dated, as social media and its related self-promotion was not yet a thing when I was starting out, but… Don’t wait around passively for someone powerful and influential to take you under their wing, get you on track, sign you, roll you out and give you that “big break.” Just slowly do the work, build on your creativity, keep learning, treat any new listener with care, and listen to what trusted, supportive people close to you are saying.  In the course of my day job I spent the better part of my 20s brushing elbows with entertainment execs in high places. In turn, there were a few years during which, as soon as someone with big industry connections gave my music notice, I would give their input too much sway, and I would wait months for their next 10-minute morsel of advice, before making a next move in my music journey. At the time, waiting seemed wiser and more demure than forging a less trod path on my own and risking missteps. But, there’s a cost of delay, and there’s a cost to letting your, say, 4th life-priority item be handled at the pace of someone else’s 40th priority.

Three: Yes, social media is fairly unavoidable if you want to thoroughly promote your music. But, for your soul and your well-being’s sake, if you create primarily with a social media audience and virality in mind, it will not be sustainable, and it will suffer from a lack of sturdiness and lack of depth. It amazes me how much time and energy can go into maintaining a surface presentation, and in turn to just “giving people more of what they want” or becoming a slave to narcissistic habit. I’ll admit this advice is not sexy – clearly there is some fame and wealth to be found in harnessing social media algorithms.  But fellow Christian artists, preserving your sense of worthiness and sense of self as determined through Jesus; protecting your real-life relationships; preserving your hedge of privacy and a modicum of separation between your personal life and your artist work-product: I do believe refusing to lay yourself down at the social media altar will, in the long term, positively impact you, your art and your best ability to inspire others.

To stay connected with Rachel and her work, you can follow her on Instagram, or check out her website.

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Angelina Ritchie-Smith: expressing ‘Wonder’ on canvas

Thanks to our community of Patrons, we helped abstract painter Angelina Ritchie-Smith to take part in a London exhibition. Although an experienced illustrator and designer, Angelina took up the paintbrush in lockdown—and hasn’t looked back since.

We love to support artists like Angelina, whose spirituality informs their work but can still talk to a broader audience than the church. Why not join our Patrons scheme for as little as £5 / month – and we can keep supporting great projects like this.

Hi Angelina. Who are you and what do you do?

 I’m Angelina, a wife and also a mother to a strong-willed beautiful 4-year-old girl named Halcyon. I’m an Australian who moved to the UK 10 years ago. 

I am a self-taught abstract artist, only having begun my art journey in early 2021. It was because of Halcyon. We were painting stick figures and green giraffes. I am a woman of purpose so I thought, why don’t I get my own canvas and paint beside her. I thought I couldn’t paint until then. Sure, I’m trained in fashion design and graphic design and am also an illustrator but I didn’t know how to paint… it turns out I was trying to paint faces and landscapes which I’m no good at! 

Until now it’s been part-time, as my daughter has only been in nursery part-time. Now she’s in school full-time, I am focusing on my art a bit more. 

Through our patrons scheme, we are supporting you in an upcoming exhibition you are part of. Can you tell us more about this?

Sputnik helped me to participate in an exhibition in London recently, where I was an honorary prize winner from last year’s competition: the Holly Bush Emerging Female Painter prize. 

I won the Tim May memorial award within last year’s prize, yet because of lockdown restrictions, we never held the exhibition—I only received my award via Zoom. So with this year’s competition, although my entry only reached the longlisting stage, I was allowed to have my painting Wonder in the exhibition.

It was so nice to meet last year’s prize winners, as well as this year’s too. The Holly Bush art prize champions women artists and I think there was about 11 awards within last year’s prize. In 2021, I was lucky enough to gain a £1,500 cash prize which helped to fund my art further. 

Wonder was inspired by the song Wonder by Hillsong as it made me imagine what the creation of the world was like. The energy of the spoken word. I imagine it being full of electricity, excitement and power. 

Your use of colour is striking in your work. You obviously care about colour! Do you think that God cares about colour too? What do you think we can learn from the colours he has built into our experience of reality?

 Don’t get me wrong, black is powerful too, and the use of monochrome in paintings can still be beautiful. But when vibrant colours are used (especially gold… I’m kind of obsessed. I don’t know why, it just seems magical), it becomes therapy. I love colour theory and the meaning behind it. I paint for my moods, blue when I need some calm, bright yellow when I’m feeling optimistic and excited and so on. 

Yes, God made us in His image and if He can make something as awesome as the earth and all of the galaxies, then certainly we were born to create too… yes, even the non-creative people (they just do it in a different, more analytical way). I guess He wants to teach us to take time for inner care. If we are constantly serving and working, we burn ourselves out. Besides worship, He wants us to literally stand in awe of the creation as it benefits us and our health. 

Abstract art is an artform that is often seen to place the meaning very much in the eye of the beholder. Do you try to communicate in your work and if so, how?

Sometimes I intentionally set out with a theme in mind before I paint, eg: Wonder, Joy around being happy etc. Other times I just want to create but I don’t know what or why. I just start to paint. Later it actually helps me to understand what I was feeling eg: passion or calmness etc. It’s like a dancer, sometimes they can plan a routine but sometimes it’s the most improvised pieces that are the most beautiful. 

To stay connected with Angelina and her work, you can follow her on Instagram, or check out her website.

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Tolkien and the Eucatastrophe

Eucatastrophe is a made-up word (I know, all words are made-up words) used by J.R.R. Tolkien at the very end of his 18,000-word mega-essay On Fairy-Stories, which we will be referencing a lot in this series. It attaches the Greek prefix eu, which means ‘good’, or ‘beautiful’ to katastrophe; meaning ‘disaster’ or ‘destruction’.

Originally a much shorter lecture delivered in 1938, On Fairy-Stories has become Tolkien’s most famous and important piece of writing outside of his famous legendarium. Of all his famous stories, only The Hobbit had been published when Tolkien gave the original lecture at the University of St. Andrews. Nevertheless, it forms a manifesto for Tolkien’s views on the role of imagination in literature as well as providing the philosophical underpinning for work like The Lord of the Rings and the posthumously published Silmarillion, which J.R.R. had already started work on some 20 years earlier in the trenches of Northern France.

In the essay, Tolkien takes issue with the existing definitions of ‘fairy-tale’. He was frustrated that these kinds of stories had become something foisted exclusively on children, and that the fairies themselves had become domesticated and physically much smaller in size than what elves had represented in ancient mythology.

Fairy-stories didn’t even need fairies in them, said Tolkien. And they certainly shared little with traditional ‘beast fables’ or travellers’ tales that were popular in the Victorian period. The true fairy-story was one that involved not a specific people, but a place – an enchanted realm that Tolkien named ‘Faërie’.

It is easy to forget that fantasy and the entire genre of speculative fiction, was at this time in its infancy. Science-fiction writing pioneered by the likes of H.G. Wells and Mary Shelley had come close to resembling what Tolkien was working on, as perhaps did the cosmic horror of H.P. Lovecraft, but neither achieved what Tolkien did—stories set nominally within the history of our own world, but with their own constructed mythology created by the writer.

On Fairy-Stories covers much of the creative heavy-lifting required by Tolkien to begin this journey. This includes a philosophy of sub-creation, the construction of a ‘secondary world’ imbued with a sense of reality present in the ‘primary’ one. All of this is achieved through mythopeia—the secondary world’s language, mythic history, material culture and the customs of its people. But its crowning glory and vitality is found in the eucatastrophe.

The unexpected turn

There’s a lot of debate as to how the eucatastrophe differs from a ‘happy ending’. Tolkien argued that true fairy-stories have no ending. The eucatastrophe is the ‘sudden, joyous turn,’ located at the point when all is at its bleakest. It is unexpected, uncalled for, in a sense miraculous; in the words of Tolkien ‘never to be counted on to recur’.

This will be incredibly familiar to anyone who has read The Lord of the Rings, because the ultimate climax of that entire epic story is founded upon an archetypal eucatastrophe. The treacherous Gollum in his moment of triumph slips, falls into the Cracks of Doom and the quest is saved. But it is not the only eucatastrophic moment; smaller examples spring up throughout the entire narrative. Tom Bombadil’s rescue of the hobbits from Old Man Willow; the arrival of Gandalf and Erkenbrand at the Hornburg; the unfurling of Aragorn’s banner before the Corsair fleet; the coming of the Rohirrim upon the Pelennor at dawn.

When the eucatastrophe’s sudden turn isn’t executed well, it is conspicuously unsatisfying, and can feel like ‘deus ex machina’; the all-too convenient solution of an impossible problem. But delivered properly, the eucatastrophe causes the heart to skip a beat and produces joy; joy Tolkien says ‘poignant as grief, joy beyond the walls of the world’. And, he adds, it is something that affects adults and children alike. Tolkien’s eucatastrophe at the end of The Lord of the Rings (or towards the end, anyway) does all of this. It is sublime. 

Delivered properly, the eucatastrophe causes the heart to skip a beat and produces joy.

Frodo, who it must be said was never very likely to succeed in his task in the first place, finally succumbs to the ring’s malice and claims it as his own, having resisted its power for much of the narrative until this point. At this very moment, Gollum—the wretched creature who has accompanied the hobbits on their journey into Mordor, much against the better judgement of Sam Gamgee—bites the ring from Frodo’s finger and dances in victory on the very edge of the Cracks of Doom.

And with that, even as his eyes were lifted up to gloat on his prize, he stepped too far, toppled, wavered for a moment on the brink, and then with a shriek he fell.

Multiple characters have the opportunity to kill Gollum, in situations when such a decision would have been more than justified. Bilbo has the opportunity when he first discovers the ring in Gollum’s cave way back in The Hobbit, but is stayed by pity for the creature. In the opening chapters of The Lord of the Rings, Frodo and Gandalf reflect on this decision. Frodo, realising Gollum’s treachery, expresses regret that Bilbo hadn’t killed Gollum when he had the chance. But Gandalf rebukes this sentiment, suspecting in his heart that ‘Gollum still has some part to play… for good or evil, before this is over.’

In On Fairy-Stories, Tolkien states that one of the marks of the eucatastrophe’s ‘joyous turn’ is that it ‘reflects a glory backwards,’ and it is this quality that sets it apart from deus ex machina. Yes, the conclusion is unexpected and even unlikely, but it does not emerge out of nothing. The glory of the quest’s consolation is reflected onto each moment a character, through the exercising of their free will, chooses in mercy to spare Gollum’s life. In doing so, they each—Bilbo, Gandalf, Aragorn, Faramir, Frodo, Sam, even the Dark Lord himself in releasing Gollum from the dungeons of Barad-dûr—unknowingly contribute to the destruction of evil.

That said, none of them could have predicted that their pity would have such monumental consequences for the entire world. In most instances, their decisions to spare Gollum’s life make little utilitarian sense, reflecting another of Tolkien’s favourite narrative themes; that the supposedly foolish things of the world should shame the wise.

In each of these apparently unrelated and insignificant decisions dwells chance, or luck—Tolkien’s stand-in for divine providence at work in his subcreated world —the unseen hand of Eru Ilúvatar. Often a character will not even know why they are sparing Gollum, but for the voice deep within that compels them to do so.

The eucatastrophe hangs on this thread. It is in Tolkien’s words ‘a sudden and miraculous grace: never to be counted on to recur.’ Many have noted that Frodo cannot possibly have been expected to have thrown the Ring into the fire—in The Fellowship of the Ring he is unable even to cast it into the small fireplace in his living-room at Bag End. But Frodo is obedient to the wisdom Gandalf gives to those living in dark times, at the very start of the story, before he has even left the Shire; that the times we live in are not ours to decide. ‘All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.’

Frodo is faithful in delivering the Ring to such a place where chance, or fate, or whatever name we give it intervenes.

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Sputnik Virtual Gallery Exhibition 2022

Earlier this year, we put out a call for recent work from artists in the Sputnik network – and you didn’t disappoint! We put together a selection of our favourites into our latest virtual gallery, which you can scroll through below – or alternatively open the gallery in its own window.

Click on an individual piece of work, and click the ‘i’ button to see more details about that piece, including the artist’s website.

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Tolkien and the Christian Imagination: A Primer

Jonny asked me a while back if I’d adapt some writing I’d done into a series of articles for Sputnik on the writing of J.R.R. Tolkien, what his work and legacy can tell us about the Christian Imagination (a recent hot topic on the Faith in the Arts podcast) and what we as Christian artists can learn not just from reading his writing, but from participating in an incredibly rich and consistent fantasy world that provides escape, recovery and consolation.

I collapsed from a cardiac arrest on the evening of 13th February this year. I stopped breathing for around 14 minutes, got put into a coma and was finally brought round a week later. About 5 weeks after that I was finally well enough to go home. There was a lot of mental, emotional, spiritual and physical catching up to do after a shock like that, but perhaps none more significant than this: the 13th February was the Night of the Superb Owl, an important ritual event in American culture. To coincide with this, a trailer for the Amazon Corporation’s Rings of Power television series was released.

So yeah, turns out I’m only just realising that people really didn’t like it. Reddit forums and the YouTube comment sections are never the best place to learn anything particularly instructive, but it seems most of my fellow Tolkien nerds are already mashing the panic button. Fortunately, my favourite Tolkien nerds of all over at the Amon Sûl podcast are keeping their heads. Amon Sûl consists of a couple of Orthodox Christians from the United States who host a variety of guests and discuss what Tolkien’s work has to say about their Ancient Faith. Both hosts are former prots whose journeys to Orthodoxy were heavily influenced by the enchantment and sacramentality present in Tolkien’s writing. They also played an enormous hand in dragging me through the experience of suddenly losing my Dad in 2020.

Do what Tolkien would have wholeheartedly endorsed – get out there and make your own stuff.

In an episode which aired on 10th March, co-host Richard Rohlin, one of Amon Sûl’s co-hosts and a Germanic philologist like Tolkien, addressed some of the chatter concerning ‘Rings of Power‘:

“If we can learn anything from Tolkien, it’s the importance of going out and telling our own stories, of being sub-creators acting in the image of our God and Father who made and loves us. Most of the noise around the new Amazon series amounts to consumers expressing their pleasure or displeasure at how an enormous corporation will or will not provide entertainment to their tastes.”

Hear this; Amazon can’t ‘ruin Tolkien’. His writing is there for as long as any of us want to read it. So, instead of falling for the dumb culture war trap of getting angry about stuff we are utterly powerless to change, it would be a much better use of our energy and time to do what Tolkien would have wholeheartedly endorsed – to get out there and make our own stuff. Stories, soup and art.

My hope and prayer is that these reflections on Tolkien’s work and the discussion and community they can foster would help us in doing just that.

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What We’ve Funded: June 2022

Our Sputnik Patrons program collects monthly donations from our Patrons community and distributes it to Christian artists around the UK. Here’s a snapshot of what we’ve helped to fund, from June 2022 onwards.

You can find out more about Lydia, Ben, India, Pip and Nigel with our video interviews and written Q&As right here on our website.

We believe arts for profit is bad for everyone. Putting money and markets at the heart of our society hollows out our common life. That’s why we raise money to give away to artists without strings attached – so they can create for the common good rather than being pressured to make what sells.

Don’t forget the deadline for new grants is 1st July! Get your application in here. Or why not become a Patron for as little as £5 / month?

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India Johnson’s tactile poetry is in dialogue with the past

Thanks to our community of Patrons, we’re helping to fund a research project by typewriter artist India Johnson. One of her inspirations is Dom Sylvester Houédard – a monk, theologian, and concrete poet. India discovered that DSH’s archive of work had recently been transferred to the exact town where she lives – giving her the unique opportunity to delve into his work first-hand, and produce her own artworks in response.

We love to support artists like India, who are engaged in deep dialogue with culture and their chosen artistic practice. Why not join our Patrons scheme for as little as £5 / month – and we can keep supporting great projects like this.

Hi India. Can you introduce us to yourself and your work?

My background is in hand bookbinding. My first formal bookbinding study was at the LLOTJA Book Art Conservatory in Barcelona. Eventually I landed at the University of Iowa Center for the Book in 2017 for graduate studies. I still live and work in Iowa. 

In graduate school, one of my professors took us to study some early christian books in libraries in Chicago. They were some of the oldest and most beautiful manuscripts I’ve handled, written in Greek. Handling a prayer book from the middle ages can be a very intimate and meaningful experience, even if you can’t read the text. Touching these precious, ancient devotional books prompted me to shift my focus from bookbinding to making contemporary pieces. I wanted to make work that echoed the experience of holding a sacred book in your hands. 

I work with delicate materials, mostly paper and cloth, to create sculptures, books, and textiles–often with christian texts. Throughout the pandemic, I’ve mostly been working with text from the Book of Common Prayer, which was compiled during a plague. I also like to work with the King James translation of the Psalms. It’s the first example of blank verse (poetry without rhyme or meter) in English. My work visits and re-visits these canonical texts because mystical and spiritual experiences happen both despite and within established social structures.

I prefer to exhibit my work in settings where it can be handled; mostly churches and libraries. How much of reading is touch?

We are delighted to be supporting you on your new project through our patrons scheme. Can you talk us through it?

Many of my pieces use a process for running cloth through a typewriter. The artist who most directly inspires this work is Dom Sylvester Houédard (abbreviated as ‘dsh’). He was a Benedictine monk and a poet. dsh is best known for a body of intricate, abstract typewriter art produced from the 1940s to 70s. When I first looked into dsh’s work, all image credits pointed to a private collection, the Sackner Archive of Concrete and Visual Poetry. I decided to plan a visit–and discovered the collectors had just donated the entire archive to the university in the town where I live. What are the chances? It felt like more than a coincidence. Sputnik is funding a few months of research sessions with Dom Sylvester’s papers, which include beautiful examples of his typewriter art, as well as some correspondence and scholarly writing. I’ll be producing artwork in response to Dom Sylvester’s archive; the medium will be typewriter on textile. 

Dom Sylvester sounds like a fascinating man. What drew you to him for this project?

When I first started making typewriter art, I would be at the machine for hours, typing the same fragment of text over and over again. Even though I was working with familiar texts, like the psalms, through all the repetition, the language would become totally abstract for me. More abstract than I knew words could be – being something rather than meaning something. I really came to understand prayer first and foremost as an experience of language. Dom Sylvester’s typestracts show how language can become a thing in itself. When we push words past what they mean, past signification, we come to understand something about the relationship between embodiment and transcendence. One thing that’s become clear since starting my research is that the typestracts are generally smaller than I thought they would be. The paper is very light–almost translucent, but not quite. The typestracts feel so delicate and intimate and focused; they’re a wonder.

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Taboos, class, and Marilyn Monroe: SE London is Sputnik at its strangest and best

A Sputnik Meetup. I’d missed my last local meetup in Brum as I was inconveniently coming out of an unscheduled coma (another story), so I bit Jonny Mellor’s hand off at the chance to attend this gathering of artists at Bermondsey’s City Hope Church.

It turns out the folk in South East London represent many of the best things about Sputnik in microcosm. I’d never met anyone there before, but as we began to share our work we realised we’d discussed the realities of domestic violence, the incorporation of paganism into the Christian story, racial profiling in the performance arts and the emotional trauma of emerging from successive Covid lockdowns in a matter of minutes.

These aren’t conventional ice-breakers (unless you’re a Sputnik regular), but perhaps convey what we’re always going on about – that art possesses a unique ability to cross boundaries, break down taboos; to act as a language of translation. We got to hear and see some really good art, from poems and songs to installation pieces and a capella rap. City Hope’s Emily reflected on being an actor-musician, an actor whose physical performance incorporates the playing of their particular instrument – something I’d never heard of before.

After circle time we heard from this meetup’s featured artist, which is where the day diverged spectacularly from anything I’ve experienced with Sputnik before. Suzie Kennedy is an actor and stand-up performer who looks considerably like Marilyn Monroe. She has played Marilyn in films like Blade Runner 2049 and The Theory of Everything as well as television ads for Pepsi and After Eights. She has performed on stage both in the West End and Stateside and is leading a show in which she reflects on almost 25 years of embodying and living with the not inconsiderable legend of one of the 20th Century’s most famous and eulogised figures.

Suzie performed some of this show to us, including singing some of Marilyn’s most famous songs. Jonny got the infamous ‘Happy Birthday’ sung specifically for him, which was both hilarious and the most uncomfortable I have seen him in a long time. Suzie offered a fairly withering review of Kim Kardashian’s then-recent appearance at the Met Gala in one of Marilyn’s own gowns, as well as some terrifying insight on what it was like to be a Marilyn Monroe impersonator around people who actually knew her. “Wow, even your skin feels like hers,” said an (overly) friendly man at a memorial event, who it transpired had been Marilyn’s coroner. Yikes.

This was the most boundary-morphing Sputnik meetup I’d ever been to. 

Things got even more meta than that. So striking is the resemblance that Suzie’s photograph has been accidentally used in place of Marilyn’s and she has even met people who have gotten tattoos of her face believing it was actually the Hollywood star.

But Suzie’s performance and her own reflections on her life and career went much further. As she swayed in a sequined dress in a Bermondsey Church (under an austere stone with an inscription dedicated to Charles Spurgeon) it struck me that in terms of the cultural class divide that permeates the entire lived experience of being British, this was the most boundary-morphing Sputnik meetup I’d ever been to. 

Like most evangelical Western churches in general, the make-up of Sputnik gatherings are predominantly middle-class. The art tends to be conceptual and will usually reference some basis in an academic tradition. I think Jonny would probably recognise that most of our hip-hop, a definitely working-class artform, is on the cerebral end of that particular tradition.

Suzie’s performance clearly drew from the music hall/variety tradition that originated not all that far far from where we were meeting. It’s a particularly working-class heritage distinctive even to London, and through Suzie’s humour, honesty and craft it was an enormously powerful and effective means of exploring deep and weighty themes such as hyperreality and generational abuse, all whilst being significantly more accessible (and fun) than a good few white-cube installations I’ve seen in my time.

Despite looking almost exactly the same, Suzie Kennedy is obviously not Marilyn, something she playfully references in her performance, proudly reminding us on multiple occasions of her Streatham roots, seamlessly switching between Marilyn’s husk and her own Tower-Bridge-Cockney as well as offering some insight on how the neighbourhood’s herb gardens have evolved post-gentrification.

Paul Brown, the pastor of City Hope Church knows Suzie and interviewed her for the day’s event. It came as not too much of a surprise to learn that Paul had recently co-written a book on church and class called Invisible Divides on class, culture and barriers to belonging in the church.

Though I haven’t yet read the book (it’s on order), it was a joy and a blessed discomfort for me (despite 10 years in Erdington and the very best of intentions, I’m still a middle-class prude) to see that subverting these cultural barriers is something Paul and his church community are not just talking or writing about, but effectively embodying and practicing with a great amount of care and love – making good use of art’s power as a language of translation in the process. It was rare, precious and a significantly more transcendent glimpse of the age to come than I was ready to expect.

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Music as a path to mental wellbeing: an interview with Nigel Modern

Hi Nigel. You’ve had a long journey balancing music with your career. Could you take us through that?

I trained as a medical doctor but have always had a musical career of sorts; it has often felt like a juggling act, or plate spinning. I’ve played the classical guitar since my teenage years. During the 1990s I performed with other guitarists, and then in a ‘band’ with a vocalist, a flute player and a violinist. We received good reviews and made some waves in the classical guitar world, but the economics of it wasn’t viable.

Financial pressures, and the lack of an obvious way forward, meant I went back to full time medical work—and for almost 20 years I played acoustic guitar in various worship bands in churches in London and Birmingham. I also started to write songs, and performed them locally. Then, in 2013, reorganisation within the NHS meant I was offered retirement and I couldn’t resist.

In 2014 I picked up the classical guitar for the first time in 17 years. My playing was awful… at first. Since then, I’ve performed a few concerts every year with classical guitar buddies from around the UK. In 2019 I decided to promote myself as a soloist—then Covid happened! 

Through our Patrons scheme, we are supporting your new musical project. Can you tell us a bit about it?

Just before Lockdown, I became involved with Ash and Anji Barker’s Newbigin House project in Winson Green. This is a church-driven urban regeneration project, based on innovative principles which I admire greatly. In March 2020 (oh dear!) we were given a church building, and despite the Pandemic the project has flourished—partly because Ash and Anji are amazing people—but also through the resilience of local Winson Green people, who are taking ownership for regeneration projects in their community.

One of those projects was started by my friend Sarah, with whom I’d run a choir called Rock the Yurt in the autumn of 2019. Sarah’s new project was for a band with Mindfulness at its core—appropriately called ‘MindFunk’. The band has a mutually supportive ethos with a ‘collective’ approach to writing, and we’ve received a good response so far. Everyone involved in the band would have had some experience of mental health services in the past, or present.

The next stage is to record these songs and complete others. We have been fortunate to have been given a lot of recording and PA equipment and space at Lodge Road Community Church to convert into a recording studio. With the money becoming available from Sputnik and others we will able to purchase recording equipment to plug any gaps (this is currently being reviewed) and consideration is also being given to external technical and/or artistic support. This may be worth investing money in, though this would be decided in keeping with the urban regeneration model being applied and any support commissioned would be used to develop the skills of locally based individuals as an investment in the future.

How do you think that art generally (and music specifically) can help those of us who battle with mental health problems?

Time and again individuals in MindFunk express their appreciation of the time spent rehearsing and collaborating in the band and the beneficial effect this has on their mental well-being, something I also echo.

It is especially true if we have a very creative songwriting session, but I have also seen and experienced it when we quickly play through and learn a cover version. We all struggle to keep our emotions centred on a positive outlook for life, and involvement with music is very healing. I’ve also seen how MindFunk spontaneously can ‘give this away’ to others. One incident comes to mind: we rehearse in a building where there is also a community cafe running, and MindFunk can be heard in the next room. A few of the regulars who were in the cafe opened the glass doors and we did (I think) ‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s door’, then someone started ‘Amazing Grace’. MindFunk picked it up and the atmosphere in the place became electric. MindFunk is not the church worship band, but what happened then was very worshipful and happened in a very public space. It was magical, and I have no doubt very healing for those involved.

Christians are often keen to serve their communities as an expression of Jesus’ command to love our neighbours. However, this service is usually seen in practical terms. How do you think that art can express God’s love for our communities and do you have any advice on how you think artists or churches can serve their communities more effectively through the arts?

I passionately believe in art for art’s sake; our God is by nature creative, and since we are created in his image, we are creative beings. This creativity is in all of us, but this world seems to do everything it can to squeeze it out of us. I believe that is because our creativity is a powerful antidote to the destructive forces so often expressed in our communities.

My model of creativity is that it is involved in the engine room which powers the practical outworking of God’s purposes; not an add-on when we can afford it, but part of the ‘currency’ which invests in the ‘Divine economy’. An economy which values and invests in the arts is likely to be an economy which will grow in a beneficial way, a less destructive way; perhaps even a way which respects people and the environments in which they live. Effective practical projects are more likely if they reflect and arise from a more creative culture.

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Curation, culture and community-building with Pip Piper

A film producer, documentary director and more, with his roots in youth work, Pip Piper is one of those people who helps community-building to happen. Thanks to our community of Patrons, we’re giving funding towards Pip’s new local film festival in his new hometown of Exmouth.

A healthy arts culture is a common good, allowing the emotional and spiritual life of a community to flourish. It’s part of how we connect, dream, and aspire, together. Why not support work like Pip’s, by joining our Patrons scheme for as little as £5 / month? Find out more here:

Hi Pip. For those who haven’t come across you yet, can you introduce yourself?

Hi, yes! I am Pip Piper, an indie film maker with about 25 years of filming experience across commercial, feature drama and feature documentary. I produce and direct.

I also helped set up (mid 1990s) and still run OSBD media charity that helps develop young emerging filmmaking talent and creates films that matter. For 15 years I also co-directed Blue Hippo Media Ltd with Rob Taylor. I was based in Birmingham for 30+ years, and now am based in Exmouth, Devon. I am married to Debbie, who also helps run OSBD and we have 3 grown up boys.

You are setting up a film festival in your community in Exmouth. It’s a great pleasure to be able to support this great project through our patrons scheme. Can you fill us in on the plan?

Thank you for the support—it’s not just the finances, but more importantly the support and belief that comes with it that really counts. Debbie and I plan to develop a film festival in the town that brings together people who want to be involved, ultimately aimed at local residents (Exmouth is a town of over 40,000).

We are going to start small, and build over the next few years. It will be a cultural and curated festival, not so much about competition but more about bringing really interesting films to the town, with Q&As and events aimed at enabling wider engagement. The ethos will be about community development and cohesion through the artform of film. We also want to have a short film challenge for young filmmakers built-in too. We aim to run our first pilot one in November 2022.

Why do you think that this is important? Why do you think that Exmouth needs a film festival?

Well, it doesn’t have one and we don’t think ever has! Seriously though, as mentioned above, we believe that art can bring people together, break down barriers, help build cohesion and has the possibility to inspire and inform. Film really can do this—help us laugh, feel, be inspired, get angry. A festival of films both short and feature, fiction and documentary, peppered with guest Q&As and events could bring something very special to Exmouth and its community and beyond.

You have a long track record of bringing ambitious projects like this to life. What advice would you give others who would like to set up large scale community arts projects like this one?

I think take your time, talk to lots of people, do the groundwork. Who are the people already doing things that you can collaborate with, or learn from? Run your SWOT analysis. Then start slowly and begin, ready to adapt as you evaluate.

Ultimately though, you will need to own what you want to achieve, and look to make a way. Have a trusted team you can bounce ideas off and listen to when it gets tough. Share the load—no need to be the hero. For us who are followers of Jesus, this is all Kingdom building; so pray, listen, discern, be wise and trust Him.

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Ben Lawrence’s musical journey through grief

Through our Patrons Scheme, we support Christians who are making engaging, powerful art or who are using their skills to serve their local communities. This term, we’re funding a very personal music project by songwriter and filmmaker Ben Lawrence.

Watch our interview with Ben below, or scroll further for a written Q&A. Why not join us in supporting engaging, talented artists like Ben, by joining our Patrons scheme for as little as £5 / month?

Hi Ben. Please introduce yourself.

Hi, I’m Ben a musician and filmmaker from Norwich. I’ve been creating since I was a teenager and love to communicate my journey through the films and songs I make. I’ve been married to Mel for seven years and spend my days working for Norwich Youth for Christ and St Thomas Norwich as a creative.

It’s a pleasure to be able to help fund your latest project. Can you talk us through it?

O Wide World is my first solo release, a collection of songs written about grief, hope and re-finding adventure. In 2016, my twin brother Dan passed away from a brain tumour and these songs are my story of journeying through the grief.

I started writing some of these songs only a month or so after Dan died, but it wasn’t until early 2021 that I thought about actually doing something with them. I felt the call to pursue them and started working on demos. The demos really helped me to develop my sound and after a few conversations with producers and friends, I decided that it was about time I made an album.

This album is set out in three acts that will take the listener on a journey through my story and the process of grief. Act One is all about memories, nostalgia and the longing to be back with the ones we’ve lost and in those places we treasured as kids. Act Two is an honest look at grief, anger, loss and abandonment. It’s the rawest section of the album. Act Three focuses on hope, moving forward and finding purpose in the wake of loss. 

I’m working with a great producer, Iain Hutchison, to fully realise the potential of these songs and a great team of musicians and creatives. It’s extremely exciting to bring so many great people together in this project.

My aim is that this album will really connect with those who’ve experienced something similar and anyone who needs some hope. The album will have 12-13 tracks and will be accompanied by a documentary and music videos.

So sorry to hear about your brother. How has the project helped you to process the grief that you’ve felt in your bereavement?

I’ve always written songs as a cathartic way to deal with what I’m going through. I never thought I’d be writing about this stuff, but in some ways I’m glad I have this creative outlet to help process. I’ve always wanted to help others, it’s why I’ve felt called to work in Christian ministry areas for the entirety of my career, and so this album is important to me for two reasons. Firstly, it’s a tribute to my brother, who was an inspiring passionate man of God and it’s a chance to help others on their journey too. It feels good to make something positive out of such hard circumstances. 

I take each day as it comes with grief. Some days you just carry on and other days you need a bit more time to gather yourself. These songs have been a soundtrack for me throughout all of those days and I hope they’ll be special to other people too.

You seem to have a very thought through plan for the project, including a very successful Kickstarter to help gather extra funding. Can you provide any tips on how to set up a successful Kickstarter?

This is my first crowdfunding campaign and I was adamant that to do it well, I needed to put the hard work in. Gladly my friend Pete McAllen (aka Pyramid Park) gave me lots of insight and helped me understand the best way to go about it. 

We knew it would be very important to tell the story as best as we could, so we spent a long time developing the main campaign video and filming several sections to it to really show the breadth of what we wanted to achieve. I am so appreciative of Sarah Ballard and Ben Lambert, who have both helped me out immensely in all of these areas.

I had a full marketing campaign ready to go to aid the 35 day Kicsktarter and this really helped to keep the project in people’s minds. I’ve never been so busy, but it was so rewarding as the total kept ticking up. There were a few moments where I was sceptical that we would reach our £10,000 target, but thankfully we made and exceeded it!

The total album project is actually more like £20,000, so I’m very grateful to Sputnik for their extra funding, which will really help us make this album the best it possibly can be.

To stay connected with Ben and his music, you can follow him on Instagram, or check out the album’s website.

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Trees, songs and creation care: an interview with Lydia Hiorns

Thanks to our community of Patrons, we’re funding a nature-inspired musical album written by Newcastle-based artist Lydia Hiorns. As well as being the Director of Shieldfield Art Works, Lydia explores embodied hospitality through her KILN project, and makes prints, drawings and songs to explore the created world.

Like us, Lydia believes that art and creativity are integral parts of human life. Why not join us in supporting multi-disciplinary artists like Lydia, by joining our Patrons scheme for as little as £5 / month?

Hi Lydia. Can you introduce yourself? 

Hello, I am an artist living and working in Newcastle. Within my artistic activities I explore embodied hospitality. I create spaces and host events that enable conversations about hospitality. Currently this occurs in KILN tent, a hand printed portable space where I host meals and conversations to grow a more critical understanding of hospitality (making room for another) and commensality (being together around a table) within the public and private sectors. This is needed within society to develop a genuine culture of ‘hospitality as a way of life’ rather than something that we do.

I also make prints, drawings and write songs to explore the created world and how we interact with and care for it. You can find out more on my artist website and KILN website. I am also the Director of Shieldfield Art Works [SAW], an arts organisation in Shieldfield, Newcastle upon Tyne — an area which has undergone rapid urban development. As a project of the Methodist Church, we seek truth, challenge injustice, engage in social activism, and work for the common good.

Anyone’s welcome to participate in our programme. We believe that art and creativity are integral parts of human life, and, with art’s unique ability to articulate, question, and inquire, we can change our communities and the world. So we develop high quality art exhibitions, events, workshops, conferences and publications based around the issues and interests of our local area. 

It’s a pleasure to be able to support your new project. Can you fill everyone in on what you’re planning?

I am going to write and record an album called The Arboretum that will consist of 20 songs about specific individual trees, paired with 20 corresponding tree drawings. I am hoping to collaborate with a selection of musicians to compose and record the songs and I am excited about the diversity this method will create. Once I am done you will be able to enjoy the songs and artwork on Spotify and my website—and you never know, I may get a few CDs made for those who enjoy the physicality of polycarbonate. 

The natural world has been the focus of many of the finest artworks ever created but, at the same time, there can be a sense that work about the raw elements of creation can be passé or unadventurous. Why do you think that the natural world is a good focus for artworks and what is it about trees in particular that inspires you? 

There is no doubt that nature is often idealised in art as people try to contain it in a neat frame. But nature is messy, dangerous and gloriously reflective of aspects of God’s character. Recently I have been doing a lot of research into trees specifically and I am convinced that trees, and what they teach us, bring great good to our world. They are universal and generous: enabling us to breath, bringing beauty, giving food, allowing us to write, read, sit and walk. Only last month the Woodland Trust gave away 60,000 trees to fight against climate change. Trees are also prevalent throughout the Bible from the tree in Eden, Calvary and heaven. Trees give life, they praise God, they show fruitfulness, they are a conduit for salvation, they display suffering and they describe Jesus.

With that view of trees in mind, I would like this album to inspire awe in the beauty, diversity and complexity of trees; to shine a light on the problem human destruction of trees creates to planet and people; to explore how we can cultivate a mentality of longterm conservation and care for trees like within an arboretum; and to link the gospel to trees, so that whenever a tree or a product of a tree is seen a Christian will remember the gospel and anyone else may start to glimpse Christian truths in the natural world. 

In your wider body of work, as you mentioned, you like to explore ‘embodied hospitality’. What is this and how does it play out in your practice?

Embodied hospitality is when you don’t just see hospitality as something that you ‘do’ at given times, like when you invite someone for dinner, but you see it as a way of ‘being’ where your whole life embodies a hospitable nature. We often see it as making a Mary-Berry-worthy Victoria sponge. But it is not entertainment! No, it holds a far deeper importance.

God is hospitality in essence: he created the world, a spacious and gracious space. He welcomed us into it. Jesus came and ate with people. Jesus’s table was one of grace, not reciprocity. It was counter-cultural, and collapsed the distance between rich and poor, insider and outsider. Jesus’s table expressed the Kingdom of God. Hospes means both ‘host’, ‘guest’, or ‘stranger’. So, hospitality is welcoming the stranger.

If hospitality is about making room for others and welcoming, it doesn’t depend on having a nice house and being able to cook a five-course meal. I am so convinced of this that I’ve just written a book to help everyone discover practical ways of offering and accepting hospitality with limited resources, or at the beginning of their hospitality journey.

KILN is the name I have given to my practice/research around hospitality after the Hebrew initials for “All of my heart and soul”. It carries on this idea that our whole life is to embody welcome. For most of my practice I create spaces and host events that enable conversations about hospitality in a hand-printed portable tent.

Finally, my role at SAW of managing the programme naturally puts the host’s apron on me, which is empowering; but something occurs when a guest’s contributions are recognised, and when a guest isn’t defined first as needy. This intrigues and astounds me. Jesus himself was the recipient of hospitality more often than he provided it. He enabled Zacchaeus to be a host, and that’s what transforms him. Christians often take the host roles, but sometimes we need to give others a turn.

To stay connected with Lydia Hiorns and her work, you can follow her on Instagram, or check out her website.

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Loving the local arts scene: an interview with comedian Tom Elliott

Thanks to our community of Patrons, we’re funding a community-driven comedy project headed up by Tom Elliott. Tom is a comedian and magician who’s familiar with the church circuit, but has recently founded ‘The Big Local Night Out’, a network of nationwide community arts projects — no strings attached, just to benefit the scene. Watch our interview with Tom below, or read on for our quick Q&A.

We firmly believe that a thriving arts scene is a common good that blesses many. Why not join us in supporting intrepid performers like Tom, by joining our Patrons scheme for as little as £5 / month? Find out more here:

Hi Tom, can you introduce yourself?

I’m a professional Comedian and Magician and director of Cornerstone Entertainment Ltd. 

Having performed everywhere from comedy clubs to cathedrals, I’m passionate about enabling the church to be present amongst its community. Jesus spent a lot of time in the temple, but he also did incredible things in the marketplace. That’s where I want to be. The arts gives me a great opportunity to blend the two. 

You’ve largely made your living through touring churches in the past, but youre presently looking to transition into working in the mainstream arts space. What is your new project and why have you chosen to take this route?

The Big Local Night Out is a community arts initiative, aiming to help the church be at the forefront of community life. It’s not directly evangelistic, but it does enable relationships to be established and nurtured, connecting with those who perhaps would never step in to an event held within a church building. Combining the professional talent of mainstream musicians with the participation of local choirs and school groups, this series of four events across the year, seeks to increase community cohesion and wellbeing. I’m now pretty confident that we will be launching 5 locations this year, with a vision to expand significantly over the next 10 years. 

What lessons have you learnt so far about how your creative skills and faith best work together?

For those of us who have developed our creativity in Christian circles, it can be so easy to stay put and never stretch beyond the four walls of the church. 

As I’ve entered into the comedy club scene, I’ve been amazed at the low key but none the less significant conversations I’ve had with other comics about faith. I’ve been so encouraged to read Daniel 1 and trying to live out the same strategy! 

“But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s delicacies, nor with the wine, which he drank; therefore he requested of the chief of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself.”

“Then the king interviewed them, and among them all none was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah; therefore they served before the king. And in all matters of wisdom and understanding about which the king examined them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and astrologers who were in all his realm.”

To stay connected with Tom Elliott and his work, you can follow him on Twitter, or check out his website.

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Land, place, and beauty in forgotten things: the work of Luke Sewell

Through our Patrons Scheme, we support Christians who are making engaging, powerful art or who are using their skills to serve their local communities. This term, one of our grants has gone to Birmingham-based printmaker Luke Sewell, aka @lukeprints.

We’ve had the great pleasure of watching Luke’s skills and career develop first-hand, and when he came to us with a new project based around a GK Chesterton poem, we couldn’t resist. You can watch our interview with Luke below, or keep scrolling to read Luke’s deeper thoughts on his journey so far.


I’ve been making linocut prints for just over four years. I bought a starter set so that I could design an invitation for my wedding in Christmas 2015, inspired by the work of Sputnik’s own Ben Harris, and by deep and long-buried memories of carving blocks in secondary school.

I dusted off the gouges in 2017 when I was doing a Museum Studies masters at Birmingham School of Art. Most of my fellow students were studying some kind of fine art and I just wanted a simple, embodied process that would give me a creative outlet. My boss at work gave me a smartphone at the same time, which gave me access to plenty of inspiration from contemporary printmakers such as Lou Tonkin, Harry Brockway, Kathleen Neeley and Nick Morley on Instagram. The Kathe Kollwitz retrospective on display at Birmingham’s Ikon Gallery at around the same time was also very formative.

The enforced lockdowns of 2020 and 2021 turned what was a hobby into a vital discipline that filled large amounts of free time, gave me purpose and to my great surprise and pleasure became something that could at least financially sustain the cost of the materials required, with a little change. All of this has occurred in parallel with my almost-ten-year involvement in Sputnik, as art has proved increasingly vital to understanding and practising my faith.

The enforced lockdowns of 2020 and 2021 turned what was a hobby into a vital discipline

The question of what draws me to Tolkien is an enormous one, which I could and probably should write on far more extensively. Tolkien’s friend C.S. Lewis writes about being too old for fairy stories, before eventually being old enough for them again. Over the last couple of years I’ve grown old enough for Tolkien’s work to undergo something of a renaissance, particularly in awakening a desire for the sacramental. The sacramental imagination in Tolkien’s work changes the way you see reality. It makes the world more real. Trees are no longer just trees, nor rocks simply rocks. Bread and wine will never be merely food and drink again. Middle-earth rescues us from the prison of a flat, material world and points us to something higher, nobler, more beautiful – and ultimately true.

He does all of this not through a series of persuasive arguments or essays, but adventures and myths that are participatory, immersive in their consistency, enormous in scale and beautifully sorrowful. Tolkien’s treatment of loss, death, decay, defeat and hope without guarantees has helped me survive the last year after a sudden and devastating bereavement and I believe his perspective is increasingly vital for Christians and Christian artists preoccupied with a sentimental and often shallow positivism.

Tolkein’s treatment of loss, death, decay, defeat and hope without guarantees has helped me survive the last year after a sudden and devastating bereavement

The work I make is only a small symptom of way Tolkien has lifted my focus to the sacramental, to wonder over ideas. Like Saint Gregory of Nyssa said, “Ideas create idols. Only wonder leads to knowing.” Hopefully the work is illuminated by that focus, but I imagine it will take time – much of it so far has been quite a derivative method of meditating on some of the stronger images from Tolkien’s work and tracing where they have come from; Tolkien was an excellent subcreator (to borrow his own invented term), reusing and repurposing ancient images and patterns embedded deep in our collective subconscious to create something that is nevertheless vibrant and alive.

My current work concerns itself with another modern mythic story deeply connected to the soil we find ourselves on (if you, like me, are reading this in England). G.K. Chesterton’s 1911 epic poem The Ballad of the White Horse is about an end to the world, which is a theme I’ve always enjoyed. We are often vain enough to think that the end of our world is the end of the world, but many worlds have come and gone whilst the sun continues to rise. How do we understand our faith if the ending of our world isn’t what ultimately ushers in the Second Coming and the Age to Come?

It’s also about a gathering doom and how we might go about living under that kind of foreboding without knowledge of what the future holds. Much of the time Christian hope seems to be defined by an eschatological certainty of what the future holds, whether that be over the longest, eternal arc or considerably shorter ones if you belong to a tradition that continues to deal out Jeremiah 29:11, or prophetic encouragement of the prosperity that awaits us in the coming season with cheery abandon.

Chesterton outs hope based on certainty of the future as definitively pagan. Christian hope is set apart by the fact that it makes no such assurances about what awaits us, true faith instead being sublimely painted by Saint Mary’s beautiful, mysterious and troubling words to Alfred;

“I tell you naught for your comfort,
Yea, naught for your desire,
Save that the sky grows darker yet
And the sea rises higher.

“Night shall be thrice night over you
And heaven an iron cope
Do you have joy without a cause,
Yea, faith without a hope?

My wife Emily and I have recently welcomed our first child into the world; a son called Edmund. As we collectively face a future of climate breakdown, the dying throes of a deeply flawed economic structure, transhumanism and increasing political authoritarianism, how do I reckon with the decision to bring a life into such a world, a defiantly hopeful act that a good friend described as “the badass opposite of suicide”? How do we partake of the joy of giants; the joy without a cause?

I don’t know. But The Ballad of the White Horse at least encourages us to explore the question. It does so with wit, some stunningly beautiful use of the English language and the sense that it will require more from us, the Church, than the belief that God will make the bad and uncomfortable things go away if only we pray and believe hard enough.

If that onslaught of wisdom wasn’t enough for you, you can follow Luke at @lukeprints. Why not join us in supporting fantastic artists like Luke, by joining our Patrons scheme for as little as £5 / month? Find out more right here on our website.

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Art as an act of aspirational joy: an interview with Joanna Karselis

Through our Patrons Scheme, we support Christians who are making engaging, powerful art or who are using their skills to serve their local communities. This term, one of our grants has gone to Joanna Karselis, a multi-instrumentalist, composer, and singer-songwriter.

Joanna has been a friend of Sputnik’s for some time, through our Birmingham Hub, and we’ve greatly enjoyed following her work, seeing her talent and perseverance pay off. We were delighted to be able to help fund her upcoming EP—and even more so given the story behind it. We’ll let Joanna explain.

Hi Jo. You’ve been involved in Sputnik for several years now but for those who are not familiar with your work, could you fill us in on who you are and what you do?

I’m a multi-instrumentalist and composer. I mainly work in film music, but I also score games, plays, podcasts, adverts… anything that needs music! I also write and sing songs, and work as a session musician and music educator.

Your main field of work in the last few years has been in media music, particularly film. Can you talk us through this? How did you get into making music for film and how has this developed?

I started off studying classical violin performance but through some convoluted and unexpected circumstances ended up doing a master’s degree in contemporary classical composition. During my masters I got disenchanted with the state of musical academia and increasingly felt like I didn’t fit in there. I didn’t write the “right” kind of music for most of my professors and wasn’t given the same opportunities as the other person in my year (it was a small course!)

Thankfully, one kind professor gave me the chance to score my first play, which completely realigned my goals as a composer. Shortly after that, I got my first job scoring a feature film, after the director happened to find my work online. My music wasn’t deemed worthy enough for the classical world, but it worked pretty well alongside a visual image. After a successful festival run for that film, I was expecting the work to start flooding in, but it ended up taking another two years for me to get another credit as the industry is so competitive.

Since then it’s often felt like tough going, and if I’m being honest it’s not an easy career path, but through persistence and patience I’m now in regular employment as a film composer. I’ve scored three films on Amazon Prime, mixed music at Warner Brothers, spent the last few years on BAFTA’s talent development programme, and have scored many award-winning films, so that hard work is starting to pay off.

Even though it’s been a tough journey, I’ve persisted with film scoring because it’s my calling. God loves telling stories, and when I score a film, I get to support the narrative by adding depth and fullness to it through the music. I’m a passionate believer in cinema as an agent of change, so being part of telling these stories that help us understand each other and challenge our perceptions and understandings of the world is really important. Often the composing process feels very worshipful for me and I really connect with God as I do it. I also get to be a woman in a male dominated industry, which brings with it challenges but also opportunities to advocate for equality and fairness and to support my peers, and to do my best to treat everyone I encounter with grace and kindness, which isn’t always the industry standard.

It is a pleasure to be able to support your latest project through the Sputnik Patrons Scheme. Can you talk us through it?

In late September 2020 I became suddenly ill. It eventually turned out to be long Covid which started after an asymptomatic initial infection. It’s an illness I’m still living with now.

The first three months were particularly rough, and for that time I became bedbound and only able to carry out the most basic of everyday tasks. Despite that, I kept a pad of manuscript paper by my bed and every few weeks I had enough energy to do some basic composing. I wrote these little snatches of upbeat and uplifting piano pieces that would bring me joy, as well as capture the pain of the pandemic and my own illness.

In January I started being able to sit up in bed for an hour a day with my laptop and a mini-keyboard, and I began slowly inputting these pieces into my computer. The project has really kept me going through the last year, gradually expanding as I’ve been able to work again and to do things I took for granted before like record myself playing violin. It’s now a fully-fledged EP.

It feels like the most personal and worshipful thing I’ve ever made — I can’t even listen to some tracks without breaking down — and the Sputnik funding allowed me to go and record the piano parts in a studio which felt like drawing the beginning of a line under the experiences of the last fifteen months of illness. It’s a big departure, as I normally either release film music or songs; so to release something that’s neither, feels like I’m reclaiming my own music and letting it stand by itself for the first time in many years.

To stay connected with Joanna Karselis and her work in the lead up to the release, you can follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or check out her websiteTo hear a bit more about her journey, you can watch our longer interview below!

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The magic of meeting up: Falmouth Hub meets in-person

We live in a time of death, and a time of life. A time of endings and a time of beginnings. Of discontinued normals and a carving out of new paths. 

It feels like a lifetime ago, but Sputnik used to host termly Hub meet-ups (when we could). Meet-ups where you got to see people’s legs as well as their shoulders! In person, in the flesh — 3D.

We’re not interested in winding back the clock, but we’ve always believed in the importance of embodied reality and so, at the first opportunity, we wanted to facilitate live meet-ups again. The plan was to gather — and that alone would have been enough — but I also wanted to understand the precise lay of the land for us, at this strange juncture in history. Perhaps some roads have ended; perhaps new opportunities will present themselves.

What better way to do that than to gather a group of artists in a room, share work, eat brownies and reflect on our practice? So, having thoroughly enjoyed the Faith & Arts day in Brum — and with the Edinburgh event a week away — that’s exactly what we did in Falmouth on 7th November.

The heart of any Sputnik meet-up is always when artists share their work, and this was no exception. In our circle, we heard from a painter who was fascinated by a particular field, but didn’t know why — and so would return, day after day, to draw, paint and photograph the space, in search of the source of its allure. Another artist talked through how he explored his own mental health difficulties through his wonderful creation, Nanook the bi-polar bear. However, my favourite moment was the discovery that the same illustrator blended his own tea while listening to a certain seminal hiphop group. The blend was called Electric Relaxation. If you know, you know.

The featured artists for the event were the Moses Brothers, Davidson and Richard, who are perhaps the most amiable, gentle and pleasant human beings I’ve ever met. They also seem to occupy that rare space where words like ‘genius’ or ‘prodigy’ get tossed about.

For example, Davidson spoke of the time when he first started learning the guitar and how Richard, who is a few years younger, asked their mum if he could follow suit. Their mum decided that Richard was too young, so Davidson took it on himself to teach his younger brother everything he learnt in the lessons. All pretty standard, until they revealed a key detail: Richard was three years old at the time! Now, at 17, he seems to play anything that he can get his hands on. And, without blinking, he can tell you the pitch of a passing bus.

One of Davidson’s biggest regrets in his life so far, he told us, was laughing at Richard’s first songwriting effort. This led to his brother screwing up the song and throwing it in the bin, lost forever. Ever since, he has tried to put that right by encouraging his younger sibling and, as we listened, we were aware that he was going further still. He was encouraging and inspiring us all with the generous, open hearted freedom of his approach to music-making.

And we got a glimpse of the fruits of his redemptive journey. The brothers performed two songs, their 2020 single Living Water and a South African folk song. The performance was largely unamplified which, while it lost a degree of definition for that reason, drew us all in by forcing us to truly listen. I don’t think Davidson or Richardson really noticed though, as they were clearly lost in what they were doing. It was a joy to hear them envelop themselves in their own creative skills and perhaps even more so, to witness the synchronicity that they achieve in their music. 

After the performance, Davidson quoted Psalm 100:4: “Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise” but pointed out that we need to be careful in defining God’s courts too restrictively. Yes, we were gathered in a church hall for the afternoon, but God’s courts extend much, much further. Davidson and Richard have the desire and the talent to bring their thanks and praise of their creator into the nooks and crannies of the divine court rooms that many of us have forgotten are His at all.

And so, with all of this done, and with a bellyful of the most extensive selection of homemade cakes I can remember, I hopped back in my car to bomb it up the M5. I won’t lie, it’s an absolute mission to get from Brum to Falmouth. A five-hour mission each way, to be precise. However, it was worth every minute.

The future will not be the same as the past for any of us, I would imagine, and that is certainly true of Sputnik. By God’s grace, I can write that with a sense of optimism and excitement, and I know that, whatever that future does hold, it will include more meetings like this. There really is nothing like getting a group of Christian artistic practitioners in a room and letting the sparks fly.

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Kapes A. Witness is searching for the right words

Through our Patrons Scheme, we support Christians who are making engaging, powerful art or who are using their skills to serve their local communities. This year thanks to our community of Patrons, we helped to fund a new EP from Birmingham rapper Kapes A. Witness.

Kapes has been plying his trade in his local scene for a good few years. Now finding himself on a journey of faith, he’s working out in real time how the worlds of faith and art overlap, how his motivations have changed and what he hopes to achieve through his art.

Hey Kapes, introduce yourself…

Hey, I’m Kapes A. Witness. I’m a Birmingham-based hip-hop artist. I started rapping in 1998, aged 10. I went on to perform around the UK, including at Birmingham’s O2 Academy. I also collaborated with brother of 2pac and Thug Life co-founder, Mopreme Shakur. In 2015 I became a born-again Christian and since then, faith has been at the forefront of my music. 

Who are your main influences?

Growing up I was influenced by rappers from the 80’s and 90’s. 2pac was the biggest influence on me overall. There was a lot of passion and emotion in his music. Since becoming a Christian though, my attention was drawn more to those with the same mission as me. Now I listen to people like Bryann Trejo (who I was blessed enough to collaborate with), Bizzle, Datin, Kurtis Hoppie, Young Bro and KJ-52 to name a few.

One of our Kapes favourites at Sputnik HQ is ‘Story to Tell’. One of the striking features about your music, as demonstrated on this track, is your ability to be able to tell your story authentically and honestly, not shying away from your ongoing struggles or your relationship with Jesus. How do you find this balance?

My music is always an honest reflection of my life, so sometimes you will hear that struggle—but you will also hear the victory that comes with having friends in high heavenly places! Jesus has transformed my life and who I am as a person so much. He tells us to cast our cares onto him, so that’s what I do and the music reflects that.

It’s a pleasure to be able to help you with your latest project through the Sputnik Patrons Scheme. Can you talk us through the new project?

I’m so excited about working with you guys on this project! You can expect some joyful noise, some deep story telling, fire beats and as we wake up each day in a new chapter of revelation; some eye opening, sign of the times bars! Stay tuned!

To stay connected with Kapes A. Witness in the lead up to the release, you can follow him on Facebook or TwitterTo hear a bit more about his journey, you can watch our longer interview below!

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When a light shines: Edinburgh Sputnik Hub back in a building and melting the walls

Saturday the 13th of November was Sputnik Edinburgh’s first in-person gathering since a certain earth-shattering event, and the gathering was good. King’s Building, with its concentric rings of red chairs, was our spacious café complete with chocolate-covered digestives and oreos. We came from Edinburgh, far, far awa’ Dundee, and even rivalrous Glasgow. We came in faded jeans and face masks, smooth navy coats, resting mohawks and mustard beanies. We quickly found our way to my favourite new space where faith and art belong together and have never been separate.

“Save me into the belly of a fish, when I’ve been tossed into the waves because I tried to run away from whom you want to Save me…”

Gentle waves of that refrain lapped at the legs of our chairs as Rachel Zylstra’s leviathan song — featuring Christy Ringrose — took us into its mesmerising undercurrents. I didn’t notice the room starting to flood. My eyes were still closed when we were swallowed by the whale. Your turn: here’s Jonah by Rachel Zylstra, with animations from another Sputnik Edinburgh member, Amanda Aitken. 

Then, intros and art-sharing. Sometimes sharing work with strangers does feel like being squeezed between colossal moist ribs (we were still sitting in concentric circles of red chairs) but everyone participated, welcomed and showed appreciation. Ancient words like “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity” lived out new meaning. 

Lunch was objectively amazing (I think we were spat out by now) because avocado goes with everything that can fit in a wrap, and there were these crunchy chunks of chorizo.

I shared a poem, on trying to rediscover race and black identity outside of racism. There was a song with rap verses by Phil Austin, who isn’t afraid of love, being saved or hitting falsetto tones.

An Edinburgh author, interviewed by Luke Davydaitis, shared the many times God called her to persevere, with faith — into blessing after blessing in her life and her writing. After being prophetically called into her craft, she learned to enjoy trusting the uncommon sense of God that has led to several timely opportunities. In describing her shaping of narratives and characters, she said it’s an ongoing partnering with words and the Word – “we do it together”.

That doesn’t mean it was easy to remember how the writing process starts, especially having committed so much of the recent past to a mode of ruthless editing, cutting out, “killing” and clearing that which needed to go to let the work speak for itself. In the space of honing, the “editor” has to be given the right, and the room, to move the work on. What she did remember from the space of starting was the voice of the “darling”, and its impulse to be playful or obscure, observational, imaginative, unfinished and unlabelled.

Then we heard the excerpts. As she read, the room was hushed and we journeyed through a world between oblivious childhood and obsessive adulthood, with characters from both and the transition. Her reading was deeply captivating, with the immersive imagery of Gilead and the quirky accuracy of The Brothers Karamazov. I saw everything she was saying, completely lost track of time and wished it could go on with the visceral remorse of a child called from playing. 

This author is hoping to find a publisher in the new year, and I can’t wait to read the whole story of a deep, young girl losing family and confronted with a titanic question: “how do you hold on to the moments you love?” The uncertain road to publishing throws authors against some other tough questions. She has had to seriously consider, after achieving so much and coming so close to sharing it, whether this book will ever be published. In the grieving, the meaning of past sacrifices (“good” teaching jobs etc.) the wisdom of her faithfulness, come under scrutiny.

If you knew a decade of work would come to ‘failure’ at the last step — would you still follow Jesus?

Wrestling with your purpose does not always look like “success”. So she asks herself, if you knew it would all come to “failure”… when “all” means a decade of work, and you lose right at the last step — would you still follow Jesus? “Yes, a thousand times yes.” Only she knows the weight of those 3 letters, beyond the word-count of her book; it’s the weight of Christian integrity.

Challenged to rethink success, we prayed. Christy Ringrose and Rachel Zylstra took the stage again, with a song that came just in time to soothe our wordless unrest – My First Winter by Christy Ringrose.  

I’ve been going back to that day in my mind, and wrote Manna as map and memento. 


Powerful. Saturday was saturated
With “Wow”, “mhmm” and the shock
Of respect cracking quiet
Honour’s chrysalis as 

“Churches are designed to feel
Too big so that standing 
In one reminds you of
Your smallness 
And G_d’s Grandeur.”
Like artists who can dance with
G_d and fill the entire stage       of my imagination
with                              living                  Word.

So, what to say about Saturday?
Manna? Or Mexican wrap?
It’s joys have sintered in memory
Like “My First Winter” it was
Boudica Bap-tism. We entered
The belly of a fish – at King’s Church
We saw G_d through
A prism of hard-won wisdom.
He asked me to give this
Living hand, now warm for His vision, I
Thank God and clap. 

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Spinning beauty out of lockdown with guitarist Stewart Garry

Through our Patrons Scheme, we support Christians who are making engaging, powerful art or who are using their skills to serve their local communities. This term, one of our grants has gone to Stewart Garry, an instrumental fingerstyle guitarist from Newcastle.

We’ve long been fans of Stew’s work, as a great example of non-verbal music which can still evoke a powerful sense of place, emotion or story. The music is both technically daunting and yet easy to enjoy; and supporting the studio recording of his new (as yet untitled) album was a no-brainer.

Introduce yourself Stew. Who are you and what do you do?

Hi Sputnik! My name is Stew, I’m 32 years old; I’m married to Abi and we have a daughter, born last year, called Brooke.

We’re currently located in Cambridge, having moved from the East Midlands a little over a year ago for me to start working as an Assistant Pastor at a church here. Alongside being a Pastor, I am studying Biblical Counselling with BCUK (Biblical Counselling UK). Outside of church life I compose instrumental acoustic guitar music. This music uses modern fingerstyle guitar methods such as using the body of the guitar as a drum, tapping melodies or chords and alternate tunings. For my compositions I often like to take influences from my Celtic roots as well as film, alternative, jazz, and heavier music. 

Those who’ve been around Sputnik for a while may well be familiar with your work through your excellent ‘Sojourner’ album. It’s hard to believe that was 5 years ago. What have you been up to in the meantime?

After Sojourner, I got married and spent most of my time involved in church work and studying for an MA in Christian Ministry. However, I did get the opportunity to compose some music for a couple of friends weddings, play some cool gigs like the London Acoustic Guitar Show, and teach a few fingerstyle guitar “masterclasses” (their term not mine) at Nexus ICA

The new album was written in lockdown just after the birth of your first child. Could you talk us through the process?

The process of writing this new album during lockdown and after the birth of my first child has been a lot different to any other album that I have composed—for a few reasons—but the main one has been that time off work with my family just inspired me.

I’ve heard lots of musicians say they didn’t want to pick up their instrument during lockdown, and I understand that, but with being a dad for the first time and having such a crazy year, I felt like I had something to say again after all those years since Sojourner. A second interesting factor has been not being able to gig. In the past, it was during performing that I would try new material out, see what lands well—or not! So this time, it’s been a longer process of listening back to my work on my own. The main result of these things has been that the music is less complicated but more melodic. It feels more of a personal album rather than abstract music written about places and good times, which at times I think Sojourner became… 

I know that in your music, you like to think very carefully about the recording process and also how to present your music visually. How are you planning to record and release this project?

Many instrumental guitarists release videos of their music on a plain background, so everyone can see that it’s really just them playing all the parts! Whilst there is nothing wrong with that, I do like people to have more of a visual experience as well. Since I’m now situated in Cambridge, my thoughts have been around finding interesting places to film, such as old libraries, perhaps even King’s College… but this part of the project is still in its planning stages. The first part is to get into the studio in November and get the music sorted. This is my first studio-based album since The West Coast over ten years ago, and so there are some nerves going into the studio again—but it should be fun. I am also looking forward to collaborating with Joanna Karselis again. Jo and I worked together for one of the tracks on Sojourner (called Patience is a Virtue), and I was thrilled that she was up for working together again on a track called A Scottish Lament. Expect lots of trills.

To stay connected with Stewart Garry and his music in the lead up to the release, you can follow him on Instagram, subscribe on YouTube, or follow him on Spotify. To find out a bit more about his work and process, you can check out our longer interview with him below!

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Loving the material world: Brum Sputnik Hub meets in-person again

After more than two years, Birmingham Sputnik Hub was finally back with a live, in-person meetup. The return of the mac. Except Oasis Church haven’t met there for years now, so we were hanging out at their building on South Street in Harborne instead.

First of all, there was a lot of catching up to do. There are some folk I primarily know through Sputnik, who I hadn’t seen in a really long time. There were some familiar faces, who are never very far away from me in Birmingham anyway; there were people I had met on the Sputnik Slack or over Instagram during the Plague, who I had the first opportunity to talk to in person. And there were even folk turning up to Sputnik for the very first time. Ideal.

We kicked things off with a Sputnik staple – sharing our thoughts and work in small groups. In my group we heard from the Godfather of Sputnik himself, Don Jonny Mellor, who’d spent his lockdown recording an album with his next door neighbour, which includes a track about how Queen Boudicea is (probably) buried under the Kings Norton McDonald’s. Rod Masih, aka Thinktank, blessed us with insight into his new single and why he’s so popular with kids (as well as being a great guy, it’s also proved an incredibly effective marketing strategy – Thinktank now has a long-term captive audience). Esther Lee tried to convince us all that she isn’t a photographer, all whilst sharing her stunning darkroom experiments using images of post-industrial areas of Birmingham.

Andy Gordon let us in on some beautiful instrumentals he’s been mastering for local folk artist Philippa Zawe. Writer Andrew, who’d travelled all the way from Sheffield for the meetup posed the question of whether Christian art is required to offer visions of hope, whilst newcomers Libby and Helen talked about using art to uplift and encourage, and prompted an interesting discussion about what makes art prophetic.

After that there was a delicious lunch entirely provided by Wumi Donald, before Jonny spoke to us about the importance of the material, not only to us as artists, but for everyone. Channelling his inner Irenaeus, Jonny warned against the latent Gnosticism often evident in folk Christianity that views the physical realm as something temporary, corrupt and ultimately distracting, arguing that such a distinction between the spiritual and physical doesn’t really exist, that the natural world is for our spiritual edification, and that the works of goodness, beauty and truth we contribute to here on earth have an eternal legacy.

Following Jonny, as part of an unstoppable husband-and-wife ministry, Jemma Mellor spoke about her own art practice, which not only used concrete and cotton as materials, but as co-producers, through which Jemma explored the history and agency of the materials in the creation of different pieces. These included painted self-portraits which used the materials to transfer paint to paper, creating images in their own likeness; shoes made from concrete and cotton that Jemma walked a mile through Birmingham in, and pillow cast in concrete that Jemma slept a night on. Just as fascinating were the thought and processes behind this work; the questions Jemma asked the materials before working with them, and the regular emails she sent to concrete and cotton communicating how she felt about her relationship to them.

After all that I needed a lie-down on Jemma’s concrete pillow. It was surprisingly comfortable, concrete of course solving that age-old problem of not being able to find the cool side of the pillow. The post-pandemic in-person meet-up was ace. Can’t wait for the next one.

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What We’ve Funded: October 2021

Our Sputnik Patrons program collects monthly donations from our Patrons community and distributes it to Christian artists around the UK. Here’s a snapshot of what we’ve helped to fund this Autumn.

We believe arts for profit is bad for everyone. Putting money and markets at the heart of our society hollows out our common life. That’s why we raise money to give away to artists without strings attached – so they can create for the common good rather than being pressured to make what sells. Why not become a Patron for as little as £5 / month?

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We’re keeping our online exhibitions alive – join in and submit your work

I’m fascinated to see how our relationship with the online world will change as we move past this phase of the COVID pandemic. The virtual world has operated like a life raft in the last 16 months. As we were cast from the ocean liner of in-person meet ups and events, we reached out for help, and there it was! Zoom and her digital friends, smiling down at us, throwing us a big rubber ring and welcoming us aboard. 

As the ocean liner gets itself back up and running again, we’ll all end up cutting back on the virtual, in favour of the physical, and rightly so. There may even be some kickback against the platforms that stopped us going under for the last year or so, simply because they act as painful reminders of a very difficult season. However, I can’t imagine that we are going ditch them completely. The life raft didn’t just stay afloat, it exhibited a degree of comfort and manoeuvrability that will make it a viable option for the foreseeable future. 

For artists, the ocean liner’s services were not just missed in regards to our personal social needs though. We needed a life raft, but our artwork needed one too, meaning that we’ve had to work doubly hard to adapt. Some of us have skilled up on our live streaming, others have upped our game on Insta and TikTok. 

And, tech companies have responded to our needs. One of the examples of this response has been in the realm of virtual exhibition spaces. Admittedly, in Spring 2020, these were almost universally clunky and user unfriendly, but they’ve evolved at pace and we’ve been pleasantly surprised at the improvements that’s occurred in this area since then.

So pleased, in fact, that when we were recently asked to set up an online gallery for the Catalyst Festival, we decided to keep paying our subs once the exhibition finished and we’re keen on exploring whether it will serve artists going forward.

If you’ve not seen it yet, we recommend checking out our first online exhibition entitled ‘The Year that Wasn’t’. It’s a collection of work that was made during the pandemic by artists in the network.

But you won’t have forever to do it, as in September, we’ll be putting up our next exhibition. This will feature new work from artists who are in and around the Sputnik network, and if you think that may describes you and you’d like your work to feature, get in touch. All you need to do is send us your submission with your name, place of residence, link to online work and a brief description of the piece of work and we’ll decide on the final selection by the end of August.

I, for one, am very glad that society is opening up again. I’m very pleased that I can now welcome people into my house without doing a headcount at the door, and I’m also looking forward to experiencing art live again, including visiting actual, physical, real world exhibitions. I hope that they will always be the primary way that art is experienced but if they can be helpfully supplemented by online experiences, all good!

To that end, check out our present online exhibition (below) and come back in September for our next offering. It may be just a temporary thing, while we slowly return to the cruiser or it may last into 2022 beyond. 

I think it’s fair to say that, as artists, we need all the life rafts we can get, so we plan to keep it going for as long as it provides a service. 

You can use the menu button in the top-right corner of the gallery to view in fullscreen – or alternatively, open the gallery in its own browser window.

Click on an individual piece of work, and click the ‘i’ button to see more details about that piece, including the artist’s website.

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What We’ve Funded: July 2021

Our Sputnik Patrons program collects monthly donations from our Patrons community and distributes it to Christian artists around the UK. Here’s a snapshot of what we’ve helped to fund since we restarted the program in Easter 2021, as well as how Sputnik has been changing.

We believe arts for profit is bad for everyone. Putting money and markets at the heart of our society hollows out our common life. That’s why we raise money to give away to artists without strings attached – so they can create for the common good rather than being pressured to make what sells. Why not become a Patron for as little as £5 / month?

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For installation artist Jill Woods, light is the medium

Through our Patrons Scheme, we support Christians who are making engaging, powerful art or who are using their skills to serve their local communities.

This term, one of our grants has gone to Jill Woods, an installation artist. We caught up with Jill to find out about more about her journey and her latest installation.

HI Jill. Could you give us a bit of introduction to your art journey?

It’s been a ‘long and winding road’! I loved art at school, but dropped it to do science subjects at A level and then went on to do a science degree.

Throughout university, I continued to make things – clothes, cards and gifts for family and friends. That approach continued for many years – just dabbling and enjoying exploring my creativity, visiting art galleries and learning about other artists. I did a number of workshops, mainly involving textile techniques, and I was part of a creative group with friends taking a creative approach to the meditative practice of Lectio Divina. 

I explored doing an Art Foundation course when my two children were small, but it wasn’t the right time. It wasn’t until 2018 that I finally felt it was a good time to push the door. I managed to get in to my local college (at 54, I was the grandma of the group) and I absolutely loved my time on the course. I was really drawn to installation art for the potential it has to be multi-sensory and participatory, and to the use of light and shadow in exploring ideas of spirituality.

I wanted to carry on by doing an undergraduate degree, but I could only get funding for an MA, so I leapfrogged into a part-time MA in Textile Practices at Huddersfield University where I continued to explore light as a medium within installation art.

We were delighted to be able support you recently, through the Sputnik Patrons Scheme, for your piece at the LIGHT:space exhibition in Stockton. Firstly, can you tell us about the exhibition itself.

The exhibition was developed by Wild Vision Collective, a group of 4 artists who had come together at the beginning of the pandemic to encourage each other. They had a desire to reach out prophetically to speak hope to the community of Stockton using art. Following on from a successful Pop-up Gallery in one of the empty shops in the Wellington Square shopping centre, they proposed a light trail using more of the empty shops. This would be COVID-safe as visitors would be outside looking in and social distancing could be observed. Their proposal was accepted, they obtained a small amount of funding from the local Arts Centre and the LIGHT:space Art Trail was born. I heard about it through their Curatorspace open call.

So, what about your piece in the exhibition? Talk us through it.

This was the very first time I had exhibited because there had been no end of year show, so I was really excited and nervous. My piece is called ‘The Light Shines in the Darkness’ and it is based on the final piece I did for my MA, adapted for the window space I was given. It uses light and reflective materials, stitch and wire knit to encourage a meditative experience for viewers. As well as using light as a medium, I am interested in the structure of DNA and chromosomes and the role they play in the structure of life and identity. 

The piece consists of multiple stitched floor-to-ceiling hangings made from silver mylar and dichroic film strips, loosely based on a stylised DNA molecule. There are also tubular pieces of knitted stainless steel wire to represent the banded appearance of chromosomes. The hangings are lit so that the reflections created are captured on the walls, ceiling and floor and these move in the air currents created by a fan. To me, coming from a faith perspective, this speaks of how the light of God illuminates us and makes us each unique like the reflections created – we are not just the result of our DNA because God takes what we are and makes something wonderful. The title comes from the opening verses of John’s gospel which I felt were appropriate for the time in which I was working during the COVID pandemic.  I am very grateful for the funding I received from the Sputnik Patrons Scheme which has enabled me to purchase new lighting to replace the battery-powered lighting I had used originally and improves the sustainability of the work.

Find out more about Wild Vision Collective and the LIGHT:space exhibition here, or follow Jill’s work on Instagram.

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Matshidiso and the pursuit of love, justice and music

Through our Patrons Scheme, we support Christians who are making engaging, powerful art or who are using their skills to serve their local communities. This term, one of our grants has gone to Matshidiso, a singer-songwriter based in London.

Influenced by the folk-jazz of Nina Simone and the neo-soul stylings of Robert Glasper amongst others, Matshidiso’s music has a freewheeling, naturalistic feel with storytelling at its core. It’s beautiful, theatrical, and all held together by Matshidiso’s stunning voice. It has been a pleasure to connect with her over the past year, and we’ve loved getting acquainted with her work – and we reckon you will too.

For those who haven’t come across you yet, can you introduce yourself?

Hi there! My name is Matshidiso (pronounced Mat-Sea-Dee-So – a South African name –  from the Setswana and Sotho tribes – meaning blessing or consolation). I’m half South African, half Jamaican and born and raised in London.

I’m a piano player, composer, arranger, producer, singer, teacher (and now a podcaster!) – but mostly I would call myself a songwriter. I love the way you can have an idea in your head, hear the instruments, visualise the story behind the song, add words to it and then watch it come to life with other musicians – it’s one of the most magical things for me about making music. I suppose it mirrors creation and what God did – He had an idea and spoke it in to being – we get to do mini versions of that through our own creativity.

I started playing the piano at 7, but actually (to cut a very long story short) trained as a human rights lawyer/barrister before switching to a full time career in music. I started writing songs during my undergrad Law degree, writing songs in the safety of my living room – so many I’ve lost count. Then in 2012 I chose music full time – it was one of those moments when you realise you only have one life so you might as well really live it.

I’m still passionate about social justice (I do stuff in prisons, internationally, work around racial justice) and I reconcile the 2 sides of me this way – I use creativity to promote social justice.

Is there a song that particularly sums up your work?

I often say about my music that I write about 2 things – love and justice, which really is about 1 thing – love.  I wrote a song called Fragile which is about love and whilst it doesn’t ‘sum up my work’ musically because we’re always evolving, it is the essence of what I’m passionate about in terms of the words:

‘Love in our hands is broken, love in our hands is worn, blurred the lines of it and twisted its form – fragile. I have stolen and I’ve been stolen from, left his heart for the birds, exposed to the sun, he was fragile. I have known love where I could barely breathe to look into his eyes as he looked inside of me, we were fragile’.

You’re working on a new album and we’re so pleased that, through our Patrons Scheme, we’ve been able to help that come closer to completion. Can you talk us through the album and how it’s progressing?

Sure – and thanks so much for helping to make it a reality!

This has been a real journey. It starts around 2017 when I put a new band together, and we would gig my songs and they would naturally evolve with the venue, the audience, the band set up (we’re a 7-piece: me on piano and lead vocals, then bass, drums, saxophone, guitar, 2 backing vocals). People would often ask for the recordings of these songs after our gigs and I didn’t have them!

Alongside this, I had written 3 songs that I considered a trilogy and I envisioned a series of short films, one for each song that comprising singular but interconnected narratives expressed through different dance styles (ballet, hip-hop, contemporary dance), and all shot in South Africa.  So in 2019, I headed to South Africa and started working with a team to bring these songs to life – we shot 1 out of 3 of the videos – a song called ‘Glean’. (See images and video from the process here).

Back to the album.  At the end of 2019, I started working with my drummer on arranging these songs we’d spent 2 years playing for the album. We would record the album and also properly record the trilogy of songs for my South African films. We had planned to start recording in April 2020 – well, as we all know the pandemic happened! We managed to record one track that was released in July 2020 on March 12th a week before lockdown in the UK – called ‘Quiet Love’.

We managed to get back into the studio for a week in August where we recorded the majority of the songs – all the instruments and guide tracks for the vocals. And here’s the thing with recording: 1 – it usually takes longer than you think and 2 – when you listen back to things you realise what needs work, re-recording etc. So since August, I’ve been going to the studio in the evenings to record vocals, re-work some tracks and do overdubs. We did that with the electric guitar – my original guitarist tore a tendon in his hand so was out of action – fortunately I had another guitarist who spent 5 hours one Wednesday over Zoom doing it!

Your Patrons Scheme has allowed me to pay that guitarist (who is amazing!), to mix and master Glean so that we can edit the South African film, and it’s also gone towards studio time to continue recording vocals.

The album is on its way – one of the things I’m very conscious about is creating an album that has an arc, a narrative that makes sense all the way through. That was thanks to a great conversation I had on my podcast, Holding up the Ladder, with Prince’s former sound engineer, Dr Susan Rogers. She was explaining how Prince would record his albums and it really was so instructional for me! If you’re a musician or a Prince-lover you should listen to it here.

So I’m currently finishing the tracks I already recorded and writing and arranging new materials – it’s like pushing out a very big baby! But I think it will be worth it and Sputnik’s Patron Scheme has been instrumental (excuse the pun!) to the journey, so thank you very much!

To stay connected with Matshidiso and her music in the lead up to the release, you can follow her on Instagram, subscribe on YouTube, or follow her on Spotify. As mentioned, you can also follow her podcast ‘Holding Up the Ladder’ here – or watch another interview with Matshidiso below.

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Explore our virtual gallery for the 2021 Online Catalyst Festival

Update: This gallery is now offline. You can see our new gallery of 2022 work, here.

Sputnik as a project was born out of the Catalyst network of churches, and the bi-annual Catalyst Festival has often been an opportunity for us to showcase Sputnik artists, through exhibitions, workshops and performances.

This year, with the Catalyst Festival taking place online, we’ve put together a virtual gallery of work created by artists in/around the Sputnik network. Most of the work has been created over the course of the last year; some of it tackles the pandemic directly, as artists reflected emotionally, searched for meaning in the chaos, and looked ahead to new things. Other pieces don’t address the pandemic in themselves but were created in moments of stillness, stress, inspiration, or frustration.

The Year That Wasn’t

You can use the menu button in the top-right corner of the gallery to view in fullscreen – or alternatively, open the gallery in its own browser window.

Click on an individual piece of work, and click the ‘i’ button to see more details about that piece, including the artist’s website.

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Rediscovering wide-eyed wonder with Christy Ringrose

Through our Patrons Scheme, we support Christians who are making engaging, powerful art or who are using their skills to serve their local communities. This term, one of our grants has gone to Christy Ringrose, a Scottish-Norwegian singer-songwriter now living in Edinburgh.

Christy Ringrose is something of a creative dynamo: a painter, songwriter, podcaster, and the leader of our Edinburgh Sputnik Hub. As a musician, her rustic, intimate style contains traces of folk, jazz and musical theatre – and a good dose of the unexpected.

We were delighted to be able to support Christy through our Sputnik Patrons scheme, by helping her to stage her first online concert, on 12th June. We caught up with Christy to talk a little more about her artistic journey:

I grew up in Norway with a love for music, art and nature. Although I loved creating art, I didn’t believe that I was talented enough to become a professional artist. But when I moved to Scotland to study languages, I could no longer subdue my creative drive: I attended art courses, studied painting in an artist’s studio, wrote stories, performed in a French theatre group and finally discovered my biggest passion – songwriting. I signed up to an MA in Songwriting and Performance at the University of the West of Scotland, and that was the beginning of a new life as a musician.

Do your painting and songwriting harmoniously feed into each other or battle against each other for space in your life? How does one artistic discipline serve the other or does it not work like that?

I made a decision to focus on music rather than painting, because of how it enables you to connect with people so instantly. A song automatically demands attention, invites participation and changes the atmosphere in a room. I love the physicality of singing.

Having both painting and songwriting just give me more options. For example, writing a song takes quite a lot of complex thought, but with painting I can just paint something I find beautiful, get lost in the subject and not have to finalise what I’m trying to say.

We’re so pleased to have helped fund your first online live concert on 12th June, and we’re really looking forward to it. How are you finding the challenges and opportunities presented by this new platform? And how can people get tickets?

Not having the audience in the room is a challenge which has to be overcome by imagination! On the 12th of June I will be performing some songs from my first album Dancing Without Space, but also some brand new songs that I have written during the pandemic which will make their debuts.

You don’t need a ticket. The event will be broadcast here on YouTube live and there will be an option to make a donation online. You can keep updated by signing up to my newsletter, My Art Bouquet.

Watch Christy’s event back here:

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Get six months’ free listing in the new Christian Creative Directory

Our friends at Christian Creative Network have been busy for the last 18 months building a new directory of UK Christian creative professionals.

At Sputnik we tend to draw a distinction between ‘Christian’ work and work for a wider audience; but many artists in our network will have done both. Whether it’s professional graphic designers doing church promotion, or musicians deciding to cover some favourite hymns, we all contain multitudes! Likewise, there are many Christian organisations who want to hire creative people who know their world.

A big part of our mission is to see churches take the arts seriously, and pay them responsibly. Organisations like the Christian Creative Network are doing great work putting all this together: helping freelancers to get work, and lifting the status of the professional arts in churches’ eyes.

With the new Christian Creative Directory launched, we spoke with founder Josie Gamble about the process involved, how she hopes the directory will serve artists, and how to get involved.

Can you tell us about how the idea came about?

The reason I launched the Christian Creative Directory is because I believe we are moving into a new era of creativity in the UK church and I wanted to create a way to championing that creativity in the body of Christ.

There was a time when the church was leading the way in creativity with stained glass, architecture, fine art, sculpture, song. But during the Reformation, when the church went back to basics, there was a stripping back and many creative practices and values were lost. Ever since then we have been playing catch up with the world.

During the Reformation, there was a stripping-back, and many creative practices and values were lost.

I have over 25 years’ experience in the creative industries: graduating with first class honours in Industrial Product Design; 7 years as a university lecturer; and running a design business for over 13 years. Through my design business, I have helped hundreds of businesses and organisations create their brands and website, and I am pouring all of that expertise into this directory.

As well as my creative experience, after graduating Bible school I became a founding member of my local church, which I have been involved in leadership with for over 23 years.  

In 2017, I launched the Christian Creative Network, which is a growing national network made up of local branches, connecting local like-minded Christian creatives: connecting, equipping and encouraging. We currently have 8 branches, from Torquay to Durham, and branches host monthly meets, workshops and events. However, during Covid the monthly meets have been online, and workshops and events have not been able to take place. 

When I launched the network, the vision was always three-pronged: a network, a directory and recognition awards. With the network and directory launched we are one step closer to the awards – well, we might give it a few years yet!

And how did that idea become a reality?

In 2019 I attracted seed funding from The Lions, a Christian entrepreneur program that offers business development and mentoring. It was with this seed funding that I was able to build the directory. It’s taken 18 months to develop and I had to pull together a talented team of creatives to work with me; a web developer, videographer, illustrators, a brand specialist, marketing specialist, photographer, copywriter and SEO expert, voiceover artist and I gathered together an advisory board.  

I have spent years networking and connecting with some of the most amazing Christian creatives which enabled me to pull together the team that built the directory, but where do businesses, organisations and churches go to find these services? Now there is a directory! A place to find Christian creative professionals and services, all under one roof. 

I’m passionate about creatives supporting creatives. I stared my business offering graphic design, however I’d always wanted to build websites. But with the restrictions of a young family I was limited and didn’t know where to go or who to ask. Then in an amazing God connection, a Christian web designer offered to teach me for free. Building websites revolutionised my business and ever since I have endeavoured to pay it forward where possible and have sat with numerous creatives since and shared my time and experience. The Christian Creative Directory is another way of sharing my experience and creating the opportunity for others to do the same. 

How might the CCD serve artists in our network? 

The Christian Creative Directory launched Wednesday 21st April, and is the No.1 place to find Christian creative professionals and services in the UK, all in one place.

This online directory gives creatives, such as the artists in the Sputnik network, who want more visibility online, a high-quality directory listing, resources and expert advice, so they can get found by business owners and organisations UK wide, work on creative projects and grow their businesses.

How can they get involved?

You can sign up today at using the special launch offer coupon cdlaunch6 before 21st May to receive 6 months free listing. Start getting your creativity noticed, engage with an incredible wider creative community, post projects, find jobs and opportunities. Plus, there is a wealth of FREE expert advice and high-quality resources that will guide and help you in every area of your business.

My hope is that the directory will play a part in strengthening of the creative culture in the UK church. 

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To keep the arts alive, we need a lot more imagination

Over the course of the pandemic, unemployment in the arts has cut deep – perhaps deeper than any other industry. The New York Times have called it a looming ‘Great Cultural Depression’. Many actors, musicians and writers have clung on – despite slipping through the furlough net, or witnessing endless setbacks – only to find themselves facing predictions that their sector won’t ‘recover’ for five years at best.

Yet the truth is that the problems in the arts pre-date Covid. The pandemic has accelerated a growing rot in our cultural sector. The arts need help – more than that, the arts need change. Somehow, it’s become not just accepted, but ingrained that being an artist means precarious work, completely uneven shouldering of risk, and high barriers of entry for anyone without privilege to stand on. Public opinion sees all that as the price to pay for ‘doing something you love’, and artists have accepted those sacrifices. But it’s certainly not the only way the arts could work. And after the pandemic, it remains to be seen whether it really will continue to ‘work’ at all.

The state of the arts

Money is a problem in the arts. Not the lack of it, but the distribution of it. As with many things in our society, the wealth gravitates towards a minority. Those who have “made it” are the obvious ones, but more significantly I’m talking about the managerial class who create stable jobs for themselves on the back of precarious workers. This trend is increasing, and will continue, for as long as this group consolidate their power and, in turn, transform the cultural sector towards their primary goal (ie. making lots of money, whatever they might say to the contrary).

One new example of this is Hipgnosis, a UK investment fund that treats songs as financial assets. This means they buy up the rights to songs, like Bob Dylan’s back-catalogue – whereupon their goal is to increase the value of said songs for their new owners – eg. giving them prominence on streaming platforms, getting them placed in adverts, films and squeezing all the nostalgia they can out of them. But, of course, they’re only likely to buy songs from artists who are already a safe bet, most likely older artists willing to cash in their pension, as it were. They want already-proven “hits” that can be squeezed anew, and why not: Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing'” was streamed 10 million times a week in the last year.

Nothing reveals the truth more than that moniker “content creator”. The frame is the focus: you just fill it.

Putting aside the many questions this raises – and I think there are very pertinent questions about what this trend does to our culture – just ask yourself this: how can a sector of the economy worth £92bn – more than oil and gas, life sciences, aviation and the car industry combined – be creating steady, profitable jobs for investment funds, or PR companies, but be notoriously, flagrantly unstable for the actual art creators making work now? To the extent that the phrase ‘starving artist’ is a cliché?

It’s because the priority is the machine, the investments, the shareholders – not those doing the work. Nothing reveals that truth more than the moniker “content creator”. The frame is the focus: you just fill it. This ready acceptance of precarity is part of what made the arts uniquely unprepared for something as destabilising as a pandemic.

What hurts the arts, hurts our society

So far, so capitalism. But these trends, applied in the arts, have an outsized effect on our wider, communal life in our country. In a nutshell, what hurts the arts, hurts our society.

Culture and community are so interwoven as to be essentially the same thing. Culture is both the basis of community and the outworking of community. What affects our cultural spaces, affects the very core of our common life. In this case, if money is the driving factor in the making of art and culture, then our communal life itself becomes commodified. Our ways of gathering together, to sing songs, or watch games, or hear stories, happen in the shadows of vast advertising billboards, or on the stages of bizarre game shows.

Author and painter Makoto Fujimura puts it like this: 

An industrial map in the mid-twentieth century colored New York’s Hudson River black. The mapmakers considered a black river a good thing—full of industry! The more factory outputs, the more progress. When that map was made, “nature” was widely seen as a resource to be exploited. Few people considered the consequences of careless disposal of industrial waste. The culture has shifted dramatically over the last fifty years. When I share this story today, most people shudder and ask how anyone could think of a polluted river as good. But today we are doing the same thing with the river of culture. Think of the arts and other cultural enterprises as rivers that water the soil of culture. We are painting this cultural river black—full of industry, dominated by commercial interests, careless of toxic byproducts—and there are still cultural mapmakers who claim that this is a good thing. The pollution makes it difficult to for us to breathe, difficult for artists to create, difficult for any of us to see beauty through the murk.

Fujimura uses ‘beauty’ here in a very broad sense. It’s not just some pleasant ‘nice-to-have’, but the very humanness of life itself: meaningful human connection, spiritual revelation, joy, purpose, compassion: all of these things are threatened by a machine-like, money-driven approach to our own cultural spaces that alienates us from one another and any sense of community.

Yes, for now, art still flourishes in the dark, despite its constant manipulation: it’s a testament to its life and its potency, and of course to the many good people, inside or outside of the church, who strive for beauty and humanness against the tide. The many grants, funds and initiatives that exist are wonderful too, but they only underscore the fact that the ‘market’ approach to the arts doesn’t work on its own. Given the increasing pressure, soon it may not work at all.

Why should the church help? And how?

Frankly, I believe that everything I’ve described is the work of those ‘powers and forces’ that the Apostle Paul warned about: the dark influences warping human intent and appropriating good things for chaotic ends. As followers of Jesus, we long for our society to be more like the Kingdom of God, even though we accept that the work won’t be complete before Christ’s return – and in the arts, this has to mean overturning some tables, or rather, overturning the outdated concepts of work and value that have dominated our thinking (to the minority’s benefit) since the industrial revolution.

We should see the job of an artist as something like a carer: an unpaid, undervalued role, which nevertheless stops society from collapsing.

I began by mentioning just how much the arts are worth to our economy – but I no longer believe that the answer lies in simply paying artists more. Rather, we need category shifts in the way we look at art. Like Makoto Fujimura, we should worry about the state of our culture in the same way we worry about the state of our environment: because it affects all of us, and it reflects pretty poorly on us Christians if we are the ones neglecting it. Like Rookmaaker, we should see the job of an artist as something like a carer: an unpaid, undervalued role, which nevertheless stops society from collapsing.

If we haven’t seen in the past year how much we need culture-makers – the ones who cultivate our shared social spaces – then I can’t imagine what will convince us. But if artists are indeed carers of sorts, then expecting them to simultaneously make their work economically viable, while they keep our local communities alive, undermines everything.

To create a new model for artists is indeed a big feat of the imagination. But as Ursula LeGuin said:

We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art.

I love that Sputnik can give out £500 grants to a few artists a year – it’s a joy to be part of. But we haven’t begun to change the power dynamic at play. We want to think much bigger, and I long to see the church catch the vision for how important, and spiritually revitalising, change in the arts could be. For now, why not let your own imagination run for a minute: if we accepted that artists play a necessary social role, but an essentially unpaid one, how do you think the church should treat them? And what could we do, right now, to make that role possible? If we don’t start asking ourselves that, it may stop being feasible altogether.

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Rachel Zylstra and the Beautiful Sadness

Singer-songwriter Rachel Zylstra grew up in the American Midwest, but now calls Edinburgh her home, and her piano-led, naturalistic folk songs feel like they carry the hallmarks of both. Often they sound like they couldn’t be performed by anyone else, with swinging cadences and such easy, conversational delivery that you’re surprised these songs didn’t just fall out of the air fully-formed. It’s the kind of sleight-of-hand you expect from Rufus Wainwright, or Regina Spektor, and it’s remarkably hard to do well: but Rachel pulls it off with charm to spare.

At the start of the year, Rachel released ‘On Faith’, a new collection of more outwardly ‘sacred’ songs, that marks her first release in a few years. We chatted to Rachel to find out more about her musical journey, and how the various turns of her life have influenced her writing and outlook.

Would there be one song that you felt best summed up your music? Can you talk us through it?

Sure! Most of my songs have one or two of the lyrical themes below, but one of my faves that immediately comes to mind, has a whole tick list of them all in one place: ‘The Pity Party’ (from Strings, 2012)

  • Wistfulness
  • Self-deprecating humor
  • Mild wallowing
  • Tough love (“Stop your quivering, you giant little mouse”)
  • Pep-talking (“You’ve got the chance to make it up again as you go along”)
  • Romantic love/Anxiety about finding love (“Shield me from the blow… of being not enough to merit the inventions of someone I could love”)
  •  God/Spiritual longing – i.e. knowing that, after all these dramatrics, it’s actually very much Not About Me (“Point me to the thing that makes me full”). 

Musically, it’s my ‘classic’ sound: ballady, classical-influenced piano and a conversational vocal delivery; a touch of theatre; added to this, the sound gets souped up as it goes along with swoopy strings and some vocal counterpoint – brushing with chaos, but coming back, much like the arc of the lyrics.

Your latest album On Faith is the first you’ve released since moving continents. How has relocation affected how you approach your art?

Over the course of a decade living in NYC, I’d grown some strong ties in Christian and arts community. I had talented and generous musician friends who came on board to make music with me in different seasons, venues I knew I could always play. When I moved to test the waters in Edinburgh, I literally knew two people, so starting from square one connection-wise was the first challenge.

But, my relocation to Scotland was kicked off by a hopeful whim and a decision to nourish my personal life. As to how it would enhance my art and art production, I was pretty sure that spending time on the wistful windswept landscape would inspire some new beautiful-sadness type lyrics, but I didn’t think far beyond that.

I tend to write from an autobiographical perspective more often than not. So when (surprise!) a bunch started changing in my personal life after I moved, my personal life became a big distraction away from my regular art-making patterns, and also changed some of the themes that I felt inspired by and equipped to write about empathetically.

On top of that, you’ve recently had your first child. I know that many artists find it very difficult to juggle their art and the responsibilities that appear on becoming a new parent. How’s it going so far?

While I love being a mom, carving out the necessary time, energy, mental and physical space to create and rehearse with a toddler in tow, especially in a lockdown, especially while lacking access to a studio or equivalent – is a plain good joke! Seriously though, since my daughter was born, we’ve lived in a small 1-bed flat. We intend to move to a 2-bed soon, and I think I’ve already hung too much hopeful expectation on an extra room in the house and how it could “solve” these mental and physical space issues!

It’s fascinating to see the way your faith interacts with your music. On Faith is certainly more upfront in its Biblical subject matter and more explicitly worshipful than previous albums. What led you in this direction and what have you learnt so far about how following Jesus and making beautiful music can go together well?

Making On Faith actually wasn’t a sudden turn in direction, but the result of the accumulation of a number of Scripture songs and hymns that I’d penned or adopted over the years, sung in churches, etc, some of which had become all-out mantras for me in my faith walk (e.g. ‘Dayenu Lord’, written by Steffon Davis). My earliest original song on On Faith, ‘World Belongs’, dates back to 2000, and the most recent to 2018. These are years through which I was writing and putting out albums of my more ‘mainstream’ heartache/hope/humour-infused singer-songwriter fare, all the while thinking, “Someday I’ll do a full-on sacred/Scripture songs album.” So, in part it came down to practicalities – I didn’t dare try to stick a bombastically worshipful song like ‘Psalm 65’ on a track list next to a song pining for an ex-boyfriend – though, I’m sure some have succeeded at this level of diversity on a record!

Making On Faith… I guess if I dig deeper to answer the “why now?” question – why not have made it 5, 10 years ago? – I am reminded of the trajectory of my faith and life circumstances. My late 20s and into my 30s I was growing in disillusionment – initially, in not achieving a commercial success with my art that I had really hoped for and pursued; then, in longing for marriage, while simply not meeting that person. My faith took a big nose dive in my early 30s and spiritual/existential doubt became a major theme in my songs then. The Tacit Turn (2015) reflects this period. I felt “held” through that season, and ultimately, brought back from the agnostic edge, but I wasn’t singing from a place of spiritual strength, rather of deep vulnerability. Granted, God meets us in deep vulnerability… 

When I came to Scotland in 2016 on a wing and a prayer and a visitor’s visa, and within the three years that followed, fell in love, got married, and had a baby – I was kind of bludgeoned by the evidence that God is there, and listens. God listened to my prayers and my heartaches and my longings, was with me through a long desert of waiting, and finally answered, “Here you go, Rachel” and showered me with all these ‘Yes’-es.

So, when my daughter was 6 months old and my new-parent feet felt more firmly planted underneath me, I asked: what’s next on the musical agenda? – and the project that has become On Faith budged its way to the top of my consciousness. I didn’t question it hugely then; I figured – hey it’s just time to get this one out. But I see now that it was a response. I had to respond explicitly to what God had just done in my life, and give all the glory where it’s due. I felt in a stronger place to do it, and to mean it with all my heart. Even if my faith-feeling still ebbs and flows at times, my life shows God’s outrageous provision and love, undeniably, in spite of me.

You can get hold of ‘On Faith’ at Rachel’s website, here, and follow Rachel on Instagram here.

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The sounds of nature, as heard by Michael Dornan

Devon-based musician Michael Dornan has released the first instalment of his new ‘Flora & Fauna’ project, a self-produced effort recorded at home during the pandemic, featuring all manner of remote collaborations.

We sent Michael some questions to fill us in on the project, his journey so far and the inspirations behind his quirky brand of nature-inspired indie-folk.

Can you talk us through your journey as a musician so far?

Well, when I was a kid I learned so much at the old upright piano at home. It had been my grandpa’s – he was a music teacher, choirmaster, accompanied silent movies – and I’d listen to the TV or radio and try to recreate what I heard. It was a little imaginative refuge.

And later, still in County Antrim, I got loads of experience with a female-fronted classic-rock-for-Jesus band. Being the main songwriter and not the singer, I had to be pretty adaptable – and though I go out of my way to not publicise that stuff now, I did develop my chops there. But my biggest influences were solo artists: Stevie Wonder, Brian Wilson, Joanna Newsom. Later in Oxford, I found my voice composition-wise with an amazing band, Praxis Bold. Kinda indie-jazz-folk, so we called it in-j-oke.

You’ve made music in a variety of contexts, from being in bands with people who aren’t Christians, through to music more solely focused on a church audience. What have you learnt from those experiences? Where would you say you fit best?

When I find out where I fit, I’ll let you know! There are so many nuances in this question, I’m glad you dig into the spiritual stuff at Sputnik. As a reader/listener, I love artists who create a little world that I can briefly visit, after which I look at my own world slightly differently. That’s what I want to do. And if I were to fence off my work to all but one group of people, as I once unintentionally did, then I’m not using my abilities to the full. Back to Stevie and Brian – from them I learned that if you have love in you, you put it into every note of every song. That’s what I’ve tried to do with this new record.

As a solo artist, you seem to collaborate very effectively. What advice would you give singer songwriters who have a strong vision for what they want to do who find that they cannot pull it off on their own?

Still thinking of creative partnerships extra ecclesiam, we all had really different views and tastes in Praxis Bold. One night we swapped instruments – bassist on keys, me on bass, which I’m not native to – and we came up with probably our best song ever, from outside our comfort zones. A live staple that remains sadly unreleased. Another time I brought something I’d written, and no-one trashed it, but after a session the guys agreed, “this doesn’t sound like Praxis Bold”. That’s a marvel – we were discovering the character of an entity bigger than ourselves.

It’s different as a solo artist. Instead of a Venn diagram of overlapping interests, you have a circle! So anything goes, but to feel alive you still need the oxygen of community. That’s been harder to come by since Covid. I was going to meet up with a couple of the Praxis guys last March, but… you know what happened in March. So with a new record in the pipeline, I went back to my drawing-board, and decided that with the help of some session musicians, I could make something quite kaleidoscopic from home.

So we have beautiful sounds from violinist Joanna Karselis, a film composer in her own right, but gracious enough to work with the skronky scores I suggested to her; some awesome upright bass from Madalena Graca, who I found online and thought – she’ll vibe with this weird song I have. The key is seeking out people you trust to interpret your ideas with their own hands.

If you had to put music in one of the following categories, which would it be: fun, work, calling?

It’s all of the above at different times, but let me put it like this: if I didn’t have the sense of calling, it would’ve slotted comfortably into the category of “fun” by now.

What does success look like to you?

That’s a little like ‘what does health look like to you’ – a question my wife’s been writing about recently. In both cases, I’d probably say staying active enough to keep going for the long run. I’d lost a lot of momentum because I didn’t do that. I didn’t do that because I had to go away and reimagine myself. Success comes when you’re engaging with people – ideas are shared, or feet start moving, or someone’s sufficiently moved to throw fruit at you.

The new project seems to have been a long time gestating, but by the sounds of it, is coming on great. Can you talk us through it?

Thanks for that. This album is called Flora and Fauna, and is broadly a project about creativity and nature. On the creativity front, the song I mentioned with upright bass is about seeking inspiration – it’s based on a baroque piece by Henry Purcell. The album also has a bit of an obsession with St Cecilia (patron saint of music). And in the past year, little corners of nature have given us all the inspiration we’ve needed, in our daily escapes from home. So there are songs about that small-scale magic, including one about the first time I saw kingfishers, which changed my life.

Of course, trees, insects, they all live great lives without human interaction. I’ve tried to make sure my own voice isn’t the only one involved. On Flora and Fauna there are field recordings I made of birdsong, and a software percussion instrument made only from sounds (wood on wood) I could make in a Bristol forest. And joyously, Emma my wife sings lead on a few tracks. The thing with the biological world is, it’s so diverse I can’t have only a few different sounds on here. Trumpets, synths, crickets at Land’s End – I wanted them all to be part of it.

The first half of ‘Flora and Fauna’ is out now on Bandcamp! Keep your eyes peeled for an upcoming Kickstarter to help finish the project and fund printed copies. Follow Michael’s progress on Instagram or Twitter.

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Are you a patron, or a consumer?

Arts patronage sounds very grand. It’s the kind of lofty practice that built St Peters. It is the realm of rich philanthropists and open handed millionaires.

The only thing is that, well… it’s not. In a way, we are all patrons of the arts whether we like it or not. We all buy stuff, or at the very least stream stuff, and our attention and the capital behind it encourages more art like that to be made. 

This should cause us to be careful about the art we consume, but more than that, I think it is a warning against viewing our art engagement through the lens of ‘consumption’ at all.

Our society is not known as consumerist for nothing. We are offered different diets in all the different areas of our lives, and we make almost all of our choices like we’re ordering from a menu. The watchword is value for money and the key question is how can I get what I want for as little money as possible?

Now, it’s easy to write off this system completely, but I personally think that this is an acceptable course of action when deciding which green beans to buy in Aldi. 

It is not, however, a good way to approach art.

Muddy digital waters

Obviously in the good old days, this was more clear cut. Let’s take music, for example. Twenty years ago, to listen to the music you wanted to listen to when you wanted to listen to it, you had three options: a) Buy a physical copy, b) Copy it, c) Steal it. 

C was obviously bad. B was basically the same as C (and deep down we all knew it). Therefore, if we wanted to appease our consciences, we were left with A!

Fast forward to today. Not saying it’s better. Not saying it’s worse. It’s just different. At least in some artforms. 

Take music and film as two examples. Almost none of us pay for individual artistic products in these disciplines anymore. Obviously, there are still DVD collectors and I’ve heard cassettes may be making a comeback, but for the vast majority of people, we choose our provider, pay our subscription, then stream.

I think, for music, it’s 0.004p a song. Might work if you have 10 million streams (and an advertising deal, and a sold out world tour). Not good if you are feeling your way, trying things out and producing promising but flawed music that could evolve into something great. 

If we all continue to approach art as consumers now, we will probably kill off the artists who exist in the ‘aspiring’ category, and ensure that the art that survives is unchallenging, populist and totally forgettable.

Yes, the production costs for emerging musicians have gone down (no CDs to press) but there was always a real buzz about breaking even when you’d printed up 1,000 CDs. It is not so encouraging when you spend hours and days and weeks crafting your opus, only to receive back £12.50 from AWAL for 6 months of solid streams. 

It must be even harder for filmmakers, and it’s likely to get harder. In terms of film, we’ve already got very used to watching most of our content for free on YouTube and Vimeo. Of course, we stream major releases, but you are not likely to find your friend’s short film in the Amazon Prime search bar. 

If we all continue to approach art as consumers now, we will probably kill off the artists who exist in the ‘aspiring’ category, and ensure that the art that survives is unchallenging, populist and totally forgettable. 

Or worse, any artist who wishes to make a living from their work will have to bow before corporations to sell their products. Who knows what the future holds for live art, but what we do know is that we’re likely to be spending more time in front of screens post-COVID, not less. This means that we will be spending more time being sold stuff. This means that, while other revenue streams dry up, the lure of advertisers will increase and artists who are willing to jump on that train will get paid, while others won’t.

I’m in no way suggesting that artists shouldn’t work for corporations or contribute towards advertisements. In many disciplines, to draw a line here would be career suicide. However, surely this should be an exception rather than the rule. Surely, we don’t want the corporations to be the sole patrons of the arts. That would be a bad thing, right?

Approaching art as patrons, not consumers

Now, I’m not suggesting there is an easy fix for all of this, and there are complexities here that need to be fleshed out at much more length. However, if enough of us made an effort to approach art as patrons not as consumers, surely it would improve the situation.

When it comes to art, especially our friends’ art, I think we need to learn to turn off the consumerist part of our brains and act in a different way. 

What could this look like? Here are a couple of practical examples.

1. A local musician releases an album on Bandcamp, asking you to pay whatever you want. 

A consumer does one of two things. They either download it for free or shrug their shoulders and wait till it comes out on Apple Music. 

But what does a patron do? A patron pays them for their trouble. I mean seriously, even if it’s not a classic, have you heard many albums that are of less value than a medium sized Costa latte? Surely £2.50 is not asking too much just as an act of respect for the human enterprise of music making. If you actually enjoy it, why not go back and download it again and bump it up to a tenner?

This is not generosity. This is not giving to charity. This is common sense. If you want more music like that made again, pay the artists so that they might have another go. 

2. A film maker friend of yours goes off the radar for 6 months to work on a short film. 

You hear about the project when you see a Facebook event for the film screening (this is, of course, in the far distant future).

A consumer again does one of two things. He assumes he can blag a Vimeo code off his friend later on, so stays in that night to continue binge watching The Crown from his sofa. Alternatively, he pesters his friend for a place on the guest list. After all, they’re bound to have got an Arts council grant at some point anyway, so why do they need my money?

But what does a patron do? Firstly, a patron turns up. Secondly, she pays for her ticket without moaning. Thirdly, she, at the very least, buys her friend a couple of drinks afterwards. Maybe some merch, if there is some.

If we care about the arts, we need to change our mindset, from that of consumer to that of patron when engaging with the art that we say we care about.

Again, these are not the actions of a maverick altruist. They are simply the things you do if you value the art that you are consumi… sorry. Start again.

They are simply the things you do if you value the art that you are enjoying. The art that is firing your imagination. The art that is putting you in touch with your humanity. However imperfect it may be.

These are just two examples, and I’m sure you can think of many more. The specifics are not the point. The point is that, if we care about the arts, we need to change our mindset, from that of consumer to that of patron when engaging with the art that we say we care about.

And that is the case whether you are an appreciator of art or an artist yourself. At Sputnik, we’ve always underlined that we’re here to give money to artists, not pester them to give money to us. This is still the case and will not be changing any time soon. However, the call to patronage is for artists too. In fact, there is a sense that if you don’t pick up this role with others, it is hard to see how you can complain if others (for example, your church) refuses to take up this role with you.

I remember a few years ago, a friend of mine moaning about the fact that an album that she’d just released (on a reasonably reputable label) had been downloaded illegally something like 12,000 times from a particular torrent site (I told you it was a few years ago). I expressed my condolences, but was slightly less sympathetic when she revealed that she downloaded almost all of the music she listened to from similar sites. This was blatant hypocrisy. 

Let’s model the attitude that we want others to have to our art and if, to fund this spirit of patronage, you need to pass on the occasional medium sized Costa latte, well, you know, your reward will be in heaven!

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Chibundu Onuzo’s characters show a powerful hope in humanity

Social pressures are a recurring theme for author Chibundu Onuzo; unsurprising, you might say, considering she was the youngest female author to be signed by Faber & Faber, aged 19. That debut novel, The Spider King’s Daughter, was published two years later, and went on to win a Betty Trask Award.

Chibundu has described the experience as overwhelming, making her follow-up that much harder to write. Nonetheless, the ensemble novel Welcome to Lagos gathered critical acclaim, drawing on her childhood years in Nigeria while managing to show a nuanced, challenging, entertaining and hilarious range of human experience.

Faith is a notable feature of Welcome to Lagos, but so is injustice, inequality, and the social pressures that meet successful young women. “[Lagos] is not a place you can romanticise,” Chibundu has said, but one of the most intriguing aspects of the novel is an optimism about human nature, and our ability to better ourselves. Its Afrocentrism and the roundedness of her characters has put her at the forefront of a movement towards decolonising our literary scene, breaking old stereotypes and re-presenting the Nigerian diaspora in their full, human complexity.

Ironically, Chibundu was raised on British classics – eg. Great Expectations, Pride & Prejudice etc – and only read Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart after moving to an English boarding school at 14. “When I meet other African writers now we talk about sharing this feeling that our lives were provincial and the white experience was universal,” she says. “We felt that the world was happening elsewhere.” If the next generations of young authors feel differently, it will be thanks to the likes of Chibundu Onuzo.

Don’t miss Chibundo Onuzo in our brand new ‘Spotlight On..’ series in 2021 – with a live talk and Q&A discussing her journey and practice. Get tickets here!

Chibundu is great to follow on Instagram, too. 

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Don’t patronise artists by not patronising artists

One of my first questions to artists when we started Sputnik was “how can the church support you more effectively?” The answer was always immediate, instinctive and apologetic, and it was always the same.


At first, I thought that they were being facetious. I mean, you can’t go around asking for money. From churches at that. How brazen! However soon, it started to sink in.

After all, it’s not that different to what James writes in his letter:

Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, 16 and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?

The churches that I connect with have an increasing openness to supporting the arts and artists, but it is often of the ‘God bless you. We appreciate you’ variety, but often stalls at the payment end of things! You could say that this is better than nothing, but in reality, to do the first without the second is demotivating, annoying and quickly appears very insincere. 

I got a small flavour of this a few years ago when I was in talks with a church about putting on an event for artists. Leaders from this church had been very encouraging to me personally and verbally supportive of Sputnik (we love your heart/what you’re doing is valuable and important/keep going) and as far as I saw it, they’d agreed for me to put on an event for the artists in their church and others from surrounding churches too.

I was happy to do all the legwork, do the presentation, etc., and I wasn’t expecting payment. However, I also wasn’t expecting to be told that I’d have to pay for room hire and for the attendees’ lunches too! Not getting paid is one thing, but paying £800 to provide a service is another thing entirely. I politely declined the ‘opportunity’.

It seems that when it comes to church and art, there is certainly a disconnect regarding money. Although this is only one of many reasons churches and artists often miss each other, it is an important one.

Therefore, we don’t want to just talk about art. We don’t even just want to build community for artists or profile their work. We want to fund them. In fact, we don’t even want to stop there. Why keep all the fun to ourselves? We want to sweep Christians (individuals and churches) back up in the joy of arts patronage.

We want to be able to say: this is from the church. The church that has made mistakes in this area. The church that may have taken you for granted before. But the church who is really trying to learn in this area.

For this reason, we started our patrons scheme in 2017, and since then we’ve slowly built up a group of lovely patrons, both individuals and churches, who provide the funds that we can distribute to artists in the form of grants for specific projects. When COVID hit, we rerouted these funds towards our Emergency Artist Fund, but now, we’re swinging our attention back to the patronage scheme. In light of this, we wanted to shine the spotlight back on to arts patronage and put forward the ‘whys’, ‘hows’ and ‘whats’ of supporting artists.

Yes, we are going to be asking you to give money to something. But, it’s not to us. We want to be a funnel to get money to as many Christ following artists as we can. And, with every penny, we want to be able to say: this is from the church. The church that has made mistakes in this area. The church that may have taken you for granted before. But the church who is really trying to learn in this area.

I’m not looking for the evangelical church to wind the clock back to the Middle Ages. If my memory serves me correctly, the church’s benevolence towards the arts in those days had its drawbacks! However, I am hopeful that we can do better than we have done in recent times.

Take, for example, the church I mentioned above. I was pretty fed up from the interactions described above, but with a bit of hindsight, I kind of get it. I probably didn’t communicate all that clearly and made assumptions along the way. More to the point though, that same church have more than made up for that slight misunderstanding in subsequent years and have given us genuine, concrete – and yes, financial – support since, for which I am very grateful.

If we can see past the blunders of the past, I think that this is a real moment for the church to grab hold again of its important role in patronising the arts, and if you’re even a little bit interested in getting involved, stick with us for the next few blog posts and we’ll spell out how that might look.

In the meantime, please feel free to peruse our back catalogue on this subject and hopefully we’ll see you next time. 

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2020 by Artists: Looking forward to new things

In an interview a few years back, the American installation artist Theaster Gates said this:

“There are two ways of approaching the plight of a place. You could either focus on the absolutely negative and curse the government and curse the people and curse the apathy. Or you could focus on the possibilities, you could focus on the hope of a place.”

I don’t know whether Gates’ hope is simply a humanistic hope for the best or something more than that, but his focus on looking forward to a better future rather than wallowing in a less than satisfactory present is a very Christian one.

As Christians we are people of hope. Like Gates, we understand that the future mostly consists of possibilities, not certainties, but we do hold on to one as-yet-unrealised state of affairs with some force. As followers of Jesus, we have a firm confidence that good will ultimately triumph. A confidence not based on wishful thinking but on verifiable facts of history, deep reflections on the nature of reality and personal experiences of interactions with our creator.

Many Christians, especially Christian artists, land here too quickly and their hope can come across as a flimsy optimism. I was so pleased to see that, in the work submitted to the ‘in the rough’ exhibition, the hope communicated was a little more rugged and I’d like to end our review of the year by highlighting four pieces that lead us out of our present plight into a future of glorious possibilities.

Gunwall Stretch by Jeremy Bunce

‘Gunwall Stretch’ – Jeremy Bunce

“The hills are alive!” sang Julie Andrews as she whirled around the green pastures of Salzburg. I’m sure she’d have repeated the sentiment if she’d ever had the pleasure to witness Jeremy Bunce’s Gunwall Stretch. I have nothing particularly profound to write about this painting except to say that it reminds me that there is life out there amidst all the death. There is vibrancy waiting to peep through our sorrow. There may be dark clouds on the horizon (note the top left corner), but you hardly notice them when you see the crazy energy and joy that God has injected into his creation.

‘Veni E’ – Finglestein

‘On those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned’ Isaiah prophesied about 2 and a half thousand years ago. About half a millennium later, that light came. God with us. Immanuel. John Mason Neale’s famous advent hymn ‘O Come O Come Emmanuel’ expresses the rugged hope I wrote of earlier. It is mostly a desperate plea to God for deliverance but, of course, each verse concludes with God’s answer, the promise of His own dramatic intervention to not just rescue his people but come to live with us. However, despite this explicit call to celebration, this is usually the reflective, somewhat sombre scene setter for the carol service (and a fine scene setter it is too!). Not for Mark Farrin, a.k.a. Finglestein. This is boogie around your kitchen music. And when that crunchy guitar solo comes in at 2:30, I’m forgetting the loneliness and captivity of the pandemic and I’m rejoicing. Jesus dispersed the gloomy clouds when he came to us once before and He will come again. Rejoice!

Apocalyptic Lockdown Blues

Rounding all this off, I want to finish with two of my favourite COVID motivated pieces from the Sputnik stable, and they both feature David Benjamin Blower. At the end of April, one of two lockdown EPs appeared, entitled ‘Apocalyptic Lockdown Blues’. It’s all gold, but for me the title track shines the brightest. Though it was written less than a month in, it is the most penetrating and profound reflection on the Coronavirus crisis that I’ve come across anywhere.

On one level, listening to it simply plonks you straight back into that ‘strange hiatus’ of the first lockdown as David reminds us of the days when we all applauded from our windows, tried to suppress coughs in supermarket queues and suddenly noticed the deafening birdsong that had been drowned out when cars were allowed to leave their driveways.

But David heard something else. A groaning going on within our ‘Sabbath of grief’ that did not go away when the first round of lockdown measures began to be lifted.

For many of us in the last year, we’ve stared vacantly out of the windows of our isolation bedrooms and we’ve also gazed wistfully out of the windows of Jozef Pyper Egerton’s beachside apartment. David calls us now to a new posture. He pictures us…

‘… praying out of windows
for the soul of the earth
Oh for a New Thing
Oh for the Day of Rebirth’

For him, the experience of seeing the natural world come alive just outside our windows, but somehow still remain painfully out of reach to us while locked inside, awakens in us the desire for the coming kingdom that is nearby, but still not yet. The final verse gives us an encouragement to remember that groaning, but for me, it strikes me more as a warning not to forget:

And all are awaiting
For the world to awaken
From this strange and apocalyptic dream
but not back to how it used to be
Remember what was seen
In this sabbath of griefs

But what do we do as we wait, as we pray and as we groan? Well, one of the things we do is make art. This is far from a futile gesture. It is not even just assisting our own mental wellbeing. We’re documenting moments, infusing them with meaning and casting new and hopeful visions of what is to come. But we can’t do this on our own. Even in our creative practice, we must refuse to give in to the loneliness and separation of lockdown and embrace a new thing. We must cross borders and connect with like minded practitioners and allies.

Making art is far from a futile gesture. It is not even just assisting our own mental wellbeing. We’re documenting moments, infusing them with meaning and casting new and hopeful visions of what is to come.

In the first post in this series of reflections on 2020, I shared a lesson I’d learnt this year, and I want to finish with another one, before illustrating it with a final piece of art. I end this year convinced that art is very important. I also end it convinced that artists need to be connected together, and perhaps Christians need these connections even more. So, I look back on a year when Sputnik have done all we can to connect artists who follow Jesus, even though all of our normal ways to do that were blocked. We put on our online Industry Notes events, we moved all our Hubs on to Zoom and we started our Sputnik Slack, which is already proving to be a great environment to facilitate genuine, meaningful relationships. (Want to find out for yourself? Be our guest!)

Cabin fever is not fertile soil for good art. We need to cross borders and we at Sputnik HQ are very much looking forward to taking the skills we learnt this year into 2021 and beyond to help you do that.

And why do I think that may be a fruitful enterprise? Well, because of pieces like Sarah Rabone’s ‘From The Windows’ (inspired by David Benjamin Blower). Even when we’re locked up in our houses, we can be inspired by other pieces of work to create our own ‘new things’. Our lockdown kitchens can become dance studios. Our separation can still breed collaboration.

I’m looking from the windows and I’m praying for new things. Yes, the fulfilment of that groan will come when Jesus returns, but in the meantime, I’m expecting many other deposits of the new creation. New things that his groaning people create along the way. New things that you could bring into existence as a secretary, a commentator or a hope bringer.

Here’s to 2021. A year of new things.

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2020 by Artists: Searching for meaning in the chaos

Artists don’t just document events, they seek out the meaning that lies behind those events. As Pope John Paul II put it:

Every genuine artistic intuition goes beyond what the senses perceive and, reaching beneath reality’s surface, strives to interpret its hidden mystery.

(Letter to Artists, 1999)

In a sense, no true piece of art ever just documents, as I’m sure you can see in the pieces I’ve mentioned so far. However, some pieces that were submitted to the ‘in the rough’ exhibition were certainly more explicit in their commentary on the events of the year. It’s probably best for me to say at this point that the commentary that I see in these artworks may not have been intended by the artist in exactly the way I will suggest, but in the context of the events that surrounded them, I hope I’m not wildly misreading them.

The Great Worldwide Dugnad by Trygve Skogran

‘The Great Worldwide Dugnad’ – Trygve Skogran

Norwegian artist Trygve Skogran’s ‘The Great Worldwide Dugnad’ is a playful editing of a masterpiece by painter Adolph Tidemand. Skogran explains the concept of the piece:

In my home country Norway, we have a much-beloved word: “dugnad”. It means: working voluntarily and without pay for the common good. In a small, and up to quite recently, very poor country, the idea that we all have to stand together and work together to survive has been so important through generations, that now it is cemented as one of the main things we believe define us as a people.

For Skogran, the sacrifices we are enduring through the pandemic are a dugnad, an act of service for the common good. The dugnad that he focuses on in this piece is Christians enduring restrictions to the way we worship. I don’t think he intended the piece as polemic against Christians who have refused to take up this dugnad, but it certainly exists as one now!

Banquet of Consequences by Duncan Stewart

‘Banquet of Consequences’ – Duncan Stewart

Even if Skogran’s piece acts as a gentle indictment, its tone is gentle and playful. The same cannot be said for Duncan Stewart’s ‘Banquet of Consequences.’ Posted on to the artist’s facebook page on 7th July, it landed as the public mood, at least in the UK, had dramatically shifted. The early days of the pandemic were marked by an ‘all in this together’ sort of camaraderie, clapping for carers, praying for Boris Johnson, checking on our elderly neighbours, but by July, tensions had significantly heightened.

Politicians weren’t following their own rules, millionaire footballers were partying while the rest of us self isolated, and those who were appointed to protect and serve murdered a man in Minneapolis, seemingly because of the colour of his skin. Notice though that this painting doesn’t single out any specific wrongdoer or wrongdoing. It simply stands as a stark reminder: actions have consequences, the chickens do come home to roost, you reap what you sow. Or as Robert Louis Stevenson said in the quote that inspired the painting’s title ‘Sooner or later everyone sits down to a banquet of consequences.’ As I look at the silhouettes of figures in the picture, I’m asking are we the vultures or are we the meat? Perhaps the artist is implying that we’re both.

It reminds me of Ezekiel 24, where God pictures his people as meat to be thrown into a pot and cooked, because of the blood that they themselves had shed. Is the pandemic itself divine judgement on us all? I think that any kneejerk answer to that question is a bad idea, however, it’s a question that we surely need to ask and wrestle with. Duncan helps us do that brilliantly with this visceral, ominous image.

untitled – Kate Crumpler

And wherever we land on that question, in the Bible there is always a fitting response to disaster. Repentance. In Luke 13, Jesus comments on two local tragedies and he raises a question very similar to the one above: did these things happen as direct punishment for the victims’ sin? He answers ‘no’, but applies it to his hearers as if he’d said ‘yes’: “unless you repent, you too will all perish.” (Luke 13, 3 and 5). Kate Crumpler’s short video piece presents her as the performance artist/prophet in the mould of Ezekiel, Isaiah or Jeremiah. Like the bloody cross in Benjamin Harris’ ‘Friar’, her message is unheeded as the streets are empty, but repentance is always first and foremost a personal act. As she enacts her weary trudge through suburban streets, clad in actual sackcloth, she surely points us to the most fitting response any of us could have to this year’s events. Again it leaves us with more questions than answers. For example, who is she repenting for? Herself? The church? Her nation? More excellent questions to ponder. Thank you Kate.

Well, that’s a downer! Ho ho ho! Merry Christmas and all that. In my defence, it has been a pretty grim year! However, for all its grimness and for all the sin and death and vultures and sackcloth and consumable human flesh, as Christians, we are a people of hope. And as Christians who make art, the artistic instinct to reimagine the future, combined with the Christian hope of the restoration of all things is a potent combination. As I’ll share tomorrow, you can see (and hear) that for yourself.

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2020 by Artists: An emotional response to lockdown

As the pandemic hit, we had to pull the plug on our Spring and Summer programme. We were left with a blank page. As we thought about how to fill it, one of the first projects to emerge was our ‘in the rough’ exhibition. We wanted to collate and exhibit the artwork that was going to be produced during this time. The pandemic certainly hasn’t been a creative muse for all artists but, for many, as we guessed, it has turned out to be an environment very conducive to creative productivity – and some of that has been captured in our simple online gallery.

Some of the work was simply people processing creatively to help them stay sane. Some pieces were conceived of before we’d ever heard of wet markets, furloughs and lockdown and the pandemic simply allowed these ideas to be brought to completion. However, other pieces in the exhibition either stand as powerful documents of 2020 or commentaries on the events of the past year.

The jazz musician Max Roach once wrote:

Two theories (of art) exist. One is that art is for the sake of art. That is true. The other theory, which is also true, is that the artist is like a secretary… He keeps a record of his time.’

Several artists in and around our network have performed this function admirably this year. Five images stand out for me in this regard.

Isolation Bedroom (ink) by Hannah Carroll

‘Isolation Bedroom’ – Hannah Carroll

A number of friends have told me that they struggled to get out of bed for days on end in the Spring, but even for those of us who dived straight into PE with Joe or home renovations, I’m sure Hannah Carroll’s ink sketch ‘Isolation Bedroom’ will resonate with you. We all got to know the four walls of our isolation bedrooms (and kitchens and living rooms) very well over those first few months!

Friar (oil and blood on canvas) by Benjamin Harris

‘Friar’ – Benjamin Harris

And when, in mid April, we did gaze out of our windows (an image that I’ll return to again and again in these posts) or go out for our rationed hour of exercise, this is what we saw. Empty roads and closed shops. This painting, ‘Friar (Oil and blood on canvas)’ is part of Benjamin Harris’ ongoing series focusing on the St George’s flag. This piece is probably best viewed in contrast to the other pieces in the series. In ‘St George (oil on board)’ and ‘Victoria Square’, the flag (painted in the artist’s blood) is a symbol for people to rally around. It’s not just that, in both paintings, the object is surrounded by people, it’s the fact that many of these people are gathering to the flag itself. In Friar, on the other hand, the flag continues sending out its rallying cry, but nobody can hear it. That could be viewed as a good thing because of what that flag has come to represent but, for some reason, the idea of a failed rallying cry has a deep air of melancholy about it for me. I find this a haunting and evocative image.

Untitled by Pyper Jozef Egerton

‘Untitled’ – Pyper Jozef Egerton

But then a new feeling set in. Perhaps it wasn’t so bad in our isolation bedrooms after all. Perhaps the stillness of our empty streets didn’t only speak of absence but was also an invitation to notice the world that has always been there, but that we’ve ignored in all of the commerce and commuting. Pyper Jozef Egerton’s hopeful, untitled image is a step outside of the isolation bed and, for me, signals the beginning of an appreciation of the enforced sabbatical that both we and the world around us had to come to terms with. Of course, it probably helps your general mood if you have this sort of view to look out at but, all the same, I can certainly remember the days when the stillness of the outside world turned from an eerie source of fear to a source of wonder.

‘Cabin Fever’ / ‘Crossing Borders’ – Jennifer Litts

Jennifer Litts’ two pieces, ‘Cabin Fever’ and ‘Crossing Borders’, bring a number of these themes together. We didn’t have to just reconcile ourselves to an unhurried, unsullied natural world, but also to each other. And I’d like to hope that we did. We found ways to get out of our boxes to support and comfort each other. It may not have involved the physical touch presented in the second piece, but as we got to grips with the situation and the technology at our disposal, we found meaningful ways to connect.

So, that was some of what happened and that may well echo some of what we felt at different points over the year, but what did it all mean? Tomorrow, I’ll highlight some more artworks that look to more deliberately get beneath the skin of what happened this year.

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After the Year of Not Gathering, art is more important than ever

In an alternative universe somewhere, a parallel version of myself is writing a review of 2020 and is waxing lyrical about an event that happened at the end of May, the first national meet up of Sputnik artists since our very early days. “Well, the weather was all right, wasn’t it?” – he quips, May 2020 being the sunniest calendar month on record in the UK.

And what a line up! Daniel Blake, Marlita Hill, TJ Koleoso, Pip Piper… And, of course, all the new friendships, collaborations and encouragements that sprung naturally from a load of us camping together for two days over the May bank holiday at (what we decided about a year ago to call) The Gathering.

A Gathering. Back in our universe, that word seems strange, even somewhat mystical at the end of this year.

2020 was meant to be the year of the Gathering for Sputnik. Instead, of course, it’s been the year of not gathering for all of us!

There’s obviously a solemnity and weight to that. Many people have died. Many people have lost their jobs. Many people’s businesses have gone under. For artists in particular, the inability to gather has made this year particularly difficult. The controversial ‘Fatima’s next job could be in cyber’ advert that came out in October may have been promptly pulled, but the reality behind it is more difficult to sidestep. 2020 has certainly forced many artists to consider whether they need to retrain and I wonder how many young people, real life Fatimas, who started the year looking to pursue a career in the arts are now thinking twice about that course of action.

In the light of all of this, I can’t just give you the highlights reel of the Sputnik year like usual. A year like 2020 demands more considered reflection. It’s not like nothing has happened in Sputnikville. Far from it. We’ve adapted, like most people have adapted, and seen many positives hidden in amongst the chaos. However, as I stumble out of the dust and rubble of what has certainly been the strangest year I’ve ever lived through, I want to kick off my reflections by outlining an important lesson that I’ve learnt this year.

I’ve learnt that Art is more important than ever.

I don’t want Fatima to retrain in cyber. I can see why she would but I don’t think it’s a good idea. I don’t want to trade in our actors for bankers, our musicians for solicitors, our poets for accountants. And I don’t think that this is just personal preference. That wouldn’t end well for any of us.

One thing to be said for COVID-19 is that it has pulled us all to an almighty halt and caused us to question certain elements of modern life that we’d come to take for granted. On the back of such an opportunity, I’d like to hope that there is a genuine possibility for far reaching societal change on the back of this pandemic and, for that reason, we need artists more than ever.

In my experience, artists are at their best when challenging accepted norms and reimagining the future.

Now then is the time for artists to step up, not to jump ship. That means that now is the time to support artists, not to abandon them.

We need whole waves, even communities of artists, who can speak in all the different languages of artistry, to throw their weight behind the re-humanization effort.

The trajectory of western culture in recent times has been deeply concerning. For decades, the human being has been slowly and irresistibly reduced, first into a mere consumer and more recently into that least human of things, data. Our brains have been systematically rewired by the internet so that our attention, or what is left of it, is only able to focus on the most shallow and ephemeral targets. Self interest is now ethical high mindedness. War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.

And, in case nobody has noticed, evangelical Christianity is very politely doing its best to self destruct before everyone else does. Worship as entertainment. Pastors as celebrities. Abuse of power. Sex scandals.

Many of us have had an inkling that we’ve been ripe for a change for some time. This year, we’ve actually had time to reflect on this and found that our inkling was bang on.

But to step into a different future, we have to be able to imagine that future. To choose a different ending, someone needs to have told us the story. This is where artists come in. This is where WE come in.

Milton Keynes based poet, Sharon Clark, put it like this in a poem she wrote in October:

Writing is
for dreamers
who conjure up different worlds
-better worlds-
in the hope
that this world
will be
through their

But it is not just up to the writers. It’s also not just up to a handful of genius Artists to conjure up these better worlds. We need whole waves, even communities of artists, who can speak in all the different languages of artistry, to throw their weight behind the re-humanization effort.

If this is all sounding a bit humanistic for your liking, consider the examples we find in Scripture. Who are the bridge builders between the Old and New Testaments? Who are the people that God uniquely calls to lead his people from the wreckage of exile into the glory of the New Covenant? It’s the prophets. As we’ve written about before on this website, these people should not be seen primarily as ministers or even through the lens of the modern prophet: all booming voice and charisma. They were artists.  Most of them were poets. Many of them, like Ezekiel and Jeremiah, were performers.

And funnily enough, who do we find rounding off the Christian Scriptures and leading us out of the apostolic age? A guy called John who specialized in wacky, subversive, dystopian (or perhaps utopian) apocalyptic literature. Another artist.

And if we rewind to the very beginning, it is God, the artist, who makes the most dramatic re-imagining of all. From something to nothing. Chaos to order. Dancing over the seas. Speaking life into being. Fashioning dust and breath into Adam.

The world needs artists. The church needs artists. God knows it. I think that churches are beginning to learn it.

I really hope that we, the artists, catch hold of it too.

And so, if we’re going to reflect on this year properly, we’d be foolish to turn to anyone else. Therefore, in our next post, we will find out how artists viewed 2020…

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Bristol Faith & Arts Day moves Online

Sputnik loves to connect Christian artistic practitioners together, and usually we find that the best way to do that is in a specific locality. To that end, we’ve been exploring for a while the possibility of starting a Sputnik Hub in Bristol and had planned to meet up together this term to kick things off. Although that has not been possible, we’re not going to let a little thing like an unprecedented global pandemic scupper our schemes, so we’re moving the meet up on to Zoom.

On Saturday 23rd May, from 2.00pm – 3.30pm, Jonny Mellor, the co-founder of Sputnik will be opening up a conversation about what it looks like for faithful Christians to make powerful, authentic artwork. There will be short interviews with other artists, an opportunity for Q&A and also an opportunity to meet in smaller groups with local artists.

The event will be hosted by Sputnik and City Church, Bristol, and everyone is welcome to join the conversation. However, if you are from Bristol or the surrounding area and would like to find comrades, co-conspirators and collaborators of faith in your local area, it is especially for you.

To attend, simply click on this link, from 1:45pm on 23rd May (or if you’d prefer to log in manually, the meeting ID is 3938431562.

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Mr Ekow in the pantheon of hip-hop history

Chris Gaisie, a.k.a. Mr Ekow, has long been a Sputnik favourite, both for his musical output and his tenacity, determination and creativity.

At Sputnik Patrons we’re incredibly proud to have supported the video production of Mr Ekow’s new single, I Am Hip Hop – a no-holds barred demonstration of the man’s serious lyrical skill. For the video, Ekow and director Matt Bowie recreate a whole ton of classic hip-hop videos, from Missy Elliot to the Pharcyde, to Dizzee Rascal, to Tyler the Creator – placing Mr Ekow in the pantheon of hip-hop greats with gravitas and goofy humour in equal parts.

It’s a killer video, and we highly recommend you watch the whole thing below and go support Mr Ekow’s music.

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Peter Laws at the Brum Hub: What can we learn from our morbid curiosities?

Peter Laws’ fiction mostly centres around an ex-Christian minister who spends his time hanging around Christians, in scenarios that are familiar to most Christians (communion services, prayer meetings, etc) but which feature elements that are a little more unsavoury than you might expect at your average church get together. Think: serial killers, axe murders, etc.

Peter is not exactly the same as Matt Hunter, his fictional hero. He is not an ex-minister, but still a card carrying reverend, with his Christian faith still intact. However, it was somewhat unnerving welcoming him to our Brum Sputnik hub meet up, knowing that this is exactly the kind of meeting where, if this were one of his novels, we would likely be about to witness a decapitation or demonic manifestation or ritualistic murder.

In addition to this, we forgot to put on the Eventbrite that we were meeting at a private home, and so a few of the guests looked even more on edge. There aren’t many Christian meetings that I’ve started over the years in which I’ve kicked off proceedings by trying to convince everyone that, despite their fears to the contrary, we did not lure them here to kill them!

In the event, nobody died, which was a definite plus of the afternoon. We also benefited greatly from Peter’s thorough and thought provoking examination of why people are drawn to the macabre and morbid. Flitting from 9/11, the Great Plague, Charles Manson’s hair and home made coffins to HP Lovecraft, vampires, werewolves, zombies and Victorian funeral rituals, Peter provoked us to think about how to approach the horror genre with a bit more nuance than Christians have typically shown in this area and encouraged us to think about how this should affect our own art.

Peter did not present primarily as someone who revelled in the darker side of life, but as someone who was more scared by this stuff than most. He is addressing these topics in his writing to try to come to terms with some of the less pleasant (or simply bewildering) aspects of human experience. As he put it ‘I take the furniture of that which scares me and rearrange it on my own terms’, while putting forward a pretty strong case for the fact that horror can shock people into wisdom.

There was certainly pushback in the question time, but that’s what I love about Sputnik meet ups. There was no party line here, just a group of people trying to think through how their faith relates to their art and to their general experience of being a human being. What we all seemed to agree upon was that we cannot flinch from the stark horror of death in our work. Yes, one day, we will be able to proclaim with the assembled saints ‘Death, where is your sting?’ (1 Corinthians 15:55) However, in the here and now, we, as artists who are Christians, must be able to wrestle with the complexities of living in a world where death still casts a pretty ominous shadow.

Of course, this was only half the fun though. The second part of the meet up was spent sharing practice and praying for each other. Jemma Mellor gave us a glimpse of a woven sculpture she is working on, we heard new pieces from Brum based jazz pop ensemble Argle Bargle, Joanna Karselis, Barrowclough and Pythagoras the Praying Mantis and to top it off, we were treated to a typically spell binding performance by David Benjamin Blower.

And then it all got really weird and everyone’s heads started spinning round. There was this shrill whistling noise, all the lights started flickering and, I don’t know what happened to everyone else, but I woke up in a nearby field in my boxers, covered in bruises. All I can say is, don’t look under the decking in the garden, and if anyone asks, there was no Sputnik Hub at our house on 9th March. I’m sure our secret’s safe with you!

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Arts in the age of Coronavirus: we’re here to help

Please note: Our Saturday Hub meet-up has moved from YouTube to Zoom. We’re sorry for any confusion. Go here to join.

Not much makes sense at the moment.

Most of us are allowed one excursion outside a day for exercise. Supermarkets are pretty much the only shops still open. Loo roll and pasta have become our most prized commodities.

And it’s happening across the entire planet.

And it’s all been caused by a variant of the common cold.

It’s part dystopian fiction and part Jonathan Swift-esque social satire.

In the flux and confusion though, one of the things that I’m sure of is this: art is more important now than ever. And that means artists are more important now than ever.

You may not be on the government’s list of key workers, but if you’re an artist, you have a unique opportunity to serve our society at this time. You also, I imagine, have some pretty significant challenges too.

Therefore, amidst all this craziness, we at Sputnik want to do our best to encourage you to take this opportunity to use your gifts meaningfully, while also helping you in the specific challenges that you may well be facing.

In a sense, despite all the changes, it’s business as usual. You see, Sputnik supports Christian artists by profiling, funding and connecting them. That’s what we’ve always done and that’s what we’re going to keep on doing. We’re just going to do it a bit different. Here’s the plan…

1. ‘In the Rough’ Art Project

Such unusual and testing times as these provide profound artistic stimuli. Combine that with the fact that, for some of us, we may have more time on our hands than we normally would. Combine that with the fact that many of us are feeling the pressure to curl up into a ball and give in to a crushing sense of purposelessness. Combine that with the fact that we, as artists, are uniquely skilled to give everyone else perspective on the present pandemic.

In short, it’s the perfect time to get you involved in an art project. Once the Coronavirus has done its worst, we’re going to put together an exhibition/installation (in some form) of work created by artists in and around our network that was created in/around the time of the virus.

In the meantime, we are going to provide a platform to showcase this work in its various degrees of completion. We have put together a simple Tumblr gallery and we want you to submit work to it that you are making at the moment.

Go to to see more

We’re not expecting high production values. We don’t all have a multitrack studio in our loft and we may be struggling to keep our palettes stocked up with our favourite shades of paint. It might be rough, and not all of the work may even be finished, but we’re looking for work that authentically captures how you’re doing and what you’re feeling and how you’re responding to this unprecedented moment in our human experience.

Then, as work accumulates on this page, we’re going to be highlighting pieces that particularly resonate with us through our social media.

You may have lost your normal platforms to showcase your work. The exhibitions, theatres and performances may be called off, but we want to present you with a new way to profile your skills. Just make stuff, go to and submit work.

We’re looking forward to seeing what you all come up with.

2. Sputnik Emergency Artist Fund

Professional artists are surely one of the groups that have been hit hardest by the recent turn of events. For some, your sources of income may well have disappeared almost overnight.

This is huge, and we’re really praying for you and would love to connect with you if you need someone to reach out to. However, we also want to help financially.

Sadly, we don’t have the resources to help all of you, but we definitely want to do what we can, and also gather anyone else with a similar sense of concern for the well being of artists. Therefore, we’re re-routing the money that we’d allocated to artist grants for this term and sending out the SOS wider through a crowdfunding campaign.

For some of you, your sources of income may well have disappeared overnight.

Our goal is to raise £4,000 that we can then distribute to artists in need across the Sputnik network. We would be looking to typically distribute these funds in small gifts of around £200 each, although each case will be considered individually.

So, if you’ve got a bit extra at the moment, why not contribute to the Fund? And if you’re in need, get hold of us and we’ll see what we can do. All the info is here on GoFundMe.

3. Online Meet-Ups

PLEASE NOTE: Due to tech issues with old laptops and folks self-isolating (it’s complicated) we’ve decided to move the Saturday afternoon meet-up to a Zoom conference.

You’ll be able to find the meeting here.

Finally, whether we’re struggling to pay the bills, battling to keep our heads above water or buzzing with creative energy at the moment, we all still need artistic connections.

Usually, we do these in our hubs in Birimingham, Edinburgh, Falmouth and SE London. This term, we were also looking to gather artists in Bournemouth and Bristol and even more widely through our national Gathering.

It looks like we won’t be able to do those things anymore, but we’re not giving up. We’re going online.

On Saturday 28th March, we’re hosting our first online event and we’re already actively exploring how to multiply these in the future as well as hosting more interactive artist meet ups and workshops.

Even if you’re in total lockdown, you don’t need to be alone. We want you to keep connecting with comrades, collaborators and co-conspirators.

So, that’s the plan. We hope there’s something there that serves you. If you’re up for it, let’s overcome the present obstacles and seize hold of the present opportunities together in the coming weeks and months.

May God protect you and do you good.

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Falmouth launches new mini-Hubs with a gathering of Fine Artists

“Stand up if you’re actively engaged as an artist, or involved in a creative industry.”

This request was made to a church congregation in Cornwall last year. At least 60% of the 120 present rose to their feet. Is that normal? I don’t think so.

One can’t move in Falmouth without bumping into a poet, painter, printmaker, potter, performance artist, musician, designer, or film-maker. Falmouth College of Art features large, and a good number of its graduates seek to stick around after their three years of study. Cornwall is a prize to hang on to.

Where, then, are the support networks and sounding boards previously provided by the uni?

That’s where Sputnik steps in.

After launching the Falmouth Sputnik Hub in 2019 with a Faith & Arts Day a year ago, in 2020 we are launching a series of Sputnik single-discipline mini Hubs. The first, for Fine Artists, gathered on March 6th in a converted chapel for food, discussion, support and encouragement. All had an opportunity to share a piece of work.

Arguably, all fine art is to some degree auto-biographical. Artists cannot help expressing something of themselves, their thinking, their identity in their work. Such self-exposure can be daunting for many artists. Sputnik mini-Hubs provide the perfect safe place to share one’s work, and that was certainly the case at this event.

Comments and suggestions came from all corners of the room / dining table on subjects as diverse as limiting palette, the use of sketchbook and the bias some have experienced against artists of faith.

Really interesting work was put out on display, and none of the 11 present failed to be transfixed by the sublime sound piece from current Fine Art student Rebecca Kent.

The next Falmouth mini Hub takes place on Friday May 1: a gathering for Graphic Designers and Illustrators. If you’d like to book a place, contact

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Pip Piper’s new documentary celebrates the people keeping small venues alive

Filmmaker Pip Piper’s most recent documentary, ‘Long and Winding Road’, had its premiere last week at London’s Bush Hall. We were able to invite some of our Patrons and Hub members along; London Hub leader Alex Dickens was won over by its immersive, humble portrayal of the industry…

Q&A at the Long and Winding Road Premiere. L-R: Adrian Utley (Portishead), Sybil Bell (Founder, IVW), Philip Selway (Radiohead), Nadine Shah, Pip Piper, Dom Frazer (Owner, The Boileroom), Steve Lamacq (Radio 6)

There’s a humming and persistent bed of sound running through Long and Winding Road – Pip Piper’s documentary about venues at the heart of local, live music – that will be instantly evocative to any gigging musician.

The twanging impatience of tuning up, the clatter and squeaks of setting up cymbals, the pops and buzzes and the ‘one two one twos’. All the preparation, the nervous excitement; each moment of practice comes to this point. It’s immersive, and apt that we were listening to it through the towering speakers of independent venue Bush Hall, where Amy Winehouse, Adele, REM, and Paul Weller have all passed through on their way to bigger and grander arenas.

However, much like Piper’s first film about the cycle of ruin and renaissance in a the music industry, his second (made in association with Independent Venue Week) is less focused on journeys to stardom, and more interested in those volunteers and professionals who, day in day out, exist on the precipice of survival – both in the spotlight and behind the scenes.

As many of us know, creative arts at the grassroots level is a risky endeavour, and LAWR introduces us to a host of characters, often colourful, whose livelihood or community is entwined inextricably with these small and often beaten-up music venues. Some days the room is bouncing; on others it’s three men and a dog in the corner. Some days you find the next big thing, on others you’re staring down closure because of new developments and noise complaints. It is a lifestyle of ‘smoke and blurred visions’, as it’s poetically described by one venue owner.

The film’s heart and its narrator is Philip Selway. Selway is most commonly found behind the drumkit for Radiohead, but his charming demeanour and talk of family and home comforts belies his pioneering rockstar accomplishments.

In LAWR, he is simply a gig goer, a fan, and is thrust back into the beginnings of a band’s journey as he takes in seven gigs at seven venues in seven days – touring the country with Pip and his team in the back of his van. Though nowadays Radiohead would be rarely found away from the biggest stages, it is immediately clear that Selway has a deep affection for the small and the intimate, as well as acknowledging its place in the ecosystem of new music and new bands.

The Leadmill, Sheffield. (Image

From iconic and established independent venues like The Leadmill in Sheffield or The Adelphi in Hull (with its curmudgeonly but adored longstanding owner Paul Jackson), to newer projects focussed on training and support like The Warren or The Brudenell Social Club, the film’s scale and scope is impressive as it anchors the stories of these halls and back rooms not in their successes, but in the everyday people who give their time and money to serve and champion artists and creatives.

Their greatest accomplishments are often staying open for another month, or creating community where there was none, or seeing the kid that hung around outside train and take on responsibility as a technician.

Yet each story and individual seems to see the spectre of challenge on the horizon; the fact pubs and clubs are closing at record levels, ravaged by developers and legislation and simply dwindling audiences content with consuming music and entertainment on the few square inches of our phone screens. Undeterred, the bands still get onstage, still the ritual of tune-ups starts again, the doors open once more. There is something special inside these spaces, something that cannot be bottled or bought.

What is starkly clear about both Selway, Piper, and the film is that there is a humility and a sincerity in their message. It isn’t overly emotive like a charity appeal, in fact in the post film Q&A hosted by Steve Lamacq, Piper mentions the deliberate decision to leave some of the more emotional elements out of the film. Instead, it gives the majority of its time and its spotlight to those not usually accustomed to it, which in a film with contributions from members of Radiohead, Portishead, Pink Floyd, and artists like Nadine Shah and Richard Hawley, is a noticeable and notable choice. In Piper’s interview with Sputnik he remarks:

“I am not a Christian filmmaker, nor am I a secular one.

“I am a filmmaker, period. I am also a follower of Jesus and that creates a life defining, distinct and deep DNA in who I am and how that outworks in what I do and say and engage with.”

In the film’s championing of community, of mutual support and encouragement, of daring to follow creativity and the ability to try and to fail and then try again, his ‘deep DNA’ is evident, and is evidently displayed through both his technical and storytelling craft.

The passion, drive, energy, and wholehearted belief in the individuals on film leaves you far more uplifted than defeated, and I believe that’s exactly where Piper would want you to be.

At another point in the post-film interview, Pip said the one thing he would want you to feel as the credits roll is ‘Where is my nearest gig venue and when can I go there?’. As I jumped off my bus home through sprawling London streets and walked past a band just taking the stage at my local pub, these words rang in my mind. Why not, I thought, and I entered the cacophony of tune-ups, mic checks, smoke and blurred visions once more.

Independent Venue Week 2020 begins on Monday 27th Jan, with gigs across the country. Pip Piper is a filmmaker and founder of Blue Hippo Media and One Small Barking Dog.

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What did Sputnik fund in 2019?

Artists need funding. In most jobs, you get remunerated directly for the work you produce, by the people who you do that work for. This is just not how it works for many artists. We work multiple jobs; we dilute our work to make it more marketable; we get by on very little; or perhaps we give up.

Even artists who are well-established, well-respected, and living off their craft, often have to find alternative methods to fund the more interesting areas of their practice.

This often means relying on patronage in some form. Nowadays, in the UK, the government are the chief patrons of the arts, through different funding bodies like the Arts Council.

But in years gone by, the church played this role too. They don’t anymore, and we’d like to change that. So in 2017 we started our Sputnik Patrons Scheme, and 2019 was the year when the scheme started to really kick into gear.

Through the support of our patrons, last year we funded 11 projects to the tune of over £5,000. Here’s a very brief overview of where that money went.

A Rap Album Launch Party

You can read more about Mantis’ triumphant album launch in Jonny Mellor’s highlights of 2019, but in short, it was a masterclass in hip-hop, and an absolute pleasure to be able to provide funding and manpower to make it happen.

Here’s Joel Wilson’s review of the album itself, with a few more links to Mantis’ work.

Training a storyteller to serve families and children through Theraplay

Anna O’Brien is a Birmingham-based storyteller, and last year she was looking into developing a therapeutic storytelling course for Parents and Carers.

Sputnik funded her to get trained in an approach called Theraplay, which has already helped her to further serve members of her community. This interview will tell you more.

Still from ‘Victoria’ by Juan Pablo Daza Pulido

A documentary about a Columbian refugee

Juan Daza is a Columbian film maker and photographer, based in Edinburgh. Since September 2018, Juan and his wife Maria have been working on a documentary, Victoria, which tells the story of a Colombian woman who has been living in exile in London for more than 20 years. After being kidnapped and abused by an armed group in 1992, she fled to the UK in 1997 where she now works actively as a peace builder helping other Colombian women who lived through similar situations.

Through the Patronage Scheme, we helped push this project over the line, so that it premiered at the end of November.

We’ll have more information about this project soon, including ways that you can see the film for yourself.

A Christian arts charity who support local musicians

Impact was formed by Oasis Church in Birmingham a few years ago, to show the love of Jesus to local musicians. The original intention was simply to give local acts well-promoted, well-organised, well-paid gigs and honour them more than other promoters would often do.

This has grown into a residency scheme, through which the Impact team take on young Birmingham bands, record an EP and organise a launch night for them. Although some of the artists involved have been Christians, the focus is on those outside the church, and it is one of the best examples we’ve seen of a church looking to show love to, and serve, their local artistic community.

Money from our patronage scheme went towards funding an extra part-time member of staff, to help them develop the residency programme further.

A pop punk album

Mike Lawetto is a musical chameleon, known to constantly switch genres from pop, to dance, to worship, to Christmas carols!

However, last year, on the back of extensive coverage on Alex Baker’s Kerrang Radio show, he released an album with his rock band, Well Done You, which has already led the band to some excellent support slots for some giants in the pop punk genre.

Sputnik were delighted to help him complete this project. Find out more here.

This is England exhibition by Benjamin Harris

An Exhibition exploring nationalism and the concept of Englishness

As one of our first patronage projects, we commissioned Benjamin Harris to make work for a fine art exhibition. In April, at The Holy Biscuit in Newcastle, this plan came to fruition with This is England, a collection of work exploring nationalism, Englishness and the cross.

As a young man who grew up and still lives in the Black Country, Benjamin is no outsider to such discussions and his perspective on these vitally important social issues, as well as his formidable skill as an artist and deep rooted Christian faith, made for a fantastic exhibition.e

Hannah Rose Thomas Yezidi Women: ISIS Survivors Art Sputnik Faith
Panels from ‘Yezidi Women: ISIS Survivors’ – Hannah Rose Thomas

An art book for an artist/activist

The majority of our patronage-related work at Sputnik HQ this year has been spent on a project that is still brewing.

Sputnik is overseeing and funding the creation of an art book by London-based painter and activist, Hannah Rose Thomas. Her portraits of oppressed women in some of the most dangerous parts of the world have got her on to Sky News and recently she was named in the Forbes 30 under 30 list. Her last four exhibitions have been at Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament, Lambeth Palace and the European Parliament HQ.

While this project has been slow to see the light of day, our work with the artist has opened up all sorts of exciting possibilities that we hope to tell you much more about in 2020, when the book is published.

Mr Ekow Sputnik Collective Faith Art

A hip hop music video

Chris Gaisie, AKA Mr Ekow, is a rapper from South London. Chris applied for a grant to help him create a video for his excellent single ‘I Am Hip-Hop’. The video is nearing completion and he’ll be releasing it in the New Year. Once again, we are delighted to be able to help build a platform for an excellent piece of music, and support one of our favourite artists get their music out to a wider audience.

Sound equipment for an installation based on The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

Matthew Tuckey is a sound designer and sound artist, living in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. He is presently creating an abstract soundscape inspired by Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

In the development of this intriguing project, we have helped Matt purchase a microphone that is so specialised it can record sounds inside a cow pat! Another one to look forward to for 2020.

A Passion Play in Edinburgh

Our home city of Birmingham was so blessed by Saltmine’s public Passion Play this year, and Sputnik are delighted to be able to help fund Cutting Edge Theatre to do a similar event in Edinburgh next Easter.

The theatre company are involving a number of community groups to retell the Easter story in an accessible manner for a modern day audience, and it’s a brilliant opportunity to engage the Scottish capital with the message of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

You can find out more information about Cutting Edge here.

Joel Wilson Birmingham Film Maker Sputnik Faith Art

An Album of Alternative Rap Lamentation

Just before Christmas, we were able to offer funding to one more project that will again come to life in 2020. Joel Wilson is a rapper and film director, and next year he is releasing his first album since 2008. Details at present are sparse, but it would be fair to say that it is not likely to be a happy album, presenting a no-holds-barred response to these strange and concerning times in which we find ourselves. In the artist’s own words:

I’ve heard a lot of people recently saying that they wish there was more space within community life to lament. My sincere hope is that this recording will also help people grieve, lament and process some of the unprecedented stress, sorrow, confusion and pain of everyday life.’

The early demos sound fantastic and we’re so grateful to be able to help bring this project to life.

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A tribute to Huw Evans, one of Sputnik’s founding artists

Huw Evans in 2017

While 2019 has been a great year for Sputnik, like 2018 before it, it was tinged with deep sadness at the loss of one of our founding artists, Huw Evans.

I became friends with Huw Evans in a rather strange way.

In 2014, I had the bright idea of compiling an anthology of writing from people in the Catalyst network of churches. It was an open submission project, and after getting word out, submissions started to come in. It was only then that I realised that I had a problem: I didn’t really know anything about poems or short stories. How on earth was I going to work out which ones should go in and which ones shouldn’t?

While thinking this through, I received a series of poems that even I could tell were of a particularly high calibre. I decided to take the plunge. I replied to the poet to congratulate him that we would love to feature his poems in the anthology, but also to ask him whether he’d kindly be the editor for the entire project. Amazingly, he agreed!

That poet was Huw Evans.

From that point, Huw became Sputnik’s writing guy. He edited another anthology the following year, and featured in a number of other Sputnik events and publications. He also provided valuable informal feedback to writers across the network as well as coaching both of our Sputnik interns, Tanya and Jess. On top of all of this, Huw became my friend.

In late 2017, Huw was diagnosed with terminal cancer and in March 2019, he died. He is sorely missed.

Huw had much wisdom to share, but the piece that has shaped me the most was maybe the simplest. Just turn up.

We can get ourselves in such a fuss about how to create, different techniques and methods, but so often the thing that stops us doing anything is that we don’t do anything. If you ever asked Huw how you could get better at whatever art form you were practising in, his response would be the same: just turn up. Just put in the hours. Just write. Just draw. Just paint. Just perform. Just keep doing it over and over again, until you start to get good.

Huw had much wisdom to share, but the piece that has shaped me the most is the simplest: just turn up.

He lived this out. As a young man with a desire to write poetry but not a lot of spare time, he decided to set aside 2 hours every Saturday, from 11-1, to write. It didn’t matter if he felt like it or not, if he felt inspired or not- he would close himself in his room, so he told me, and write.

When his four kids got a bit older and he had a bit more breathing space, he did a creative writing Masters, but it was the disciplined ‘just turning up’ that had kept the candle burning, so that he could really hone his craft with more concentrated focus when the time came.

Huw Evans Minor Monuments Poetry Sputnik Faith Art
Huw Evans’ Minor Monuments

And like an experienced runner, when he knew that his race was coming to an end, he put all those years of ‘just turning up’ into practice and ended with a sprint regarding his creative output. Since his diagnosis, he published a poetry anthology (Minor Monuments) and a children’s novel (The Goblin of the East Hill) with other works still likely to surface.

The psalmist writes in Psalm 139:16 ‘All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.’

I really wish God had given him a few more, but Huw was a man who used those days very, very well. He loved Jesus, loved his natural family and was faithfully committed to serving his church family and he has left behind a body of work and a body of wisdom that will go on for many more days yet.

In a sense, he has passed the baton on to us.

Huw Evans performing Not Long Now

Thank you, Huw, for the inspiration and encouragement, and for introducing me to RG Collingwood, and for being the only over 50 year old I could have a meaningful conversation with about Aesop Rock and Homeboy Sandman, and for being the first person to perform a sex poem at the Catalyst Festival, and for ‘just turning up’ both to your writing desk and to your church when almost everyone else in our family of churches was choosing one or the other.

Alongside the poetry and novels, in Huw’s creative purple patch of his last years, he also wrote and staged a one man show, Not Long Now, which was his response to his cancer diagnosis and the drastic shortening of his life expectancy that came with it.

I saw a preview of the show at the Catalyst Festival 2018, but after that, Huw honed the show further, and officially premiered it at Shilbottle Community Hall in November 2018. Fortunately for us, he produced a video of this performance, and whether you knew Huw or not, I’d thoroughly recommend putting aside an hour and giving it a watch. It will do you good.

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Sputnik founder Jonny Mellor lists his 2019 highlights

I appreciate the end of a year.

I like calendar markers: opportunities to reflect on what’s been and gone and what could be round the corner. When years seem to routinely pass in a flash, I find it encouraging to take stock of what’s happened in that flash and remember that it’s not been wasted.

I haven’t yet got my head round the ‘end of the decade’ factor, but as years go, in terms of Sputnik at least, it’s been a very exciting and potentially game-changing twelve months.

So, highlights? I thought I’d round up a few. In no particular order…

Mantis launched his new album, ‘The Legend of One’

Pythagoras the Praying Mantis is a force of nature. A Birmingham rap veteran and a longstanding Sputnik favourite, this year he released possibly his best album yet, The Legend of One, and we had the great pleasure of helping him put on the album launch party, through the Sputnik Patrons scheme.

Pythagoras the Praying Mantis performing ‘Steelwire Technique

The event was fantastic: Mantis was ably supported by an excellent house band and a whole host of vocal support, but he took hold of the stage and made it his own. Stage presence. Authority. Vocal precision. Good audience banter. Ticks all round.

The Sputnik Team kept growing

For years, Sputnik was essentially me, sat at a desk a couple of days a week, scheming, blogging and putting on the occasional event. Things have certainly changed.

Firstly, it was wonderful working with Jess Wood as she completed her internship in the first half of the year. Since then, the office team has been transformed by the brilliant Wumi Donald coming on board. Chris Donald, Wumi’s other half, continues to make the website shine and was responsible for our best publication yet – the second volume of our Anthology, a giveaway for our growing roster of art Patrons.

Edinburgh Hub’s Hannah Kelly

Outside of Birmingham, the team is expanding further. There’s Joanna, Luke and Hannah in Edinburgh; Dez, Alex and Christine down in London, and my old friend Jem Bunce in Cornwall. In September, we had our first Sputnik Hub leaders get together, and I’m so thankful for all the fantastic people that God has added to the gang. Go Team Sputnik go!

We found friends across the pond

After many years of searching, we’ve finally found another organisation with some Sputnik DNA!

There are loads of excellent groups doing excellent things in the intersection between Christianity and art, but we’ve always felt a bit like an odd one out.

Are you into worship art? Not really. So art as a vehicle for the gospel then? Nope. So, you just want Christians to be more creative? Ummm…

Well, this year, we found some other weirdos who seem to be on the same page. Renew The Arts is a US-based Christian arts organization that supports and funds Christian artists (like we do) and aims to encourage and challenge the church at large to carefully think through their relationship with the arts (like we do).

Their blog is definitely one of my favourite things of 2019, and I’d thoroughly recommend everyone clocking in. My route in would be this introductory episode, then this review of incarnation and Platonism in the church. Throw in this exploration of the difficulties of redemption stories and you’ll be hooked.

Kanye… no, really

I know that I’ve already shared more than my 20 pence already on Mr West, including why Jesus is King should not be seen as blueprint for Christian art.

Nonetheless, one of the world’s biggest celebrities claiming to have come to faith in Jesus, making a chart-topping album all about Jesus and then talking about nothing but Jesus for months on end – is still kind of a big deal! I’m on side: I think we should be thankful for Kanye, and I also think we should pray hard for Kanye. He’s going to need it.

Photo by Kenny Sun

One last anecdote won’t kill you.

I was talking to a friend the other day – a Christian student. He was listening to Jesus is King in his room, and on turning it off, was surprised to hear that it was still playing down the corridor, in not just one but two of his friends’ rooms.

A bit later, his housemates grabbed him, asking for some help. They’d been enjoying the new Kanye West album, they explained, but were struggling to understand what was going on. First of all, could he explain to them the symbolism of water in Christianity?!

The Generate(ion) Film weekend

In October, Sputnik teamed up with One Small Barking Dog to put on Generate(ion), a youth filmmaking weekend in Birmingham.

On the Friday night, we hosted a bunch of creative workshops for 30-40 young people – featuring artists from the Brum Sputnik Hub – then on Saturday, Pip Piper and his team put on a more focused film workshop.

The Generate(ion) Film weekend

Pip is the kind of guy who always does my soul good. Therefore, to simply stick him in the same room as a group of young people would have been time well spent.

However, to see him training and coaching them to develop their skills in film, and to think about using the medium effectively, was truly a thing of beauty. We’re very much looking forward to taking Generate(ion) out of Brum to other cities in 2020 and beyond.

Jemma Mellor showed how it’s done

She’ll probably hate me for this, but my wife, Jem, definitely makes the list of 2019 Sputnik highlights.

Technically, she’d always feature on the list (awwww!) but this year particularly so, as she is increasingly embodying everything that we’re about. Since completing her degree about 15 years ago, her art practice has been on the back burner, as she’s focused on being a super mum. However, she’s kept the flame burning, steadily producing work when she could, and using her skills to great effect in different part time jobs.

Then, this September, with the kids now all at school, she started an ‘Interdisciplinary Art and Design’ Masters at BCU, and has well and truly got back on the horse.

I imagine there are some artists out there who get skilled-up at a young age, and then seamlessly move into a life of non-stop creation and success, before dying at a ripe old age, content and satisfied. However, I’ve yet to meet any of them.

For most of us, we find time where we can, we have a few years of action and progress and then a few more of frustration. We want to create, but life gets in the way. Things happen. We get disappointed. We doubt ourselves. We wonder why we bother and we feel like giving up.

Jem hasn’t given up. She’s kept going and now she’s producing some of her best work yet. And it’s just going to get better. Not to mention the fact that we now get to discuss Martin Heidegger at dinner times. Result!

Next year…

Yes, I know that this is a bit of a cheat, as this is a review of 2019, but I think it’s fair to say that next year is shaping up to be pretty tasty in Sputnik-ville.

Faith and Arts days are happening in Bournemouth, Bristol and London next term, with more pencilled in for later in the year. However, the big news is that we’re going to be hosting our first ever residential: the ‘Sputnik Gathering’ in the West Midlands on 24th and 25th May.

So once you’ve had enough of turkey and mince pies and you’ve put your Santa onesies back in the wardrobe, come back in the New Year, and we look forward to telling you more.

From everyone at Sputnik HQ, Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year.

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Anna O’Brien tells stories to build healthier relationships

Anna O’Brien of Face to Face Storytellers is a professional Storyteller and works in educational and community settings delivering dynamic performances and workshops both for adults and children. She is fascinated by the power of stories for transformational change.

Introduce yourself: Who are you and what do you do? 

My name is Anna and I’ve been working as a Storyteller for nearly 20 years now. Yes, it’s a real job! There couldn’t be a better one! I deliver storytelling performances of traditional folk tales in all sorts of educational and community settings. I also deliver workshops to groups of children and adults, helping them to devise stories and work on their delivery skills.

What do you think makes a great story? What makes a great Storyteller?

I recently read a book called The Seven Basic Plots, that suggests there are only 7 story plots that have been told throughout all the world and all through history; and the reason for this is that there is a subconscious truth that we are all linked to, which is telling a universal story. The author of the book (Christopher Booker) had his own explanations for this, based on the theories of Carl Jung, but my interpretation is that our Creator is a Storyteller and has wired us all to communicate in stories. Each of the 7 plots – for example, rags to riches, defeating the monster, the quest, the tragedy – can all be found in the great story of love, rebellion and redemption between God and Man. 

So, all good stories, in my opinion, must have elements of this God–Man story as its underlying truth, so that it resonates with our spirits, and makes us want to pass the story on.

Anna O’Brien performing with Face to Face Storytellers

You recently received a Sputnik grant to train you in something called Theraplay. What is this? How have you used this training so far in your practice and how do you intend to develop this in the future?

I am so excited that I’ve been introduced to Theraplay® and am so grateful that I was able to attend the Group Theraplay training in September. The training course was excellent and it totally clicked and made sense to me.

Theraplay is a theory and practice of relationship-based play. When used one-to-one by a fully trained therapist, it can be such a healing tool in a young person’s life and help deal with very deep-seated, attachment-based issues. When used in a group setting it can increase self-esteem and a sense of well-being; it can help us to create stronger and healthier relationships with others. I have been trained to use Theraplay to inform all my work in group settings.

“I hope to keep bringing Theraplay into all my practices, to create groups that are warm, friendly, and empowering.”

I have begun practising what I have learnt in a surprising number of settings: with parents and pre-schoolers, Stay and Plays and nurseries, and also with primary school children and Play Workers; even with adult groups in workshop settings. There is much to learn, and I have become part of a local Peer Support Group run by a Certified Theraplay Therapist in Birmingham which has already proved really fruitful.

I hope to keep bringing Theraplay into all my practices, to create groups that are warm, friendly, and empowering to be a part of. I would love, in time, to run courses for parents and their children, to help parents to enjoy and have fun with their children, and lead them well. I am learning all of these things too, and finding it so helpful in my own parenting journey.

Storytelling and Theraplay go so well together because they are both about face-to-face interaction with the person or people in front of you; they are both about how to give and how you receive; they are both very live, improvisational and playful!

To find out more about Anna and Face to Face Storytellers, go to

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Perspective is the Key to Survival for Career Artists

Perspective Marlita Hill Sputnik Faith Arts

I remember a day not long after God had told me to quit my job: I was driving home, and I felt like my chest was going to cave in. It felt like I had on a corset that was too tight. It was the pressure of feeling like I had no possible way of making it through this. As far as I could see, there was no way that I could do what God had told me to leave my job to do.

In that moment, I lacked perspective – and that’s a crucial requirement for any career artist. As you’re walking out God’s promise to you for your career life, it’s important for you to check yourself at each juncture about how you’re seeing what you see. What is your perspective on the things you’re watching unfold in front of you?

We Looked Like Grasshoppers

In the book of Numbers, a group of men get challenged in this very area. In this account, God tells Moses to send some men to scout the land God had promised would belong to Israel.

Moses says to them, “Go up to the mountains, and see what the land is like: whether the people who dwell in it are strong or weak, few or many; whether the land they dwell in is good or bad; whether the cities they inhabit are like camps or strongholds; whether the land is rich or poor; and whether there are forests there or not. Be of good courage. And bring some of the fruit of the land.”

The men go out. They spy out the land and they collect fruit. They report back to Israel: “We went to the land where you sent us. It truly flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. Nevertheless, the people who dwell in the land are strong; the cities are fortified and very large.” They recount all the different tribes there, and they say: we seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them!

Basically, ain’t no way we getting in this land.

Perspective is not just about what you see. It’s about how you see what you see. Remember, they’re in the process of being brought into their promised land. They were not sent to find out if they could get in; that was already settled. They were only sent to find out what was there. But they lost sight of that, and instead made conclusions about their situation from the way they saw it. They reported from the wrong perspective.

They talked themselves out of God’s promise, because of their own perspective on it.

It wasn’t the fact that they reported these difficulties. The difficulties were there, and they were real. It was that they lost sight of why they were sent there, and of what to do with the difficulties they saw. They didn’t come back and say here’s what’s going on. Let’s seek God about how to deal with this. That’s not how they saw the situation. Instead, they talked themselves out of God’s promise because of their own perspective on it.

Then Caleb quieted the people before Moses, and said, “Let us go up at once and take possession, for we are well able to overcome it.” But the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we.”

I just think this is so funny because these men are like no, y’all didn’t hear what I said. I said the Canaanites are here the Jebusites are there, these people are here, you got these giants over here. We can’t do this! There are times when you’re walking out God’s promise where no matter how you look at it, it seems there’s no possible way you’re going to be able to do this.

Getting Nostalgic for the Past

Because of the report these men brought back, “all the congregation lifted up their voices and cried, and the people wept that night. And all the children of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron, and the whole congregation said to them, “If only we had died in the land of Egypt! Or if only we had died in this wilderness!”

It makes me laugh, because this is the insane talk that truly happens at some point when you step out to believe God. Now let’s remember what was happening in Egypt. They were enslaved. They had no freedom – the Egyptians treated them horrifically. The whole reason God tapped Moses on the shoulder was because they cried out to Him about how horrible Egypt was and how they were being so mistreated. They were in the position that they’re in in Numbers 13 because God answered their cry.

That’s important to remember. Sometimes, in the midst of God answering us, our perspective goes awry. You are in the position you’re in now because of God’s faithfulness to you. Remember how miserable you were behind that desk job? Remember how much you prayed that God would make a way for you to leave Kansas and get to New York? Remember how hollow and depressed you were not being able to do anything with your art?

Without the proper perspective, we start to devise steps and solutions of our own making.

Instead of looking at their current situation, remembering they were there because God was in the middle of fulfilling His promise to them; instead of seeing this as the next step into that promise; their perspective became that God had brought them there to die, on a mission that was guaranteed to fail.

Their perspective was so bleak that they planned to select a leader who would take them back to Egypt – the place of their oppression. This is another way we get it wrong: without the proper perspective, we start to have crazy conversations, and we start to devise steps and solutions of our own making. And they are always stupid ideas that make the situation much worse if we actually go through with them.

Being Blessed with ‘Enough’

I quit my job in June 2016 at God’s asking. After an amazing experience in Spain over the summer, I came home to begin the next season; and things were dead quiet. I went from 7 years of being busy with plans and phone calls and projects… to silence. And I’m the kind of person who’s able to find plenty of peace and enjoyment in long periods of solitude and silence. But in this particular season, the silence was deafening and hard to deal with.

I felt anxious; it was hard to sit still, and the overwhelming presence of inactivity was very hard. Not only was I broke, but I was broke and inactive. My phone wasn’t ringing, no emails were coming in. I just felt stuck in limbo, like no progress was being made. All I could think about was the gnawing feeling that I left my job for nothing.

And then one day while I was cleaning the house, the Lord checked me and he checked me hard – by reminding me of the previous four years. Over those years, I wanted to write, but I was working full-time; I would get up early in the morning to write, or I would stay up late at night to write. I would write on my lunch breaks. I would take my stuff with me everywhere I went, so that any available time I had I would squeeze in time to write these books that He told me to write. And because I was faithful when it was difficult, he had brought me into a time where all I had to do now was write, a time where I had the freedom to do nothing else but write. He had brought me into a time of blessing, a time where he was rewarding me and honouring me: a season where I didn’t have to juggle my life to follow him anymore.

I’ve had conversations like the children of Israel, where I felt nostalgic for the times I didn’t have to worry about paying my rent, even though there was no doubt it was time for me to leave my job. Whenever I would substitute teach, or try to stick my toe in to go back, as much as I’d remember very quickly why I’d left, there was the very real temptation that “at least I didn’t have to worry about this” or “at least I had that”.

In those “at least” times, when the day-to-day-ness of walking this out seems overwhelming, when the bill collectors are the people who check on me the most, I remember God’s faithfulness to the children of Israel even in the Manna season. Yes, during that season every day was about just having enough. But for forty years in that wilderness, they always had enough to eat. Was it what they wanted? No. Was it what they needed in that season? Absolutely. And I’ve seen that same faithfulness in my own life. Even in a very, very slim financial season, my rent’s been paid every month, I’ve never gone hungry, my lights haven’t been turned off. When I get my eyes on the right things, I can see God beautifully bringing me into the very thing He promised me. I can see His hand at work all around me.

So I challenge you to take some time and assess how you’re seeing what you see, right here in the moment you’re in. I challenge you to see God who has been faithful in taking care of you; and I challenge you to acknowledge all the signs of forward progress He has allowed you to see and experience along the way.

This article has been adapted with permission from Marlita Hill’s podcast, The Kingdom Art Life.

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St. Peter’s Seminary: a Memorial to Lost Futures

St Peter's Seminary Unseen Luke Sewell Sputnik Faith Arts-08

For nothing is hidden that will not become evident, nor anything secret that will not be known and come to light.

In the woods outside Cardross in Dumbarton, Scotland, lie the remains of St. Peter’s Seminary.

Finished in the brutalist style, a megalith of raw, exposed concrete, the seminary was designed to house up to 100 priests-in-training.

The building was made almost immediately redundant. Before it was completed, the Second Vatican Council ruled that priests should train in the parishes they would eventually serve instead of in isolation. This, coupled with increasing social secularism ultimately resulted in the closure of the seminary in 1980. It has since been reclaimed by the trees, by rain and by fire.

St Peter's Seminary Unseen Luke Sewell Sputnik Faith Arts-08
St Peter’s Seminary, by Luke Sewell

St. Peter’s was intended as a meeting place between the old and new worlds – the brutalist complex encasing a Baronial Revival mansion called Kilmahew House. Built in an L-shape, the seminary’s bedrooms formed a repeating ziggurat pattern over the central chapel complex.

Perhaps more so than ever, St. Peter’s feels like a mysterious, liminal space between old and new. The ruins are surrounded by woodland gorges, rushing streams and old stone bridges; Tolkienesque but for the steel fences and barbed wire preventing access.

Cutting through a golf course, into the woods, past an abandoned shipping container and the ruins of Kilmahew Castle takes you to the gates of St. Peter’s itself.

Again; the collision of old and new. A Kubrick moonbase of a building, created with bold intent and great optimism, reduced to the same fate as the medieval fortress it neighbours, a crumbling edifice coated in moss and graffiti.

Lost too is the way of life the building was intended to nurture. As we wandered around the site, we came across several pathways built for contemplative walks, of great isolation and beauty, bereft of the seminarians they were built to transform.

The roof of the chapel, long since decayed, is now completely absent. The walls are covered with various graffiti, messages including ‘bath time’ above one of the reflecting pools, ‘expensive shit’ along a balcony and ‘pleasure some’ along one of the roofbeams. Inverted crosses line the walls; perhaps a reference to the death of St. Peter himself, or an attempt at sacrilege.

Most upsettingly, the altar is destroyed. The great table, which fittingly took the form of a giant slab of concrete, has been reduced to rubble and is set behind an extra steel fence at the south wall of the chapel. Where the Blessed Sacrament was once given and received, is made inaccessible, and from where the precious blood flowed lies a pool of stagnant water.

Walter Benjamin, fleeing Nazi-occupied France at Midnight in the Century, wrote of Lost Futures.* Where history feigns a narrative of unbridled technological and social advancement, Benjamin describes an angel of the past, who sees nothing but wreckage upon wreckage, ruin upon ruin, piled up to the sky. The angel longs to turn back time, to mend what was broken, but is carried inexorably forward by a “storm from Paradise” – a storm Benjamin names Progress.

For every supposed technological innovation, there are thousands of lost futures – those of indigenous peoples, of ecosystems, of workers, trampled beneath the feet of history’s relentless triumphal procession. Rarely are we able to memorialise these losses. They are for the most part discarded, forgotten and destroyed.

It is intriguing how often the deep, melancholic sense of loss to which Benjamin alludes is communicated through brutalist architecture. Recent years have seen the disappearance of many of Britain’s most distinctive post-war buildings. Progress is often cited as the cause, and the buildings have largely been demolished to the protests of a very small, if vocal, minority. They are often sad, white boys like me. Some mourn loss of a unique aesthetic, others the architecture’s distinct utopian intent. But look closer and you can see the boot prints of the triumphal march of history over the lives of the oppressed and the marginalised, just as Benjamin did. They are present in the ruins of Birmingham Central Library, demolished to make way for a shiner model which actually holds fewer books. As a result, the city began disposing of surplus stock, beginning with all works not written in the English language. In Sheffield’s Park Hill flats, former social housing built as ‘roads in the sky’, now owned by ‘regeneration specialists’ who appropriated the tragic romantic pleas of former residents as PR for their gentrification project. Or Glasgow’s Red Road flats, once home to 4700 people, and more recently used as housing for asylum seekers. Their demolition was originally intended to be broadcast as a kind of bombastic comic punchline to the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games, but safety concerns delayed their destruction by a year.

Whilst the fight to reclaim the past is important, there is also something profound in the memorialisation of the lost future.

There has always been a great struggle to reclaim and uphold the forgotten narratives of history, and it has been heartening to see this struggle brought to the fore in recent years – in our museums, curricula and public spaces. Whilst the fight to reclaim the past from the dominant, hegemonic narrative of the rulers and powers continues to be of great importance, there is also something profound in the memorialisation of the lost future.

In this guise St Peter’s may still serve us. It is important to recognise that it is in no way representative of all lost futures. It remains the property of an immensely powerful and affluent organised religion, built at the seat of one of the largest imperial projects in history. And yet it reminds us and invites us to join Walter Benjamin in clinging with grim hope to the expectation of the Last Day, when all unseen history is made known, every marginalised narrative honoured and upheld, when those crushed underfoot are raised up, and those in triumphal procession will be laid low. And no suffering will have been in vain.

In between, let us live in creative, active anticipation of that day, honouring and advocating for the lost and forgotten. To loosely quote David Blower, whose latest album was charged with Benjamin, there are not tears enough to do justice to history’s lost futures, but in facing this sorrow we surrender the hope of saving what we thought was ours, catching instead a glimpse of a future that belongs to none, and all.

* ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History’. Walter Benjamin does not use the term Lost Futures, but it does serve as the title for a book on Britain’s disappearing post-war architecture by Owen Hopkins, in which St. Peter’s Seminary features.

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The Entropy Blues: Contemplating our Artistic Mortality

Artistic Mortality Chris Donald Alan Lomax Blues Sputnik Faith Arts

In the internet age, it’s easy to feel like nothing will ever be truly lost. If we picture our lives decades in the future, it’s easier to imagine ourselves fighting for our old pictures to be deleted, than mourning over lost memories that we’ll never be able to recover.

But you don’t have to look back very far to find an era where the opposite was the case – where the idea of your work ‘lasting’ through time was a far from sure bet, especially if you were an everyday folk artist. And there’s something I find fascinating about near-forgotten music and recordings. I have a feeling there’s something valuable to gain from that sense of fragility and limitation, in a world where you can’t rely on the cloud to back you up forever.

The folly of phonographers

The phonograph was the earliest technology that could record and play back sound. But early phonograph companies didn’t think of recordings as cultural artefacts: allegedly, they sometimes sold off recording masters to be used as roofing shingles.

Those early records had a limited practical shelf life, too: the top oxide layer could peel away over time, rendering them unplayable. In order to save old recordings, Archivists in the Library of Congress developed a laborious technique of holding down the oxide and re-recording the master one rotation at a time. But in other cases, the oxide just got lost, leaving a useless disc.

After Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans’ heritage radio station WWOZ faced the forces of nature on a much more disastrous scale: the flooded studio was left with shelves of tapes drenched in water and muck. A team from the National Recording Preservation Foundation worked through the reels, drying them out by baking them in a pie oven. Many of them recovered just enough that they could be played once before falling apart: the team captured them to a digital format on that single play.

The privilege of recording

There have been less innocuous reasons your music might not survive through the ages, too. In South Africa, Rodriguez’s The Establishment Blues was reinterpreted as an anti-apartheid anthem – and the government literally scratched out the track from any imported copies of the record. (Luckily, it flourished underground anyway). In the Sixties, local radio stations in the States blacklisted particular records in response to civil rights protests – and some of those records disappeared completely. The National Recording Preservation Foundation is currently trying to track them down again. In fact, they estimate that as much as 82% of all commercial recorded music is unavailable to the general public, sitting unplayed on a dusty shelf somewhere, if copies still exist at all.

That’s before you even take into account the question of access to the recording process – something that has been very, very different in previous eras. The majority of musicians in the 1930s or 40s wouldn’t have made it to a recording booth, whether for practical reasons or social.

There were attempts to counteract the biases of the industry: ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax set about interviewing and recording unknown blues and gospel musicians in the American Delta as early as the 1930s. Lomax could be seen lugging around early recording equipment weighing over 500 pounds as a sign of his reverent obsession. His recordings are still intact, and listening to them now feels raw and otherworldly. Each is a two or three minute window into another time and place, along with a performer’s name, and scant little else. The scrappy recordings feel like a liminal space, a grey area in between ‘seen’ and ‘unseen’.

They feel voyeuristic in a way – I’m viewing these musicians dimly, as a tourist to their experience, separated by time, place, and particularly privilege. They are ‘folk’ musicians in the original sense: not as a genre, but the phenomenon of local artists making work for their time and locality.

That’s why all of this does, after all, relate to us troubadours in the digital age. I doubt we worry much that our recordings might crumble into dust in the next 50 years (though I’ve lost my fair share of files). But even if our art lives on digitally, it has its own mortality.

Firstly, instead of the physical entropy of analogue recordings, we have a gigantic, continental databerg that will swallow us up into anonymity. Secondly, our cultural moment will move on; rapidly, you’d think, given the impending end of our current Western era. Like the Delta musicians, we’ll become an historical artefact. 

Being present in our work

So, what we’re left with is the present. Is that depressing, or is it a helpful spur? Others on this site have posed the question of our work’s ultimate future, beyond broken records and flooded studios. I think Sputnik generally chimes with ‘incarnational’ theology, the worldview that says creation, and bodies, and physical reality, and the things we make, are all important, and sanctified. So, yes, a rebuttal to all this might be that what is lost is not lost forever, but somehow part of the world to come. One might also point to a Van Gogh, whose work was picked up after death and inspires awe decades on. 

But we can’t control any of that. My gut feeling is that a sense of our limitations is useful for something. Like any brush with mortality, hopefully it focuses us more vividly in the here and now, with a childlike (or Christlike) appreciation of the moment. To enjoy our own work for what it is, enjoy the sharing of it, and to pay attention to the work of others that you get to see or hear – that’s a gift in itself. In Lomax’s recordings, perhaps that’s what captures the imagination the most: the sense of place, a present-ness that happened once, and will never be again.

In the life of the world to come, will I really be thinking about the work that was? I hope I’ll be too occupied making mind-bending work in the Eternal Present.

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What About the Art That Never Gets Made?

Jess Wood Art That Never Gets Made Sputnik Faith Arts

I think that the scariest of all unseen art is art that never gets made in the first place. 

Can you imagine a world where all the greats never had time to give to their practice, and so it just never developed? 

There are so many factors that can contribute to a lack of undisturbed creative time. It can be self-inflicted: I’m sure many of us have heard the argument that technology’s great capacity for connecting people comes hand in hand with its ability to stop us from connecting with those right in front of us. By keeping everyone insanely busy, it’s become dubbed as a thief of time. And although big tech companies have created screen-time apps – knowing that their users are becoming increasingly concerned with their internet usage – it can still be hard to strike the balance between time spent online, promoting, marketing, researching your work (or, you know, just scrolling) – and actually making the stuff.

Or it can be externally imposed lack of time; the business of work and family life, the responsibilities in and outside of the home. For women there is an added pressure, as this article by Brigid Schulte shows. Historically speaking, it is because of the work of women, acting as gatekeepers of time for the men they served, that men have been able to pursue their artistic careers. For parents – I can only imagine that navigating the 24/7 job-and-joy of a child, alongside the 9-to-5, makes it near impossible to carve out time for yourself, let alone time for yourself and a pen, an instrument, a paintbrush etc. 

It needs to be asked then: how do we do it? How do we continue to create, to push ourselves, to grow in our craft and know that we’ve given everything we possibly could to it and that we haven’t left anything unseen that we’ve wanted to be seen? 

Some personal reflections on time…

As I enter the working world, or at least desperately attempt to, I’m constantly told to enjoy this unfettered time for my creativity and enjoyment. The freedom to indulge in reading and writing. It’s definitely easier said than done, and I know that everyone who encourages me in this says so from the distinct lack of time that the working week allows for these pursuits. 

So aside from spending my time raving about the ideal utopia I have in mind of a four-day working week for the benefit of our creativity and the planet, here are a few things I’ve learned.

1. Get yourself a group of dedicated supporters. 

Sputnik has several Hub groups you can join to be continually inspired and challenged in your creative endeavours. It’s always an encouragement to attend them, because they remind you of the wider art world in which we’re working, where everyone is dealing with similar issues. Beyond this though, they’re great opportunities for networking and creating. It’s inspiring to hear from artists in disciplines as far-flung as fashion design and writing, or filmmaking and lino printing. I challenge you to attend one and not leave feeling inspired and energised. 

2. Make a routine.

This is very easy for the unemployed gal to write, but yet I still always find myself too busy to write, read, and market myself. If this means waking up a little early to write every day – or if that’s too daunting, then even once a week – this will help create a muscle and a rhythm that makes your art a continual practice rather than an overwhelmingly daunting task when you finally have free time to commit to it. 

3. Keep it sacred and safe. 

By this I mean treat your art with a level of seriousness and importance that you would any other act of service. As much as art is, hopefully, a joy, it’s also a duty and a service to translate and make sense of the world around us through what we create.

So I leave you with the question. What haven’t you made yet? What ways have you not challenged yourself? What’s that piece you keep meaning to create or the poem that you’re afraid of writing? 

And what would it mean if you never got round to making it, what if it goes forever unseen?

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All That Nothing: A Poem

‘All That Nothing’, read by Hannah Kelly


When I was a child learning to draw my father leant over the page and said,
Don’t forget the gaps

I didn’t know at all what he meant.
I drew anyway, cramming the paper.

Did you know there’s a different line for hair, another for cloth, another for stone and lake and knife and hem and grit.

But where are the gaps? he would say.
You haven’t left space for anyone to get into the drawing.

I had no idea what he meant.

Here, he said
Just hold the pencil differently.


Already, you can draw a leg.
It’s very good.
A leg is hard to draw as you have; to scoop the line over the bridge of the hamstring,
to get the knuckle-shaped bone by the heel.
That is difficult.
But did you know that your lines don’t have to join up?
That the way the pencil goes down and
s w i f t s
across the page
can make – not just a foot

but a leap?


So when I was older learning to write an instinct stood at my shoulder and said,
Don’t forget the gaps.

I didn’t know at all what it meant.
I wrote anyway. Cramming the paper.

Long hours, I bent double over books
And floundered there.
I hurried, harried,
through Lays of welsh hills and the coast of stones
bound by the cadence of those ancient walls
and wandered keenly through the learned halls
of forebears I could not discern
for loudness of their honour.

I don’t want to write a foot

I want to leap.



Cut out
of noise
the harbour
the sliced-up gap and gash through ‘proper’

It turned up
nick of time

come lumbering out of the woods
of acre
the wills
of other say-ers words
from their strings of verses
Their dark wars
and purses
Ways of

And birthed-
words came
where their strokes
Left off- blunt
and barrowed
Bellowed into
being born


I’d love to put Wilfred Owen in a room with Emily Dickenson and see
who comes out standing

only a steady hand
leaves all that nothing in
and lives


did you know?
An eyebrow is not just many hairs shaped like the bend of a bow
It is a flick of question
A tick, darkened at contact, frowning.

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The Repentant Completionist: When Outtakes and Demos Become Too Much

Completionism: that’s a word, isn’t it? Yes. Yes, it is. It’s the desire, the need to complete the set of whatever you’re collecting or the drive to finish every level in a game. I gave up on collecting every record by bands I liked a long time ago. I was too broke to be a proper completionist. I was getting there with De La Soul albums on vinyl, but then my brother nicked the records and sold them or lost them somewhere in California. No biggie.

The one band who’ve most tempted me back to completionism is Radiohead. I own all the studio albums, the I Might Be Wrong live album, Com Lag and the bootleg Oxford’s Angels, which includes early stuff including the Drill EP songs, the B-sides, the Record Store Day exclusives, that rejected Bond Spectre theme song and then there’s the special edition of… oh, shut up, Joel. Either you’re a Radiohead fan and there are fond tears welling up in your eyes or you’ve glazing over and are very close to skipping to the last paragraph, so let’s just get to the point.

That Radiohead leak

In June 2019, someone leaked over 16 hours of Minidisc recordings of Radiohead demos, rehearsals, soundchecks, song sketches on tinternet. These recordings from the late 90’s weren’t ever meant to be made public. In wake of the leak, the band begrudgingly decided to officially release all this material on Bandcamp for a limited time: the deal was you had 18 days to download the whole lot for £18. The profits would go to the environmental group Extinction Rebellion. The band, bless ‘em, tried to make something positive out of a genuinely frustrating situation. The unabridged and quite fascinating story of the stolen and leaked material is in this super nerdy Reddit thread.

Naturally, I, like thousands of other fans, was curious to hear these recordings. Allegedly there were hidden gems and full songs amongst the half-baked ideas, false starts and melodic vocal place-holders.

So, to Bandcamp. I’m at work sorting through and editing photos. Perfect time to listen to this unexpected mammoth audio treat.

The first minidisc ‘MD111’ is 70 minutes of material. Unsurprisingly, by the time I’m listening the hardcore fans have already provided tracklists and notes, for those who can’t quite read the scrawled tracklists in the artwork. And sure enough it does feature a rarity, an early version of True Love Waits, but it’s mainly songs I know and love being soundchecked or in various stages of not-yet-dressed.

Radiohead circa 1997, from ‘Meeting People is Easy’

Importantly ‘MD111’ also features Thom Yorke’s wails and murmurs as he attempts to get those initial song ideas out of his head. Onto the next minidisc, and the next one. More gems and more curiosities and more raw song sketches. It’s fun…for a while.

Five hours later it feels like I’m treading on sacred territory; sacred and to be honest, not that enjoyable. A voice is saying, ‘Leave Thom alone, let him bloody finish writing the song before you listen to it.’

I don’t edit photos very often at work. In fact, there aren’t spare hours throughout the day to meaningfully do this minidisc marathon. I persevere. 15 minutes here, a couple more tracks there, but I’m lagging. Despite the seams of sonic gold, I’m increasingly less motivated to listen to songs that Radiohead, given the chance, would’ve hidden away forever.

Thom writes on the Bandcamp site about the leaked collection, ‘it’s not v interesting’. He’s looking forward to the moment when ‘we all get bored and move on’. Sure enough, most casual listeners and culture vultures do get bored and move on. Some fans will continue to cherish these recording as part of their complete Radiohead archive. Me? I’m in neither camp. I didn’t get bored. I got uncomfortable.

The need for hidden processes

I never made it to ‘MD128’. The Bandcamp download deadline passed without me downloading it and I decided not to ask other fans for a cheeky zip file. And I’m content.

As someone lamented after the publication of Kurt Cobain’s journals: ‘Private thoughts should remain private thoughts’. Unpublished sketches have a purpose within the creative process. They exist as a reference often for an audience of one. As a society we’ve developed a weird gluttony for the unheard, the unseen, the unpublished, the unfinished, the alternate version, the leaked edit, the ill-advised DVD bonus feature and in doing so, we’ve trampled on delicate artistry and diminished its ineffable glow.

Unpublished sketches have a purpose within the creative process. They exist as a reference often for an audience of one.

I get it. We’re human. We’re stubbornly curious creatures. The creative process can be interesting. We somehow hope that some of that magic will rub off on us, or that we’ll discover some brilliant, otherworldly technique or that we’ll find a distilled form of the creative elixir the artist draws from before offering it to the public.

We want to feel like insiders. We sense that the creative process is what many artists most love, therefore we want to get a glimpse or him/her/them mid-composition. Ironically for many of us this isn’t about completionism, it’s about feeling an ephemeral moment of intimacy with an artist we’re drawn to.

PJ Harvey Dog Called Money Seamus Murphy Sputnik Faith Arts
PJ Harvey recording. From Seamus Murphy’s ‘A Dog Called Money’

PJ Harvey recorded her 9th album in a recording studio with one-way glazing, allowing visitors to watch Harvey, her band, producers and engineers make the song. Most musicians would find this terribly distracting. If in 1995 I’d been sitting there next to Thom Yorke as he stumbled through his new song No Surprises, he’d never have finished it.

I feel like I’ve dodged a bullet. For me the mystique of this band is still intact. Their ability to create transcendent moments and lyrics that speak my own thoughts is wonderful and baffling. During the Minidisc bonanza, we were just a few days away from the release of Anima, Yorke’s new solo album, a fully realized work he actually wanted people to hear. Right now I’m listening to the song Not the News and my whole body is tingling. Woah.

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Apocalypse is Really About the Revealing of Hidden Things

The word apocalypse always conjures up a sense of disaster and violent catastrophe in the popular mind. The nuclear war, the dreadful deluge, the defeated ruins and the smoking wilderness.

I won’t say this is wrong, but it is interesting because it is not really what the word itself means. The word is greek, made up of kalypso – meaning, to cover or veil – and the prefix apo – which negates whatever follows. Apo-Kalypso: to un-cover.

Apocalypse in the Biblical imagination

There’s a preoccupation toward the uncovering, unveiling and revealing of things right through the biblical imagination. The sons and daughters of God are waiting to be revealed. The anger of God against the evil that mars the world is being revealed. The earth itself will be uncovered. Everything seems to draw ever toward the uncovering of what is very much there, but as yet unseen. What is among us, but hidden. All history moves toward the revealing and liberating of things, in their truest presence. 

The term apocalypse is of course most readily associated with the writers of those most mad and frightening biblical texts: Daniel, Ezekiel, Zechariah, Revelation. And whatever else may be claimed about these texts, we may truthfully say that they are works of literature. They were crafted by remarkable writers and poets, very much for the purpose of revealing the veiled truths of their own moments of history.

They undo the common human work of hiding the truths which seem dreadful and strange to us (or, to some of us, at least). We might expect it to be the merciless rationalist who goes about bursting the illusions and pointing to the facts – and sometimes it is. But often enough, this task has fallen to those who appear to be fantasists and flaneurs of the imagination, to bring within reach the truths that fester strange and obscure under our neat systems, and structures and fabrications.

The apocalyptic Biblical texts were crafted by remarkable writers and poets, very much for the purpose of revealing the veiled truths of their own moments.

When the apocalypticists wish to speak of what is hidden under the “Roman Peace” they give vile images of many-headed dragons. When they wish to speak of what is hidden beneath Roman economics they give images of pale horses of poverty and famine. When they wish to speak of what is hidden beneath Roman cultural imperialism they give images of bodies forcibly tattooed with marks of allegiance.

We can hear facts and figures all day about the men, women and children killed in other lands on the other end of the arms sales that keep the British economy “healthy”. We can hear facts and figures about the period of mass animal extinction we’re presently living through. Our resilience to terrifying facts is amazing. It will often fall to the work of artists and prophets to create spaces in which the hidden realities may really be felt, known, and grieved. 

Tearing holes in the social veneer

I recently learned that in medieval times the word discovery meant something more like treachery. It meant to dis-cover (or un-veil, or reveal) what was really going on. To uncover the truth that everyone would really rather remained unseen. (Only after Christopher Columbus kicked off a century, and more, of mass genocide in the Americas did the word pick up its present optimistic resonance). And the apocalypticist is indeed the traitor. Their art is an act of cultural violence against the present order of things. It tears holes in the carefully woven veneer. Whether the work is writ large or small, its message to the powers that cover over and dominate tends to sound something like, “not one stone shall be left upon another.” If the word apocalypse is associated with catastrophe, there are reasons. No wonder the prophets and the artists tend to situate themselves on the edges of things… free enough from the demands of the centre to commit their dreadful and treasonous acts of unveiling.

There are many reasons artists work. One of these (and just one) is the work of treachery – the apocalyptic impulse, to reveal what it hidden and to hold space where those things might be seen, heard, smelled, touched and tasted… where they might become known, and re-integrated, toward the healing of all things.

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What’s So Interesting About the Reverse of a Painting?

When perusing the TATE Liverpool’s permanent modern art collection, I love to think on how the paintings are hung. A number of famous paintings are sandwiched in a clear acrylic, bordered by a steel frame. These paintings (see George Grosz’s Suicide, 1916) are suspended in the middle of the gallery spaces rather than being fixed to the white walls.

This display method presents the works, not as two-dimensional portals or windows to look through, but as sculptural works: an object in itself, to be examined in its materiality. In this we see something of the philosophy of the modernist movement; an emphasis on materials, techniques and processes in response to the new landscape of modern life. The canvas is not a window into another reality, but a surface to be acted upon.

Examining the unseen face

George Grosz’s Suicide is one such image. Disturbed by the horrors of the first world war, Grosz turned to political and satirical cartoons that ‘expressed despair, hate and disillusionment’.

George Grosz’s ‘Suicide’ at TATE Liverpool.

Unlike the canvases held fast to the wall, one is able to orbit the work and examine the physical properties of the pictorial and non-pictorial areas. For someone who is quite fond of Grosz’s work, I feel like a fan, enjoying all the unseen details that we are not usually privy to. The age of the wooden frame, the stamp of the manufacturer, the tickets of the auctioneers and the markings of careless manhandling all add to the mystique of masterpiece.

Having examined Suicide numerous times in books and catalogues, I find myself so much more interested in the unseen face of the painting, the reverse. This ‘unseen’ is what gets us geeks going. Whether it is Drake’s old lyric notebook selling for more than my salary, or Nike releasing a series of Air Max 1s inspired by Tinker Hatfield’s original schematic sketches of the shoe, the art viewing pubic thrives off the restricted initial sketches of an artwork in its infancy – or as Nike have shrewdly branded it ‘NOT FOR RESALE’.

In the second half of the 17th century, the fantastically named Flemish painter Cornelius Norbertus Gijsbrechts, an old-school trompe-l’oeil master, depicted the reverse of a painting in 1670 (appropriately titled, Trompe L’oeil: The Reverse of a Framed Painting). Though this painting does not specifically address the charm surrounding the celebrity object, it does certainly draw our attention to the unseen support – the artistic underbelly of almost every famous canvas.

‘Trompe L’oeil: The Reverse of a Framed Painting’ by Cornelius Norbertus Gijsbrechts

Picking up on this, in recent years artists and curators alike have turned to the unseen painting as an art piece in its own right. In 2015 contemporary artist Paul Litherland created a series of photographs showing the reverse sides of artworks drawn from the collection of the Leonard & Bina Ellen Gallery, Concordia University. The images reference the trompe-l’oeil tradition which depicts objects in an incredibly lifelike manner as to cause the viewer to question what is real and what is illusion.

Litherland’s official webpage explains,

“He [Litherland] shares in an overarching interest in the gesture of elevating the mundane material support of an artwork to the status of art, and thus flipping the normal status of the front and the back. He also engages with the trompe-l’oeil tradition, which confronts viewers with the pleasures and questions that come from mixing up the “real” and the “representation” of the real.”

The photographic reverse of a painting plays the part of the pictorial window, portraying something which is not really there. One 2016 Milanese exhibition titled ‘Recto Verso’ focused solely on the power and allure of the reverse of the painting in both traditional and contemporary art. This exhibition brought together a range of works that look at the unseen support and structure of the painting, questioning how the art object carries its celebrity status and how the spell can be broken when the vulnerable substructure of the canvas is exposed.

From the ‘Recto Verso’ Exhibition

Revelation and Disillusionment

When one finally encounters their idol, in whatever form it takes, there can often be a sense of disappointment and disillusion and yet for others an intensification of their delight. Whether it is releasing that the Mona Lisa is not much bigger than an A4 piece of paper, or the reality that Lady Gaga is only just an inch over five foot, when a person or an object fails to meet up to our expectations we can be left feeling bereft. On the other hand, when we have a sense of sharing or partaking with something which is exclusive and unseen, our enjoyment of an object or person can increase.

Have you ever been hit by one of these contradictory reactions? Enamoured that the often unobserved is laid bare before you or disenchanted as the magician’s secrets are all revealed?

So what about George Grosz? In viewing Suicide and other works, I felt the privilege of seeing the side of work that often only the gallery handlers get to see. To imagine the story behind the artefact. Where did Grosz buy the canvas? What was his mental state like when beginning? Did he have to return to the work when struggling with his ill health?

Yet, as with Grosz (and much European art of the period) there is a sense of defeat in seeing the artefact in its entirety. No magic, no mystical allure, just some wood, staples and canvas.

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Tanyaradzwa Chitunhu performs her poems as if they’re brand new

Tanyaradzwa Chitunhu Praise Protest Sputnik Intern Faith Art

Jessica Wood: I always find it a weird question when people ask me ‘what kind of poetry do you write?’ I don’t really know how to answer that question, but I’m going to ask you anyway: ‘How would you describe your poetry?’

Tanyaradzwa Chitunhu: I would say it’s Spoken Word poetry. The difference, I think, between spoken word and page poetry is that spoken word is written with the intent of sharing it out loud. It incorporates hip-hop, storytelling, theatre; it is many different elements all at once, but it is intended to be heard out loud. Whereas page poetry is intended be read. 

JW: I think with my poetry, you can read it out loud and there’s something to be gained from that, but it takes multiple readings in order to understand it fully.

TC: I think the more accomplished performance poets can walk the line, but there’s an immediacy about performance poetry. I don’t have all day to listen to you, or for me to go over a line multiple times so that you get it. I have to be powerful enough to capture the essence of what I’m trying to tell you.

I think that better poets are able to do that; they put enough work and effort into their craft that even though you can get something in the moment, something else should hit you later. There should be a level of realisation even after the moment is done, but I think that takes a lot of craft and a lot of understanding of how to use the words and the performance to create something bigger than the moment. 

JW: What do you think is the benefit of seeing performance poetry live?

TC: Some of the work that has inspired me has made me think after they have finished it. There’s something about the way they’ve done it: the words, the atmosphere they’ve created, that remains with me and it resonates. I think those are the best ones. I’m still striving to get there. That’s where the craft is. 

JW: For me, I have that feeling sometimes after watching music, after seeing someone live. I like to come away from seeing art when I feel like I’m buzzing, really alive and my only response is: ‘I have to create’.

TC: To this day there are things that I’ve carried from those performances, things I’ve learned from that, and those things were spontaneous, they were in the room, they can’t be replicated. I really love that. I love the spontaneity and flexibility of recreating a moment or recreating a poem every time I perform.

Tanya Chitunhu Performance Art Sputnik Faith Arts
Tanya Chitunhu performing at the ‘On Praise & Protest’ launch

That’s one thing I’m trying to do now: even if I’ve been doing this poem for five years, I should be able to ‘re-create’ this, every time I’m on stage. So it’s a different performance every time. It’s a one-off.

That’s hard to do because you’re using the same words. It’s a challenge for me as a performer; how do I say this in a way that’s still real and true to what I wrote it to be, but also bring it forward into today.

JW: Does the way you perform differ a lot between groups, places or people?

TC: I don’t think I’m there yet. I’m still trying to experiment with what that’s going to look like. I hope to bring something different every time, but I don’t think I always manage.

When I’m doing My Africa – which I’ve done hundreds of times – it becomes stale after a while. But [the flexibility of] performance over the page is that I should be able to recreate My Africa in such a way that it’s new, it’s fresh, as if I’m speaking in this very moment. Rather than speaking it from the past, it’s a now thing. It’s a very different performance. 

I should be able to recreate [a poem] in such a way that it’s new, as if I’m speaking in this very moment.

JW: That’s interesting. In my poetry – in Precariat, it’s centred in a very specific time, a specific issue. But if I choose to read it in a different space in ten years’ time, who knows what the context will be like then? It might speak differently compared to what it tells people today. 

Jess Wood, as featured in Sputnik’s Anthology Vol. 2

TC: My favourite poem now is Imagine the Angels of Bread by Martin Espada – it’s so urgent right now, but he wrote it in 1999, and I’m telling you what he says is timeless. Essentially – in the way I interpret it – it’s the kingdom come. He’s put what’s underneath on top, he’s talking about righting wrongs and injustice, but he’s imagining it the other way around and it’s now more urgent than it was in 1999.

That’s the best writing, when your work in twenty years time can still speak and be as urgent or even more so than when you wrote it. That’s the kind of writing I would love to do. I know I’m not doing that right now, but it’s exciting. I just don’t know how often that sort of work happens.

JW: It’s interesting thinking about the seen and the unseen of art; there’s something about time and context which can determine what people are able to achieve or articulate.

TC: You know what – I think the truth is timeless. If you speak the truth it should live forever. There’s truth in the Espanda poem. For me it’s a prophetic piece because he’s talking about universal ideas, big ideas: if your work has these things, it’s going to speak regardless of what time you wrote it and it should speak in sixty years. The nuances might be different, but the truth will always resonate, whether it’s on page or on stage. But for me I love when truth is said out loud. That’s why people preach, right? It’s because there’s power in that.

I think it’s a challenge in this day and age, because we’ve lost the art of being present. We’re consuming the world through media, but there’s still something really beautiful about connecting with an audience. That’s how I look at performance poetry – it’s a live conversation. Yes, I’m doing the piece and I’ve got the words, but the audience is just as much part of the performance as what I’m reading and what I’m giving to them. Their reaction, their faces, however they’re reacting to me, that’s part of my conversation with them. Sometimes I get people to be part of it – I tell them to do this or do that, because I want them to feel that they’re just as much a part of the performance as what I’m doing. 

Using all these phrases and the buzzwords that people love nowadays can get you the affirmation that you want, but does it actually help people grow?

I think that’s the difference with the page. I don’t know if you write with an audience in mind?

JW: With what I was writing recently – all the stuff that’s in Temper – I think I had in mind people who are like me, encouraging those people to be empathetic in how we engage our opinions, our views and our voice.

What you say about the fact that we’re not present anymore is so true – it also relates to the way we form our opinions on situations. I really wanted to step into that and challenge that a little bit. I’m learning more that it’s a valuable thing to do to focus my work, but I’m still growing in it. 

TC: It shouldn’t overtake you. There’s also the fear of writing to please people, writing to impress people. Unfortunately spoken word can be a bit like that, particularly competitive slam poetry. People can write with the intent of winning a slam and write knowing what the audience wants to hear, or what is popular-

JW: Yes, that vexes me so much. That’s what I was trying to get at in Temper, I want to speak about these issues that everyone is talking about, but in a different way. Using all these phrases and the buzzwords that people love nowadays can get you the affirmation that you want, but does it actually help people grow, and see the world differently, and see the world from different people’s perspectives? 

TC: This is something that poetry should do in general: authenticity. There should be a level of being honest and real. Sometimes it’s easy to write with the intent of pleasing or to fit in or to conform, whereas I think the best kind of poetry is authentic. 

There’s this saying ‘what comes from the heart, enters the heart’. I like that. What drew me into spoken word was that I really felt these performers were not just performing, they were giving me their guts, giving me their heart, and I thought – wow, I’ve got to be part of this, because this is meaningful, this is powerful, this is weighty, this is costly, this is awesome – you know, in the best possible way. 

Tanya Chitunhu Performance Art Sputnik Faith Arts
Tanya Chitunhu performs at the ‘On Praise & Protest’ launch

JW: If people only ever saw your work online, a video or on youtube, or even reading it in your book, what do you think is lost? 

TC: I think that that’s an audience question. I think that you should answer that, because you’ve seen me. It’s hard for me to answer

JW: With your poetry, the way you perform it engages your senses and you have so much genuine joy when you’re reading it. I can see how much you love and value all those elements, and that really comes across in the performance. There’s something about your personality that’s only scratched on the surface in the words, and that comes to life in your voice and your character. 

TC: What I’ve always loved about performance poetry and what I always try to give is passion. Passion, passion, passion – I try to embody the moment. I don’t know if I do it well every time, but I am literally becoming the poem. I’m taking on the emotions, the intent, everything.

I’m investing me into this piece. I’m giving you a piece of me, essentially. Taken to its fullest extent, it’s very exhausting, but I feel like it’s worth it. It says that this is important enough to put me into it. So then the poems will be different than on the page, I think, because it’s missing something of who I am. 

JW: You’re still there in the poems on the page, but it is like a little scratch on the surface. There’s something different when you perform, when you embody it. 

[In performance] I’m giving you a piece of me, essentially. The poems will be different on the page, I think, because it’s missing something of who I am.

TC: Also I think ‘performing’ and ‘performance’ is different. I tend to be quite big on stage, but I think I need to learn as well how to be small. That’s as much performance as being big, you know? You can’t be big all the time, not every poem is big. It’s learning how to do that, but still how to be myself, how to be authentic, but learning how to use everything that I can on the stage. 

There’s more to work with on the stage than the page. I could sing a line or I could say a line. I could say it quietly, or loudly, I could say it with force. 

JW: I see that as well on the page actually, I see that there’s so much room. You know the book On Poetry by Glen Maxwell? He talks a lot about the use of space in poetry, specifically on the page. He talks a lot about black space and white space, how the white space of the page interacts with the blackness of the words and the text and how you can manipulate and use that. 

TC: A performance space is very much the same for me. I’ve thought about starting a poem from the back of the room and walking my way to the stage. I’ve never done it but i think I should- 

JW: You should! I think that carries the audience through the poem in a very different way. 

TC: -and it’s always that element of surprise, that’s the thing that you miss, the potential for surprise on the stage. The Haitian-American poet Carvens Lissaint, he came over almost ten years ago, performing with a group, and this poem he did – Beauty Part Three – he’s basically talking about how he grew up and was being bullied, he was overweight and then he lost the weight.

In the performance when I saw him, it was in this dark room full of people. At the end of the poem, he did something that wasn’t even part of the set. He got off the stage and he started saying ‘you are beautiful’, ‘you are beautiful’ ‘ you are beautiful’ – I remember that moment. I thought wow…  when he said those words I swear something shifted in the atmosphere; something magical happened and I never forgot that, as an audience member but also as a performer.

He created that moment, and ten years later I’m still talking about it. As a performer and as a poet that’s what you want, to remain, but how you do that is going to look different on the page as on the stage. I love creating those moments – I don’t think I’ve really mastered that, but I would love to be able to do that for other people. 

JW: So what are you working on at the minute?

TC: I’m praying about, how do I use this art form to serve in a bigger way, in a bigger capacity. Paul in Philippians says don’t do anything out of selfish ambition or vain conceit – value others above yourself, seek other people’s interest over your own. That’s really a challenge, especially as someone who’s on the stage, which is all about ‘what i want to say and what I want to put out’. 

I don’t want my work to just be about me. I want it to be bigger than my own experiences, or my own life. The best kind of poetry helps you to see differently. I would love to be able to do that. I just know that my work can’t be rooted in myself – I’m too small and to be boring for my work to be about me, when there’s so much going on in the world. 

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Don’t Forget, Your Collaborators are as Important as Your Audience

Kingdom Artist Initiative Sputnik Faith Art

Art only works if it has an audience. It is necessarily public. People can creatively express themselves in private, but for that creative expression to be a genuine artwork, it must communicate, which means that it must be read, watched, heard or seen. Therefore, it is no surprise that in our art practice, our focus is on the public face: the stage, the page, the exhibition, the release.

However, in all of this there is a danger. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warns against giving to the needy, fasting and praying in a very public way and to be admired by others, but instead to do these things ‘…in private. And your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.’ (Mt 6:4,6 and 18).

Of course the context is very different, but the warning still carries some force for artists. If our attention is overly drawn to the public we may well miss the things behind closed doors, that God may well view as most important. Lying beneath and behind our artwork are all sorts of private things that God not only sees, but rewards, and I sometimes wonder whether it is in these secret, unseen interactions and practices that God often does his most long lasting work in us and, even through us.

One of these private things is the relationships we make through our work.

Loving others throughout the artistic life

When we make a piece of work, we endeavour to establish a relationship with an audience, but there are plenty of relationships that go into the production of the work itself. This may involve the collaborative relationships that help bring the work to life, or possibly the relationships with those you work with along the way (with the event promoter, the publisher, the person behind the sound desk, etc).

My conviction is that our primary calling in our art is the same as our primary calling in our lives in general: to love others.

Roger Scruton, the aesthetic philosopher, put this excellently regarding our artistic output:

It is certainly a failing of a work of art that it should be more concerned to convey a message than to delight its audience.’

I don’t think that all work should aim to ‘delight’ people in the short term (work could be concerned with immediately provoking, warning, shocking or consoling its audience) – however if we take his general point to mean that our work should be made with a desire for the increased well-being of our audience, then I fully agree. In other words, our work should be done in a spirit of love and kindness.

Perhaps, though, it is even more important to live this calling out behind the scenes of our work.

I had direct experience of this in a band I used to be part of. We recently released a remastered version of our debut album, to mark its 20th birthday. I’d not listened to the album much in the last decade, and spending some time with it again caused many unexpected reactions.

It was strange hearing the voice of my 20 year old self again, and to reflect on ways in which I’ve changed or stayed the same. It brought back to mind the events that surrounded the recording and release of the album (the feeling of total joy to find out that DJ Pelt was willing to work with us, overloading on Tetris during recording sessions, arguing about which vocal takes to include… that sort of thing). It also compelled me to think about the value of the work. What did it matter? Was it time well spent, writing, recording, releasing and gigging this album?

I wonder if one of the most important parts of our legacy happened away from the stage or the recording sessions.

I loved being part of Michaelis Constant. It is genuinely one of the highlights of my life, and I thought we did a pretty good job. Our music got reviewed well in the hiphop magazines I grew up reading, we got to play live with most of the bands I most enjoyed listening to and I was pleased, listening back to the album, that I still like listening to it, and I know there were other people who did too. However, I wonder whether one of the most important parts of our legacy happened away from the stage or the recording sessions.

When we started the band, my friend Rich, who was a producer and rapper in the group, wasn’t a follower of Jesus. By the time we broke up, he was. I still remember the time we were praying together during a band practice and Rich, I think for the first time, chipped in by praying himself. ‘God, thank you that I can thank you,’ he said. It was a simple but deeply profound prayer.

If all Michaelis Constant ever achieved was that prayer, I think it would have been enough.

Achieving the Unexpected

I saw something similar to this recently while watching a live video of Kanye West’s Use this Gospel. I’m sure you’ll know the headlines by now: Kanye West releases gospel album, talks to anyone who’ll listen about his conversion to Christianity, sends critics scurrying to admire or decry his new direction. It’s all very brash, very public, very Kanye.

But there are unseen stories going on behind the hype, and in this video you get a tiny glimpse of one of them. This song is notable because it is the first song that the lauded hip-hop group Clipse have appeared on since 2009. Clipse is/was comprised of two brothers, Pusha T and Malice, but after the release of their third album, Malice became a Christian (soon after, changing his name to No Malice) and the band broke up. No Malice and Push continued to release music, but they were clearly no longer on the same page, with No Malice wearing his newfound Christianity on his sleeve, and Pusha T’s content continuing to be unrepentantly ‘street’, often revolved around drug dealing.

Since the group broke up, Push has worked extensively with Kanye West. In 2015, he was made president of G.O.O.D Music, the label that Kanye had founded.

Fast forward to now. Kanye has become a Christian himself and is releasing gospel music. It is the perfect opportunity to unite the two brothers and bring Clipse back together. Thus: Use this Gospel.

So, you up to speed? Good. With all this in mind then check out the video. Kenny G does his sax thing then the music kicks in, and it’s all pretty immense and spectacular. Push fumbles his verse and there are some mic problems and then No Malice steps up and raps, with Push vibing along and providing the overdubs. Then at 3:53, No Malice puts his arm around his brother and closes with the line “hold on to your brother when his faith’s lost”.

Maybe it’s in these unseen interactions, conversations and friendships that God really wants to work.

I’ve got to be honest, that’s a tears-in-the-eye moment right there. For all the Megachurch performances, Apple Music interviews, over 200 million streams, worldwide number 1s, there is an almost unseen story of two brothers who have found a way to reconnect and make music again together. If that’s not enough, one of them can use this new platform for collaboration to tell his bro about his affection for him and his desire to see him come to faith in Jesus.

Please, don’t forget the relationships behind your work. Don’t get so focussed on the audience that are out there, that you forget to love those around you in the process of making. Maybe it’s in these unseen interactions, conversations and friendships that God really wants to work.

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Watch a new posthumous film of uncut Huw Evans wisdom

Back in 2017, when we first launched our Sputnik Patrons scheme, we commissioned a small handful of projects by Sputnik friends. One of these was a book of poetry by long-time Sputnik legend Huw Evans, our resident writing and poetry mentor.

At that time, Birmingham filmmaker Joel Wilson headed out to talk with Huw about the poetry project. It turned into a wide-reaching conversation about Huw’s practice, his influences, and the artistic process at large.

Huw had already received a terminal cancer diagnosis at this point, and sadly, he passed away in 2019. We already shared our tribute to him, here – but a year on from his death, with this footage dormant in the cupboard, Joel took it on himself to finish a cut of the interview and share the various gems within.

We’re hugely grateful to Joel for his work – and whether you’re a writer, poet, or another kind of artist entirely – you’ll find plenty to relate to and dwell on in Huw’s thoughts.

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LifeBox Theatre and the StageWrite festival of new writing

StageWrite Festival Theatre Sputnik Faith Art

Phil and Harri Mardlin are the founders of LifeBox Theatre company, based in Bedford. Both relative latecomers to the theatrical world (at least, by the industry’s standard) they’ve nonetheless carved out a successful niche for themselves by switching between several different hats: communication training in businesses, education and healthcare; agency-style management of other actors; and of course, your meat-and-potatoes gigs acting, writing and directing.

Sputnik Patrons helped to fund the 2018 StageWrite festival, run by LifeBox Theatre – a festival for new writers which Phil and Harri have built from the ground themselves.

Sputnik Patrons Promo Phil Harri Mardlin
(L-R) Phil and Harri Mardlin.

PHIL AND HARRI exemplify the Sputnik credo: an abundantly creative, affable duo, operating at a professional level; embedded in their industry, but also dedicated to their local environment, Bedford, where they lead a Sputnik Hub thriving with poets, painters and other actors.

For Phil and Harri, work, life and faith commingle every day; with humility, they pour themselves out serving a community that is rarely on the church’s radar. And by embodying a person onstage, they can challenge an audience to new empathy and perspective, without being heavy-handed (a well-known maxim of good writing: show, don’t tell).

“We have an opportunity to be embedded in our industry, and to give people a positive experience – whatever the stage of their career.”

In conversation with the Mardlins, it’s clear that they have a deep-felt, nerdy love of their artform, and an unabashed desire for the community around it to flourish. One particular passion project of theirs shows this in crystal clarity: StageWrite, which is run in collaboration with No Loss Productions.

StageWrite: a theatre festival focused on new and undiscovered voices

“STAGEWRITE IS A festival of new writing,” Harri explains. “We invite scripts from any writers, emerging or established, to give them the opportunity to see their work performed by professional actors, in front of an audience, and to gain an understanding of how their work really sits in that context.”

“It’s the most valuable thing, to see your work in front of you, being performed by professionals,” adds Phil, principally a writer/director himself. “We bring a sense of what it might look like in a fully-realised, professional production. You realise, for example, that those 25 lines of dialogue you wrote – an actor can do with one look.

“Out of the new writing festivals that exist, not many are offering that. The feedback we get from writers is that it’s hugely valuable: they learn to hone their voice, to get their message across.”

StageWrite is a fundamentally generous endeavour on the Mardlins’ part. Not only has it been self-funded for the last four years, but in its very essence, it exists to do good for the industry, to show a helping hand to all writers, whatever their background; to encourage people, and amplify unheard voices. It has immediate benefits in some cases: three pieces from previous StageWrite years have gone on to full production and/or touring. But it also takes the long-term view that to bring Gospel life to any community means inhabiting it fully, not as a ‘project’ but as a group of fellow humans in a notoriously difficult and discouraging line of work.

StageWrite, self-funded for the last four years, is a fundamentally generous endeavour on the Mardlins’ part.

Harri considers how to summarise the project. “StageWrite represents a greenhouse, to grow new theatre, which is important. But it also provides us an opportunity to be embedded in that industry, and to give people a positive experience at our festival: directors, actors, writers – whatever stage of their career. We want to live out our professional relationships with people well. We want to honour people.”

StageWrite LifeBox Theatre Sputnik Faith Art
Performers rehearse with LifeBox Theatre.

The Christ-like art of rehumanizing everyone in the room

IN A WAY, StageWrite has at its heart the same golden thread that runs through all of Phil and Harri’s work: communication. Whether they are teaching people how to communicate in a corporate setting, collaborating with actors to bring a play to life, or interacting directly with an audience, the Mardlins help people both to speak, and to listen: a distinctly Christ-like art of re-humanizing everyone in the room, showing us the face of our neighbour.

Phil: “You need to learn, as a writer, to capture your own vision so clearly that any director and a set of actors can pick up your script, and they’ll communicate what it is that you intended to communicate.

“We invite writers to come to the rehearsal of their piece, but they’re not allowed to feed into it; that’s really difficult as a writer – you’re sitting there, thinking ‘That’s not what I meant!’ But actually, that’s how the industry works: the process of submitting a script to a professional company, and having to step back.”

The same golden thread runs through all of Phil and Harri’s work: communication.

This year, our Sputnik Patrons scheme is helping Phil and Harri to fund StageWrite. After honing the list of submitted scripts down to just four, they’ll select one to take beyond just rehearsal into a more fully-realised production – and pay the actors who are taking part.

“Theatre is like no other experience,” Harri smiles. “It can’t happen without an audience; there’s an energy in live performance that doesn’t happen in other situations or mediums. You work with the audience, and off the audience as an actor: it’s an extraordinary experience that can have a very far-reaching, lasting impact.”

Help us to support StageWrite, and other artists like Phil and Harri, by becoming a monthly Patron of Sputnik.