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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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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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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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What We’ve Funded: October 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 October 2022 onwards.

You can find out more about Angelina and Rachel 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 November! Get your application in here. Or why not become a Patron for as little as £5 / month?

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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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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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What We’ve Funded: February 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 this Winter.

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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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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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. 

Manna

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

“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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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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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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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 www.christiancreativedirectory.com 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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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
transformed
through their
words

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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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

intherough.sptnk.co.uk

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 intherough.sptnk.co.uk 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 intherough.sptnk.co.uk and submit work.

We’re looking forward to seeing what you all come up with.

2. Sputnik Emergency Artist Fund

gofundme.com/f/sputnik-artists-coronavirus-impact-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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X-zY1Ag6yj4
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ASea_Jowts&feature=youtu.be

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 office@sptnk.co.uk.

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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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Sputnik Anthology Volume 2

The Sputnik Anthology Volume 2 is here with an access code to hear our latest Sputnik Sounds album Volume 2.5.

We’ve worked hard to curate this anthology, making sure that its a high quality way of showcasing a range of artists, all at different stages in their creative endeavours. It’s also a way of thanking our Patrons, giving them a flavour of what we’re up to.

We love to encourage artists to love Jesus more and create works of integrity and excellence, and also to work with churches to help them serve and welcome artists better. We’ve really known God’s grace in this so far, and are excited to see how things are developing in the Sputnik network.

The anthology has already been sent out to our Patrons who have made the publication of this Anthology possible, as well as supporting artists long term over the last year. This is a small way of saying thanks for all that they have done.

Consider it an opportunity to engage with the artists we work with for yourselves, follow them on social media, learn more about their work and practice and support them further by buying their art!

If you’ve received one already, we hope you’re enjoy it and if you haven’t, what are you waiting for?

If you’d like to receive a copy yourself as well as regular gifts of art throughout the year, then please consider supporting us as a Patron.

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‘This is the way, walk in it’ conversations from the Edinburgh Hub

Photo by Liam Rotheram

For our latest Edinburgh Sputnik Hub, 26 creatives from churches across Edinburgh came together to eat stuffed aubergines and fill their ears with Grant Holden’s journey from school-boy to adult-animator. We had a fantastic time sharing dinner and a bit of life together, and once well fed, we turned our attention to Grant, who graduated from the Edinburgh College of Art animation degree course last year.

Since then, we discovered he has attended 20 film festivals to showcase his work and has subsequently won awards and competitions (something which has come throughout his life as an animator, beginning when he was in secondary school).

Grant spoke about his development in confidence over the years, feeling as though God had said, “This is the way, walk in it,” bringing him peace in pursuing a career as an animator. We heard about the determination required to pursue projects that celebrate the overlooked and oft-forgotten aspects of life, seen clearly in animations such as ‘Waiting Room’ and ‘Cleaning in Progress’, including the patience for all of the production, modelling, editing and finishing that comes with stop-motion animation. This patience has also prepared Grant for the past year, where he has presented his work in many different places, meeting people and developing relationships rather than being in the animation studio.

We were left with a fascinating discussion over dessert on the question, “Are you still creative if you are not creating?”

This was one that got everyone talking about what it means to be a created child of God, as well as the task of using the gifts God gave us, with the challenge of where we place our identity when we are not necessarily creating creative work on a regular basis. So we present this question to you too, what do you think? Are we creative if we are not creating?

Photo by Liam Rotheram

We are keen to keep up the creative momentum and so are excited to let you know about our next Hub event, which will be on Friday 14th June!

For this Hub we are inviting you to bring creative projects you are working on for you to share, gather feedback and get some creative discussion going around what is going on for each of you. Start having a think about the kinds of things you might like to bring and tell others in your churches or creative circles about this opportunity to share and talk. We love the diversity of creative disciplines represented so do tell others about our Hub meet ups!

We will be having dinner together (all the best conversations happen over food) and will be meeting at 7pm at The Hub @ King’s Church Edinburgh.

Please bring £3 or a card so as to cover the cost of the food and drink.

Sign up on eventbrite.

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Enter the Chaiya Art Awards 2019/2020

The Chaiya Art Awards is a national art award celebrating the intersection of art and faith.

It’s no small perk to be recognised in this competition. Finalists are exhibited at the OXO Gallery in London, and a generous £10,000 in prize money is given to the first place winner.  

Last year saw the first round of entries and winners for the award, exploring the theme: Where is God in our 21st Century World? Sputnik’s own Luke Sewell visited the exhibition, and noted the display of technical excellence on the part of the artists involved, who articulated theology and the nature of God into a 21st century context. Some came from a Christian worldview, but plenty of others brought their own approach.

Now Chaiya Art Awards is back, welcoming a new round of submissions exploring the theme ‘God is’. Work is judged according to theme interpretation, originality, technique and emotional impact.

The award was established in 2017 by Katrina Moss. Though it’s still a young event, Katrina has big aims, hoping that the Chaiya Art Award can become an important event in the national artistic calendar. The long term aim is to reignite conversations of spirituality, placing them back in the mainstream of the art world.

It’s exciting to see more opportunities being created to intersect conversations of faith and art. We imagine that God Is will attract a broad range of artists.

If you want to get involved yourself, read more details over at the Chaiya Art Award website.

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“The master’s sword dances through the air..” – ‘The Legend of One’ by Pythagoras the Praying Mantis

It all looks so effortless. The master’s sword dances through the air, writing its signature in bold swoops and stings. Try to emulate the motion yourself and you’ll be suddenly and rudely aware of the skill and dexterity of the master. So it is with Praying Mantis’s rapping. He delivers multitudes of beautifully crafted multi-syllable delights and, as always, he makes it sound easy.

The Legend of One is the work of a rap veteran. There’s some of the funk-fuelled, emphatic punctuation of Masta Ace, the furrowed brow intensity of Inspectah Deck and the brimstone wit of Chester P. The producers are magpies, finding gems from hip-hop’s NYC golden age as well as sharp, glittering sounds from various UK hip-hop junk shops. The snares throughout are mesmeric. Listen to Guttah Breath and join the snap of a thousand necks. Together the production and the imagery exude late 20th century summers and the metallic taste of blood after a lip-busting scrap with a rival gang. It’s scuffing your prized British Knights as you scrabble over a wall chased by a Dobermann. Mantis recounts both the warm and cold memories of the past.

This is an autobiography which tussles with the bruising, humbling realizations of unfinished business. The choruses are strong and contagious, and the guest vocalists bring complimentary vibes, adding further gravitas to the ideals and ideas. One gripe: only the album opener features cuts and scratches. More rhythm-elbowing turntablism would have been welcome.

Mantis talks about his zig-zag killer flow, referencing Wu-Tang Clan’s leader, the RZA. The Legend of One wears its Wu-Tang influence on its sleeve, underlining Mantis’s rap journey and celebrating the sounds that hyped up and captivated his younger self. For those new to Mantis, the playful ruggedness of the track RIP attempts to bring you up to speed.

We hear the sheer joy of flow and a vocalist sparring with the snare drum. A deep seam of spirituality runs through the album. Mantis is vocal about his gratitude for the journey he’s being on and the grace of God. At times he stands his ground, weapon raised, roaring ‘None shall pass’ yet at other times, he’s on his knees, open- handed, ready to break bread and talk to the Oracle.

https://soundcloud.com/xandermartini/07-the-oracle

Mantis aims the biggest, most challenging questions at himself. What are the foundations of my life built on? Can I escape the colonization of the soul? Inevitably we the listeners start asking the same questions too. Sonically and rhythmically The Legend of One is part-nostalgia, part sabre-duel in a cultural snowstorm. It’s digging in the past rather than breaking much new ground, but the unflinching honesty is brave and the poetic techniques are ice cold.

Join us on May 24th, 8pm @ Mockinbird Cinema, Digbeth, Birmingham for the Legend of One album launch.

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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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Holding our identity together: thoughts from the London Faith & Art day

Last week we launched our first Hub in London, joined by around thirty artists from across the city in an eclectic mix of people, disciplines and experience. What brought us all together was the shared desire to be part of a community of creatives who believe in God and are striving for excellence in our work. 

Jonny Mellor addresses the London Hub

I was struck by the paintings of Jennifer Litts, specifically her piece ‘Release’ – a visceral expression of deliverance. Not only because of the bold use of a bloody red biro, but because of the expression of sincere pain and exertion that she managed to portray.

This piece was reflective of her process in navigating the creation of art alongside her faith, and I think it expresses a sentiment that all Christian artists can resonate with. The deep desire to create work that can hold together multiple facets of our identity is an act of deliverance that we grapple with daily as we turn up to the page/ canvas/ screen etc.

As we spent some time pondering the question ‘what should Christian artists be like?’ an answer was provided in the most unlikely of places, specifically the youngest member of our audience (at 12 years old) who said: ‘Well surely we must be kind, thoughtful and hardworking?’ I think this message could be taken as the key take-home point from the day. It helps us all consider how we want to navigate the creation of our art in the world, not only in the final products we create, but in the relationships we build along the way.

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Spring 2019: What’s been happening in the Sputnik Hubs?

I like the internet. Seriously, I’m a big fan. Questions like ‘what sitcom was that actress in?’ or ‘can I reheat this 3 day old rice without dying’ are no longer a problem. And now I can literally watch Yo! Mtv Raps all day long.

Yes, I like the internet, but I like people more. People are better.

This term, at Sputnik HQ, we’ve been simply too busy to deal with both so we’ve had to make a call on this one. So you may have noticed we’ve been quiet online since January; however, when it comes to people we’ve been hard at work.

We’ve already put on 4 meet ups, connecting together over 100 artists for potential camaraderie, critique and collaboration. And the London Faith and Arts Day, and Benjamin Harris’ exibition launch in Newcastle are still to come. We’ll report on those (and also the cracking day Luke Tonge and I spent down in Falmouth a couple of weeks ago) shortly, but for the time being, we just wanted to give you a flavour of our three Sputnik hub gatherings this term.

Birmingham

Benjamin Harris:

Saturday 9th of March saw around 20 of us gathered in Joel and Danielle Wilson’s spacious front room to encourage one another in serving Christ through serious engagement with art. We kicked off with lowkey poetry and musical performances from local artists David Benjamin Blower, Jessica Wood, Pythagoras the Praying Mantis, Bernard Davis and Tim Riordan of Atlas Rhoads. Following this, we were blessed to learn from the wisdom and work of Edinburgh based artist Stephanie Mann.

Stephanie shared her playful artistic practice through the lens of process, sharing about the artist’s journey from conception through to completion, and exploring the tricky act of balancing the frustration of theory with the merriment of making. Stephanie’s work provoked much chin stroking, head scratching and thought provoking conversation culminating in a back and forth about Freud, Jung and whether Jesus had a subconscious!

Following a short tea break we rejoined to share about what is happening in our lives as individuals and artists before praying for one another. I personally find this to be an enriching part of the Sputnik Hub. Yes, we make art. Yes, most of us enjoy musing about the deeper things in life. Yes, we feel called to create. But more fundamentally, we are all God’s children in need of prayer.

Edinburgh

Joanna Spreadsbury:

What an evening! We had 25 people arrive for dinner and discussion at our latest Edinburgh Sputnik Hub, with 9 different churches across Edinburgh represented, all coming together to discuss our creative artistic endeavours and our Christian faith.

Starting off the evening with some presentations by our hub co-ordinators, we had writer Hannah Kelly, illustrator Liam Rotherham, PR assistant Hannah Knox and dressmaking tutor and maker Joanna Spreadbury talking about their everyday work within the creative industry. From such a range of arts backgrounds, we were able to hear about the highs and lows of being a Christian in their work, about opportunities to share the gospel, and continuing to work for the glory of God, whether that is in marketing meetings, writing in a coffee shop or teaching classes.

Breaking down into smaller discipline groups (writers/musicians, visual artists and performing arts/production/misc.) we then talked about how we meet with Jesus in our everyday lives, the difficulties found in workplace environments versus freelancing and praying for each other to go out with boldness in the Holy Spirit, to impact those we meet with the creativity we have been given and cultivated.

Milton Keynes

Sharon Clark :

If anyone mentions the movie Jaws, what immediately springs to mind? Chances are its iconic theme tune will immediately begin to play on your internal juke box. The creation of soundtracks is a vital part of the movie and TV industry, adding a rich layer of musical drama and emotion to the visual landscape.

At the recent Bedford/Milton Keynes Sputnik hub event, Matt Hawken provided a wonderful insight into the world of background music, and his career as a composer and musician. The first thing that amazed us was that his skills go far beyond musicality and creativity – composing background music involves a huge amount of technical knowledge. Matt loves to create unnatural sounds from the natural via sampling, and demonstrated this with music that featured a cello bow being drawn across a rubbish skip!

Matt also told us how his working day is not one of a few minutes of creativity, but very much a nine-to-five production job. The industry is a highly competitive one, and musicians are constantly pitching their wares to companies knowing that only a tiny proportion of their work will be selected (unless your name is Hans Zimmer!) In a world where digital music is freely available on-line, Matt observed that it is now businesses and companies that are shaping culture because they have become the new patrons of the arts – the ones who are still willing to pay for music, provided it is written for their needs.

As a Christian, Matt says his faith is important because he knows his identity and value is not dependent on the next sale. He also pointed out that there is constant creation in God’s world, and this encourages him as an artist because there is always more creativity to come.

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Which Artists Did Sputnik Fund in 2018?

Sputnik Faith Arts Funded in 2018

When we started Sputnik, I decided to ask as many artists as I could what the church could do to support them more effectively. The top answer was always the same. Money!

The first time I heard this, I thought they were joking (I mean, what about all of the important pastoral care and encouragement churches could give instead?)  The second time I still thought this was a bit basic (wouldn’t you prefer the occasional chance to have your work profiled in a church meeting or your church leader coming to one of your performances?) By the third time, I began to think through how we might be able to help.

Thus, the Sputnik Patrons scheme was born.

2018 has been our tester year, both in terms of working out what kind of projects we should fund and also how we can start recruiting patrons. And we’re getting there. We now have a small but trusty base of patrons and we managed to help fund 4 exciting projects this year…

Minor Monuments (Huw Evans’ first poetry collection)

Huw Evans is part of City Church, Newcastle and has been honing his craft as a poet, novelist and playwright for many years. Over the last 12 months, there has been a particular explosion in his creative productivity and we had the pleasure of helping him to publish his debut poetry collection in May. The money from Sputnik Patrons has gone towards the art direction and printing of the publication, featuring original illustrations from Brum based printmaker Luke Sewell.

It is a fantastic collection split into four sections, my favourite of which is called Discourses of The Severed Head. It features the reflections of the severed head of an ancient mythological British king which gets dug up in modern times and shares its wisdom on, among other things, Walt Disney, Tabloid journalists and the British political system. Hopefully that whets your appetite to investigate further…

Huw Evans Poetry Minor Monuments Sputnik Patrons

Strange Ghost (Neo-soul group from Birmingham)

Strange Ghost had an excellent 2018. The Birmingham based neo-soul outfit, pulled together by Chris Donald and fronted by his wife, Wumi (both members of Churchcentral, Birmingham) released their debut EP, Stagger in 2017. They started gigging in February 2018 on the Brum local gig circuit (in which they were billed 3rd on a cold Tuesday night) and were immediately snapped up to headline at The Hare and Hounds, one of South Birmingham’s premier venues, a few weeks later. As if this wasn’t good enough, they ended up supporting renowned Scandinavian pop act MØ at the Birmingham Academy that same week.

What was behind this sudden burst of exposure? Strange Ghost’s ridiculous skills, obviously. God’s favour too, I imagine. But, also a fund injection from Sputnik Patrons to help them get their name out there more effectively. It really worked.

Our original intention was to continue this support to help them book some spots at key summer music festivals, but a creative side project derailed that scheme (the birth of Erin Donald in July!) Do not fear though, Strange Ghost will be back, and you never know Erin may get on BVs!

Strange Ghost Birm Acad

StageWrite (New writing festival, Bedford)

StageWrite is LifeBox Theatre’s annual new writing festival based in Bedford. It is a platform for emerging and published writers to see their work up on its feet, in front of an audience and performed script-in-hand by professional actors  It has been running since 2013, and this year was its biggest year yet. They received 63 scripts, and put on 4 of them at The Place Theatre, Bedford over 2 nights in May, with each performance followed by a Q&A session with the director, actors and writer.

The money from the patronage scheme allowed LifeBox to pay the actors involved in StageWrite for the first time and enabled one of the plays 42 Times around the Sun to be taken to a scratch night at OSO Arts Centre in London where the piece was performed in full production.

Life Box Theatre is run by Phil and Harri Mardlin, who are part of Kings Arms Church, Bedford and help lead our MK/Bedford hub. As well as funding new art to be produced by Christians, we also want to encourage Christians to serve the artistic communities in their local areas, and StageWrite is a fantastic example of how to do this.

To find out more about this project, check out Phil’s reflections on the blog.

Stagewrite18a

By The Lovely Shores (EP by Brum singer songwriter, Joanna Karselis)

Joanna Karselis, of Oasis Church, Birmingham, is a film composer and singer songwriter. Her latest release, By the Lovely Shores is an intimate EP documenting the journey of watching a loved one struggle with dementia. Though often heart wrenching in its honesty and passion, it’s also a vibrant and hopeful collection of songs and it’s been a Sputnik favourite for months.

While our Patronage Scheme provides funding for projects, we also provide practical help as well, and on this project, through the support of our patrons, we were able to contribute the artwork for the EP and provide assistance with print production.

Joanna Karselis By the Lovely Shores Sputnik Faith Art

For those of you who are wondering what happened to Benjamin Harris’ exhibition that we promised you in our Patrons Scheme video, well that has been moved back to April 2019, and will be one of several new projects that we’re hoping to fund in the coming year.

We’re so pleased to be able to support Christian artists who are looking to create powerful art and serve their local communities, but this is just the beginning. We are receiving some very exciting new applications for funding and we’d love to be able to assist these artists even more, but this will only be possible with your help.

Why not become a patron of Christian artists through the Sputnik Patrons Scheme in 2019? You can sign up for as little as £5 a month and, as well as helping Christians’ artistic projects, you’ll receive a bi-annual anthology of art from the network, and more besides. Sign up here and let’s support Christians in the arts together.

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The Sputnik 2018 Review

2018 has been a strange year. Brexit, Teresa May and Trump have stolen most of the headlines. England did adequately in the footy. That actress from Fringe got married to someone or other. Basically, the earth orbited the sun.

As for events in Sputnik-ville, it’s been an exciting year, but one with its ups and downs too. I thought I’d do something of a review and run you through 10 highlights and 1 low light just before we move seamlessly into 2019. (And just so you know, I’m not even going to include the work we actually funded this year- that will be another post).

So what were the highlights? Well, in no particular order...

Sputnikphoto

1. We started a new Sputnik Hub in Edinburgh

2018 has featured all sorts of Edinburgh related goodness for me. Let’s see, there was a Faith & Arts Day, a Hub launch, another stunning Christmas video, new friends and the first time I’ve ever got to meet a Christian surrealist (the brilliant Stephanie Mann). There’s too many cool Edinburgh related moments (or people) to do justice to here, but don’t worry, it’s not the last you’ll hear of those guys.

Read more here.

Mr Ekow Strange Ghost Cat fest

2. Mr Ekow and Strange Ghost showed the Catalyst Festival how it should be done

Catalyst Festival 2018 was such a highlight that it appears three times in this list. The first is Strange Ghost and Mr Ekow’s after hours show on the opening night of the festival. I was delighted when Mr Ekow and Strange Ghost said they’d both play at the festival. My excitement grew exponentially when I heard that Mr Ekow’s set would be a collaborative effort. The end result was the best gig I’ve been to this year, raising the bar to us all regarding tightness, skill and how to completely captivate an audience.

I had some other reflections off the back of the gig, too.

Tongues Glasgow Music Sputnik Faith Art

3. Tongues became one of my favourite bands

When I first visited my friend Luke Davydaitis in Edinburgh, he mentioned a guy he knew from Glasgow who was part of a band called Tongues. Their 2015 single Religion instantly caught my ear, building from an old school electro sound to an emotive synth rock crescendo, all underneath Tim Kwant’s arresting falsetto. My word! However, it was this year’s Fight EP that has really won me over. Not Like The Real Thing is my favourite track of the year, bar none. And we got to feature it on our 2018 Sputnik compilation album (if you’ve not heard it, it’s another great reason to become a Sputnik patron).

Tongues. were our Artist of the Week in October, too.

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4. Tanya C topped off our first internship year with a stunning performance at her book launch

If we’d imagined the perfect person to become our first Sputnik intern, I think we’d have imagined someone very much like Tanya Chitunhu. She was patient, hard working and willing to try out new things. And, of course, she’s got the skills that pay the bills. She crowned off the internship with an outstanding performance at her book launch in July, and since then has gone on from strength to strength. She’s even been made into a hologram in one of her recent collaborative projects (Tanya tells me it’s not like Princess Leia at the beginning of Star Wars, but I don’t believe her)

Read Tanya’s reflections on her year as our intern, here.

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5. Ally Gordon won 5,000 Christians over to contemporary art

When Ally agreed to exhibit at the Catalyst festival, I knew that the exhibition would be fantastic but, I must admit, I was slightly concerned how it would go down generally. I mean, most of the festival goers had come to hear Heidi Baker, not to muse over a collection of exquisitely painted illusions, referencing Umberto Eco and exploring how images shape our perceptions of reality! However, a combination of Ally’s excellent body of work, his incredible skill of articulation and his gentle and gracious manner won over pretty much everyone.

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6. Dutchkid got to number 1 in Lebanon…

And into the South African top 40. And racked up over a million streams. And sold out their debut show. Not bad for your first release! If you’ve not heard it yet, Empires is 5 tracks of pristine synth pop that has managed to constantly slap a smile on my face all through the year. Seriously good work guys!

Dutchkid were also our Artist of the Week back in September.

7. Mantis kept getting better and better

I’ve always held Mantis’ skills on the mic in high regard. He’s been responsible for some absolute bangers (Assassins and Bodyguards, Drunken Mantis, Mind of the Master – I could go on!) but even the best MCs have to slow down sooner or later. At least that’s what I thought. In the last couple of months, Mantis has dropped two videos, and they feature two of his best tracks yet. The new album is out early 2019, and if RIP and Steelwire Technique are anything to go by, it will bring in the new year with style.

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8. Luke Sewell’s patient craftsmanship started to gain some attention

It is always a pleasure to meet people who simply love to create and patiently and quietly apply themselves to learning their craft simply for the joy of it. Luke is one of those people. Baker and trainee museum curator by day, 2018 saw his photographic skills and burgeoning expertise in lino printing come into their own. My favourite work of his were the prints that featured in Huw Evans’ poetry collection, Minor Monuments, but perhaps my fondest memory of the year was his print of Aston Villa cult hero, Juan Pablo Angel, that Villa’s official Instagram picked up. Juan Pablo’s response? An understated ‘I like it, pal!’

Follow Luke on Instagram, here.

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9. Huw Evans produced the ultimate memento mori

My good friend Huw was diagnosed with cancer in 2017 and no amount of creative productivity is going to make that all right. However, it has been truly amazing to see his response to this diagnosis. He has gone into artistic overdrive, finishing off a few novels, some books of children’s verse, and publishing a poetry collection. As if that wasn’t enough, he also put together a one man show, which he debuted at the Catalyst Festival. Not Long Now encapsulates his response to his terminal diagnosis in a moving, profound and often very funny memento mori.

See my other reflections on Catalyst Festival, here.

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10. Duncan Stewart encouraged us to greater dependency on Jesus

I’ve known Duncan for some time and admired his work, but I hadn’t met him until last January when I hosted an artist talk he was doing at Woodside Church, Bedford. I was so encouraged just by his friendliness, enthusiasm and overflowing love for Jesus, but his presentation was a particular eye opener. He vulnerably presented the insecurity of the artist’s life, not as a drawback of the trade but as a blessing, as it leads us to a greater dependency on Jesus. Amazing art. Amazing insights. Definitely one of my favourite evenings of the year.

Read more on that here.

And all of that in one year. Not bad. Not bad at all!

…and the year’s low point

However, balanced against these highlights, it is important to also mention the definite low point of the year. In May, my good friend and one of the founders of Sputnik, Jane Rosier, passed away. It wasn’t a surprise as she’d been ill for some time, but it didn’t make it any easier. Jane was an inspiration, an encouragement and a joy to know.

Jane knew acclaim in life as a ballerina and painter, but at the end of her funeral, the mourners joined together in applause, not just of her talents, but of her whole life. It was a life lived faithfully following Jesus and bringing happiness into the lives of those she met, and amidst the sadness, it was truly humbling to reflect upon her life. A life well lived.

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I guess we can be guaranteed that 2019 will have its own unique highs and lows. The main thing that I like to pray for is that, through the ups and downs, we’ll know God with us in the things we are doing. In all my work with Sputnik this year, I’ve definitely known his presence and favour and I’m trusting God for that to continue in 2019.

I hope you experience the same.

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Christmas Art 2018: More cheeky, joy filled carols from Christ Church, Manchester

In my family, we have a carols’ playlist that we update each year.

It has traditionally relied on the output from the sadly deceased Zang record label (especially the brilliant Zang Christmas album, A Zang Christmas) – however last year, it got a healthy injection of new material. The Blood Magnetic’s Epiphany EP features heavily, but all the other songs originate from one church: Christ Church, Manchester. Sputnik favourite Mike Lawetto is part of CCM and has two stand out tracks (Captain Pinball’s I Love Christmas and Well Done You’s Christmas Time’) and then the remainder of the playlist is last year’s excellent Christmas Carols EP which the church released under Mr Lawetto’s watchful eye (or ear).

Not happy to rest on their laurels, this year, Christ Church Manchester Music have released Carols, Pt. 2, a 3 track EP that acts as a worthy successor to 2017’s endeavours, and has forced us to update the family carols playlist yet again.

Now that his church are responsible for almost half of our family’s carol consumption, I thought I’d get hold of Tim Simmonds, who leads CCM, and find out the deets:

Talk us through Carols pt 2- How did it come about and who’s involved? 

TS: Simple really, we had fun last time and we wanted to have another go!

We have Mike Lawetto, Dayna Springer Clarke, Jake Woodward, Jamie Semple, Phil Grant and Andy Wells involved. Carols are a great opportunity for creative people to let their hair down and try something a bit unusual. Mike Lawetto is the producer and he worked with Dayna on Joy to the World. The Wise Men was especially fun – Jake just decided he wanted to write his own Carol. We used it at one of our carol services this year and it worked really well.

O Holy Night is just Mike Lawetto having fun! He wouldn’t actually play me the song until it was up on Spotify etc. I think he thought I’d hate it because it’s a reggae carol! The idea of a reggae carol sounds awful to me but I think it’s a brilliant tune and Jamie Semple sounds fantastic!

What advice would you give other churches regarding how to motivate and mobilise creatives well at Christmas?

TS: Have some fun and spend some money on a producer! I know a guy….

We release music because we want to invest in our musicians. We want to bring through more worship leaders, we want to sing our own songs and we want to give our musicians confidence.

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Christmas Art 2018: Alternative Stained Glass Windows from St Pauls Auckland

If you want a taste of high quality Christmas art any year, you’re probably best to start by casting your eye towards St Pauls, in Auckland, New Zealand.

Every year, James Bowman and the SPAM (St Pauls’ Arts and Media) team pull out all the stops, and for about the last decade they have set something of a benchmark for churches regarding how to creatively and innovatively enjoy and express Christmas.

This year, the team eschewed their usual Christmas video for an even more ambitious project instead. We caught up with James Bowman to find out what they’ve done.

Alt Carols St Paul's Auckland Sputnik Faith Arts
Stained glass imagery at Alt Carols, St Paul’s Auckland

Hi James, what’s your 2018 been like?

SPAM’s year was mostly centred on STAINED, our multi-faceted community arts event that drew from, and gave to, St Paul’s Auckland’s 31 historic stained glass windows. We started with three Historic Stories presentations where we looked deeply into what was behind the glass. This was followed by an eight week Art Course, with the course art being added to works from our wider community for our weekend-long Exhibition. There was such a wonderful range of involvement and we raised more than enough money to restore our existing windows. We also sowed the seeds for future stained glass windows to be added to our building.

What has SPAM done for Christmas this year?

We wanted to create something non-filmic for this Christmas. Alt Carols is a show St Paul’s puts on for people keen on an alternate take on Carol Services, especially aimed at high schoolers, students and 20-somethings. Our last two films were created to play at Alt. This year we wanted to project imagery during the musical reinterpretations of five existing carols. As we’d been focusing on stained glass, we decided to reinterpret familiar window themes. In addition to the scenes slowly revealed on a huge screen above the five bands or artists, Thomas Bilton projected STAINED fluid art pieces with gentle animation directly onto the church interior.

Alt Carols St Paul's Auckland Sputnik Faith Arts
Live imagery at Alt Carols, St Paul’s Auckland

Can you talk us through the new project?

We chose five traditional window scenes that linked to the songs: the Annunciation, the Angels announcing Christ’s birth to the Shepherds, the Nativity with the Holy Family and Angels, the Magi following the star, and the Holy Family Travelling to Egypt. Inspired by the work of artist Kehinde Wiley, we came up with scenes that would have familiar historic window compositions and content, but be cast, dressed, propped and located in unexpected contemporary Auckland. We needed visual clues to look like stained glass, but aimed to surprise our audience, inviting them to reconsider the familiar narratives, in the same way our carols do.

ALT Carols Windows

We cast from within our church community and Eleanor Calder photographed them around our city with producer Lauren Aitken. Using techniques I developed for my editorial and advertising photoillustrations, I re-worked the shots into their final compositions, with additional imagery, like wings created from a single feather. The frames contain parts of St Paul’s historic windows, the halos are a design created for a STAINED artwork by E. Kim, inspired by our rose window, and put back into our church building in the final image. Historically, Jesus’ halo contains a cross, so we used St Paul’s new logo symbol for him (resulting in pretty cute ears in the Travelling image). The colour palette also draws from our new identity and its symbolism, the colours of our Advent Candles and twists on traditional stained glass palettes.

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Christmas Art 2018: A Christmas video from Jen Rawson and Kings Church Edinburgh

Kings Church, Edinburgh certainly know how to mobilise their artists for the Yuletide festivities!

They started with Threadbare in 2016, continued with He Draws Near the following year and now have made it three exceptional Christmas videos in 3 years, with Translation.

Each project has revolved around the creative partnership of poet Jen Rawson, and director George Gibson, and for Translation, they pulled in a further 20 or so people from their church to pull together their most ambitious and visually arresting project yet. We spoke to Jen to find out more about the project.

How did you come up with the theme for the video?

JR: Last Christmas, I began thinking about how God translated himself into human form. I can’t remember what sparked the idea — a sermon I heard or a passage I’d read — but the analogy of the invisible God translating himself into a form we could better know and understand at Christmas resonated with me. At the time, our church had also become increasingly diverse. There were people representing dozens of different nationalities in our congregation, and I loved the idea of using their voices and languages in a project. With these two ideas in mind, the title “Translation” was born. The text of the poem came much later.

What were the challenges of executing such a project?

JR: The audio was much more complicated this year because of my idea to layer several different voices together. This meant coordinating 9 or 10 different people to record, finding times that worked for them, finding equipment that could record to a high enough standard, and then much more technical editing to put their voices together. Our usual audio guy was also having surgery on his ears a few weeks before the project deadline so he wasn’t as available. (Despite this, he still composed the stunning music you hear in the video.) All of these factors meant collaborating with more people, which meant more organisational and admin work and also meant a greater need to communicate ideas very clearly.

Some artists struggle to work to briefs set by their churches for specific events and projects. What advice would you give to church leaders and artists to help more churches produce such high quality creative projects?

JR: Our church leaders have been great at allowing us the freedom to be creative. Aside from asking us for an artistic piece for the Carol Service, they never gave us a specific idea or theme we needed to stick to. They also recognised that what we were creating was an artistic work rather than a preach, and there was never any pressure to put in a blatant Gospel appeal or message. The video was always considered an element of the overall service so it was okay to use it to ask an unanswered question, for example. Because other elements in the service would provide the more overt message.

That said, we involved our church leaders in the process. They read over the poem, made minor suggestions, and gave their approval before we continued with the project. They also previewed the final video. At the end of the day, this artistic work was commissioned by the church, and it will reflect on the church’s reputation and beliefs. So it was only right that the church’s overseers were able to have input on the final product. For the artist, humility is key. For the church leader, trust the other parts of the body that God has placed in your church and encourage their God-given gifts. I’ve been immensely blessed by the leaders at King’s Church Edinburgh who do this so well, and hopefully, others will be blessed by the art that’s created as a result.

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Everything Conference 2018

Everything Conference 2018 Faith Arts Sputnik
Everything Conference 2018 Faith Arts Sputnik

As David Stroud will often say, the gospel should promote spiritual, social and cultural renewal.

All Christians support spiritual renewal: seeing people born again and spiritually awakened. Most are on board with social renewal: working against the causes and effects of poverty and social injustice. However, David and his wife Philippa’s efforts are most focused on encouraging Christians to pursue the more controversial of the three: cultural renewal.

On Saturday 17th November at St Mary’s Church in Marylebone, London, the Everything Conference trumpeted this message loud and clear.

What is cultural renewal?

Part of the problem people have with cultural renewal is that it is a somewhat slippery phrase. Culture itself is difficult enough to pin down, and when we combine it with the rather open-ended idea of ‘renewal’, we can be left with important questions like “which bits of culture need renewing?” or “what would a renewed culture look like?”

For us as Christians, these questions can multiply exponentially: How much should we expect to renew a culture that is in many ways under the direct power of spiritual forces? (1 John 5:19) How can we differentiate between biblical ideas of renewal and political visions of the future? Should we even bother putting our resources into a world that is, in some sense at least, passing away? (1 John 2:17). Etc, etc.

We could argue ad nauseum on these questions, but the Everything Conference is not designed to enter into such disputes. What David and Philippa and their team do each year is simply bombard us with example after example of Christians who are very clearly renewing the cultures they find themselves in, and doing so in effective, winsome and undeniably Christ like ways. The Sputnik team enjoyed it last year, and personally, I found this year’s conference even more helpful and inspiring.

Quite a line-up!

Michael Ramsden of the Zacharias Trust provided the backbone of teaching for the day in four TED-style talks giving some incisive cultural critique and outlining some appropriate Christian responses.

Around these perceptive observations, we then got to hear from a whole host of people who were putting this into practice.

So Elizabeth Oldfield, director of the Theos Thinktank, talked about how we can all be bridge builders with people who think differently to us. Ici Butcher spoke about the children she and her husband have fostered and adopted. Award winning chocolatier, Will Torrent, spoke of the importance of serving others, doing things excellently and being wise and ethical consumers. Alexander Maclean opened up about his fantastic work helping prisoners on death row in Uganda to get law degrees with the African Prisons Project. And Mark Maciver, otherwise known as SliderCuts, shared about how, as a barber in East London, he looks to act as a counsellor to his clients, who are made up of celebrities, gang members and everyone in between.

And I haven’t even mentioned the artists yet!

The arts were represented by comedian and writer, Paul Kerensa, film director, Stuart Hazeldine and street artist, Lakwena Maciver. Paul Kerensa is an excellent example of a Christian at the heart of the entertainment industry, whether writing for Miranda, Not Going Out or Top Gear or as a regular contributor to Pause For Thought on Chris Evans’ Radio 2 breakfast show. Stuart Hazeldine is most well known for directing Exam and more recently the film adaptation of The Shack – and warned us that waiting around for God to speak to us can simply be a spiritual excuse for doing nothing, encouraging us instead to keep our hearts good and push on in our projects and plans. (Sage advice.)

If you’ve been following this blog, you may well be familiar with Lakwena, who we featured as our artist of the week in September. She shared her desire to tell a better story through her work. It was fascinating to hear her speak about how her mother, who was an active campaigner and protestor against media excesses, had birthed in her a desire to have a voice, which itself showed itself through her striking, hope-filled street murals.

Lakwena Mural Visual Art Ferdinand Feys
Photo by Ferdinand Feys

Refreshment for the soul, peace for the mind

I hope that gives a picture of the mind-boggling range of contributors at the conference. If you got a bit lost in the last few paragraphs, consider what it was like to have that crammed into 5 hours of interviews and presentations!

However, while I am yet to process much of the information I heard and really dwell on what I can learn from each of these pioneers and role models, there were a few things that instantly hit me from the day and for which I am truly grateful.

It was genuinely refreshing to my soul to be exposed to so many Christians who are applying their faith in Jesus, to do people good and show love to the people around them. We live in a society where the church is under the microscope, from within and without, and my Twitter feed and news apps are more than happy to expose the mistakes and foolishness of Jesus followers daily. Much of this criticism is valid and necessary, but I don’t know about you, I find this barrage of critique and calling out exhausting and dispiriting, as someone who believes that the church of Jesus Christ is the hope of the world.

With that in mind, I left the day encouraged to be given fresh reminders and evidence that the good news of Jesus really is good news. Not just to those inside the church, but also to those outside it. There was nothing imperialistic or colonial about the contributors (which is not always the case when Christians talk of renewing culture) – they simply loved Jesus, and were responding with an entirely appropriate generosity to the people around them in whatever field they were working in. Whether that was to their family, their friends or the faceless (but still infinitely valuable) inhabitants of the wider culture.

It was genuinely refreshing to my soul to be exposed to so many Christians who are applying their faith in Jesus, showing love to the people around them.

And this connects with the second thing I took away from the day. I am not sure that I am entirely on board with every aspect of ‘cultural renewal’ as it is sometimes laid out, but at this Everything Conference I saw it at its best. I think that we need to keep asking difficult questions about the extent to which the church should expect to shape the culture around it and the manner in which we seek to do that, but I was personally challenged that I can overthink this stuff sometimes.

Jesus calls us to love our neighbours. Some of us do that by being friendly to our work colleagues or doing good to strangers or serving the marginalised in society. Others do it by making excellent chocolate or empowering wrongly imprisoned women or making colourful, eye-catching street art. Ultimately, it’s the same thing, and it’s the thing that should be number one on the agenda of all those who follow Jesus.

Of course we have a responsibility to introduce people to Jesus, as the one who can do them the most good of all, but the Bible’s quite happy to intersperse instructions about ‘making disciples’ (Mt 28:19) with ‘living properly among unbelievers’ (1 Peter 2:12), and just we are called to be ‘Christ’s ambassadors’ (2 Corinthians 5:20), we are also called to be salt, light and yeast in the world we inhabit. In other words, just as Everything contends, the gospel should promote spiritual, social and cultural renewal.

Whether you were at the conference or not, I’d encourage you to take that calling seriously, and make art in that mode, as a generous, loving overflow of all that God has done for you.

Book in for next year’s conference here – if it’s anything like this one, you won’t be disappointed.

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Give someone a bundle of mind-bending faith-soaked art this Christmas

This year, we fully launched our Sputnik Patrons project: with the help of our Patrons, we funded several artistic projects by Sputnik practitioners. Midway through the year, our Patrons received the first-ever Sputnik Anthology, which is our bi-annual gift to those who support the arts this way.

While we work on the new Anthology for the New Year, we’re giving a one-off opportunity for you to buy the original Anthology package – a killer Christmas gift for your loved ones!

Sputnik Patrons Faith Art Anthology Namiko Lee
Sputnik Poetry & Visuals Vol. 1

Poetry + Visuals Vol. 1 is a tasty coffee-table book featuring poetry from a variety of Sputnik-affiliated talent, as well as 11 pull-out postcards of visual artwork from around the network. For the next 3 weeks, it’s £10 to buy. Get it here.

Sputnik Sounds Vol. 2 is a blast of electronic pop, rock, ambient and hip-hop: eclectic cuts from some of our favourites in the Sputnik community. If you snap it up now, it’s £5. Pick that up here.

You can also grab both together at a package-deal rate of £12. Of course, if you really want to spread some Christmas cheer, why not pay for somebody’s Sputnik Patrons subscription for a year?

 

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Why algorithmic playlists are bad for our cultural soul

Spotify Playlists Faith Art Sputnik Malte Wingen Society
Spotify Playlists Faith Art Sputnik Malte Wingen Society

I first found it easy to ignore Spotify’s computer-generated playlists. I didn’t want music meted out to me by an algorithm – surely, I thought smugly, I have such interesting and unpredictable taste that the AI will never be able to give me what I want.

But, after a while, I got sucked in; it turned out that the machine wasn’t bad at churning out music I might like. For sure, my initial reluctance still held water – my listening history had been a bit lopsided, so by my own standards, the algorithmic playlists were a bit limited, and I was rarely surprised. Nonetheless, it turned up the odd bit of gold.

I should admit that I can be a bit of a music obsessive. From a young age, I was dazzled by older dudes with prolific record collections; interviews with artists name-checking other artists; the little ‘For Fans Of..’ breadcrumbs that helped me discover bands halfway across the world in the pre-internet age. As much as I genuinely loved music, I was also sucked into the idea of being a music buff. In the teenage hunt for identity, it was a way to distinguish myself – to be that guy, with the definitive record collection. John Cusack in High Fidelity, if you like.

Every mini ‘discovery’ was another notch in the catalogue, to throw out with ‘look at my obscure taste’ nonchalance.

It was partly this dubious motivation that pulled me into Spotify’s orbit for a bit; every mini ‘discovery’ was another notch in the catalogue, another song I could throw out into the ether with a “look at my obscure taste” nonchalance. In reality, one of the many valid criticisms of Spotify’s model is that it tends to churn up already-popular bands rather than delivering properly unknown stuff into your lists. Still, I was hearing stuff that was new to me and, therefore, becoming more and more of that knowledgeable music genius.

I’m being harsh on myself, obviously, but that perspective helped me re-analyse my listening habits. I realised I was improving the breadth of my music knowledge, to a degree, but it was a shallow type of engagement. With algorithmic streaming, to turn a (nonsensical) phrase, you end up not knowing much about a whole lot; you can listen to track after track with no knowledge of the person who made it. You might even be listening to a fake artist commissioned by Spotify to save them royalties, or in a few years’ time, music written by machines.

Cultural Pollution

That’s the aspect of algorithms that has finally left me cold – the anonymity of sheer numbers, and the individualising of the music experience. It’s important to know who you’re listening to – not just in name, but by making the effort to dig into their work, make a connection with them, and with the other people who listen to them. The walk of Christ, as I see it, is always to greater empathy, greater connectedness, greater humanity; treating music more and more like a faceless product seems to me to be running the opposite way.

In the West, our culture is over-commodified, turned into a cheap product to give the consumer ‘the feels’ in exchange for their money; artists face pressure to give in to the bottom line, get to the chorus quicker, and tap that mid-tempo rap-friendly goldmine. In the process, our shared culture becomes polluted water. It fails to be a life-giving place where we can all flourish, and turns into just another place where a massive beer conglomerate is trying to get you drunk.

Sitting at home, or at work, with a playlist running in the background, might seem a long distance away from all that, but Spotify is the music industry kingmaker now. Besides, as Lao Tzu could have said, the Pacific garbage patch of a thousand miles begins with a single milk carton.

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How a Hub Works: the launch of Edinburgh Sputnik Hub

King’s Church, Edinburgh recently hosted their first Sputnik Hub gathering. We asked designer and Hub host Joanna Spreadbury to give us a rundown of the evening, as a way of looking at how a new Hub works.

On Friday 12th October we hosted a Sputnik Hub at King’s Church, Edinburgh.

Those arriving were from different churches around Edinburgh, with varying backgrounds in the arts and diverse interests in creative disciplines. We served a home-cooked meal and everyone ate and talked in various sofa/chair combinations, set up ready for the talk.

Jonny started the night off with an introduction into who Sputnik are and what we are aiming to do – I followed by welcoming everyone to the new Edinburgh Hub. I set out the vision for the Hub, with a desire to connect creatives who are Christian, encourage them, and offer an opportunity for critical reflection on their practice or work, as well as bring about a conversation about how God fuels creativity and how we can glorify Him in all things.

Stephanie Mann then took the floor. Having studied Sculpture at the Edinburgh College of Art and continuing to do a Masters in Contemporary Art Practice, Stephanie’s work is broad, colourful and often playful. Mann is a practicing visual artist, based in Edinburgh, and we were delighted to hear about the range of work she has produced including spoken word, film, graphic prints, paintings and sculpture. The diversity of her practice made for an engaging talk, particularly in relation to how her gut instincts act as a crucial role in the production of her work. Mann’s deep insights alongside humorous comments fed into thought-provoking questions from those attending and a dynamic discussion from many people followed.

We then split into discipline groups: Visual Arts, Writers and Misc. (the miscellaneous group being a wider range of creatives including rappers and broadcasters); opening up a space for those attending to share their work, ask for advice, offer an insight into their creative practice and opinions, as well as hearing about other peoples’ work. These groups of 6-8 created a relaxed environment to talk about how peoples’ faith works through their work, and we ended the night with prayer in these groups, lifting up our work to God from whom all our creativity comes.

The next Edinburgh Sputnik Hub will be towards the end of this year; keep an eye on our Facebook group for more information.

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Everyone loves a good story: David Blower at the Bedford Sputnik Hub

David Benjamin Blower Bedford Sputnik Hub Faith Arts

Picture a guy and a guitar and a retelling of the book of Jonah. How does that grab you? Well, with a talented performer steering you through the waves, it’s a pretty captivating experience.

Here at the Bedford Sputnik Hub we managed to snaffle a visit from David Benjamin Blower, a Birmingham-based ‘six-string theologian, writer and town crier’ and get a taste of his ability to tell a story vividly through sound. The text is taken from the King James Version, interspersed with original songs, and on this occasion the whole thing was underscored using an acoustic guitar that cost a fiver from a second hand shop. The set up was simple – a room with a group of people gathered on a semicircle of chairs to listen. Nothing more was needed.

David performs The Book of Jonah in lounges, bars and various other settings where there is an audience willing to listen (and even, at a couple of points during the performance, to help create a soundscape). He says that it’s for everyone and has found that the mention of God doesn’t seem to result in awkward uneasiness. After all, most people, whether familiar with the Bible or not so much, do love a good story.

There was a feeling among us all that the spiritual and secular ‘divide’ in our culture is more blurred than we’ve ever seen

Not only that – we’ve all heard about Jonah, the man who was swallowed by a whale. And as David pointed out (and we agreed) there’s a lot about Jonah’s response to God’s command that we can relate to as human beings. It’s a very understandable reaction to leg it in the opposite direction when faced with a hugely difficult and unappealing task. It came home to me more than ever how much I would respond in the same way Jonah did when David mentioned that present-day Ninevah is in fact Mosul in northern Iraq. As he said, “I wouldn’t want to go there, either.” Well, absolutely. David’s book Sympathy For Jonah (published by Resource Publications in 2016) elaborates much further on this.

The questions of who we make art for, and how unhelpful or otherwise the phrase ‘Christian art’ might be, did come up again – because they seem to have no cut-and-dried answers, and it’s always interesting to hear what new insights may be fed into the discussion. There was a feeling among us all that there’s more of a blurring than ever between the spiritual and secular ‘divide’, and that people outside the church are often very willing to consider and appreciate art that may be deemed ‘religious’ or is clearly inspired by faith.

Those of us at the Hub this time were very glad we were able to be there. I certainly felt encouraged and energised, and appreciated David making the journey to be with us all.

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Our new Sputnik intern: poet Jess Wood

Jess Wood Poetry Poet Sputnik Faith Arts

We’re excited to welcome Jess Wood into the Sputnik team, on our second year offering an internship programme to aspiring artists.We asked Jess a few questions to introduce herself to our readers, and she performed her poem ‘Precariat’ for us, which you can watch below.

Describe yourself in five words:

Compassionate conviction (that) laughs out loud.

Who are your creative inspirations?

I’m inspired by anyone who can use words well to make me really think about things I usually experience without consequence. Whether it be a good preach, a podcast (Krista Tippet anyone?) or a gorgeous piece of poetry. In terms of poets, I’m inspired by Kei Miller, Warsan Shire and Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze.

Why are you interning for Sputnik?

Art can most often be placed on the back burner, and I figure that I’ll never have more freedom to explore, develop and get good at it than now!

I’m at the awkward post-grad state of not knowing what I want to do with my life, so during this year I will be exploring what it could look like for me to make a living as a poet, working within the arts sector and hosting workshops. I decided to intern with Sputnik specifically because of the way they intertwine faith and art which are two incredibly important aspects of my life. I know that the support I’ll receive, both as a Christian and as an artist will set me up well for the future.

What are you looking forward to?

I’m so thankful that I have a team of people behind me who are passionate about seeing me produce new work, and who will – if necessary – go the lengths of locking me in a room with only paper and pen to see it come about! I’m so aware of what a privilege it is to have a year dedicated to my art practice and having the flexibility of working my schedule around something I’m so passionate about.

Within the first month, it’s been inspiring to be surrounded by Christians who take art seriously and want to deeply engage with the issues we face in the world, and I’m so excited to learn more from them. Alongside all my artistic developments, the theology training from Impact was incredibly helpful and released me from a lot of anxieties and uncertainties I had about what a relationship with God can look like. I’m really looking forward to what we’ll learn in the next training block and how it will continue to develop my relationship with God.

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Art is a way to get to know the world: Sharon Boothroyd at the Brum Sputnik Hub

Sharon Boothroyd Photography SW Sputnik Art Faith

We often think of making art like this: we form opinions about the world and learn about what life is like and then, having gained this knowledge and formed these beliefs, we creatively communicate them to others.

But what if this process should be viewed the other way around? What if our art practice should actually be the method we use to gain knowledge of what the world is like?

The painter and writer Makoto Fujimura writes that ‘art is a faithful way of knowing the world’, and compares art to science – as both are methods that help us on our journey towards knowledge. Science strives to understand how thing work inside the confines of the natural world, and art seeks to do the same, but pushing outside those boundaries.

I’d read this a while ago, and thought it interesting, but couldn’t quite see how it would work in practice. However, it all started to make a little more sense when I was at the Brum Sputnik hub a few weeks ago, listening to Sharon Boothroyd talk us through her practice.

Art as getting to know the world

Sharon is a photographer and university lecturer who moved from Birmingham to London about 10 years ago. It was an absolute pleasure to lure her back to her former home city and hear about her artistic journey – particularly how she was actively exploring areas of the world she didn’t understand, and trying to untangle some of the contradictions she recognised within herself.

Since I’ve known her, I’ve been a fan of Sharon’s work, and her project They All Say Please was featured in one of our early Sputnik exhibitions. However, where her early work comprised of carefully arranged set pieces, presented in series of superbly shot images, her more recent work has become much more immersive and expansive.

Sharon Boothroyd Subtext of a Dream Sputnik Faith Art
From ‘The Subtext of a Dream’ by Sharon Boothroyd

At the Hub, Sharon focused largely on her latest project, The Subtext of a Dream, which centres around the fictional character Madame Beauvais who is experiencing erotomania (the delusional belief that one is the object of someone’s affection despite that not being true). This character then acts as a springboard for an exploration of madness, hysteria and longing – but it also inspired Sharon into several interlocking projects involving public acts of confession, wallpaper printing, and an enigmatic series of images of water surfaces, accompanied by recompiled fragments of erotic literature.

The works seemed to me very much like the writing of a novel, and it was fascinating to get such a deep insight into the story while it was still unfinished, and with the artist herself unsure where it would take her next.

But as she was working, she was learning. Learning about the abuses of psychotherapy in the past. About the complicity of her own favoured artistic medium, photography, in the historical mistreatment of damaged women. And all along learning about herself.

She is practicing art as a faithful way of knowing the world.

What is a Christian artist?

Alongside this, Sharon sparked an interesting continuation of the perennial question of what it means to be a Christian artist. I’m sure that many are fed up to the back teeth with this conversation, but I honestly don’t think we can ignore it. As Christians, we want to honour Jesus in everything we do, and our artistic practice is no exception. Just because for so many of us, the expectations surrounding ‘Christian art’ have been so restrictive and unhelpful in the past, we shouldn’t stop asking the question of how we can practice our art for God’s glory.

Fortunately, the discussion on this occasion didn’t sink into grievances about how misunderstood Christian creative practitioners can be, and we didn’t just retread all the old conversations either. There were helpful new insights that took the conversation forward.

What was fascinating to me was how Sharon’s body of work showed a real progression in this regard. Early projects like If you get married again, will you still love me? and They All Say Please focused on the effects of divorce and what prayer means to different people respectively. They are thoughtful, beautifully executed projects, and I’m sure any Christian would deem these suitable projects for Christian investigation.

Sharon’s projects show a profound empathy, honesty and humility that is so winsomely Christ-like, I hope all of us catch a little of it in our practices

However, as Sharon has moved away from such generally approved topics, it seemed that her work has become if anything, ‘more Christian’, if such a phrase isn’t totally ridiculous. SW is a simple documentation of the characters, buildings and wildlife that make up South West London. It demonstrates a care for local community that sadly is so rare in many Christians, particularly middle-class ones, who see their local areas as mission fields, but not as communities to respectfully enter and try to learn from.

Sharon Boothroyd SW Photography Sputnik Faith Art
From ‘SW’ by Sharon Boothroyd

She also showed us works from a collaborative project with a number of people with learning difficulties, exploring their experience of employment. Throughout this project (as well as her ongoing adventures with Madame Beauvais) there is a profound empathy, honesty and humility that is so winsomely Christ-like, it is something I hope that all of us who were present catch a little of in our own diverse practices. If that isn’t Christian art, I’m not sure what is.

As if this wasn’t enough, proceedings were rounded off by performances by Charlotte Young, Barrowclough and David Blower and we even got a pre-premiere premiere of Mantis’ new music video. Oh, and Catriona Heatherington performed a poem that she’d written during the afternoon that quite brilliantly summed up Sharon’s presentation and our ensuing discussion.

All in all, another fantastic Brum Sputnik hub. Keep your eyes peeled for the next meet up in the New Year.

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The Renaissance had us fooled. We were always ‘post-truth’ people

Renaissance Post-Truth Politics Sputnik Faith Art
Renaissance Post-Truth Politics Sputnik Faith Art

At the tail-end of 2016, the Oxford Dictionary made ‘post-truth’ their new word of the year. If we’d needed any further proof of the mood that was spreading through politics at the time, we had it – the post-truth era was in full swing.

I’d find it hard to deny that recent years have felt like a new low in politics within my lifetime; there have been scandals that came close, but the freewheelin’ buffoonery, shifty evasions and straight-up lies going unpunished daily does feel like a new ‘era’ of sorts.

But there are some things that get bundled together under the ‘post-truth’ umbrella that I’m not so convinced are new phenomena at all. Amidst all the casual dishonesty is the idea that now, suddenly, people’s opinions are not shaped by competing, logical arguments, but by pure gut instinct. Throwing logical arguments at people is like water on a chip pan fire, they say; opposition only strengthens people’s resolve to double-down, encouraged by the cheering-on of their like-minded tribe.

This isn’t new behaviour, and in fact, I think we know it. The bottom line is this: humans form our worldviews as much from stories, relationships and emotional attachments as we do from cold, hard facts. Meanwhile, it’s hard-wired into the Western mindset to deny that we have any ideology other than reason alone: and it’s that misconception, rather than some new unruly way of thinking, that left us singularly unprepared for the apple-cart-upsetting blowouts of the last two years.

The myth of the Renaissance

The West has long been on a mission to convince itself that rational, empirical thinking is the only valid form of thought; true and false the only measures of value. This is the legacy of the Renaissance – Europe’s rediscovery of ancient Greek thought, which led us to the Enlightenment and the onset of the modern age. The Renaissance reignited the idea that rational insight was a higher form of ‘knowing’ than other forms of thought, including actual experience, or imagination.

Thereby ‘myth’ became an ugly word, something that needs to be ‘debunked’. Ironically, that attitude is the very myth – the story –that the Renaissance gave us. And, in the way that stories do, it became woven into the fabric of everyday life; it was the engine that drove incredible scientific discovery, but it also re-energized the European monarchies in their colonial conquests.

Nowadays it echoes in Douglas Adams (“Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?”) or in Richard Dawkins: “we don’t have to invent wildly implausible stories [because we have] real, scientific investigation”. But I was pleasantly surprised to see Dawkins’ friend Philip Pullman distance himself from this:

“On the contrary, I’d rather say that there are times when we have to keep our reason in line. I daresay that [imagination] is in fact where a good deal of scientific discovery begins. In the old expression, reason is a good servant but a bad master, and its powers are limited.”

And even this is to make it seem like ‘reason’ and ‘imagination’ can be easily separated. But as Pullman rightly says, earlier in the piece: “Everything that touches human life is surrounded by a penumbra of associations, memories, echoes and correspondences that extend far into the unknown.”

It’s a common knee-jerk reaction in Western societies to think a ‘knowledge gap’ is the issue; that problems will be solved if we give people enough facts. But it doesn’t stand up, as Sarah and Jack Gorman conclude in Denying to the Grave. No matter how well-educated, humans are capable of maintaining wrong beliefs for a lifetime, even beliefs which harm themselves. To try to persuade humans to behave totally rationally is a lost cause.

Sputnik Faith Post-Truth Politics Renaissance Matt Bosford Art

Faith and art are ahead of the curve

This is the artist’s home turf, though. Or not just artists, even; as an avid reader, I know that my worldview isn’t based on cold facts alone. Stories like The Grapes of Wrath, Brave New World and Infinite Jest genuinely changed my opinions and rewired my thinking. It doesn’t bother me for a moment that they’re not ‘true’ stories.

And while I’d obviously disagree with Philip Pullman when he puts faith in the exact same bracket as magic or imagination, it is true that a faith tradition like Christianity, because of its Hebraic roots, is already in touch with a pre-Renaissance (or pre-Greek) form of thought. So you would hope that Christians are ahead of the curve by being comfortable with how stories shape worldview – mythopoesis, as Alastair McIntosh calls it. After all, we constantly make decisions based not just on facts, but on faith.

Christianity in the modern age has spent a lot of time making factual arguments like the historical case for Christ, or the scientific case for God. Far be it from me to criticise any of that, but in the end, I suspect it is typically experience – subjective, emotional, personal – that makes the difference in creating lasting faith. I don’t have any stats to prove that, but I think Francis Spufford is quite right to argue that Christianity makes emotional sense in a way that even watertight philosophical arguments can’t match.

So as Christians should know, and as artists certainly know, we all draw inspiration from stories that we can’t entirely explain or quantify in a rational sense. The value of a myth simply doesn’t lie in being true or false. It has value if it points us in a good direction, and that direction affects how we make rational decisions in the future.

Facing fears in the new post-truth era

As I said at the start, ‘post-truth’ can mean many things. And whichever way we look at it or define it, we are still feeling the weight of irreconcilable differences between tribes in the West. It’s also true that some of the deeply-lodged stories in people’s hearts are actively harmful to others, and that’s a real issue.

So I don’t want to conclude this by seemingly sweeping things under the carpet, like necessary protest or much-needed justice. But I will say – if Christ’s call to love your enemy means loving the person that you hate to think of as human, then in my case, I have to admit that includes right-wing politicians. The way I talk and think about them implies they’re “not even human”. And I need to give that consideration.

I do think politicians in particular have a responsibility to learn, and look outside their experience; I do think that, in practice, our government sorely lacks empathy. But should I really respond by dehumanizing them in turn? Looking across the table at my ‘enemies’ I have to choose to see humans, shaped by stories – rather than faceless ghouls. It’s not enough to complain they “won’t listen to reason”.

Because we’re all post-truth people. We all have stories that tell our hearts what to believe. I hope, in a strange way, that this gives us less reason to despair, or at least helps us to face our political adversaries with humility. Changing the hearts of a people is not just an artistic, but a spiritual task that it’s up to us to embrace. There is no easy path; it turns out Christ’s challenge is harder than most of us can imagine, and in an age of absolute division, the narrow road is the road filled with empathy, contradiction and nuance.

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Escaping our siege mentality and sharing the richness of the world outside

Sputnik Siege Mentality Faith Art Bible Werner du Plessis

In 2 Kings 7, there is a story about the people of God in a spot of bother. Samaria has been under siege for a while and it’s taking its toll. Inflation is through the roof, women are eating their own babies, you know, standard Old Testament siege stuff.

Finally, four lepers decide they’ve had enough – they’re going to die anyway if they stay in the city, so they decide to surrender to the Aramean army. It can’t be any worse than eating overpriced donkey heads and living next to cannibal mothers.

So they go over to the Aramean camp – and find, to their surprise, that the enemy camp is deserted. There are tents; there are horses; there is food, and there is even plunder from previous battles. But the army has fled.

The lepers do a fair amount of revelry, eating and drinking and stashing away some gold and silver; but finally, they decide this is too good to just enjoy themselves. They go back into the city and report what they’ve found. As a result, the plunder is shared out to the people of Samaria. The famine is lifted. People stop eating babies (presumably). All is good.

Strangely, as I reflected on this year’s Catalyst Festival, and particularly the things we were involved with, I started thinking about this story. I wondered if it could be taken as a parable for the church, and how we can potentially relate more fruitfully to the culture around us. I imagine that it’s not immediately obvious what I mean, so I’ll explain.

Siege Mentality

I grew up in a context where I was encouraged to think of the church being in a similar position to Samaria in this passage: we were a people under siege. Inside the church community (and wider than that, the Christian sub-culture) we were God’s holy people, set apart and distinct. Outside, ‘in the world’, everyone was out to get us. The culture at large was populated by godless heathen, trying to attack the church with every weapon at their disposal. Scientists conjuring up half baked theories to undermine the Bible, politicians passing laws to erode biblical values, and – the most devious of all – artists, trying to seduce innocent Christians with their libertine tendencies and coded satanic messages.

Every now and then, we might forage out on a bit of an offensive (picketing an abortion clinic or writing a strongly worded letter to our MP), but on the whole, we responded by shutting the city gates and getting on with life on our own.

And actually, we kind of liked this set up. I mean, wasn’t this what heaven was going to be like? Christians hanging out, thinking about Christian stuff, and not being bothered by annoying others who didn’t share our core beliefs.

But, over time, our isolation started to bite. We found out that we weren’t made to live in isolation, and the culture we created couldn’t sustain us. We became culturally impoverished. We were chewing on the bare bones of Amy Grant, Frank Peretti, Ken Ham and Thomas Kinkade and we were starving.

Eventually, some people in the city decided that they couldn’t take it any longer, so they decided to leave and take their chances with the barbarians at the door.

We found out that we weren’t made to live in isolation, and the culture we created couldn’t sustain us. We became culturally impoverished.

However, to their surprise, they found the situation outside the city was not quite what they’d expected it to be. The fearsome army they were expecting simply wasn’t there. In fact, there was much of benefit outside the camp. There were riches in almost every sphere of human learning that, while by no means perfect, bore the watermark of the same God we allied ourselves with. Ingenuity; creativity; wisdom; understanding.

Rather than getting mowed down by machine gun fire, or being waterboarded till we recanted, these happy adventurers found that, as they explored outside the city, their love for Jesus grew, and their joie de vivre was intensified.

What’s more, their identity as God’s people remained, so they realised that they couldn’t keep this to themselves. They wanted to bring these treasures back into the city and make a way for the people of God to share in the good things they had found.

For example, at the Catalyst Festival…

I think we saw a microcosm of this at the Catalyst Festival this year. On the Saturday evening, Strange Ghost and Mr Ekow skillfully channeled years spent neck-deep in the work of the likes of Lauryn Hill, Hiatus Kaiyote and Outkast. On Monday evening, Huw Evans reflected on his journey with cancer, drawing solace and inspiration from Plato, Thomas Browne and the proliferation of skulls in Renaissance portraiture. And throughout the festival, Alastair John Gordon’s Travels in Hyper-Reality exhibition was on display for all to see. The title of the exhibition is taken from an Umberto Eco book, and the write-up quotes French cultural theorist Jean Baudrillard.

Now, this may all sound pretty unexceptional, but it caught my attention because it was unusual in this specific context. In my experience, Christian conferences are events that are, in terms of the above parable, ‘for the city, by the city’ – celebrating the things of the city. Catalyst Festival has always veered from this model to a degree, but I think we went a bit further this year. We had a number of people contributing who seemed to have ventured out of the city gates and survived. More than that, they brought us back stuff that was of great benefit.

Treasure hunting outside the city

I’m sure my analogy is imperfect, and I’m not suggesting for a moment that this is what the author of 2 Kings was trying to communicate when he came to record this episode. However, I think this picture contains something helpful for those of us who are trying to think through the difficult question of how we, as God’s people, can relate to the world around us, in all its glory and corruption.

As Paul writes in Colossians 2:3, all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Jesus. I’m pretty sure that Jesus, in turn, has hidden quite a few of these treasures a little further afield than the church has reckoned on in recent years. My encouragement would be to keep your guard up and tread carefully, but to go and have a look outside the city to see what you can find.

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Heart-Expanding, Mind-Stretching: My Year as a Sputnik Intern

Sputnik Intern Year Birmingham Faith Art
Sputnik Intern Year Birmingham Faith Art

Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path, and leave a trail.

Emerson

This is one of my favourite quotes for many reasons; it’s a challenge to take risks, find the adventure, and leave your mark. For me, spending a year as the first Sputnik intern was exactly that – as I explored spoken word poetry, made connections and pushed myself further into my craft.

Learning the Basics

The first of my three terms was spent exploring different art forms, by shadowing and meeting other artists. I had a guided tour of Birmingham Museum with visual artist Luke Sewell. I shadowed Birmingham’s former poet laureate Giovanni Esposito (known as Spoz) as he taught spoken word poetry in local schools. I observed Anna O’ Brien, a skilled storyteller, engaging young children at The Barber Institute of Fine Arts through painting and craft. All of these were great learning experiences.

At the same time, I was learning the basic forms and structures of poetry from my accomplished tutor, Huw Evans. Every fortnight, I tried a new form in a poem – with mixed results! It was a challenge, but it was good to try, to learn and to build a good foundation, since I had little training in poetry.

Watching & Writing

The second term consisted of writing new work of my own, receiving valuable critique and – most importantly – editing my work. I learned, and continue to learn, that writing is largely about discipline and time. It’s imperative to be dissatisfied with your initial drafts, to fine-tune again and again to get to the core of the work, where the best writing and ideas live.

I learned, and continue to learn, that writing is largely about discipline and time.

That term, I was also privileged to attend Birmingham’s Verve Poetry Festival, a smorgasbord of poetry and artists from different forms and diverse backgrounds across the world. Highlights: Tomomi Adachi – a Japanese sound artist and poet, who invented an infrared jacket that produces eerie sounds when he moves and performs poetry. Or the sublime and mesmerising The Sea-Migrations by Asha Lul Mohammed Yusuf, an outstanding Somalian poet who now lives in London.

Across the whole festival, I saw poets who had mastered their craft over many years,writing and performing at the highest level; from the eclectic collective Nymphs and Thugs, to local legends like Spoz himself, who was powerful and entertaining to witness.

Performance & Publishing

Finally, in the last term, I was able to take my work to Catalyst Festival – a true highlight of the year. I performed some of the poems I had been working on, led a spoken word workshop, and of course I helped with the Sputnik stand, engaging with people at the festival. I discovered how much I enjoy performing and interacting with an audience; on top of this, it was wonderful to share this art form through a workshop and get people to engage with it.

I discovered how much I enjoy performing and interacting with an audience.

Throughout this, I’d been working on my debut collection, On Praise and Protest – a book of ten poems exploring themes of defiance, protest and celebration. It’s now available through the website that I also created during this year – tanyacpoetry.com. Check it out!

Broadening Horizons

Alongside the time working on poetry, I completed the Impact course, in Bedford – one of the best parts of my internship. To be able to engage with the Bible, with the help of church leaders and teachers; to ask questions and gain wisdom for life, was invaluable. On top of that, my fellow Impact-ers were outstanding, and it was a privilege to hear what God was doing in them, and through their projects at various churches across the country.

The sense of family between us was incredible, and crucial in supporting each other through the year. But the highlight of all this was our mission trip to Albania. It was an honour to meet the church in that nation, and especially touching to witness how God was working powerfully to save his people there.

This year has been such a heart-expanding, mind-stretching and horizon-broadening experience! It was an honour to work with Sputnik – especially with Jonny and Jemma Mellor, who gave me endless encouragement and support to grow, push past my comfort zone, and become an artist that speaks into culture with relevant, risky and kingdom-minded work.

In many ways, this year was just the beginning of that journey as a poet, but I have that goal in mind going forward, as I dedicate myself both to the craft of writing and the community of writers.

As I do that, I hope I can leave a trail…

Tanyaradzwa’s book is available from most major outlets or through her website. If you’re interested in starting the next Sputnik internship in September, get the application form here – but be quick!

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‘Bad’ Language: Communicating in a Profane World

Huw Evans Bad Language Profane Sputnik Faith Art
Huw Evans Bad Language Profane Sputnik Faith Art

In this, the second part of my post, I am stepping out from behind my C S Lewis-shaped stalking horse to address my final question: how do we as artists represent and reflect a vulgar and profane world, particularly as much of our business is directly concerned with its vulgarity and profanity? Or, to be fairer, how do I, as an artist, create work that interacts with this world and its people with their (and my) profanity and vulgarity?

Before I go any further, let me get two things out of the way. First, niceness, pleasantness, loveliness and keeping everyone happy are not the primary business of the artist: we have a job to do, and success is not measured by contentment.

Neither is the opposite true: offending for the sake of offending is pointless. I have no interest in Épater la bourgeoisie (shocking the bourgeoisie). That is not to say that no one will be offended: some people might, but that should never be a primary consideration.

Secondly, the boundaries of offence also change, with words, expressions and representations moving from one side of the line of acceptability to the other as society’s attitudes change. When George Bernard Shaw wrote his play Pygmalion in 1913 ‘bloody’ was a shocking enough word for the stage: when they came to film My Fair Lady, the musical based on the play, in the 1964 ‘bloody’ wasn’t enough: it had to be ‘arse’. (We can, in passing, note the hypocrisy of men in the audience who between themselves would use language far ‘worse’ than ‘bloody’.) Those boundaries are never entirely logical, and often seem counter-intuitive: currently film-makers can show grotesque killings, but cannot show a penis.

So how do we go forward?

Communication is the Context

As I have written elsewhere on this site, our fundamental business is with language (again, language, not merely speech or words). We are attempting to use language to communicate emotional truths to the audience: and the truths are no less true for being emotional. The communication is not exactly the feeling, which is too deep to be transferred to another person, but what R G Collingwood refers to as ‘the emotional charge’. It is that ‘something’ in Elgar’s cello concerto which we know as a deep melancholy, or the ‘something’ in Dylan’s Tamborine Man which evokes a near-unidentifiable longing for a world beyond the song.

That is what lies behind the frequent injunction to writers to ‘show not tell’. Telling (‘Carl was angry’) places Carl’s experience outside ourselves. Showing (perhaps how Carl has been subject to subtle persecutions throughout his childhood) enables us to receive the emotional charge of anger. As the Sung Dynasty poet Wei T’ai put it: ‘Poetry presents the thing in order to convey the feeling. It should be precise about the thing and reticent about the feeling.’

That understanding of what we are about as artists supplies an objective, communication, and a methodology for evaluating an artistic expression. We can interrogate a piece of work and ask of any aspect of it ‘does this contribute towards the intended expression or away from it?’ We can address that question to a style of costumes, a choice of instrument, the casting of an actor, a particular slash of colour, a movement of a hand. Each of those will tend to work with or against the communication.

As we create, we grope towards the expression of that inner ‘something’ which is nagging us for existence. We ask whether that particular word, image, scene, contributes to the communication of that ‘something’.

That may sound like a tick-box approach, but in practice, the questioning of the work by the artist is embedded in the creative process. I may not explicitly ask myself whether this word or that word is right or wrong, but in the course of writing a poem I will use one word instead of another, replace a phrase, strike out an expression, and so on, until I get to something that is ‘finished’. Yet if I was asked to explain those decisions there would be many points where I could not say much more than ‘that word wasn’t right’ or ‘that’s a better phrase’, where ‘right’ or ‘better’ are my occult (ie. hidden), subjective judgements of how the word or phrase contributes to the overall thrust of the poem.

As we create – painting, sculpting, choreographing, filming, writing – we grope towards the expression of that inner ‘something’ which is nagging us for existence. We find the means within our practice to give that ‘something’ a form. Along the way we assess what we have made to see if it is ‘good’; that is, whether it adequately conveys that ‘something’. The growth of this faculty of evaluation is an essential part of every artist’s development and makes the difference between the ‘this will do’ of the beginner and the perpetual dissatisfaction of the mature artist.

We engage this faculty when we look at matters of vulgarity and profanity, and either explicitly or implicitly ask whether that particular word, image, scene – even though it may be vulgar or profane – contributes to the communication of that ‘something’, or does not. If it does, it stays. If it does not, then it goes.

Protecting the ‘Weaker Brother’

‘That’s all very well,’ you may say, ‘but what of the “weaker brother”?’ Ah yes, the person whose faith may be shaken by my use of vulgarity or profanity in a work (see Corinthians 8). Well, bluntly, they shouldn’t read the poem, see the film, look at the picture. Such a work of art is unlikely to be displayed in church, so there isn’t much chance of them coming across it accidentally. If they deliberately seek it out, when they have been warned not to, well, that’s their look out.

However, that does not preclude someone asking whether my artistic judgement was correct: that is a reasonable question, one which may be most helpful for artists who are getting to grips with their craft and are still developing their evaluating faculty. (Note that asking question ‘does this contribute to the work?’ Is not the same as saying, in an anguished tone, ‘why on earth did you include “that” in the work?’)

In the end, I think I am not that far from Augustine: love God and do whatever you please: for the soul trained in love to God will do nothing to offend the One who is Beloved.

See the first part of this blog post, here.

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Artists: How to Get Involved with Sputnik

Artists Get Involved Sputnik Faith Art Joshua Coleman

1. Join the Online Conversation

Nothing beats real life, face-to-face camaraderie, but joining the online conversation is a good place to start with Sputnik. We update the website at least once a week with thinkpieces, features and news from our network and beyond.

We’ve been writing for a while – so there’s plenty in our ‘Think’ section to sink your teeth into. Try our series on ‘Beauty & Art’, or Sputnik founder Jonny Mellor‘s thoughts on whether Christians are called to influence culture. If you’re a writer of any kind yourself, why not join the conversation by writing something for us to share?

We keep things updated on Facebook and Twitter too, so be sure to follow us.

Sputnik Hubs Faith Art Visual
Birmingham Sputnik Hub

2. Get Involved in a Hub

Our Sputnik Hubs are opportunities for like-minded comrades, co-conspirators and collaborators to meet: an essential thing for any artistic practitioner, and perhaps even more so for Christians, who can feel particularly isolated in their creative activity.

Hubs meet on a termly basis. Usually, guest artists present their projects, we discuss issues of faith and art and we all get a chance to showcase what we’re working on. Our hope is that genuine friendships form to help you in your practice more broadly.

Join our mailing list to get a monthly email about Hubs and any other meetups. Our Hubs are in Birmingham and Bedford, but many more are in the pipeline. You can register your interest based on your location here.

Sputnik Patrons Faith Art Anthology Namiko Lee
Sputnik Poetry & Visuals Vol. 1

3. Get Hold of Work from Sputnik Artists

Finally, as well as getting to know one other, we think it’s important to provide an audience for each other too. To be part of Sputnik really means to be soaking in, getting challenged by and ultimately supporting the exceptional work being made in and around our network.

To this end, every 6 months, we compile some of the music, poetry and visual art from artists connected to Sputnik and put it together into a coffee table book. These are not for sale, but are available to anyone who subscribes to our Sputnik Patrons scheme at anything from £5 a month.

The funds all go towards supporting artistic projects, in some cases with direct funding, in other cases by paying for design, promotion, print/film/music production or more. Of course, you can apply for this support yourself, but we hope you’ll also spare a fiver a month to support fellow practitioners this way. And if you want a better idea about who’s out there in the network, start with our ‘Discover’ page.

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Develop your craft, study the Bible & work with us as a Sputnik intern

Would you like to spend a year developing your art practice, getting to know the Bible better and working alongside the Sputnik team in Birmingham?

We are offering up to three Sputnik internships, starting in September 2018, linked in with the Newfrontiers Impact training program.

What does the year look like?

Developing your own art practice.

Spend time working on your own artistic projects, with supervision and mentoring from artists in your field. We’ll help you strategise and find some key goals to accomplish by the end of the year.

Studying the Bible.

There will be 30 days of practical theological training throughout the year, as well as an accompanying programme of study – in association with Newfrontiers’ Impact programme.

Working with the Brum Sputnik Team.

You’d be working closely with Jonny & Jemma Mellor, and the Brum Sputnik team to broaden your creative horizons and to help with the week by week running of the Sputnik arts network.

Getting stuck into a local church.

Part of the year would involve serving at Churchcentral, Birmingham, and getting stuck into the wider church community.

Who’s it for?

This is potentially for any Christian who is serious about their creative practice, and who wants to create work for a universal audience (not just for Christians).

The internship will be based in a church from the Catalyst Network, but you don’t have to be from a Catalyst church. You just need to love Jesus!

While we will take applications from creatives of any discipline, the internship would be best designed to serve writers, musicians, songwriters, rappers, photographers, graphic designers, fine artists or filmmakers. (If you’re not sure whether you fall into any of these pigeonholes but are still interested, contact us directly through Facebook or Twitter, and we can talk it through).

Applying for the internship

The cost for the year will be £1,350 (for the residential training). We will need to see examples of work, and there will be an interview. Check out the application form for more details.

Be advised, you’ll have to arrange a means of funding your living while interning with us. The internship is technically full-time, but if you’re working a part-time job we have a certain amount of flexibility to make that work for you.

The deadline for application is 20th July.

So, are you interested? Download the application form here.

Featured image: students at Leeds School of Theology, another training programme affiliated with Impact & the Catalyst Network.

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David Benjamin Blower’s new album takes on the art of timeless protest hymns

David Benjamin Blower Hymns Luke Sewell Sputnik

Apocalyptic folk artist David Benjamin Blower released his eighth record yesterday, Hymns for Nomads – a ‘compilation of spirituals, murder ballads and campfire songs’. Hymns emerged out of the process of creating meditative ‘devotional’ songs in Blower’s other guise as half of the excellent Nomad Podcast. The results are congregational songs, well suited to group singalongs – although probably more of a Tolkien-esque barroom romp than a modern church service.

David Benjamin Blower Hymns for Nomads Sputnik

From Minor Artists:

These are spirituals, but there is nothing much otherworldly in ‘Hymns…’ It is a record rooted in the soil and the struggle of material reality.

This is protest music, but ‘Hymns…’ shows a different kind of defiance. These are songs of weary, bone-deep, painful resistance. And they are songs reaching beyond anger toward mercy.

This is sacred music, but ‘Hymns…’ is no benign worship record. Here are sorrow, suffering and lament alongside faith, hope and love. These are songs for lives of love, prayer and resistance.

See Blower’s live performance of ‘Watching and Waiting’ below, and check out the whole record on Bandcamp or Minor Artists.

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Elisha Esquivel’s ‘From the Ground Up’ is a pop banger six years in the making

Coventry singer-songwriter and Sputnikeer Elisha Esquivel launched her brand new ‘From the Ground Up’ EP last week. It’s a set of songs six years in the making, but it doesn’t feel overwrought – in fact it’s remarkably immediate and catchy, with production indebted to the likes of London Grammar, Ellie Goulding and Adele.

Pop music like this is a tricky thing to pull off tastefully, but Elisha manages it, particularly on the opening one-two punch of ‘Meet Me Here’ and ‘Fire and Water’ (our personal highlights). Do check out the EP on Spotify, and follow Elisha on Twitter and Instagram.

Read our previous interview with Elisha, here.

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Kendrick Lamar wins historic Pultizer Prize for Music

Kendrick Lamar Pulitzer Prize Sputnik Rich Fury

Kendrick Lamar was awarded the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Music for last year’s album DAMN.. The Pulitzer Prize primarily honours notable or landmark work in American journalism, which this year focused on Trump and sexual harassment in Hollywood. The Pulitzer Prize described DAMN. as “a virtuosic song collection unified by its vernacular authenticity and rhythmic dynamism that offers affecting vignettes capturing the complexity of modern African-American life.”

DAMN. is the first work of popular music (rather than classical or, occasionally, jazz) to win the prize since it was introduced in 1943. Pulitzer Prize Administrator Dana Canedy said in a Billboard interview that the decision was a unanimous one. It’s an unexpected change for Pulitzer, but a thoroughly well-deserved one for an artist whose incisive and uncompromising work is both critically revered, and hugely successful commercially. Read our reflections from last year on DAMN. and the theological depths behind it.

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London’s D&AD Festival addresses how ‘Creativity Shapes Culture’

D&AD Design Festival Sputnik

D&AD (Design and Art Direction) is a British educational charity, well known in the design and advertising worlds for their prestigious and fairly picky awards ceremony. They also run the D&AD Festival, taking place this year at the Old Truman Brewery in London from the 24-26 April.

The 2018 Festival’s theme is how ‘Creativity Shapes Culture‘ – exploring, amongst other things, how those in the creative industries might make positive change in the world, make culture more inclusive, and take ownership of their social influence. It’s a theme that will feel altogether pretty familiar to regular Sputnik readers, since it’s pretty central to our raison d’être; it also seems like a savvy decision for a year where the political and social influence of marketing and technology are coming under a lot of scrutiny.

Tickets for the renowned festival might stretch your pockets a bit, but the discussions look great. And we’re not above enjoying a moment of vindication.

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Mr Ekow explains why artists shouldn’t rely on inspiration

Artists Inspiration Mr Ekow Sputnik Arts

London rapper Mr Ekow (AKA Chris Gaisie) kicked off a new vlog for independent artists in January, and since then, it’s been going from strength to strength. After dealing with topics like collaboration, networking and performance, this week he’s addressing the whole idea of inspiration – and I think that this one is especially relevant.

The basic point that Mr Ekow raises is simple: inspiration is great, but we cannot wait around for it to hit us. Yes, there are times when we’ll pick up the pen, open the laptop, turn on the camera (whatever it may be) and it’s like we’re swimming in a slipstream of creative energy. However, we cannot rely on those times. Instead, we need to take a far more holistic approach to inspiration if we are to develop in our practice. He gives 2 really helpful tips to help us with this:

Make sure you are staying inspired

Making art is not just about the moments when we’re making art. We need to live our whole lives in a way that will enable us to create more effectively and increase the likelihood of getting inspired. This could involve engaging in art generally, whether it’s in your own artform or not, spending time purposefully with nature, or ensuring you seek out the right people and conversations.

For me, this year, I’ve decided to be much more purposeful in my reading, but especially in the area of poetry. I’ve always had an appreciation for poetry, but, if I’m being honest, I’ve never been able to dig very deep into this artform to really unearth the treasures that I know are hidden underneath the surface. So, one of my New Year’s Resolutions for 2018 was to learn how to read poems. I’m not intending to become a poet, in the classical sense of the word, but I’m already finding this exercise helpful in fueling my other creative enterprises.

Another thing that I’ve found helpful in this area is logging ideas. One of my most valued possessions is a particular lyrics book: brown moleskin cover; half-mutilated spine; page after page of verses, story ideas, observations, and random thoughts. On the top right hand corner of most pages are lists of multi syllable rhymes. I’ve developed some of these fragments into songs that I’ve recorded or performed live, but most of it will never leave the pages of my lyric book. But it all matters. Simply having the book on the shelf has meant that I’m always looking for new ideas to fill its pages, which means I’m fueling possible future moments of inspiration or simply giving myself something to draw on, if someone ever says: ‘I need a rap verse or a short story. And I need it now!’

Mr Ekow’s advice is to find the things that lead to inspiration for you and take time out of your week specifically to do whatever that is. It all might sound very technical and pre-meditated, but I think he puts it best and most succinctly when he wraps this all up in one simple instruction: ‘Enjoy life’.

Have you got so caught up in making art that you’ve forgotten to enjoy life? If so, you’re likely to struggle to get inspired, and struggle to create any work that engages with the world around you.

Commit to creativity

Building in patterns of life, conducive to inspiration is one thing, but you need to carve out an outlet as well. Mr Ekow suggests putting a time in your diary to create, and to follow through on this, whether you feel inspired or not.

Of all that he says in the video, this is the point that resonates with me most. To make art, you have to make art. To make powerful, engaging, wonder inspiring, heart grabbing, beautiful art, you need to make lots of art (most of which won’t deserve any of those adjectives!) And you need to do this whether you feel like it or not. Whether you feel like you’re on fire, or out cold. Whether you feel like the Holy Spirit is whispering in your ear or you feel like God has gone on holiday.

Put a time in your diary to create, and follow through on this, whether you feel inspired or not

Huw Evans told me recently of a time years ago when he decided he wanted to improve as a writer. He was married, working a full time job and had 4 kids, so there were certainly other things vying for his attention. However, he decided to start somewhere and set aside 2 hours from 11am-1pm every Saturday to write. Large portions of these writing sessions were spent staring at a blank piece of paper, but he committed to it and disciplined himself to fill up those blank pages. Now, decades later, he is about to release his first poetry collection and has other books in the pipeline too. He committed to creativity and it is paying off.

Are you committing to your creativity? When are you carving out time to create, regardless of inspiration?

Mr Ekow sums all of this up perfectly at the end of the video:

‘We get so afraid of creating outside of these inspiration moments that we end up not creating anything… don’t wait for inspiration to strike; make sure that you are being inspired weekly, commit to creativity and perfect your craft to enable your art.’

Thanks so much Chris for being so generous with your wisdom. Subscribe to his Youtube channel to keep up with future vlogs. Trust me, the riches will just keep coming!

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Snoop Dogg curates an all-out Gospel opus, ‘Bible of Love’

Snoop Dogg Gospel of Love Sputnik Faith Art

ICYMI, Snoop Dogg recently dropped a 32-track, hand-on-heart Gospel album called ‘Bible of Love’, featuring about every big name in Gospel going, including Tye Tribbet, Fred Hammond, Faith Evans, the Clark Sisters, and many, many more. It’s now #1 on Billboard’s Gospel chart.

Although Gospel music is generally outside of the Sputnik remit, we’ve written before about the fascinating case of Christianity in American hip-hop. Snoop, unsurprisingly, has church roots – his mother, Beverley Broadus, is a travelling evangelist. While there are many different pockets of hip-hop that can’t all be pushed together, gospel music – ‘the music of black resilience and black fortitude’, as this Vulture review put it – is an inextricable influence on mainstream rap and R&B alike.

Though it’s stylistically broad, there’s little crossover in ‘Bible of Love’; it’s really a curated compilation of modern Gospel, resting entirely on your own personal taste for the genre. Musically speaking, it’s pure celebration of a subculture. But if it’s the result of Snoop’s personal journey, he keeps pretty quiet – he barely appears on the 2 hour album, which feels odd in the context. Whatever you make of it, the synergy of rap and modern gospel in the US carries on apace.

 

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Come to the inaugural Chaiya Arts Award exhibition

Chaiya Arts Award Exhibition Sputnik Faith Arts

The brand new Chaiya Arts Award opens its inaugural exhibition next week: a show of 40+ artists exploring the question ‘Where is God in our 21st Century World?’, bursting with diversity, vulnerability, exploration and fragility.

The exhibition promises a multitude of original and provocative responses to the titular question, through painting, sculpture and video; aimed at the curious and open-minded, for people of all faiths and none.

The exhibition runs from 29 March to 8 April 2018 (11am-6pm, or 8pm on Thursdays), at gallery@oxo in South Bank, London.  Admission is free, and the art is for sale – so if you get a chance, be sure to take a look.

Chaiya Arts Award Exhibition Poster Sputnik

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‘A Wrinkle in Time’ gets an early drubbing from the critics

Wrinkle in Time Film Sputnik Faith Art

In certain circles, it’s been hard to avoid the hype for ‘A Wrinkle in Time’, Ava DuVernay’s film adaptation of a beloved children’s novel by Madeleine L’Engle; not just because of the popular source material, but because it’s the first big-budget action film to be directed by a woman of colour, its protagonist is a young mixed-race girl, and its cast features some absurdly big names. (Oprah).

L’Engle described herself as a writer first – ‘Christian is secondary’ – but the ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ novel is relatably Christian, in a very C.S. Lewis way (church-goers and publishers in the 60s, predictably, bristled against the witches and dark forces in the book). So the film is an interesting case: because despite its philosophical core, the script and the film itself have been held up as totems of liberal, post-Christian values.

We could be thankful that the project has bypassed America’s ‘Christian’ film-making machine, but it looks as though the weight of expectation may become a bit of a curse for the film instead, as many early reviews have been doling out ‘hard truths’. And interestingly, there’s an undercurrent of conversation about ironing out L’Engle’s Christian faith into weak platitudes:

The film has the feel of an iPad video pawned off on a toddler so Dad can make comforting mac and cheese – here’s a bite-sized lesson about loving yourself and a jumble of pretty colors.  -The Guardian

Considering the changes that were made to the story and the schmaltzy platitudes liberally spooned out by screenwriter Jennifer Lee, one gets the feeling that she and the director either didn’t fully grasp the material or didn’t think the audience could. -Dark Horizons

It’s especially awkward around the good / evil, light / dark dichotomy, which is never really put into more relatable terms. [The book] is open about its religious imagery… [but] L’Engle never had her Mr. Murry standing in his lab shouting “Love is the frequency!”  -The Verge

Screenwriter Jennifer Lee had this to say:

[L’Engle’s] intention was looking at the ordinary real hero in an extraordinary situation. The power of love in this world, and we stayed very true to that. And her lens through it was Christianity and everyone has a different lens in.

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Support Geoff Hall’s new film project ‘Seeing Rachel’, addressing modern human trafficking

Geoff Hall Seeing Rachel Film Sputnik Art

Geoff Hall is a novelist, a film maker, an arts mentor and a Christian and he is working on a new film project that you could help bring to life. We caught up with him to find out more.

Hi Geoff. Please introduce yourself…

For 15 years I was an arts mentor in Bristol with a thing we called The Group. It started when I was approached to help a student at the local arts university, when she was told that her faith was “inappropriate for a student at the college!” From one to many as it turned out, as it was the experience of quite a few art students.

We held monthly meetings to discuss spirituality and art. We’d have an artist present their work and we looked at artistic practice and discussed any problems they were having. This developed into something we called ‘The Tree House’. We started meeting in a café, eating free tapas, listening to bands, hear artists of diverse media talk about their work.

At this time I met Chris Lorensson of Upptacka Press, who decided he’d like to publish me if I’d write about mentoring work. This became a series called Spiritual Direction in a Postmodern Landscape and included juicy titles like ‘The Wilderness and the Desert of the Real’ and ‘Translating the Invisible Wind’. In future we’ll publish my new novel – a supernatural political horror story called Owl:Believe about a group of artists and hackers who take on the Corporate State.

You have a new project in development. Could you talk us through it?

Seeing Rachel came out of a dream I had. I’m told you can’t mention this to investors as they freak out about it… allegedly! I then started to develop a story about human trafficking. It took a year to write and research and the research was pretty disturbing.

Now when most people think about this genre of film, they see sensationalised violence or a kind of linear docu-drama narrative, so I decided to buck expectations and look at the psychology of the characters and their inner world. The lead roles are two female characters, by the way.

It will be shot in Bristol, a city with historical roots in slavery, but also sadly nowadays it’s a distribution hub for trafficking. People like to think it’s someone else’s problem; in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, or Thailand and Cambodia, but what I want to bring to people’s hearts is that it’s our problem. It happens in our cities. With Seeing Rachel the world of trafficking is squeezed into one location, to reveal what lies beneath the surface of even a beautiful city like Bristol.

What are your hopes and goals for the project?

We always start with raising awareness and then hope that people will become activists with the aim of eradicating modern slavery. With this in mind we’re looking for an international theatrical and digital release.

What I want to bring to people’s hearts is that trafficking isn’t someone else’s problem; it’s our problem.

We’re planning a campaign to work with NGO’s and charities, devoted to the abolition of slavery in all its forms: sexual, narcotic, indentured slavery and domestic servitude. There are great networks out there, like the worldwide community of Freedom Collaborative and the Jam Network based in London, who we’ll be looking to work with as the film moves in to production. We’re also planning on supporting a local charity in their work amongst the victims of sex trafficking.

How can people help in bringing Seeing Rachel to life?

At the moment we’re seeking development finance, so that we can start ‘packaging’ the film with a name in front of the camera. This will help attract the interests of a distribution company. Our target is £30k for this phase.

We need patrons/investors and also partners who’ll help spread the word, as we move into more interesting phases of production. We wish to find people who’ve a passion for social justice and understand that investing in a film is part of this battle and not just a bit of cultural tinsel-making.

A writer works in a lonely place. As artists we’re used to this isolation, but making the film can only be achieved through a community. Then some of the things I carry can be offloaded and shared with others. I’m looking forward to that day!

It’s been a spiritual and physical battle so far, a quite bruising affair, but you’ve got to be persistent, you have to complete the course otherwise all you’re left with is debt and you’re stuck with no place left to go! Perseverance is the key to any artistic endeavour and in particular I think with film, because it takes a lot of people to get the thing off the ground.

To find out more about Seeing Rachel, visit the film’s website. If you’d like to support the project, contact Geoff directly through the facebook page.

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Common, Sufjan Stevens grace the Oscars with some under-appreciated class

Common Sufjan Stevens Oscars Sputnik Faith

US hip-hop artist Common and indie maestro Sufjan Stevens both turned in notable performances at the Oscars on Sunday night, despite both being ultimately snubbed for the ‘Best Original Song’ category.

It’s probably fair to say that the 90th Oscars ceremony was a bag of contradictions: its self-congratulatory nature and lack of diversity has seen the Oscars come under increasing scrutiny lately, with the #MeToo movement hanging noticeably over proceedings. Along with Jordan Peele’s win and Frances McDormand’s speech, the presence of Stevens and Common felt like small (but welcome) breaks in ‘business as usual’.

Of course, they were given a typically restrained spotlight. Stevens’s appearance was the more baffling, being given a scant two minutes to play ‘Mystery of Love’ with a barely-visible backup band of preposterous talent in St Vincent, Chris Thile, and Moses Sumney. But offstage Stevens has been increasingly outspoken about his faith, injustice in the States, and the evangelical support for the President.

Meanwhile, Common performed ‘Stand Up for Something’ from Marshall alongside Andra Day. He took the opportunity of an uncensored microphone to ad-lib over the fairly straightforward song, referring obliquely to 45 as “a president that trolls with hate,” calling on the audience to “stand up” for immigrants and ‘dreamers’ (a reference to undocumented child migrants).

Watch both performances, below.

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Samuel J Butt shares all with the Kodak podcast

We’ve featured South London photographer Samuel J Butt before, around his recent exhibition and his excellent work on Stewart Garry’s folk-film album, Sojourner. Sam produces stunning photography in portraiture and abstract imagery – and recently had the opportunity to ‘take over’ Kodak’s instagram feed for a week, posting images and stories from old and new work alike.

Kodak capped that off with an in-depth interview on their Kodakery podcast, where Sam explains why he continues to work with film, and the inner process that goes into his work – something incredibly challenging in the frequently demanding and exhausting media industry.

Stream the interview below, or here on Kodak’s site – and check out Sam’s own instagram here.

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For the UK economy, the creative industries are huge

John Kampfner, CE of the new Creative Industries Federation, shared some statistics in Creative Review that may (or may not) surprise you. Read the full article here – though it requires a free sign-up to access.

We’d be the last people to measure the value of something by its contribution to the economy, but it’s a thought-provoking read if you (like us) wonder about the future of post-industrial, semi-automated, pre-mid-??-Brexit Britain.

Whenever I recite the following stats in speeches across the country, audiences gasp. The creative industries contribute £92 bn net to the UK economy and directly employ two million people. A further million work in creative jobs in other sectors, for example designers in manufacturing. That’s one in every eleven jobs. Last year alone, employment in this sector grew at four times the rate of the general economy.

This is the one I like the most: the creative industries are now worth more to the UK than oil and gas, life sciences, aviation and the car industry combined. There’s nothing soft or superfluous about this sector, it’s not a ‘nice to have’.  This, alongside technology, is where 21st- century growth should come from.

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Writer and poet Sharon Clark launches new website of her work

Sharon J Clark Website Sputnik Faith Art

Sharon Clark contributed work to our first Sputnik writing anthology back in 2013 and it was great to see her new blog appear towards the end of last year. sharonjclark.co.uk is the online home for Sharon’s short stories, poetry and blog – it’s already filling up with quality work, and that’s likely to continue apace.

Sharon recently spoke to us about rearranging her working schedule to set aside at least a day a week to her craft: something that’s especially significant when you consider Sharon is one of the leaders at New Life Church Milton Keynes and is a key administrator in the Catalyst network of churches. It is wonderful to see someone who continues to be committed at the heart of her church and family of churches, at the same time committing herself to her artistic practice.

We know that many Christian artists feel that when it comes to church and art, it’s become a ‘one or the other’ sort of deal. Sharon gives credence to a ‘both/and’ approach. So, when you’ve next got half an hour spare, give the website a thorough perusal and get to know a really promising new writer.

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Black Panther actors Sope Aluko and Letitia Wright keep their faith in the spotlight

Black Panther Sputnik Faith Letitia Wright

Black Panther is an indisputable phenomenon. The Ryan Coogler-helmed adaptation of the Marvel comic has one of the highest-grossing box office openings of all time, critical acclaim across the board, and a phenomenal word-of-mouth reputation.

That’s before you touch on its cultural significance as the biggest cinematic event by a black director and primarily black cast. The ‘Black Panther Challenge’, a fundraiser to make sure children of ethnic minority get to see the film, has a wild life of its own. Its afrofuturist design, Kendrick Lamar-curated soundtrack and a barbed script that tackles institutional bias, colonialism and more, catapult it into a whole other stratosphere of cultural conversation. It’s a film that made a South African audience so ecstatic at its celebration of black pride and culture that they danced outside the theatre.

And there’s another story alongside all of this: many of the cast are outspoken Christians. Actress Sope Aluko already alluded to actors sharing their testimonies and supporting each other on set. British star Letitia Wright spoke on This Morning about her faith. It may lie outside the scope of the film, but it’s simply great to hear Wright share her journey openly and eloquently; and in particular, how her faith affects her approach to the creative industry in which she works.

See Wright’s interview below (comments on faith at the 2:55 mark).

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Well Done You return with another fire-bellied pop-rock single

Mike Lawetto Well Done You Thank You George

Hot on the heels of the Perendiz single ‘Down’, Mike Lawetto is back, once again, with his Californian pop-rock project Well Done You.

‘Thank You Very Much George’ is more of what we’ve come to expect from the Manchester based rock outfit. On the surface, it’s all bright and breezy – playfully enigmatic lyrics and kooky pop-punk stylings – but what sets it apart is an underlying sense of menace that breaks through in occasional bursts of genuine heaviness.

How long can WDY continue banging out singles of this quality before an album materialises? If we just take the singles from the last year, we’ve already got half an album, and it’s all killer, no filler.

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Stormzy uses BRIT Award performance to call out Theresa May

Stormzy Speaks Truth to Power Grenfell Prophetic

After winning two titles at the 2018 BRIT Awards ceremony last night, UK grime artist Stormzy used his solo performance to call out the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, over the lack of response or justice for those displaced and affected by last year’s Grenfell Tower disaster.

Stormzy’s hugely acclaimed debut album ‘Gang Signs & Prayer’ was a surprisingly gospel-influenced release from the grime star, featuring unabashed confessions of faith. ‘Gang Signs…’ brought home the ‘Best British Album’ award at the Brits, with Stormzy thanking God at the podium – adding “it seems such a strange thing [to say], but if you know God, you know it’s all him.”

But the rapper’s most talked-about moment was his final performance, using his ITV audience of 4.5 million to speak some truth to power: “just forgot about Grenfell, you criminals, and you got the cheek to call us savages, you should do some jail time, you should pay some damages, we should burn your house down and see if you can manage this.

If that’s not some prophetic art in action, we don’t know what is.

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Mr Ekow’s new single ‘Heart of the Matter’ tackles modern love

Mr Ekow Heart Matter Sputnik Faith Art

In 2017, Mr Ekow brought out the EP ‘Between Haircuts’, and was featured in Salute Music’s top 100 independent UK artists. There was a multi discipline EP launch, featuring visual art, poetry and live music collabos, and then he topped it all off with a cheeky little Christmas single too.

But no rest for the wicked. So far this year, he’s started up a vlog to share some of his hard-earned wisdom on the struggles of being an independent artist, and now we have a new single. It’s a dissection of modern ideas on ‘love’, set to Dilla-esque keys and soulful vibes: and it’s already receiving positive press wherever it goes.

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Leftfield pop act Perendiz release new single ‘Down’

Mike Lawetto’s musical output over the last year has been largely through his rock band Well Done You, but, never one to settle into one groove for long, his leftfield pop project Perendiz has re-emerged with a new single ‘Down’.

Featuring Mrs Lawetto (Mike’s wife), it’s certainly a more compressed and electronic sound than WDY, but Mike’s familiar offbeat tendencies permeate as expected. Kicking things off with pounding drums and bass, overlaid with breathy near spoken word delivery, it breaks into his catchiest hook yet.

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London Rapper Mr Ekow Launches New Vlog for Independent Artists

Sputnik Mr Ekow Faith Art Hip-hop

Chris Gaisie, a.k.a. Mr Ekow, has long been a Sputnik favourite, both for his musical output and his tenacity, determination and creativity in getting his music into the public domain: now he’s upped the ante again, with a new vlog, aimed at sharing helpful tips he’s picked up on his journey so far with other independent artists.

The first installment focuses on strategy and offers a simple challenge to independent artists (especially musicians) to not just do their ‘own creative thing’ but to come up with a plan to ensure they connect with as many people as possible. As he points out, young independent artists often take their cues from more established artists and conclude that strategy is unimportant. Beyonce, for example, can drop an album with no promo at all, and still stream and sell by the million. This, however, doesn’t work quite so well for those of us who are somewhat less experienced and well-known.

Packed with tips and provocative challenges, Mr Ekow’s first vlog is well worth checking out for anyone looking to find an audience for your art, but particularly relevant for musicians, songwriters and bands, who are reasonably new to releasing music. So, give it a watch and subscribe to make sure you won’t miss how things develops from here.

Check out Mr Ekow’s single ‘Liberate’, below.

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Get Your Free Ticket to An Evening With South African Painter/Sculptor Duncan Stewart

On Thursday 18th January, Sputnik are hosting An Evening with Duncan Stewart, at Woodside Church, Bedford. Duncan, a South African painter and sculptor, is a Sputnik favourite and it is a delight to have him over in the UK.

What brings you to England, Duncan?

Short answer: God. Long answer: I applied to Artrooms Fair 2018, an art fair for independent artists around the globe, and was delighted to be selected to show some of my work here in London.

Talk to us about the exhibition…

For Artrooms Fair, selected artists are given a room at the Melia White House, where they are invited to show whatever work they want. The strength of this concept is that the public get to engage first hand with the artists, and vice versa; it’s also a fantastic opportunity for networking, and making new contacts with galleries, artists, critics etc.

What else are you looking to get up to on your stay?

The scripture I felt God wanted me to hold as I came was from 1 Cor 2:1-5 and, with that in mind, it seems good to connect to all opportunities God opens up, knowing that He is building his kingdom, by His Holy Spirit’s power and for His glory. So I’ve accepted this invitation, and another to be interviewed as part of a panel discussion with Artrooms Fair that I believe may be put on line or broadcast more broadly – God knows.

What else have you got in the pipeline for 2018?

I am excited for 2018. I have two workshops coming up: one is a three-day painting and drawing retreat on the beautiful Bushmens River/Kenton-on-Sea area; then I have been invited to Jo’burg, interestingly enough, to host a workshop for corporate/banking people on the need to be creative, and to overcome fear in the pursuit of meaningfulness and creativity. I’ve no idea what I am going to present, so don’t ask! Suggestions are welcome though. At some point I also want to paint and sculpt and hopefully will be down at the Cape Town International Boat show again later in the year.

If you’re in London over the weekend, the Artrooms fair will be at Meliá in Regent’s Park (here are all the details). And if you can make it to Bedford on Thursday evening, book your free tickets here.

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Huw Evans on the Dangers of Rhyme

‘Fundamentally, rhyme is dangerous in poetry!’

I have had several animated conversations with my good friend Huw Evans about the pros and cons of rhyme in poetry. On the whole, The pros have come from me, the cons from Huw. I recognise that it is hard for me to approach this objectively when my favourite artform, rap, is synoymous with this particular poetic device. To rap is to rhyme. I was never going to roll over on this one.

However, even with that bias, over the years, Huw has talked to me round when it comes to rhyme and written poetry and he has very helpfully put together a simple little video outlining his beef with rhyming and justifying such extreme statements as the one quoted above. It’s here, and it’ll take a mere 5 minutes of your time…

If you’ve made it to this paragraph without watching the video, I’ll give you a taster, before you scroll up again. Huw’s basic argument goes like this. Rhyme clearly has a function in poetry but it can cause more problems than it solves, especially when it comes to ‘meandering meaning and mangled syntax’. Poets should resist the urge for the easy rhyme, and if they find their meaning being driven by the rhyme, or it leading to a particularly ‘grotesque word order’, they should search harder for a different rhyme or change the phrase they’re trying to rhyme with. In short, a decent rule of thumb is:

‘If… a rhyme seems to be taking away from the meaning or needs a weird word ordering, get rid of it!’

With all that said, though, if you’d like some balance to the argument, or perhaps, like me, if you have such a connection to sonic symmetry in your lyrical diet, that all of this anti-rhyme talk makes you feel slightly uneasy, let’s end with something to restore your faith in ryhme. In short, kids, be careful of rhyme unless you can rhyme like this 😉

Huw is releasing a poetry collection in late Spring, which Sputnik is supporting as part of our Patrons Scheme, to hear more from Huw about his work or to find out more about the patronage, check out the Sputnik Patrons page.

 

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A Sputnik Review of 2017

The end of year, for me, is a vital boundary marker that enables reflection on what’s gone before, and planning for what’s to come. As 2017 comes to a close, it’s a delight to look back on a year of creative productivity and inspiration from in and around the Sputnik network.

Fine Art

It’s been a relatively quiet year regarding fine art generally, but that has been more than made up for by the endeavours of Ally Gordon, who seems to be quietly taking over the world. With exhibitions in London, LA and New York under his belt this year, as well as the release of his book, God Art, about the place of belief in contemporary art, Ally continues to be a massive blessing and inspiration and we’re so stoked to have him at the Catalyst Festival in 2018.

Fashion

In the world of fashion, Daniel Blake and Ruth Chipperfield have been making some serious moves at the very heart of UK society. Ruth is part of Jubilee Church, Coventry and her strong Twitter game has allowed us to witness the steady and impressive development of Ruth Mary Jewellery over the last 12 months. Having been highlighted as one of the top 100 UK small businesses by the Small Business Saturday Team, she got an invite to 10 Downing St for a celebratory event in late November. The PM was not present, but as things have gone, it’s not impossible that she was having a fitting for City Hope Church leader, Daniel Poulson AKA fashion designer Daniel Blake! Since 2016’s trousergate palaver, Daniel has become Mrs May’s designer of choice. This has led to him being featured in Vogue and an interview in the Telegraph before he unleashed his Autumn/Winter collection on the world in November.

Film

In film, Pip Piper, from Oasis Church, Birmingham, resurrected his media and film company One Small Barking Dog this year and OSBD closed out the year by releasing a series of short films for the global NINE BEATS Collective, exploring the Beatitudes and looking to connect people who wouldn’t naturally be picking up a Bible with Jesus’ timeless wisdom.

Writing

As regards writing, Huw Evans, from City Church Newcastle generously opened his vault to us this year and in case that was too much treasure for many of us to get our heads round, he has begun work on his first poetry collection, which is already cued up as one of next year’s highlights. Speaking of poetry, Jennifer Rawson from Kings Church Edinburgh spent the year tantalising us with the odd poem on her blog until delivering good and proper with THAT Christmas video (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, you need to catch up!)

Music

However, the most prolific discipline in SputnikLand in 2017 has been music. This year saw a flurry of debut EPs from Strange Ghost, The Blood Magnetic and Kapes, all from Brum, and also two fantastic singles from Dutchkid whose members hail from Kings Arms, Bedford and New Community Church, Sidcup. Sputnik ally, Mr Ekow, was shortlisted for the pioneering new music competition Salute Music and Mike Lawetto, from Christ Church Manchester, has been a regular on Alex Baker’s Kerrang show for most of the year, having released at least 3 singles (I’m sorry Mike, I lose count). Two of my favourite albums of the year have also been from Sputnik friends. Midsummer’s ‘Stories You Tell’ and David Benjamin Blower’s ‘The Book of Jonah’ were both on regular rotation in the Mellor household, and Dave’s performance at the Brum Sputnik hub in November has to go down as one of my favourite ever Sputnik moments. Spell binding.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GZXYRTffHPw&list=PL93dF08P658aIL2BDyAS52nmtKH_Ks29y

A special mention must also go to Oasis Church’s Andy Gordon, who has set up shop in the new Sputnik recording studio and has been serving Birmingham based musicians through Oasis’ fantastic Impact Residency Programme. His production skills just keep getting sharper and sharper and his prodigious production output in 2017 is only going to increase next year.

So, why do I share all of this? Three main reasons.

Firstly, if you’ve missed out on any of these guys this year, I want to give you the chance to get in on the action. I hugely believe in what all of these artists are doing and it’s been a great privilege to be directly blessed by many of their work.

Secondly, at Sputnik we are passionate about seeing artists who are faithful to Jesus and committed to their local churches making the best art that they can. Surveying just the work in or around our network should give us great hope that God is stirring something new and exciting in the arts. I think we should see Ruth and Daniel’s escapades in the corridors of power as a prophetic taster of the doorways that God is wanting to open for us as we remain faithful to him in following through our creative giftings wisely.

And finally, I am sharing this so that you can pray for all of these guys and girls. Christians pray for church leaders. We pray for evangelists. We pray for missionaries. We need to pray for artists. Pray that they would stand firm in their faith. Pray for continued integrity and wisdom. Pray for a deeper love for Jesus for all of them. And pray for continued excellence in their practice.

That just leaves one last question- What are you going to create in 2018?

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Well Done You celebrate the Great Christmas Feast

Mike Lawetto’s Manchester based rock outfit Well Done You had already had an excellent 2017, releasing two singles and featuring regularly on Kerrang Radio, when they dropped their Christmas single ‘Christmas Time’ last week.

Whereas Lawetto’s Captain Pinball project of 2015 was a frenzy of Yuletide ecstasy, this year’s paean to the Christmas season is slowed right down into a chugging, anarchic pop punk number that focuses on the joys of a good old Christmas dinner. It works superbly and it’s only drawback is that if you’re not careful, it may have you absent mindedly singing ‘Can you pass the sprouts around?’ on Christmas afternoon (which for many of us may not overly desirable!)

Keep a look out for more from Mike Lawetto in the New Year, with a new Well Done You single already doing the rounds on Alex Baker’s Kerrang show, and some Perendiz releases in the pipeline too.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=41&v=8tc9ZOyhXLg

 

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Rowan Williams, Elaine Storkey and David Benjamin Blower present a series of Advent Devotionals

Nomad Podcast is releasing a series of Advent ‘Devotionals’ for free: audio meditations that reflect on a particular topic, unpacking it with music, song, readings and prayers. Reflections are brought by philosopher and theologian Elaine Storkey; former archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams contributes the readings, and David Benjamin Blower, a good friend of Sputnik, provides the music and songs.

Nomad is an online podcast centred around Christian community – regularly interviewing renowned Christian thinkers and activists in the hope of understanding the church’s future in a post-Christendom culture. Nomad are supported in part by their listeners on Patreon – and their regular ‘Devotionals’ like these are a patrons-only perk, so if you enjoy the Advent series, why not support their work?

Find the free Advent series here, and listen to their excellent back-catalogue of interviews here.

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Catch ‘Da Art of Christmas Storytellin’ from Mr Ekow

Croydon rapper Mr Ekow has teamed up with regular collaborator, producer Prospect, to continue his ‘Art of Christmas Storytellin’ series. We’re now on Part 3, and it’s a strange tale of Cheetos, psychotic elves and broken toys, all over shuffling jazzy keys and jolting snares. It’s like ‘Christmas in Hollis’ produced by J Dilla and exactly what you need if you’re tiring of carols and High Street Christmas anthems.

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Remember when Churches made Great Art? This!

https://vimeo.com/247598300

People often hark back to bygone ages when churches were the driving force behind the highest calibre of art. Art that affected you after you thought you’d left it behind. Art that perfectly complemented its content to warm your heart to Jesus and the Good News that he entrusted to us.

This year, King’s Church, Edinburgh have crafted a Christmas video that can give us confidence that those days are not entirely behind us. Following on from their excellent 2016 piece Threadbare, this year’s video is a collaboration between poet Jennifer Rawson,  composer Stu Kennedy and video maker and graphic designer George Gibson and features a load of peeps from the church. The visuals, sonics and lyricism are all exceptional, but the fact that they interplay so harmoniously is deeply impressive and creates a profound and powerful piece of art.

The poem is certainly the centrepiece though, and while it was written to be performed, it stands up as a very effective written piece too. Therefore here it is (reproduced with permission):

He Draws Near

A hymnal wind.

The quiet oratorio
sung by our common existence.

Earth’s heaving,
churning pulse
drew its breath
when Jesus came.

He is music.

He is the long silence
between stars
draped across the night
like fairy lights
like the heavens shout —

He is infinite.

He is galaxy upon galaxy,
a tapestry, the spark
that lit the sun.

Open your eyes and see—

The ridges of his fingertips
in every heather-dusted hill.

His voice in the roaring ocean—
constant and deep.

His reflection in the faces
we pass — His image
over
and
over.

The very stones cry out
“He is with us.”

He draws near
to our daily rituals —
the baptism of cutlery
in soapy, sink water;
the crackle of oil
anointing kitchen surfaces;
fire smoke in winter
like incense offerings;
our commuter engine chorus
singing with angels.

All the while,
the carpenter King
knocks at the door
and waits.

His birth was just the beginning.

 

Jennifer Rawson

 

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See The Liturgists’ series of visual meditations on the Joyous Mysteries

For those unaware, The Liturgists is a mainly-online community led by writer “Science Mike” McHargue and musician Michael Gungor, which has grown out of their Liturgists Podcast. The Liturgists’ discussions often revolve around faith, art and science, particularly trying to gain an appreciation for the breadth of Christian faith and thought outside of one’s upbringing and culture.

As such, the podcast has a huge listenership among ex-Christians, non-Christians, struggling believers and everyone in between. Their new Christmas series of videos, ‘The Joyous Mysteries’, is arguably the Liturgists at their best: an inclusive, poetic and surprisingly Catholic invitation to Advent-related meditation.

Four visual artists created pieces based around ‘The Joyous Mysteries’, a Catholic term for a series of events before and during Christ’s life; the videos document their process, while outlining the “imago divina” methodology of meditation through art, before leaving it up to the viewer. In all, it’s an intriguing and thoughtfully curated series that gently suggests the deep truth behind some joy-filled mysteries.

See the introductory video, below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5BKzi8xi29I

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St. Paul’s Auckland Keep Up Their High Standard of Christmas Films

There are different elements of our Christmas celebrations that we particularly look forward to each year: mince pies; mulled wine; family board games; the Queen’s speech. One addition to our list over the last few years has been the St. Paul’s Auckland Christmas film.

After the Spike Jonze-esque ‘Good News of Great Joy’, the Michel Gondry channelling ‘An Unexpected Christmas’, and the subtle profundity of last year’s ‘Star of Wonder’, their 2017 offering, ‘Gold Frankincense Myrrh’ is now upon us:

Featuring spoken word-poet Dietrich Soakai, stage prodigy Antonia Robinson, and TV villain Aaron Jackson (Pete’s Dragon, Shortland Street), James Bowman and the team have crafted a simple, sweeping encapsulation of all that Jesus came to do.

James, who wrote the piece says:

“Our film aims to connect modern audiences with ancient Christian spirituality. And to present a fresh take on a familiar story and celebration. It doesn’t draw any conclusions, instead leaving audiences to make their own minds up.”

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Join Sputnik Patrons and get The Blood Magnetic’s new Christmas EP

For a limited time, any new sign-ups to Sputnik Patrons (at any tier) get a free CD+digital copy of the brand new ‘Epiphany’ EP by The Blood Magnetic. ‘Epiphany’ is a baroque-pop-indie collaboration between singer-songwriter Matt Tinsley and multi-instrumentalist Chris Donald, released through indie group Minor Artists.

From Minor Artists’ site:

Built on classic Christmas lyrics, adapted by English poet David Burton, ‘Epiphany’ overturns the familiar, the commercial and the saccharine into a rush of strange, ugly beauty: the kind of Christmas-themed music that Low, or the Mountain Goats, or Wovenhand might all tune in to.

A year-long project brought to life by a cast of collaborators, ‘Epiphany’ is guitars brawling with pianos, violins and drums: the mundane getting rough with the mysterious: the gorgeous sound of the sky falling in.

Enjoy the title track from the EP below, buy a copy on Minor Artists or Bandcamp, or why not sign up yourself, your loved ones, and your neighbours to Sputnik Patrons today?

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Help Musicians UK launches 24-hour mental health hotline for musicians

The charity Help Musicians UK has officially launched their 24/7 helpline, Music Minds Matter, after a recent study discovered that musicians were three times more likely to suffer from anxiety or depression compared to the general public – the world’s largest study into music and mental health to date.

Amongst other things, the study highlighted that music makers’ work is integral to their sense of self, that their precarious careers exist in an environment of constant critical feedback, and that guilt, insecurity and unsympathetic working conditions are rife in the industry.

The hotline on 0808 802 8008 operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. A statement on the official website reads:

“Help Musicians UK understands the complexity of working in music and recognises the need for support to reflect the nature and unique challenges those in the industry can face. If you want someone to talk to, or even explore avenues for ongoing support, get in touch, anytime. We’re here to help.”

Read Chris Donald’s opinion piece on this subject from August, ‘Music Careers and Mental Health’.

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Sputnik Sounds Vol. 1 is now available to stream

Sputnik has released a number of music compilations as part of our exhibitions in the past, but Sputnik Sounds Vol. 1 is the first time we’re collating some of our favourite Sputnik-made music from across the last few years.

Sputnik Sounds Vol. 1 is a great introduction to the widespread talents in our network: the maximalist neo-soul of Strange Ghost, the murky lo-fi hip-hop of Mr Ekow, the raw, stripped-back folk of Joanna Karselis, the post-punk barrage of Barium. And all artists who excellently explore the deep waters of faith, mystery, the unseen, or the unknown.

Stream it here on Spotify.

If you’re a musician and you’re not yet connected to Sputnik, why not get in touch?

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Stream ReFlex the Architect’s album highlight ‘Lonely Pioneers’ now

London-based MC and producer ReFlex the Architect finally released his long-awaited debut LP ‘From the Highest’ in November. It’s a sprawling and collaborative beast, a forward-thinking boom-bap affair with all manner of international contributors making an impressively cohesive whole.

ReFlex and UK crew Scribbling Idiots are veterans of the London scene, but for those unfamiliar with them, ‘Lonely Pioneers’ is a fairly on-the-nose introduction to their industry experience as Christians facing suspicion from hip-hop fans and church folks alike.

Stream that below, find the full album here, or see our previous interview with ReFlex here.

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Does The Bible Shape Your Creative Practice?

For me, each of the Sputnik Birmingham Hub get-togethers have been special events. Oh, to have the ability to teleport various creative friends, far and near, into our living room so that they can get a touch of the magic vibe.

This time round the featured artist was my friend, author and singer/songwriter, David Benjamin Blower. He kicked off our session by performing his latest album ‘The Book of Jonah’ in its entirety – just him and his slightly wonky guitar.

What really struck me as David sung, stamped, wailed and whistled his way through this story, about a man traveling to Mosul to reason with extremists, was how terrifying Jonah’s prophetic calling was. No wonder he ran in the opposite direction.

The songs, part-spaghetti western, part apocalyptic folk, are interwoven with readings of the biblical text in the King James Version and surprisingly these are not at all incongruous. The songs were able to galvanize my empathy for Jonah and Nineveh in a way that the text alone hasn’t done and as David whistled the closing theme my appreciation for and understanding of the Book of Jonah had increased.

David Blower plays the Book of Jonah at Sputnik Birmingham Hub
David Blower playing the Book of Jonah

With no fanfare or warning a lounge-full of people had just experienced a dramatic, powerful piece of Biblical art, a real life example of creative work, which actually included readings from the Bible that had avoided corniness, sentimentality, cliché, on-the-nose-isms and clunkiness.

David talked a little about the making of the record, acknowledging N.T. Wright and Alastair McIntosh who narrated the recording and the other musicians (some of whom were in the room) who’d helped make this tale of imperialism, grumpiness and repentance come to life. ‘This is probably the most collaborative album I’ve ever done’, David stated.

The question was posed to the group: how closely does your art relate to Biblical texts? This set off a lively conversation about inspiration. Our creative practices are all quite distinctive. Some of us have an eye on the text as we work, others just ‘make’ with the truths, questions and paradoxes of scripture flowing through our creative blood vessels.

How ‘bout yourself? Do the various letters, poems, statistics, biographies, dreams and historical narratives that make up the Bible directly inspire your art?

Birmingham Sputnik Hub
Birmingham Sputnik Hub

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Reflections on the Everything Conference

Christian mission often focuses on spiritual and social renewal, but what about cultural renewal? That was the question raised at the Everything Conference, at St George’s Holborn, on Saturday 18th November. This was a day packed full of so much goodness that it would be hard for one person to adequately sum it all up. Therefore, we asked three. Here are Jess, Tanya and Ben’s reflections on a great  day out in the Big Smoke.

Jess Wood Artist Sputnik Poet
Jess Wood.

Jess Wood (poet)

“London is only bearable for a few days for a northerner. Taking a one day trip down, for the purpose of a conference on culture shaping seemed well worth it. The event consisted of a series of short talks from cultural influencers from all walks of life, from artists to politicians, rugby players to business men. Through this wide range of practitioners I was encouraged to broaden my understanding of the places in which culture is located and can be shaped by Christian influence, beyond just art and creative expression. The conference helpfully challenged my presumptions that politics, finance and business can’t be spheres of influence.

“Throughout the day, there was a continual call to push ourselves beyond the realm of our own comfort, by stepping into either places of power or places of oppression. For me, the biggest take-away came from Andy Crouch’s second talk of the day, in which he encouraged us to work through the ‘contingencies’ of our lives. He encouraged us to work through the circumstances in which we’ve been placed, and work to restore the image of God in these places. As a final year university student, thoughts of what I’ll be doing next year have been continually spinning in my head. One of the biggest things I’m coming to grapple with are the choices I could make. Will I go for the seemingly logical decision, a job or grad scheme which will allow me to live comfortably? Or will I take risks in my art form and push through with things that God has placed on my heart? Either way this conference has encouraged me to know that wherever I am and whatever contingencies I’m placed in, God has given me the potential to influence culture around me.”

Tanya Chitunhu Artist Sputnik Poet Intern
Tanya Chitunhu. Photo by Sputnik

Tanya Chitunhu (performance poet)

“The Everything conference was an interesting experience for me. Set in central London, it was an early start for us as we drove down. However it was worth it, if only to hear the smorgasboard of culture creators from artists to athletes, politicians to peace makers. It was a lot to take in but I was hugely inspired by them all as they seem to be at the top of their chosen fields. I was particularly encouraged by their honesty about how difficult it is to create culture.

“The main speaker, Andy Crouch, in one of his talks during the day said that the world requires that we are excellent. However, he went on to explain that excellence is not merely skill or achievement but ‘skill plus patience plus risk plus suffering’. Patience is required to create something that lasts beyond having an immediate impact. Risk is also necessary as there is no guarantee of success. Finally, suffering is a crucial part of creating culture, that is, to be willing to go to the pain and to be uncomfortable in the process. These things together usher in true transformation. I think what I took away the most from the conference was that as Christians we can partner with God to create culture that restores the image of God in the world. However, this will cost us and we must be willing to embrace both the joy and the pain in order to leave a lasting legacy.”

Benjamin Harris Artist Sputnik Patrons
Benjamin Harris. Photo by Murmuration Films

Benjamin Harris (fine artist)

“The Everything conference was a little bizarre for me: an intimate gathering in a medium sized church of no more than 200 believers, yet headlined by some heavyweight speakers, from Sputnik favourite Andy Crouch to Nims Obunge MBE DL, CEO of The Peace Alliance.

“There was so much content to muse on that I feel a little pre-emptive writing this reflection so soon. I think that what stood out to me most was how diverse the speakers were. Despite working in different sectors, the guests all had a unified vision of changing and cultivating culture for the better.

“It is most natural for me to speak of Hannah Rose Thomas, artist and peace activist. Thomas presented a recent collection of works in which she painted the portraits of persecuted Yazidi women. These stunning paintings utilise early Renaissance techniques in order to reference the Virgin Mary while depicting the plight of these Kurdish women.

“Thomas is creating compassionate and sincere work to a high quality. Her portraits have received positive press, including an exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery. I found it refreshing to see work which is, at the same time, considered, crafted and Christocentric.

“If the Everything conference achieved one thing it was to get me itching to create some new work. And also to don a cravat in the style of Nims Obunge.”

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Lost Da Vinci becomes most expensive painting ever sold

Leonardo da Vinci’s long-lost ‘Salvator Mundi’, a painting of Jesus Christ commissioned over 500 years ago, has become the highest-valued work of art ever sold at auction. Unusually, the painting was sold as part of a contemporary art sale, and has a back-story of theft, amateur patch-ups and scandal worthy of a Donna Tartt novel.

It’s a buzz-worthy story for a number of reasons, but it also gives us a lot to unpack. Yes, someone paid over $400 million for a painting of Jesus – but it’s safe to assume they’re paying for da Vinci, not the subject matter. And of course it’s not exactly Jesus, anyway – it’s another unhistoric portrayal of the much-misrepresented rabbi. Is it just a valuable asset for a rich buyer – or does it really hold some kind of special substance and mystique? Does any of this matter? Let us know, below.

Leonardo, as you may know, had a long and prosperous career thanks to his rich patrons, so this seems a good moment to say joining Sputnik Patrons might help the next $400m masterpiece get made.

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Pristine synth-pop from London newcomers Dutchkid

‘Temporary’ is the debut single by the South London band Dutchkid, a collaboration between some familiar South London faces that you may recognise from the Creative Arts Network.

A pristine example of synth-led whisper-pop, ‘Temporary’ centers around a breathy hook, sparse electronics, and a lumbering sense of fear that culminates in a looping refrain and some gorgeous atmospherics.

Band member Jack Kircher also filmed and directed the excellent time-warping video, a glitchy Groundhog Day affair that recalls Bison‘s fear-inducing work for Bonobo and Jon Hopkins, and matches the subtle threat of the track perfectly. Watch that below, and follow the band here.

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Richard’s Immaculata Cosmica project now available online

Newcastle-based mononymous artist Richard has published his Immaculata Cosmica project online; a collection of collages combining classic images from religious art history with images of space. Richard explains:

Immaculata Cosmica (The Immaculate Cosmos) invites you… to explore that inner universe, the inner cosmos that is within us all and its relation to our creator God in a series of artworks and collaged material that ponders on these questions of 1. What is God doing and creating inside of us? and 2. How does this relate to and connect us to the world we occupy?

Richard’s ‘Pecha Kucha’ presentation of the project was one of the highlights of the arts study day we attended at the Holy Biscuit in Newcastle, and we’re glad to see it’s now available to all. See this intriguing set of image at their online home, here.

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New Photographic Exhibition in London by Samuel J Butt

Samuel J Butt Can We Start Again Please Sputnik Faith Art

‘Can We Start Again Please?’ is a collection of work from the last 7 years of Samuel John Butt‘s photographic career, including experimental studies, commissioned fashion and music work, and self-portraiture – much of it previously unpublished.

Samuel is a good friend of Sputnik and currently a part of ChristChurch London – we previously featured his work as Director of Photography on Stewart Garry’s folk-film album, ‘Sojourner’. In his day job, Samuel has worked with personalities like Pharrell Williams, Blondie and Michael Kiwanuka, and on projects with Tate Modern, Chanel, i-D, Dazed, Clash, Polydor Records and Wonderland.

The exhibition is free, and runs from 15 November – 3 December at Four Corners in Bethnal Green, London – you can also register for a visit on Eventbrite.

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A Handy Introduction to Church & The Arts by Keir Shreeves

Don’t be put off by the utilitarian overtones of the title: ‘Art For Missions Sake: Announcing the Gospel Through The Creative Arts’ is a very succinct but surprisingly thorough introduction to the importance of the arts for local churches. Written by Brighton-based church leader Keir Shreeves, the booklet is published by Grove Books – whose aim is to stimulate and equip Christian community by providing clear and concise explorations of Christian living and ministry.

Shreeves draws from his experience (and that of his wife Jessamy, who runs the Brighton art festival ‘Thou Art’) to tackle the ‘why’, but also the ‘how’ questions for churches thinking about meaningful engagement with the arts. If you’re in church leadership and would like a good introduction to this topic that will only take you about half an hour to read, then this is for you. If you’re not in church leadership, but would like to be encouraged again about the place of the arts in the 21st century church, this may well be for you too. Click away to purchase a copy for a mere £3.95.

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Book in to the 2017 Everything Conference

The Everything Conference 2017

The Everything Conference is a day of thought-provoking TED-style talks for Christians concerned with calling, culture, and ‘everything’ – taking its name from Psalm 24: “the Earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it”. Its aim is to break churches out of the confines of Christian culture, erase the secular/sacred divide and inspire Christians to serve God anywhere – in everything.

The 2012 Everything Conference was a massive encouragement and significant inspiration for us in the formation of Sputnik. We’re anticipating this year’s Conference will be equally inspiring again: keynote speaker Andy Crouch is already a firm Sputnik favourite; other speakers include an opera singer, a slam poet, and a rugby player.

Mostly, though, we’re looking forward to sharing a room with Christians who are passionate about affecting our culture with the hope of Jesus, and sparking new initiatives, projects and ideas off the back of it. Click here to book in to the conference – and come and say hello.

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New Illuminated Bible by Dana Tanamachi

Joining the recent trend for tastefully-designed, hardback Bibles is the stunning ESV Illuminated Bible, with over a hundred full-page illustrations (in gold, no less) by renowned Seattle-based illustrator Dana Tanamachi. While obviously a project for the Christian market, Tanamachi’s previous work has been featured by Google, The Wall Street Journal, and plenty of others.

Tanamachi and her team describe the seven-month project, commissioned by Crossway, as a throwback to the Middle Age-practice of illumination – the painstaking illustration of Bible manuscripts typically undertaken by monks, which fell out of favour and practice after the Reformation and invention of the printing press.

You can see more about it in the video, below:

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Elisha Esquivel, Musical Roots & Successful Crowdfunding

Two of the most effective incubators of creativity and craft that we’ve stumbled upon have been Jubilee Church, Coventry and Nexus Institute of Creative Arts. Elisha Esquivel happens to have been nurtured by both. Having performed on the live music scene for several years, she has an EP ready to drop in Spring 2018, and we thought it was time we caught up with her and found out more.

Hi Elisha, tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m Elisha. I grew up along the south coast in Dorset, and have been writing songs for as long as I can remember. I am an avid tea-drinker, deep-thinker, wannabe-nutritionist, lover of all things outdoors, and wife to my lovely husband, Ollie.

You have been writing songs for a long time already. What was your musical upbringing? Who have been your key influences?

I had a musical family growing up I suppose. My Grandma was an opera singer and my Grandad worked for the radio. My Mum and Dad both played the guitar, and though it wasn’t in any professional capacity, we all loved music and my parents always encouraged music in our family. I remember being part of musical theatre groups growing up, taking piano lessons, being taxied around to singing competitions, and for Christmases and Birthdays, my mum would often buy me a couple of hours in a friends’ studio as a present. I’m so thankful for the way I was encouraged in my creativity. I was probably about 10 when I started writing simple songs that were nothing special – something I’m sure lots of kids do – and it could have been so easy for my parents to laugh it off or just ignore it completely, but they really took note of what I was interested in, believed in me, and nurtured my creativity, which I think was so vital in giving me the confidence to do a lot of the things I’ve done in my life.

You have been studying at Nexus in Coventry- could you briefly explain what Nexus is and how you’ve found your time studying there?

Yes! I came to Nexus Institute of Creative Arts when I was 16 and stayed for three years. When I was there in 2011, Nexus were offering gap years (or three…) for Christian musicians to come and grow in their faith, as well as train in a music specialism. I chose Vocals. It was a life-transforming 3 years for me full of incredible musical opportunities and training, meeting some of the best people I know, and also an amazing opportunity to solidify my faith and strengthen my relationship with God. Lots has changed since then for Nexus though – they are now a fully-fledged Institute of Higher Education and offer degrees in Popular Music and Worship! Shameless plug… (Ed: Plug away. We love Nexus. For more info here)

Your upcoming EP comes on the back of a very successful Kickstarter campaign in which you raised over £4,000 with nearly 50 backers. Tell us about it. 

This was an incredible and also extremely nerve-wracking experience! There are a lot of Crowdfunding platforms out there where you can keep whatever you raise, but I chose a Kickstarter campaign which runs on an all-or-nothing basis. I mainly chose this because I wanted to take a bit of a risk and trust God with the outcome. I’d say the process has taught me not to be limited by my own perception of what is possible, and that God is faithful to provide when we step out in faith. To me, setting a target of raising £4000 in 30 days really did seem quite impossible – I’m still amazed it’s all actually happening.

Can you share some tips on how to use platforms like this successfully?

3 tips I would give to anyone thinking of doing a Kickstarter is:

1) Do it with other people. Get a small team of key people around you that are willing to help and support you in small ways throughout the process – ie: proof-reading your page before it goes live, coming up with ideas for the rewards, helping to shoot your video, taking photos etc etc. It means that from the beginning you have a core group of people who are invested in you and believe in what you’re doing – the encouragement goes a long way!

2) Prepare well. I read loads of articles about what makes a successful campaign and talked to anyone I knew who had run a Kickstarter that had been successful to find out how they had gone about it. This was so useful.

3) Use it as a genuine opportunity to let people into your creative process and journey, not just as a way to get something out of them. Take the time to write regular updates, contact people personally, thank them etc. etc – it’s lots more fun this way and much more rewarding!

So, on to the EP. What can we expect from ‘From The Ground Up’?

So far, the EP has quite an urban electronic flavour with elements of raw, stripped back singer/songwriter. I’m excited to be crafting a sound for the first time that I feel really represents me as an artist. It’s still very much in the process of morphing and evolving, so you’ll have to wait and see when it comes out! The release date hasn’t been announced yet, but keep your eyes peeled for dates in 2018.

Thanks Elisha. Our eyes are officially peeled. For the time being though, her recent gig for the Treehouse Sessions is all up on youtube. Here’s a taster:

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Katrina Moss & The Chaiya Arts Awards

One of the great things about working in the realms of Christianity and the arts is that you get to connect with some very interesting and inspirational people. The other day, I got to add Katrina Moss to this ever growing list. Katrina has just launched the Chaiya Arts Awards, which is an open submission arts exhibition, in a fantastic venue and with a series of very appealing incentives. Seriously peeps you don’t want to miss out on this one. Katrina over to you…

Hi Katrina, please introduce yourself…

I like to try everything and believe life should be lived to the full.  My career has been varied, but my skill base falls into three main categories, event management, selling and design.  I have run big projects from producing a feature film; implementing large healthcare projects to starting local craft fayres. The selling and design skills have complimented and enabled the management side. Administrative skills are of paramount importance as you need skills and vision to think outside of the box, take studied risks and aim high to get big projects off the ground and complete them on time and on budget.  Very similar to those artists require.

Passionate about God, I love finding new, exciting and relevant ways to encourage others.  I believe creativity is embedded in all of us, but for some it is a precious gift and craft that needs to be opened, honed and used to glorify God.

You have just launched the Chaiya Arts Awards. Talk us through it. What is it and who is it for?

The Chaiya Art Awards is the UK’s newest theme based biennial art awards with a top prize of £10,000.  The awards and exhibition will be held at London’s prestigious gallery@oxo on the busy Southbank riverside and will celebrate inspiring art on the first intriguing theme: Where is God in our 21st century world?

It’s about continuing an age old conversation with an age old medium, in a modern setting through contemporary eyes.  It’s about asking a big question and looking for inspiration from the wealth of our nation’s creatives.

How did you get the idea for this project?

I was at New Wine conference in 2016 and was inspired through a number of things, including a piece of art (which I bought), a book I read and my mother’s death to cancer, to ask God for a fresh vision for this time in my life, and the vision for these awards was born.

I know that the plan is to run these awards for several years. Fast forward to 2028, by then, what do you hope will be different because of the awards?

I would like to think that the Chaiya Art Awards would play its part and return spirituality back into the mainstream art arena. We would uncover some gifted and visionary new artists and perhaps kickstart or highlight their careers. This would be accepted as a credible and significant event in the art calendar.

So can you give some tips as to what you’re looking for? Not wanting to give anyone an unfair advantage (okay, then, just a little) but how can the Sputnik readers maximise the chances of getting the prize?  

Degas said “Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.”  I would encourage all participants to mine the depths of their imagination and fly creatively.  The judges will be looking for originality, technical excellence and emotional impact.  Be authentic and be daring.

You can submit fine art to graffiti, mixed media to textile art, sculpture in any medium, 2D, 3D, video, photography. The art categories are simple. There are none. Your piece can be in any artistic medium but must be able to be displayed in the gallery. You can submit whether a professional, student, amateur, individual or a group.  Be sure to consider the theme and the constraints of the gallery@oxo first.  Visit the website at www.chaiyaartawards.co.uk and secure your place.

* * *

Thanks Katrina. You’ll be hearing much more about this from us at Sputnik, but the deadline for submissions is 31st January 2018, so if you want a head start, I’d get to work.

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Our New Sputnik Intern: Tanya Chitunhu

Two weeks ago, our first ever intern started work at Sputnik HQ. Her name is Tanya, and we thought it would be amiss of us not to introduce her to you all. So, Tanya…

Describe yourself in 5 words.

Compassionate, opinionated, determined, introverted and surprising

Why are you interning for Sputnik this year?

I have been performing spoken word poetry on and off for years in my local church and other places and I just felt I needed to dedicate time and effort to explore and hone the craft. I also wanted to see if or how I can turn professional or semi professional at it. The internship seems perfect to do that.

What are you going to be doing this year?

I will be mentored or coached by other writers and poets. That translates practically into working on lots of new poems and getting feedback on my work as well as regularly performing at different venues across Birmingham and beyond. I will also be meeting artists from different fields to get a wider perspective on the arts as inspiration. Alongside that, I will be assisting Sputnik with their day to day administration and whatever they need. Lastly, I am participating in Impact training which is a basic theology course for a great foundation in growing in relationship with God.

As for your artistic practice, what are your goals and who are your main inspirations?

My main goal is to be a better writer and performer of spoken word poetry. I believe God has given me a gift and the best way to honour him is to be the best I can be at using it. I have set myself an incredibly high bar of becoming the next Birmingham Poet Laureate! I hope participating in the competition will push me to the next level of my craft and it will be fun trying to achieve it.

My main inspirations are a little known spoken word poetry collective from America called The Strivers Row – their work is probably why I believe this art form is worth doing – it is deeply personal, incredibly powerful and absolutely passionate. Whenever I listen to or read their poetry, I feel alive and so inspired which are the greatest gifts I hope to give as an artist.

 

It’s an absolute pleasure having Tanya on board this year. If the first fortnight is anything to go by, she’s going to be a fantastic addition to the Sputnik team. I’m sure you’ll hear much more from her as the year goes on, but for the time being, I’ll leave you with a taster of what she does:

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Introducing Sputnik Patrons: 4 Projects to Support

Artists need patronage. Christians used to be at the forefront of funding artists in this way. They’re not any more. We’d like to change that.

To that end, we are very excited to announce that we are launching our Sputnik Patrons Scheme. We would like to gather a team of patrons (maybe including you!) to help fund specific projects by Christian artists who are connected with the Sputnik network.

From 2018, artists can apply to receive grants from this fund, but to kick off the scheme we have selected 4 projects that we’d like to make happen in the following year. Money you give into the Sputnik Patrons Scheme this year will help to…

Expand Strange Ghost’s audience

Strange Ghost are the husband-wife duo Christopher & Ayomide Donald, who write and produce politically-charged neo-soul music. In early 2017, they released the excellent ‘Stagger’ EP and developed the Strange Ghost sound into a four-piece band.

Strange Ghost 2017

The money raised through the Sputnik Patrons scheme will help them with strategic marketing, particularly with their live shows through local gig and festival promoters. Live performances will build their fanbase, provide a platform for dialogue with audience members and help fund future releases.

To find out more about Strange Ghost, click here, and you can see/hear their debut EP ‘Stagger’ here.

Put on a Benjamin Harris Exhibition

Benjamin Harris is a hugely talented young conceptual artist, based in the West Midlands. He is planning to put on a solo exhibition in Birmingham’s art district, Digbeth, which will feature both past work and new work, made specifically for the exhibition.

Benjamin Harris 2017

The money raised through the Sputnik Patrons Scheme will be crucial in making this exhibition happen (especially in hiring the space), helping Ben to push along his practice, and engage with Birmingham’s art scene in a dialogue around art, faith and life.

Click here to investigate Benjamin’s work, and here to check out his blog.

Produce an anthology of poetry by Huw Evans

Huw Evans has been honing his craft as a writer for many years, writing scripts and verse drama, children’s books, YA novels and poetry. He is planning to release an anthology of his poetry in the following year and we would love to help him make this happen.

Huw Evans 2017

The money raised through the Sputnik Patrons Scheme will help with the printing costs and to provide Huw with graphic design assistance to ensure the look and feel of the publication comes at least close to matching the quality of the content.

To get a taste of Huw’s work, click here, and check out his blog for more of an introduction to the man himself.

Support Phil and Harri Mardlin’s new writing festival, Stage Write

StageWrite is an annual new writing festival that is based in Bedford and run by Phil and Harri Mardlin in collaboration with No Loss Productions. Writers submit their scripts, 4 of which will be selected and put on over 2 nights in script in hand performances, with the potential for one of the scripts to be fully realised.

Phil & Harri Mardlin 2017

Each piece is followed by a Q&A with the writer, actors, director and audience to give the writer developmental feedback on the work. The aim is to allow the writers to see their work on its feet, performed by professional actors and seen by an audience.

The money raised through the SputnikPatrons Scheme would enable Phil and Harri to pay the actors to properly rehearse and fully realise one of the pieces in the festival, a first for StageWrite.

If you’d like to find out more about Phil and Harri, click here, and for more information about StageWrite, here.

 

To become a SputnikPatron and make these projects happen, go to our patrons page and sign up for one of our donation tiers.

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Music Careers and Mental Health

Music as an ‘industry’ has had its unhealthy side for a long time: both self-loathing and callous profiteering are so commonplace that they’re a film cliché. Manufactured pop artists get worked to near-death. Earnest bands work themselves to near-death. What is it about the music industry that lends itself to burnout?

This question is only more topical this year in the light of high-profile suicides such as Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell and Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington, both of whom struggled with long-term depression. Many commentators, Russell Brand included, look at these deaths in the context of the already-high male suicide rate in the West; similarly, 1 in 4 of us, whatever our profession, will experience some mental health difficulty at some time. There is a larger conversation at play that is not exclusive to artists.

However, there is the fact of the higher depression/anxiety statistics amongst artistic types, musicians in particular. Help Musicians UK found in a 2015 survey that well over 60% of musicians have suffered from psychological issues. Some wonder (perhaps controversially) whether a propensity for mental health struggles is in a way part of the personality profile ‘package’ that comes with artistic creativity, deeply felt empathy and so on. But even if this is true, it’s foolish to ignore the reality that external, aggravating factors – such as constant insecurity of living – make things worse for artists in particular.

Entering this discussion requires a recognition that every person’s experience is different. Cornell and Bennington, for instance, did not struggle with financial insecurity. However, when a famous figure commits suicide, or whenever a small or middleweight band speaks out about their struggles, external factors are always relevant. On the whole, the industrialisation of music – the transition from artist to travelling salesman – creates a brutal bottleneck for psychological issues.

A Lack of Community

Touring, typically a non-negotiable part of the musician’s experience, seems to be the biggest factor. Most musicians want to perform, and touring is still held up, rightly or wrongly, as the primary way to make money. But touring has a cost: that same Help Musicians UK survey reported that 68% of musicians regularly experienced loneliness and alienation from family and friends; 62% said they had experienced relationship difficulties as a result of their career.

On one hand, Instagram makes touring look like an adventure – and it has its high points, no doubt – but it’s essentially one long experience of transit. A friend on tour with Michael Kiwanuka commented there was no time to experience or engage with the places they were travelling through. Hours in coaches, vans or trains. Hours setting up and waiting for maybe one hour of performance per day. Poor quality sleep. Far too many reasons to over-drink. And, most importantly, no friends and family: no grounding. Plenty of musicians find it just too much to handle long term: the compounded years of stress and disconnect take their toll. ‘Success’ is no reliever of stress, either: millionaire heartthrob Zayn Malik reportedly left the biggest boyband in the world because four years of traversing the globe had become too much; auteur success story Tyler, the Creator recently released a single with the hard-to-miss lyric “I am the loneliest man alive”.

On the other hand, for a great deal of artists it’s real life that’s the problem: live performance can be such an adrenaline-pumping rush that touring feels worth the chore, and coming home sparks a kind of ‘post-performance depression’. A contrite Willis Earl Beal said his touring-heightened arrogance, and bad attitude with each domestic ‘comedown’, contributed to the collapse of his marriage; Kate Nash, Everything Everything, and plenty of others have talked about their sense of alienation from everyday existence. One way or another, relationships suffer; but unless you’re Aphex Twin or Radiohead, you don’t get to negotiate the terms of touring.

Then there’s the need to be constantly ‘ON’ and promoting yourself (familiar to any freelancer), the emotional rollercoaster of criticism, and the aforementioned financial insecurity. Are these just facts of life for those who have the supposed ‘luxury’ to pursue a career in music? Or is it okay to suggest that some musicians ‘stray from the path’, for the sake of their own wellbeing?

All Or Nothing?

While I don’t have the answer, right here and now, to fix the music industry or alleviate the pressures of touring (you’ll be disappointed to hear) – I do see signs of change. For a start, music and mental health is a public conversation now. Top-tier pop artists Lady Gaga, Adele and One Direction have spoken about their anxieties and difficulties within the industry. Michael Angelakos (aka Passion Pit) recently announced he’s continuing to make music, but not selling it, saying the music industry “does nothing to promote the health required in order to promote the work it sells.

There is, increasingly, a ‘successful’ middleweight group too: those who’ve found an appreciative audience of a few thousand people and make the most of that relationship. Maybe too much is made of technology like Patreon, but it does suggest musicians can make something of a living from different mechanisms other than just touring; with a bit of internet savvy, artists can score TV slots for their music, collect royalties from YouTube, sell merch, or crowd-fund their next projects. I think it was Amanda Palmer who said that with 15,000 devoted fans (ie fans who show up and buy your stuff) you can have a full-time career. That’s a lot of fans, which you probably can’t get without money and PR, but it’s a good attitude change: The X-Factor and the other financial behemoths of the industry want you to think success is an all-or-nothing, fame-or-oblivion type deal. Aggressive expansion isn’t the only option.

I don’t want bands to stop touring – experiencing live music is precious. Even just the simple pleasure of watching great musicians do what they do is a kind of sacred, life-giving thing. But we can’t put that above the mental well being of the musicians stuck in the entertainment complex.

If you’ve any experience of these issues – as a musician or otherwise – we’d love to hear from you, below, or through jonny@sputnikmagazine.co.uk

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Ruth Chipperfield at Women In Business Expo 2017

Ruth Mary Jewellery Sputnik Faith Art

In June, Ruth Chipperfield, an active member of Sputnik since about 2012, was one of the speakers at the ‘Women in Business Expo 2017’ at Birmingham Council House. One of the event’s goals was to showcase successful women-led businesses, and so as part of the fashion show, Ruth took to the catwalk to tell her remarkable story, talk about her work and profile her business Ruth Mary Jewellery.

We thought you may like to see how she did, and with just one click and in a mere 7 minutes, you can find out…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oZwfifMENM8

Great work Ruth. Looking forward to those D&G style crowns coming to the Sputnik shop some time soon 😉

To keep up to date with Ruth Mary Jewellery, twitter and facebook will help, and for a more thorough introduction to her work, her website’s got what you need.

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Make A Scene

As a kid I became a little obsessed with guitar bands who looked a lot like lost lumberjacks. You know the look, torn jeans, plaid shirts and greasy hair.

It was the early 90s and rock was boring. It was pompous, glamorous and all about showing off. Then came Bruce Pavitt.

Bruce Pavitt turned my world upside down! I was a 14 year old, living in a provincial British town, listening to Van Halen when a friend of mine gave me a pirated cassette. I pushed it into my Walkman and Smells Like Teen Spirit blew my mind. I was listening as Kurt Cobain, Krist Noveselic and Dave Grohl were saving Rock music. So, who’s Bruce Pavitt? I had never heard of him.

Bruce wasn’t in Nirvana. He ran their first record label, Sub Pop.

When you’re a music nerd you find out your favourite bands’ record labels and then you listen to their label mates. This involved no algorithms or Spotify playlists, I had to work it out for myself. I would also read the NME (in its pre-internet guise) cover to cover and discovered that before Nirvana went global they were signed to Sub Pop records and came from Seattle. All of this research introduced me to Green River (who became Pearl Jam), Mother Love Bone, Soundgarden, Mudhoney, The Screaming Trees, Alice in Chains etc etc.

Bruce Pavitt had changed my life. Bruce is a scene maker.

Let me explain further.

I now live in Manchester. Manchester is a brilliant and beautiful city with a long history of creativity, social dissent and partying, often all in the same evening.

In the late 1970s Tony Wilson started Factory Records and then in the 1980s he opened the Hacienda. Out of this came Joy Division, New Order and the Happy Mondays (not to mention dozens of other bands, DJs, designers and hangers on).

Tony Wilson is a scene maker. He wasn’t the only one in Manchester but he seemed to have a unique ability to get creative people together and provide a context for them to produce their best work.

These people are rare. They love art, and they may in fact be very creative, but fundamentally they create space for other artists to flourish. Both Bruce Pavitt and Tony Wilson could spot talent, motivate talent and promote talent. These entrepreneurs had the skills required to connect people, find spaces, and find money (and to spend that money).

Calling them entrepreneurs doesn’t quite cover what Bruce and Tony did. Some entrepreneurs can start their own business and become a successful one-person organisation. They create a product and sell the product but ultimately it goes no further as the whole thing spins around them. However, some entrepreneurs can start something that brings other people’s talents in, develops and uses that talent and then provides a space for them to go in different directions.

They create a scene.

Someone has a dream but it’s highly collaborative.

Art needs a scene. Ideas need bouncing around. Creative people need community.

I believe that faith has a part to play here. God is a creative and he loves it when we get creative. When we do, the spark of eternity can be seen.

Christians can be scene makers. It ticks all our boxes. To be a scene maker you need to be able to imagine a better future, to encourage others in what they do, to help them to do better, to build community, to be generous and to be on the lookout for new additions.

Make a scene.

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Forget about trying to change the world

Think Small Stop Change World Sputnik Faith Art

Let’s recap on what we’ve seen so far in this series. Christians holding positions of influence in society is a good thing. In fact, it’s an essential thing, if the good news of Jesus is going to spread and the church is going to grow. So, how should we respond to this?

The obvious application would be to go all guns blazing in this direction. Let’s change the world. Let’s all try to be as influential as we possibly can. Let’s cosy up to all the people we know who have a bit of clout. Let’s ruthlessly recruit 10s of thousands of twitter followers. Let’s forget the marginalized and voiceless who we’ve been helping out all these years and put our effort into people who are a bit more important… Hmm…

I’m sure you can see that this sort of application can lead in all sorts of strange and unhelpful directions. It’s a small step from the language of influence to the language of empire, and, therefore, even from good motives, we can end up with a sort of anti-gospel: prioritise the strong, despise the weak. Gain power at all costs!

But we can’t change the world!

James Davison Hunter puts this case very well in his book ‘To Change The World’. While the title may imply that this is a polemic for maximal cultural engagement and chasing hard after influence, its subheading reveals his more corrective goal: ‘The Irony, Tragedy and Possibility Of Christianity in The Late Modern World’.

Hunter’s basic argument is simple- that changing culture is much more complex than many Christians realise and is likely to be impossible. He puts forward the example of American Christianity over the last 50 years or so as a cautionary tale, demonstrating how the efforts of both the Right and the Left to influence American culture for Jesus have almost all spectacularly backfired.

His conclusion is that ‘changing the world’ really shouldn’t be that high on our list of priorities. Instead, we should aim to be a “faithful presence within” society- humbly living out the values of God’s kingdom in the way we live, wherever we live. Thus:

“Against the present realities of our historical moment, it is impossible to say what can actually be accomplished. There are intractable uncertainties that cannot be avoided. Certainly Christians, at their best, will neither create a perfect world nor one that is altogether new; but by enacting shalom and seeking it on behalf of all others through the practice of faithful presence, it is possible, just possible, that they will help to make the world a little bit better.” (P 286)

Greg Gilbert in his helpful review of the book paraphrases Hunter’s conclusion even more succinctly:

“Can we change the world? Well, who knows? Probably not. But we can perhaps, just perhaps, make it a little better by living godly lives as aliens and strangers in it.”

Can we?/Can’t we?

I think Hunter’s note of caution needs to be taken seriously although it could be taken too far (FOOTNOTE 1). If you push what he says to conclude that we cannot exert any influence on culture at all, I think that would be mistaken (and I don’t think that is what he’s saying). We all make a difference all the time, whether we like it or not, in the spheres of influence in which we live. Sometimes that influence is positive, sometimes it’s negative. And obviously some individuals or groups of people do have a significant influence on the values of entire cultures. To use some classic Sputnik examples, it would be hard to argue that Lewis and Tolkien did not change the world at least just a little! However, his basic point still stands, especially in the face of the gung ho optimism some sectors of evangelicalism seem to demonstrate in this area.

I personally agree with Hunter that we shouldn’t be overly optimistic about the effect we can have on society at large, and I also agree that there is a significant danger of being so focused on influencing people we’ll never meet by doing unusual things, that we stop doing the simple daily stuff all Christians are called to and therefore neglect the people right under our noses. But, you may ask, how do I square this with all I’ve said about the need for Christians to hold positions of influence (not to mention all that art shaping life stuff I’m always banging on about).

Back to the Bible

Well, what did the key influencers in the Bible achieve? Joseph didn’t overthrow Egyptian polytheism and Esther didn’t halt Babylonian cruelty in its foreign policy. However, they used their influence to help God’s people to survive and grow. For Paul, we don’t see many of the effects of his interactions with the ‘kings’ he met, but we know that these influencers saw a faithful Christian, living out the message he taught. Some like Sergius Publius and Lydia became Christians, almost all of the others warmed to Paul personally, and by association, that must have softened them towards the Christian church. This must have had an impact on how they used their influence from that point on.

For us, as artists, we must not get carried away with our potential. Yes, in the gifts God has given us, we have a unique opportunity to reach out to loads of people that many other Christians will never get to meaningfully engage with. For some of us, God will give us a measure of influence through our skill and craft that is able to cause a gentle softening of hearts towards Jesus and his church, all across our society and even beyond. At the very least, it is harder to hate Christians because of Fujimuras, O’Connors and Bachs! At the best, as we know, artists who function at this sort of level actually sow seeds that lead people who would otherwise have no interest in the God of the Bible, to seek Him, and even to find Him.

While your work may not have this scale of impact, any artist can do exactly the same among those who appreciate what you do. Your work has an influence in whatever sphere you work in- whether that is in your local community, in your niche genre or on a wider scale. We should take this responsibility seriously wherever God has placed us, and use any influence God has given us for the enhancement of his reputation not our own.

And this is where I think it gets practical for us. Ultimately we must remember that God places people into positions of influence, he doesn’t call us to chase after these positions. Think of all the examples from the Bible- it is interesting that of all the examples I mentioned in the last article, the only one who set his face towards influence was Jesus. The others were placed there, either by vengeful brothers, national exile or, in Paul’s case, imprisonment. God is very keen on increasing his influence and He has every right to do so. He is acting in such a way that one day ‘the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.’ (Habakkuk 2:14). To do so, he is looking for people who can faithfully wield his influence how and when he sees fit.

And who is he likely to choose? Well, this is where it all comes together. I think he tends to choose those who, as Hunter puts it, know how to practice ‘faithful presence’ in the world.

What does that look like for us as artists? Give me a few days, and I’ll have some suggestions.

Footnote 1: I would like to give an extra poke to those who merge the talk of influence in with their theology about ‘the kingdom of God’. I keep coming across people whose thinking about the kingdom seems to lead them to the very conclusions that Hunter is concerned about. I struggle to see how the Bible’s teaching on the kingdom leads us to the view that Christians, through our cultural engagement are going to renew and restore the world substantially before Jesus’ return. In fact, the teaching of God’s kingdom implies the existence of another kingdom- the kingdom of this world- which is under the direct rule of the devil (2 Cor 4:4, Eph 2:2, Luke 4:5-6, Jn 12:31, Jn 14:30). Whatever tinkering we do on the surface of this kingdom, surely we shouldn’t think that we can fundamentally alter a system whose key architect and sustainer is Satan! This kingdom will fall, but, according to the Bible, it will do so through the return of Jesus (Rev 11:15). Until then, as I read it, our main responsibility is to signpost people from out of the kingdom of the world, towards the kingdom of God. Where I’m at in my thinking on this at the moment is that any influence we wield in our culture should ultimately be to that end. Happy to be poked back on this, by the way 😉

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Broadcast From The Clubhouse

It’s February 2017 and my friend asks me if I want to go and see Hacksaw Ridge. I’m not sure. The film has been getting some rave reviews amongst my Christian friends – a friend-of-a-friend has claimed it’s one of the best films they’ve ever seen, but I can take a guess as to why.

I suspect a key reason for its popularity is that the protagonist might be a Christian. Which is to say, those who love Hacksaw Ridge are pretty certain he is, but when the topic is raised in a group there are usually others who aren’t so sure. These people are often less enthused about the film.

So I ask Google. Turns out that Hacksaw Ridge is based on the true story of Desmond Doss, a medic who served in World War II and received the Medal of Honour, despite being a pacifist. His non-violent stance, manifested in a refusal to even carry a firearm, was inspired by his Seventh-day Adventist faith. Ah…

I look up Seventh Day Adventism on Wikipedia. They’re annihilationists. Is this a problem? As Desmond Doss watched the unsaved masses perish on the field of battle, he did not imagine that their souls would endure conscious, eternal torment in hell. Is that a deal breaker? Basically, I’m trying to establish whether Desmond Doss is a ‘real’ Christian. And this is very important. Because if he was, then the film is a triumph, validating the wonderful propensity of God to glorify Himself through the sanctification of His children, allowing them to live in a radically Christ-like manner. For the same reason, this movie should also be earmarked as a crucial tool for witnessing to non-believers. However, if Desmond Doss is not a ‘real’ Christian, this film is the story of a nice man, whose stirring and heroic actions nonetheless represent a futile attempt to buy his own salvation through good works. To elevate it any higher than that would be to suggest that Christ-like actions may genuinely arise from sources other than theologically-sound Christian beliefs, something tantamount to anti-evangelism.

For right or wrong, as Christians we tend to judge on the level of the individual, rather than the action. It’s a little silly to create theoretical scenarios based on the lives and actions of real individuals, but permit me this indulgence – if Desmond Doss was an atheist (or professed another religious belief) would Hacksaw Ridge have garnered the amount of acclaim that it did amongst the Christian circle. Given the significant numbers of American movie-goers who identify themselves as Christians, would it have grossed as much at the box office? And if not, is this justified?

Sometimes it’s tempting to view Christianity like a clubhouse. We love established figures who operate within the clubhouse (Tolkien, Lewis etc.). We also love it when established figures poke their heads into the clubhouse from outside. These are the people like Kanye West, when he asked Jesus to follow him around, or Chance the Rapper and his cheery prosperity gospel. Sure, they may curse occasionally and their theology may be a little ropey, but we’re a welcoming bunch and, more excitingly, we get to lay claim to these people who we previously had no idea were one of ours. That’s why it’s now cool to like Justin Bieber. It’s also the reason a large number of Christians suddenly developed a keen interest in boxing before the 2015 Pacquiao vs Mayweather fight. [Footnote 1]

What we’re less keen on, however, is people bridging the gap between ‘church’ and ‘world’ by poking their head out of the clubhouse. That’s why it’s disquieting to hear Sufjan Stevens [Footnote 2] sing about masturbating, or say the f-word, or to question the degree to which faith really provides any comfort in the wake of bereavement. After all, he should know better. Besides which, Sufjan is one of our hottest properties, and the last thing we need is him leaving the clubhouse to stretch his legs and never coming back.

Anyway, I digress. None of this is answering the question as to whether I should take up my friend’s offer to see Hacksaw Ridge. I return to Google to seek more answers, but am distracted by today’s Google Doodle. It’s in celebration of Abdul Sattar Edhi. I have no idea who he is and I silently chastise myself for my Western-centric knowledge of influential figures. Clicking through to his Wikipedia page, I discover that Edhi was a Pakistani philanthropist whose prolific humanitarian career involved the nationwide establishment of hospitals, homeless shelters and a highly-efficient volunteer ambulance service. ‘Now here’s an inspiring individual’ I think. ‘Given my ignorance, I wouldn’t mind seeing a biopic of this guy’. But my interest is short-lived – I scroll down further and discover that Edhi was ‘often critical of the clergy’ and ‘had never been a religious person’.

Ah well, nevermind. Not one of ours.

Footnote 1: In case you missed the result, God didn’t let the inferior sportsman win just by virtue of being an evangelical Christian.

Footnote 2: For the uninitiated, check out Sufjan’s album Seven Swans. A lovely collection of gospel-infused folk ballards, Seven Swans cemented Sufjan’s place in the tiny slither of the Venn Diagram where ‘traditional Christian beliefs’ and ‘hipster-approved’ overlap. Hipsters much prefer a more poignant, subtle narrative of someone struggling with and eventually losing their religious faith, because faith, although comforting, is ultimately childish and a bit silly.

 

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The case for Christians in positions of cultural influence

Christians Cultural Influence Biblical Sputnik Faith Arts

Different people’s voices have different weights. Diane Abott has more influence than my son’s primary school teacher. My MP’s voice is more influential than my dentist’s. However, it is not just politicians who have influence. Culture is not just shaped by law makers, but by all sorts of different groups. Cutting to the chase, artists are pretty key in all of this. They live in the middle of the stairs. They build the plumbing of our culture. So often, it is the artists who shape the values and thinking of all of us.

This seems like a pretty non controversial way of looking at the world we live in, but still it may sit uncomfortably with some Christians. Jesus taught his followers to serve, not lord it over others. Paul reminded us that God chose the foolish things and the weak things and often operates ‘in the face of worldly wisdom’. We do not fight with worldly weapons and in some ways we do not see things as the world does, therefore we shouldn’t play the influence game like the world does.

The problem with this view is that God clearly does see the world in this way and is more than happy to ‘play the influence game.’ In the Bible, one of God’s main strategies in pushing his plans forward is by engaging with the structures of cultural influence. That’s a big claim and needs some backing up, so let’s wheel right back to the start and survey the evidence.

Cultural Influence in the Old Testament

In Genesis, God starts to roll out his rescue plan for fallen humanity. It all starts with Abraham. You’ll be a father of many nations, God says. Through you all nations will be blessed, God says. He even throws in some stuff about his offspring- his seed, the Messiah- for good measure.

And so a couple of geriatric parents, an awkward take your son to work day up a mountain and two squabbling twins later, the plan has moved on.

But how does God turn Abraham’s descendants from an extended family into a people? He raises Joseph to a position of cultural influence.

Joseph’s brothers stick him in a hole and ship him off to become a slave in Egypt. (The place is not incidental- Egypt is the key cultural centre of the day). Then after a series of further misadventures, Joseph amazingly ends up as second in command to Pharoah. The result: Abraham’s descendants are saved from starvation and then given a home to grow in.

But how does God then turn his slave people into a nation? He raises Moses to a place of cultural influence.

This all starts at the beginning of Moses’ life, when he is adopted into the royal family. Though he doesn’t take the title with gusto (Hebrews 11:4), he would have been known as the son of the king’s daughter. This meant that when he returned to say ‘Let my people go!’ he didn’t have to queue up to meet with one of Pharoah’s aides, but he got to say it to Pharoah face to face. Repeatedly and forcefully. Moses’ position of influence was crucial in freeing the Hebrews and enabling them to become a nation.

So, time passed. And there were ups (Joshua, David, Solomon). And there were downs (most of the rest). And the downs prevailed and Israel got exiled to Babylon.

So how does God preserve the nation of Israel while in exile? He raises Esther (among others) to a place of cultural influence.

When Xerxes the Persian King, agrees to eliminate all the Jews in the Empire, what does God do? Well, he’s already got this one covered. Esther has been roped into the King’s royal harem and become queen, and she uses her position to save all of God’s people from death.

And how does God get his people back from exile? He raises Nehemiah to a place of (I think you’re probably seeing a pattern here) cultural influence.

Nehemiah, as he is at pains to tell us, was the cupbearer to the king. This role gave him the ear of the king, and he used this influence to get permission and even substantial resources to rebuild Jerusalem and give the returning exiles a home.

So, in the Old Testament, how does God push forward his purposes? Well, obviously he calls his people to personal holiness, social kindness and observance of the covenant, we know that stuff. However, at the same time He makes sure that some of his faithful people are in positions of significant influence at just the right times, in just the right places to keep things moving along as planned.

And seeing as this plan worked so well in the Old Testament, as we cross from Malachi to Matthew, we find that God continues in much the same vein in the New Testament.

Cultural Influence in the New Testament

Luke is the gospel writer who brings our attention to this most blatantly. He does this mainly by laying out a geographical trajectory to the ministries of Jesus and the early church that shows God still working with a keen eye on human structures of influence.

Jesus is born in Bethlehem and grows up in Nazareth. Nazareth, however, was a bit of a backwater. “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael scoffs in John 1:46, and while we may want to chasten him for such cultural insensitivity, in a sense it seems that Jesus agreed with the basic sentiment. At the very least, Jesus seems to have concurred that you certainly couldn’t change the world from Nazareth. But you could from Jerusalem. And so to Jerusalem he goes.

Luke presents to us that after he begun his ministry in and around Galilee, in Luke 9:51, Jesus resolutely set his face towards Jerusalem. Why? Well, he went there to die, but not just that, he went to die in the place where the effect of his death and resurrection would resound loudest in that locality. Now, there are surely loads of other reasons why Jesus needed to die in Jerusalem, but sociologically speaking, the cultural currency of that city cannot be overstated.

And when we see Luke’s sequel, Acts, we see a very similar story. According to Luke, the story of the early church begins in Jerusalem (no continuity errors here), but it ends in Rome. Jerusalem was a place of influence, but it was still a capital city of a small nation of limited global significance. Rome, on the other hand was the cultural centre of the entire world at that time. The trajectory is again telling. (Take a peak at Footnote 1 for another interesting titbit).

So, it seems that the picture we get from the Bible is of a God who understands that for his purposes to succeed, he needs people in places of influence. He needs people who bend the ear of kings, he needs people who are speaking into the centres of cultural influence, both geographically and metaphorically.

Now, influence in the 21st century western world certainly looks different to how it did way back then. However, the basic principle still stands. If God hadn’t ‘played the influence game’ then, the people of God wouldn’t have got out of Genesis, let alone the Old Testament, Jesus’ death and resurrection may well have gone unnoticed, and the early church would likely have fizzled out on the fringes of the Roman Empire.

If we take this lesson and bring it up to date, I don’t think that it’s too much of a leap to suggest that if Christians aren’t exercising significant influence in our society today, significant progress is going to be impossible for God’s people in our time and place too.

This means that we need Christians in politics. Christians in business. Christians in the media. And… we’ve got there eventually… Christians in the arts. Many making work that shapes life at a local level or making creative decisions in their jobs that subtly question and challenge the accepted status quo. But also a good number who attain to such a level of excellence and creative freedom that they monkey with the way our whole culture ticks, providing an alternate narrative to the one of unlimited personal autonomy and nihilistic hedonism that presently holds sway, and warming hearts and minds to this narrative in a way that prepares the way for people to give their allegiance to Jesus.

It’s not proud or worldly to think like this. This seems to be how God thinks and we must take that into account. The church needs some of its people in positions of significant cultural influence today. It’s a good thing to hope for and it’s a good thing to pray for. But how should we actually go about living in light of this understanding. Should we chase after influence ourselves?

Next time, Gadget. Next time.

(To get some context and check out the intro to this series, click here. To see how the saga continues, click here)

 

Footnote 1- It is interesting to note the apostle Paul’s own example in all of this. In his calling was a specific call to kings (Acts 9:15) and Luke relates to us how this plays out by highlighting all the people of influence he engages with as he does his apostle-ing. Sergius Paulus (Acts 13), Gallio (Acts 18), Felix (Acts 24), Porcius Festus (Acts 25), Agrippa and Bernice (Acts 26), the chief official on Malta (Acts 28). This is not to mention Lydia (probably a significant business leader) (Acts 16) and the various high ranking military personnel he regularly bumped into. Even this is the tip of the iceberg though as behind the scenes there seems to have been loads of other influential individuals who Paul had made friends with outside of Luke’s watchful gaze (eg Acts 19:31). So, when God wanted to push the church out of Israel for the first time, he made sure that he had someone on hand who could carry himself well specifically with people of cultural influence.

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Are Christians Called To Influence Society?

Influence Society Christians Sputnik Faith Art

Where has the church gone wrong? This seems to be a question that many are asking at the moment and, looking around, it’s not difficult to see why.

Right now, in the Western world, Christianity is anathema. This hit home to me a few years back when my wife and I settled down to switch off our brains to the knockabout comedy spy caper that is Kingsman: The Secret Service. The film as a whole is unremarkable (probably a generous evaluation) but there is one scene that made me reflect, if somewhat uncomfortably. It is a gory massacre that takes place in a Southern Baptist style church service. Faces get stabbed and burnt, torsos are impaled on spikes, heads are removed with axes. It is a bloodbath. But it is meant to be a comic bloodbath, and the only way the film can achieve the tone it’s looking for is by choosing a group of people to get stabbed, burnt, impaled and decapitated that they assume nobody would really mind being dispatched en masse in this manner. In the past, Communists, Nazis or slave dealers would have performed this sort of function. Now, Christians too can be entertaining, guilt free canon fodder.

Now, of course, you may protest, we’re not all homophobic racists with a perverse delight in hellfire and damnation like the preacher who starts off that particular scene, but that’s not the point. That is how we are commonly seen. And it seems that in some senses, our culture would laugh at any gruesome demise that should come our way.

So, how do we fix our significant PR problem? How do we halt our accelerating slide towards cardboard cut out movie villainy? The answer that many are putting forward with increasing vigour is that we should look to regain influence into our society again.

Christians, it seems, have disengaged from the wider culture, at least in Britain, in the last century, and retreated into our own sub-culture, actively taking people away from politics, business, media, the arts and the other areas that seem to have most influence on shaping the values and thinking of people at large. There are many reasons that have been noted for this, not least the strong divide between the sacred and the secular that has hung heavily in the ether of evangelicalism in recent times (which we explored here). However, whatever these reasons are, the solution is simple, many say- let’s do something about it and get more Christians into those areas again. The church should wake up and step back into the public arena with confidence and intentionality. We need to reclaim the 7 mountains. We need to cultivate and create culture. We need to make art that shapes life.

If that last exhortation sounds familiar, it’s because it is part of our very own tagline. Why does Sputnik exist? Because thought shapes art and art shapes life. Yes, Sputnik itself would have been seen as a pretty enthusiastic proponent of the general picture painted above.

However, I’ve developed a pretty strong distaste for Christian fads over the years, and if only in the name of consistency, it makes sense that ‘fads’ that I am involved in should be subject to the same serious critical reflection that I apply to those I’ve avoided. Over the last few months then, I’ve been doing just that. Reflecting. Not just on cinematic church gorefests, but on influence. And church. And church and influence. And most specifically on whether we, as Christians, should place a high priority on influencing the wider culture that we live in.

And so I’d like to present some thoughts on this topic over the next couple of weeks, and then apply them specifically to artists and creatives.

As something of a spoiler, I haven’t closed down this website, or even changed our tagline! I am still very enthusiastic about people who love Jesus and live their lives in allegiance to him, gaining significant influence in our society. However, how we go about gaining such influence is another matter altogether.

There’s an added issue for artists in this area as well. While this new emphasis on cultural engagement may have caused us to get a bit more respect in Christian circles, for some, this attention may be unwelcome if it leads to people once again reducing their work to a utilitarian formula. I’m fully aware that many artists don’t make art with the express purpose of influencing people. There’s something about art that kicks against any express purpose at all. As Hans Rookmaaker put it- ‘Art needs no justification’. As it doesn’t need to fulfil a ‘gospel content’ quota to be validated, so it is not worthwhile art, if and only if, it gains a certain measure of influence. So, how do we as artists really fit into this picture?

Dun. Dun. Derrr. (For the next installment click here)

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Heard: A Short Film From NewCom Studio

What a nice surprise! Trawling through my inbox after a couple of weeks of email neglect, what should I find, but a new short film from my good friend Chris Smyth.

Chris is the founder of Creative Arts Network, and he helped us get this very website up and running about a year ago. He now also runs the South East London based film and design studio, NewCom (based out of New Community Church, Sidcup)

Their new film ‘Heard’ explores the subject of prayer in a subtle and moving manner. This is how they describe it:

NewCom studio’s latest film ‘Heard’ uses the stunning Scottish Highlands and a unique method of visual storytelling to express a range of spiritual themes. Depicted through the lens of three characters; Fear, Loss and Anxiety, desperation leads them to cry out to the unknown. While they may not have seen or heard a response, something has changed in the world behind.

NewCom studio was created by a London church with the intention of using film and design to express spiritual experiences common to all. Describing ‘Heard’, Writer and Director Chris Smyth said “In every human is a cry that reaches out to something or someone in the hardest parts of life. We may not know why or who we are asking, and yet we still find ourselves asking.”

The team considered a range of locations including a disused tube station and a burnt out church before deciding on Torridon, Scotland. “Shooting in the Scottish Highlands was a challenging undertaking” explained Director of Photography, Pete Coggan “The snowy peaks, wind and rain created the perfect backdrop for this emotionally charged story of hope.”

Great work guys. If you want to see what else Chris and the gang have got up their sleeves, check out their website. And of course, check out the video below…

https://vimeo.com/221762106

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Having Fun & Learning From The Mardlins

‘Why do we always have to make things for a purpose?’ asked Timo, wide eyed and animated. ‘Can’t we just make art for fun?’ At this, he handed Joel his phone and queued up a song that some of his friends had made.

It had been conceived and recorded in an all night session on the back of an evening’s banter and creative messing about. It was a jaunty funk track with lots of slap bass, comic autotune overdubs and flamboyant guitar solos. It was about Romeo and Juliet. That was about all I could work out, as it was entirely in Finnish. As the song ended, smiles were plastered on every face, except possibly Joel’s who stood up to interject seriously and authoritatively about the Christian Finnish hip hop scene.

This was my personal highlight of our last Birmingham Sputnik hub meeting, and topped off another informative, challenging, inspiring and possibly even, dare I say it… fun creative meet up in England’s second city.

Our guests this time were Phil and Harri Mardlin (who are doing the rounds at the moment!) They are actors and run LifeBox Theatre Company and Stagewrite, Bedford’s premier annual new writing festival. They also run the Sputnik Bedford hub. It was great to hang out, eat Danielle’s famous chocolate chilli and watch Benjamin Harris and David Benjamin Blower whisper together conspiratorially in a corner, but for those who disagree with Timo, and think that ‘fun’ is not quite enough, these were some nuggets of wisdom I took away from the day:

Acting is a tough gig

There are considerable challenges to be unearthed in all art forms, but, for me, I’m continually taken aback by those faced by actors. There’s the obvious task of making a living, something that Phil and Harri have shown great determination and ingenuity to pull off. However, there’s also the added immersive dimension of the actors’ craft. Most artists have to depict the fallenness and unpleasantness of the world, but actors have to put themselves into characters who often embody those features. The emotional toll this takes must be significant. Note to the church leader side of my brain- we need to look after actors better.

We’re as good as the company we keep

The Mardlins opened up a little about the amateur/professional divide in their work. Harri had made a definite decision a few years before to only work on professional jobs, not in amateur or community theatre. They explored the question of what makes someone professional or amateur at the Bedford hub last time around, but on this occasion, Harri just gave one little glimpse into why she had made this decision. She talked of how she had grown in confidence from working with a certain calibre of actors and directors, and it had caused her to raise her own game. Neither Phil nor Harri were dismissive of amateur theatre and show a real keenness in helping others improve in their artistic gifting, but I think there’s a lot in this observation. If we spend most of our time working with and collaborating with people whose bar is set lower than ours, it is likely that we will ultimately come to set the bar at their level.

There is a more holistic approach to our perennial ‘Where Is The Line?’ question

Perhaps this is the thing I have been thinking about most since the get together. As you will know if you’ve read this blog for any length of time, we like to ask artists the question where they draw the line ethically in their work? What work will they take or not take as they live out their call to be artists and also followers of Jesus? What things will they do or not do? Say or not say?

Unsurprisingly, this question came up at the hub gathering and Phil’s answer was simple yet striking. He said that he liked to consider the artistic merit of the whole project rather than parts of it. He wasn’t so concerned about whether the character he was being asked to play said or did things that he wouldn’t usually say or do as a Christian, he was more concerned about whether those things had merit in the whole project, and whether the whole project itself was a worthy venture. He still had to listen to the Holy Spirit in making such decisions and also use wisdom to sometimes tone down unsavoury elements of scripts that did not add to the power and authenticity of the story, but such a holistic approach struck me as incredibly wise.

So there you have it.

If you’re involved in church leadership, are you looking to support your actors? If you’re an actor, are you seeking out support from your church as you face the challenges of your profession? 

Who are you working with who is stretching you in your practice and making you step up in your skills?

Where do you draw the line in your own artistic practice? 

And of course, do you know what it is to stop asking all these important questions, and just have some fun?

Thanks Phil and Harri and all the guys who showed out. See you again in the Autumn.

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Mr Ekow transmitting from Planet Croydon

I came across Chris ‘Mr Ekow’ Gaisie a couple of years ago. Hip hop has changed a lot in the last 15 years and the boom bap sound of the 90s that defined the genre has evolved and mutated in all sorts of directions.

From a first listen to tracks like ‘When Space Stares Back’ or ‘Lift Off’ it is clear that Mr Ekow is part of this evolution. It’s refreshing to hear MCs who aren’t clinging on to the tropes of yesteryear, and with the release of his new EP ‘Between Haircuts’, we thought we’d catch up with the man himself.

So, introduce yourself, my good sir!

I’m Mr Ekow, a 25 year old rapper from Croydon who stands by the opinion that The Last Action Hero is a great film that was too ahead of its time – people weren’t ready for the satire!

Your style clearly shows a love for hiphop generally, but draws quite noticeably from some more recent developments in the genre.

Thanks, I’m glad that comes across. I’ve got a love for that 90s golden age of hip hop sound, but I think we’re in another one now!

The great stuff might not be all over the radio but there are so many incredible artists making dope and innovative hip hop around the globe – you just have to look a bit harder.

Who are your main influences and why? (One MC, one beatmaker, one album)

I’ll say Andre 3000 (Outkast) is a big one for me. On a purely technical level, I’ve always loved how he puts his rhymes together- his flow, his delivery and his wordplay. On top of that, his versatility and inclination to go completely left and try something different is inspiring.

Beatmaker is a tough one, but I’ll go for Flying Lotus. I was put on to him quite late in 2012, but it was like opening up a new world to my ears! Clearly inspired himself by the soulful swing of legends like Dilla and Madlib, but then completely owns his style as he injects his own insane electronic, nu jazz vibe.

As for album, I’ll go for Dizzee Rascal’s Boy In Da Corner. It’s easily one of the most personally influential albums of my early teens. Not only is it sonically a beast, but it’s full of incredible, honest songwriting that’s stayed with me to this day. Mad to think he was only 18 when he released it and for me, it’s yet to be topped in the grime genre.

Although you are essentially a solo artist, your work is very collaborative, working with different beat makers, singers and rappers? What have you learnt about collaboration so far, and how do you choose who to work with?

I love collaboration! I think the whole focus on the ‘auteur’ does a bit of a disservice to the creative process – very rarely is it just one person doing everything. Most of my collaborations have just been through natural friendships and people who I personally admire artistically. Every now and then I’ll reach out to someone outside of my immediate network, just because I think what they do creatively is dope.

From collaborating, I’ve learnt that when you’re working with other people you have to develop a trust that allows them to truly add to the overall creative perspective. That looks different case-to-case and there are times where I’m more prescriptive in what I’m looking for or times I may have a creative disagreement, but it’s important that everyone feels at ease enough to have those conversations.

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Your new EP, Between Haircuts is out now. What’s the thought behind that title? What themes do you address on the project?

In a broad sense it’s about dealing with the weird transitional periods of life. Especially as a Christian you get introduced to Jesus and the hope of heaven… but then you still have to deal with a lot of not-so-great stuff in-between. I just wanted to do something real.

In society, especially in the Instagram age, we’re constantly trying to show our best side. Even in church, we’re super quick to dance around our problems with small chat and the usual “I’m blessed” rhetoric. I wanted to do away with the pretence and try to tackle some difficult subjects that I think a lot of people relate to.

The EP covers existential doubts around purpose, dealing with lust, escapism, losing faith and coming to terms with brokenness. I hope listeners are encouraged to face their issues and know that whatever stage they’re at in their journey, it is a journey, and you’ve got to keep going.

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When do we get another Mr Ekow LP and what other plans do you have for the future?

Hopefully a 2018 LP release is doable, but in the meantime I plan to keep gigging. I usually play in an acoustic trio setup, which has worked really well. However the EP launch was the first time I had my own full band and I’d love to do more of that!

I may potentially look into running my own regular nights in Croydon too as the EP launch was a lot of fun– I got a ton of visual artists to exhibit their work that linked to the theme, as well as holding an open mic and support from local artist Ruth-Ellen. It was a really good vibe and I think Croydon is (finally) becoming quite the hotspot for arts scene.

Thanks Mr Ekow. To buy the new EP, visit Mr Ekow’s bandcamp, or to give it a listen check out his Soundcloud. Here’s EP closer ‘On Top’ to entice you onward:

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A Road Trip to The Holy Biscuit Study Day

I first visited the Holy Biscuit back in July 2015, to set up the Newcastle leg of our WhatIsItToBeHuman? exhibition tour. It was clear from our first email exchanges that these guys knew what they were up to, and the space worked perfectly for the exhibition. Therefore, it was a pleasure to have the opportunity to pay them another visit for their 2017 Arts Study Day on 29th April. I thought I’d give you an overview of the general shenanigans.

Camaraderie

While the Study Day was the main focus of my trip, one of the definite highlights was catching up with friends. I badgered Benjamin Harris into coming along for the ride and we stayed with Huw and Ruth Evans. Conversation ploughed such fields as RG Collingwood, anarchism, the futility of higher education, the rapture and grave digging. Exceptional.

On top of this, we got to spend the Sunday morning at City Church, Newcastle. Their building is impressive, formerly housing the turbines that provided electricity for the city trams. However, an added bonus was the gallery of painted portraits of church members (by local artist Alan Reed) that greets you as you walk in. A great welcome to a great church gathering. Loved it.

Productive Diversity

As for the day itself, between 40 and 50 artists and practitioners made their way to the Holy Biscuit from places as far as Dundee and Edinburgh. From the outset, one of the most noticeable things was the remarkable diversity in the room. There were Catholics. There were Quakers. There were conservative evangelicals. There were ex-Hillsong pastors. All crammed into a refurbished Methodist church.

I’ll be honest; I’ve not always had a particularly generous attitude to Christians who think differently to me. This is not something I admit with pride, but it is the reality. At certain points in my life, if I was given God’s job for a day, the first thing on my to-do-list would have been straightening out a few denominations (and probably eliminating a few too!) After all, wouldn’t it be so much easier if everyone thought like me! However, God is patiently dealing with my latent fascism and I think that this day was another gracious eye opener.

You see, for all the differences of tradition and theology, a pronounced unity of purpose was the most apparent feature of proceedings. In short, everyone seemed to want to follow Jesus and develop his or her artistic practice. The diversity of outlook did not stunt proceedings, but created an atmosphere of vibrancy and curiosity that I, for one, greatly appreciated.

There are some areas of church life where such range of perspectives would prove rather challenging: the organisation of a baptismal service, for example, or a training day on how to speak in tongues! However, while working in the arts I’m increasingly finding diversity to be productive and even necessary.

If a new focus on the arts in the church simply achieved the goal of bringing different types of Christians together to learn from one another, while humbling a few arrogant Jonny Mellors in the process, then for that alone it would be worthwhile.

There are Christians making outstanding stuff in the arts

I waffled on for a couple of sessions about ‘Art in The Bible’ and I’m sure at some point, I’ll probably share these thoughts on the blog. However, the highlight of the day was not my insightful theological musings, but the rather intimidating quintet of Pecha Kucha presentations that preceded lunch.

We had Richard Phipps’ otherworldly, transporting collages, Huw Evans’ honest and expertly presented artistic life story, Lorna Bryan’s reaction to the advertising industry in works that were both acerbic and generous spirited at the same time, Cully’s showcase of the prominent place that Nomas* Projects occupy in Dundee’s art scene, and Sam’s counter-cultural journey through queer-theatre. Afterwards Benjamin Harris put it pretty accurately when he reflected ‘It dawned upon me that I was sat in a room of heavyweights!’

Christian art may get a lot of bad press (and rightly so!) but there are a lot of Christians making excellent art while also making a difference in their local art scenes. This was an encouraging reminder.

So how to sum up the day? Well, that’s easy, as Miriam Skinner acted as the poet in residence for the day, and closed proceedings with a piece, doing just that. Below is We are probably prophets – Miriam Skinner (or click on the link to get it in its intended formatting)

 

We are probably prophets

Miriam Skinner

“Hi, who are you?”

Ah, I did have a label but these things refuse to stick to me

but see…

I am an enabler of super magic direct to the heart_communication.

A prophet of performance, paint, paper, pottery, pen

We are them

Who sometimes make stuff. We prefer ‘creative’ …and …

We are the marketing team for our nans

and for the 30 breeds of squirrels

– You should google that.

We resolve to not do things that are meaningless.

Meaningless, everything under the sun is meaningless

We value communication, we communicate value

And You and I,

we are contradictory, unfortunately inconsistent.

Our threads tangled. We are present.

We are practitioners. We practice. It doesn’t make perfect.

We answer questions we didn’t ask. We did not know How

If art isn’t heard, does it even make a sound.

We are those who break down,

break through and paint the cracks gold

And hold torches in the dusk. We keep glory, grit and grime, in our clay jars

We are those whose Virgin Mary wears stilettos

Whose attack alarms read YOLO

And who paint black Trump’s oppression- oil on canvas.

In the beginning was the verb- the doing word

We are made in the image of the verb- we are verbs

The heard, the unheard, the underheard

The now but not yet

And yet

We are prophets- probably.

 

For those who weren’t there, that will probably be a cryptic and tantalising glimpse of The Holy Biscuit Study Day. My advice: keep your eyes peeled for next year’s event.

 

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Bedford Hub Report: What Is A Professional Artist?

So we kicked off Bedford’s second Sputnik Hub a few weeks ago and had a great time. A passionate group that included actors, visual artists and poets spent a good few hours debating the issue of ‘professional’ work.

Now I love a good debate and I’ll talk about what came out of that discussion in a minute but what I love more than anything is the passion, excitement and drive that came through from everyone that sat in my living room on a sun drenched Saturday afternoon.  We talk about coming alive when we do what we love, finding our purpose… you know the kind of discourse I’m talking about.  And it’s true, when I’m writing or performing I come alive… I somehow feel a little more complete; however, I also feel that when I simply get in a room full of creative artists and people. It feels like I’ve come home to a place where I belong, fit in and can thrive again.

So with Jonny Mellor having tackled the minor topic of ‘What is Art?’ in our previous gathering, Harri and I shared a little bit of our journey into the arts- how we started our company and where we are headed with it as business entrepreneurs and freelance actors. Within that we talked about our journey in identifying ourselves as artists, not least because we hadn’t undertaken traditional drama school training. What followed was a fascinating discussion on what makes someone a professional artist as opposed to an amateur hobbyist.

The line was clearly different for everyone – for some it was about quality of work, for others it was about whether they were paid or not, yet for another it was about training, time served or skill level.  I recently got embroiled in a discussion on an actors’ network over the issue of pay.  Innumerable actors, like other artists I assume, get highly militant over pay, and rightly so considering the assumptions often made in this area. There are many people who seem to think that you can either knock up a painting for them in a couple of hours or write, learn, rehearse and perform a short piece in just a matter of a day or two so see no reason to furnish you with a fee! I’m being facetious, I know, but I’ve yet to come across an artist that hasn’t experienced this to some degree.  Anyway, the point is, the discussion centred on the fact that one point of view was that if you didn’t get paid it was amateur.

My rebuttal was that we have been involved in collaborations where neither us nor anyone involved has got a fee but that doesn’t mean the work isn’t professional and high quality.  I know that, for me, it took a long while to call myself an actor or a writer because I didn’t have the traditional education that accompanied that. This made me wonder whether I could really call myself those things, even though by this time I was making a career out of it.  It would seem that the boundaries of ‘professional work’ are unclear but it certainly seems to incorporate values of skill, quality, pay and training with the weight of importance on each of these shifting depending on your perspective.  I have no doubt the debate will continue.

In the mean time, if you are an artist, working professionally, creating work and you’re around the area, we’d love to have you along.  Keep a lookout on the various Sputnik channels or get in touch and we’ll let you know when we are meeting up again.

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When Bad Things Happen To Bad People (And We Enjoy Watching)

Earlier this year, Richard Spencer was punched in the head whilst being interviewed at the Trump inauguration in Washington DC. The clip soon went viral, with a number of people praising the attack and circulating musical remixes, among them rapper Killer Mike and comedian Tim Heidecker.

For those who were aware of Spencer’s status as the president of a white supremacist think thank, the clip represented not just violence against him as an individual but an assault on his views and prejudices. As such, the joyous celebration of the attack on social media can be understood as a natural and passionate response, a public decrying of the evils of white nationalism and an empathetic stand with those Spencer would seek to victimise. As David Benjamin Blower observes in his excellent book Sympathy for Jonah, the normal response when faced with evil is to desire its destruction. In other words, punching Richard Spencer in the head does not only feel emotionally satisfying, but morally correct.

This natural desire for cleansing or redemptive violence, is one of the oldest and most reliable currencies employed by the world of film and television. A large number of Hollywood blockbusters, both those aimed at adults and children, will depict physical violence in the hands of a ‘good’ entity as the ultimate solution against evil. Upon viewing them, many Christian movie-goers will satisfy themselves by reading Christ-like narratives into the action. However, biblical scholar and theologian Walter Wink describes this plot structure as ‘The Myth of Redemptive Violence’, stating it has its origins in a Babylonian creation story, to which the central message of Christ stands in opposition. Though worth reading in full (here), the Babylonian myth can be summarised as the idea that violence is an inevitable aspect of the human condition and that conflict must be resolved by greater powers establishing aggressive dominance over lesser powers, thus bringing order to chaos.

It should be noted that the Babylonian myth contains a good deal of insight into human nature. However, the life and death of Christ gives us not only an alternative to the Babylonian myth, but a story which subverts it entirely. As N. T. Wright states:

“People want to defeat force with force and it can’t be done, if you do that, force is still in charge. The only way you defeat force is with love and that remains the great challenge of the gospel.” (reference)

Christ’s victory is achieved in love and self-sacrifice, not by murdering or dominating his enemies but by being dominated and murdered by them. In other words, he demonstrated that the mechanism of love is to absorb rather than to inflict damage.

Carnal Thrill

But the Babylonian myth is very popular in our culture, and this presents a challenge to both the Christian consumer and the Christian artist (particularly those working in television or film). When people pay for an experience with their time and money they expect to be rewarded. With regards to film and television, this expectation is often along the lines of comfort and/or entertainment. It is much more enjoyable for audiences to vicariously live the defeat of their enemies via identification with an action hero than to be reminded of Jesus’ command to “take up your cross”. Perhaps Jesus does not wish us to defeat our enemies, perhaps he wishes us to die. However, that’s a hard sell for a screenplay.

It’s also a hard sell for many as an evening’s ‘entertainment’, at least in my experience. One such ‘take up your cross’ screenplay that did make it to the big screen was John Michael McDonagh’s Calvary. However, despite the clear and powerful analogy between the actions of the protagonist and those of Christ, this film has received a mixed reception among my Christian friends. Complaints are not often levelled at the plot, dialogue or acting but rather the film’s ‘heaviness’, with the comment that ‘I usually watch films to switch off and enjoy myself’. Therefore it seems there are times when even Christians don’t like to be presented with the gospel outside of a Sunday morning!

The undeniable reality is that there is a certain carnal thrill to violence which is hard to resist. Many would argue that it is generally more exciting to view cinematic conflict resolved through violence than dialogue (although to some degree this depends on the strength of the writing). Many of us are also lucky enough to experience film and television violence as something of a novelty not present in our daily lives, where hopefully peaceful conflict resolution is the norm. Thus engaging with violent media allows us a safe space with which to indulge our primal instincts and natural human desire for power and dominance. An example of this is the 2008 smash-hit Taken, which sees Liam Neeson murdering swathes of Albanian sex traffickers in an effort to find his missing daughter. I can only comment on my own experience of the film, which was that it was fun insomuch as it provoked and then satiated a frenzied bloodlust. As a cathartic celebration of my base impulses, it was enjoyable in the same way that pornography is.

Moral Reassurance

As well as being somewhat comfortable and exciting, Walter Wink argues that the myth of redemptive violence also allows the audience something of a moral reassurance. Film and television within the redemptive violence model are often presented as simplistic ‘good versus evil’ stories. Wink states that this allows the viewer to:

“identify with the good guy so that they can think of themselves as good. This enables them to project out onto the bad guy their own repressed anger, violence, rebelliousness, or lust (…) When the good guy finally wins, viewers are then able to reassert control over their own inner tendencies, repress them, and re-establish a sense of goodness without coming to any insight about their own inner evil.”

A clear example of this is Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, a film which allows the audience to gleefully indulge in gratuitous violence, which is guilt-free due to being directed towards an unacceptable enemy (Nazis). The purpose of the film is not to consider the actual nature of humankind’s inhumanity during a horrifying period of our collective history, but to use this tragedy as justification for our entertainment. The audience is left with the reassurance and self-satisfaction that they are good because they hate Nazis, regardless of how they would have acted as a citizen of Germany within the 1930s and ’40s.

A similar approach was taken for Tarantino’s follow-up, Django Unchained, this time the historical bogeyman being represented by 19th century Texan slave-owners. Once again, audiences can cheer for the good guys on their violent conquest against the villainies of slavery and finish the movie with the knowledge that all is well and justice has been served.

Released a year later, a point of comparison can be made between Django Unchained and Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave – a harrowing slog of a film which represents a much more serious piece on slavery and differs wildly from Django in terms of tone, approach and intent. Yet when viewing 12 Years a Slave in the cinema, I was struck by one scene in particular where the protagonist, Solomon Northup, retaliates against the savage treatment from a plantation owner by attacking him with a whip. This was met with cheers of delight from subsections of the audience, yet surely this was because they’d fundamentally misunderstood the scene by interpreting it through the lens of a light-hearted revenge thriller, such as Django. Surely the scene was not supposed to be viewed as the point in the movie where Northup starts ‘kicking ass’, but rather the tragic depiction of a formerly peaceable man driven to animalistic rage by the brutal injustices of his environment. Has the approach taken by films like Django and Inglorious Basterds, often defended as fantasy entertainment, become so commonplace that it can now dominate the way in which we interpret and understand cinematic violence?

But it’s a myth! 

Violence remains an intrinsic part of our nature and thus of our culture, its ability to thrill, excite and engage is something which will continue to be undeniable. However, this doesn’t meant that as creators and those who engage with art, we shouldn’t question the stories we are being sold about the role and nature of violence. Christians remain in the paradoxical position of being somewhat tied to their natural and violent impulses, but also given the instruction and example from Jesus to transcend them. They are called to something higher and more difficult than redemptive violence, a call which though painful is given in love. For it should not be forgotten that the myth of redemptive violence often is that – a myth. When the credits have stopped rolling and the action hero wipes the blood from his hands, how often will his actions have truly brought peace and salvation?

 

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Jemma Mellor will be Leading Our Intern Team!

In September, we’re hoping to start out first ever Sputnik Intern Scheme. You may have heard of this already, this may be new to you, but just to bring us all up to speed, we thought we’d get Jemma Mellor, who’ll be leading the intern team to explain the plan.

Hello Jemma, tell us a bit about yourself…

Hello. My name is Jemma Mellor and i have been involved in the arts in one way or another for my whole life. My dad was a talented amateur painter, but his father had told him that a career as an artist wasn’t a real career, and so he ended up becoming an engineer. Probably because of this, he enthusiastically encouraged me down the path that he’d not been able to take himself.

As any artist with a Christian faith will know, you are struck almost immediately with decisions about how to integrate your art and faith. Dilemmas like ‘Should I join a life drawing class or the banner making class at church instead?’ become a really big deal. As I excelled at my art in education and this appeared to take me further away from art that would be displayed in church buildings or meetings, I began to ask myself whether I was doing the right thing.

Therefore, after my A-Levels I took a year out to do what was then called Frontier Year Project, feeling a bit lost and hoping God would straighten me out and put me on the right path. He did! On my year team, I wasn’t being asked to produce art each week and I realised that I missed it, and in fact started creating my own self initiated work throughout the year. I also had the privilege of meeting loads of Christians involved in the arts who were practising their work out in the world, not just in church meetings, and for the first time I could see a way that art could start conversations that led people towards God.

Because of all this, I did a Foundation year, leading into a Photography degree. I really enjoyed it and got a first. The three main things I loved about my degree were exploring a brief, learning to communicate visually powerful messages and working with people in a way that led us to discuss why we did what we did and to have real conversations about it.

Since university, I’ve had the privilege of exhibiting work at various places across the country, of working with some fantastic artists and more recently, throughout my time as a full time mum, enjoying the steady drip of regular artistic work in one form or another that continues to excite me and financially provide to a degree.

Also, during this time, my husband and I founded Sputnik…

Sputnik, eh? That rings a bell! So, what are the plans then for this Sputnik Intern Scheme and how does it fit into what Sputnik is up to at the moment?

Over the last 5 years, Sputnik has been supporting and encouraging artists who want to make work for those outside the church. We’ve run networking events and hosted exhibitions across the country and we are still expanding. One of the ways we wish to do this is by offering our first Sputnik Internship Scheme.

The plan is to run a year team along similar lines to a traditional church year out, but with lots of time given over to the interns developing their own artistic practice, being mentored by other artists in their field, and helping Sputnik in its day to day running. Of course, the year will also help you get to know the Bible more and get stuck into the local church, but we will be putting aside significant time to help you to develop as an artist in whatever creative field you work (painter, song writer, poet, writer, film maker, whatever).

What kind of person would this internship be for?

We are looking for self motivated artists who are looking to develop their practice, and grow in excellence in their craft. I think this would be a perfect opportunity for at least three types of people:

If you’re just finishing at university and want to grow in your artistic gifting. Maybe your degree was in the arts (for example music, film or creative writing), maybe you’ve just maintained an interest in a specific artistic field and have started to practice that in different ways alongside your education.

If you’ve put your art on the back burner for a while but now want to pick it up again. Maybe you’ve got a possibility for a break in your career or perhaps your career is coming to an end, and you feel like God is prompting you to pick up where you left off in your creative practice.

If you’re already developing your practice well but want to take things up a notch. We are increasingly working with artists who are at the top of their game, and a good number of these would love to give their time to any of you guys who would like to move from being good at what you do, to being excellent.

Just to be clear though, we are looking for practitioners not just enthusiasts. We’ll want to see examples of work you’ve done and evidence that you’ve already been pushing doors in these areas, not just that you have the desire to do such things.

 To finish then Jemma, why would you recommend this opportunity to someone?

I’d recommend this year because God is able to speak powerfully into our country, our society, our communities and our friends through the arts. At various times in history He’s done this and we believe he wants to do it again in our lifetimes. We think that’s really exciting and we’d love for you to be involved in that.

 

Thanks Jemma. If you’d like to apply to join the Sputnik Internship scheme or would like further information please follow this link to find the application form or if you have any questions, please email Jonny or Jemma at Jonny@churchentral.org.uk.

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Brum Sputnik Hub Review: Learning to Collaborate Well

At our Brum Sputnik Hub gathering before Christmas, we set a project for us all to sink our teeth into. Sitting around talking about our work is worthwhile, but it’s also good to actually make some new work together sometimes. Therefore we initiated ‘The Future Project’.

This is the brief: create a piece of work that meets two criteria: it has to be based around the theme ‘the future’. And it has to be collaborative.

So, at our Brum Sputnik Hub meet-up on Saturday, we showcased some of the work-in-progress and discussed the whole topic of collaboration. As always, it was a fantastic way to wile away a Saturday afternoon. I’m afraid I can’t capture in a blog post the ambience of Churchcentral’s new office (oooh), the taste of aged Mexican cheddar on a bed of rosemary dry biscuit (mmmm) or the buzz of meeting new people (aaah). But I can jot down some thoughts about collaboration that we stumbled upon.

The basic challenge of the project was (and still is) how to encourage collaboration between people who don’t necessarily know each other very well or who aren’t really used to collaborating. We expect to see some excellent work produced through the project, but we know that if the bar is set too high, some people will struggle to take risks in teaming up with others. To one artist collaboration is second nature, to another artist it’s unknown, and somewhat scary, territory.

Well, here are some reflections on how people have navigated these difficulties so far in this project:

Collaborating at the ideas level

This seemed to be where most people started: Luke Sewell and Benjamin Harris’ conspiratorial meet up to discuss a future in which the empires of old are overturned. The three vocalists from the rap group Michaelis Constant (for those who are of a certain age!) getting their heads back together to create visions of 2088. Graphic designer Sanju Karmacharya and painter Jay Mcleister were well on their way to creating a positive and thought-provoking piece involving layers of beautifully cut card and then scrapped the idea as they became convinced that they should collaborate on a project about death, since when they think  of the future, that’s the word that looms largest.

I think that the idea of collaboration can seem very daunting because people think solely in terms of combining their skills together in the production of a piece. Actually, often the best way to start is to hang out, drink some tea and shoot the breeze. Even if one of the collaborators is more prominent in the creative execution of the idea, if the idea is honed together, that certainly meets the criteria.

Collaborating in execution

For Josh and Stephen Whitehouse’s impressive Humanization project, Stephen conceived the basic idea for this series of comics and wrote the story and then brought his son Josh in on the project. Josh is more than simply the illustrator though. His involvement is honing the project more and more as each issue emerges, for example by making it less dialogue-heavy and by populating Stephen’s world with characters from Josh’s broad range of inspirations from the world of animated and science fiction geekdom. This kind of collaboration, where one artist basically responds to another’s work and then transforms it into a new thing seems like a brilliant way to do things.

TJ Francis and Naomi Haworth simply brought their individual ideas into the group setting to get feedback and see if they could spark others off. Naomi laid out her thought process up to this point and where she feels the theme is taking her, and offered her service as singer and multi-instrumentalist to anyone who’d like to team up. TJ presented an excellent and very personal poetic response to the theme and an emotive field recording of a choir that had inspired him and sounded us out on who’d like to add another dimension to the work (video, music, whatever).

Some Brum Sputnik hub affiliates couldn’t be there this week including the band Midsummer and the artist Paul Chipperfield, and although not related to ‘The Future’ project, their present collaboration is also worth reflecting on. Not only did Paul design the album cover for Midsummer’s forthcoming debut album but he’s also come up with a comic strip to accompany the band’s anthemic ‘Made in Birmingham’. Again, great to see an artist sparking off another artist’s work to make something new.

Finally, Chris Donald spoke of his collaborative role as a musical facilitator. As Joel Wilson, Mike Gilbert and myself seek to create a rap narrative of a future world featuring our own grandchildren, he has stepped in to provide the soundscape to match our desire to avoid both strictly dystopian or utopian visions of the future (so avoiding the extremes of dour mechanical beats on one side or lush arrangements on the other). Another great collaboration, which I am presently absolutely loving.

Collaborating by inspiring

Let’s face it; almost all artwork involves collaboration somewhere. Yes, I’m sure there are a few of you hermits out there who just lock yourselves away and paint or write and thrive off that solitude. However, for many of us, we need others every step of the way, and if we do try to go it alone, our work will suffer for it.

Hopefully, just meeting together and discussing the challenges and opportunities we’ve found in collaborating, as well as showing some of our collaborative works-in-progress will itself inspire others into action. That’s the plan anyway.

Perhaps, you too feel inspired to get involved, even by this post. Well, the Future Project is by no means finished. A few of us have made a start, but we have an actual deadline now: 1st July. If the idea of responding to ‘The Future’ and working together with another artist floats your boat, get collaborating and submit your work to me by then. Here’s the full brief (ignore the somewhat premature deadline).

There may be an exhibition. There may be some sort of publication. There may simply be a whole load of visionary pieces of work floating about and a group of artists who are more effective collaborators.

All these goals seem like success to me.

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David Benjamin Blower And The Book Of Jonah

It’s always a pleasure to catch up with Dave Blower. Last time we met up, it came with the added bonus of hand ground coffee from a funny little machine he had lying about in his kitchen! Upon drinking said coffee, he agreed to do a short interview about his latest project ‘The Book Of Jonah’ which, I would argue is his most ambitious project yet, and is about to be released on the unsuspecting world on 13th March, through our friends at Minor Artists.

So, here it is. If you’ve not come across Mr Blower before, you may want to pick up the story so far here, here or even here.

With the formalities done then and now that we’re all on the same page…

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Jonny Mellor: Before we get on to your new release, could you fill us in on what’s been going on since we last heard from you. ‘Welcome the Stranger’ seemed like a very important release- has it opened any new doors for you or even changed your practice or methodology?

David Benjamin Blower: Welcome the Stranger is a collection of folk protest songs about the refugee crisis. Of course, since last Spring when the record came out, the world has changed and countries like ours have become very unwelcoming. The record is themed around Jesus’ story of the sheep and the goats, and the notion that to reject the suffering stranger is reject Jesus himself. The last year has been hard to watch.

This is the first record where I’ve used songs to tell real people’s stories, of living and dying as refugees. Having played these stories in different places, so many people have come up to me and asked, “What can I do? Where can I send money? Where can I volunteer?” I’ve been struck by the importance of telling people’s stories as an artist. We can do things the news can’t.

JM: Your new release ‘The Book Of Jonah’ follows the path set by ‘Kingdom vs Empire’ and is a book and album (the book is called ‘Sympathy For Jonah’). How did this project come about?

DBB: This happened haphazardly. I started writing a musical of the story of Jonah, mostly out of a fondness for the Bible, Moby Dick, Pinocchio etc. and while I was putting together songs about how terrible things were in Nineveh, I saw on the news footage of ISIS blowing up the tomb of Jonah in modern day Nineveh; that is, Mosul, in northern Iraq. I thought to myself, “I wouldn’t want to go to Nineveh either.” The news about ISIS (back in 2014/15) became so disturbing that I lost all taste for the musical and started, wide-eyed, writing a book about how frightening real enemy love might actually be. Everyone picks on Jonah for his lack of warm feeling towards the enemy, but I don’t see many of his pious critics marching off to Mosul to make peace with the regime there. And any historian will tell that the Ninevites (Neo-Assyrians) were more dreadful than ISIS, by a long way.

The book was published last summer, and then after that, rather more soberly, I finished recording the musical retelling.

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JM: I know it has been gestating for a while and I imagine that there has been a weight to living with these ideas for so long before being able to finally unleash them on the world. How do you manage to contain such a strong prophetic vision (alongside the accompanying passion and restlessness) without it eating you up?

DBB: I think it probably does eat me up. I don’t know if you can make good art about something without allowing yourself to swallowed up by it. If you’re not battered by the journey, then where did you go, and what do you have to tell? Perhaps this is why artists have often been considered dangerous by controlling societies. We’re unhinged openings for dangerous and unpredictable kinds of power to enter the orderliness and disrupt it: in this case, grace, forgiveness, re-humanisation of the enemy, redemption of the irredeemably evil, etc. The prophetic job is to bring in this dangerous new thing, not, I suppose, to always come out in one piece.

Living with this story over the last few years has also been interesting, because the contemporary subject matter has changed. When I began, the monster of public discourse was ISIS. Today, many struggle to see people like Trump, Farage and Le Pen as human beings – an attitude which is quietly and dangerously transferred onto all those who support them. I also know people on the right who can only talk with disgust about “liberals” and people on the left. Who wants to go Jonah-ing over to the terrible other now?

JM: At Sputnik, we usually draw quite a thick line between art that is made for Christians and art that is made for a universal audience. You are something of an exception to this rule, as you are one of the few artists that people who aren’t Christians still want to eavesdrop on, even when you’re speaking primarily to Christians. ‘The Book Of Jonah’ would be a project like this as your focus here does seem to be Christians and the church. Can you tell us about about how you see the Christian artist’s responsibilities to speak to the church and to the world and how that works for you?

DBB: You mean that our art is best when it speak to a universal audience, and not into the Christian bubble, I think?

I agree. But of course, stained glass windows, cathedrals, orthodox icons, choral evensong and the KJV were made for Christians, and yet they’re also delighted in by a universal audience, because they have integrity. When we look uneasily on art made for Christians, I think we usually mean the sort of art made by evangelicals for evangelicals in decades past, which we’ve come to distrust as a sort of matrix designed to keep us in the fold. But for me it would be dishonest to make art stripped of Judaeo-Christian aesthetics. This is the well I drink from, and plenty of outsiders want to drink from it too.

I feel I’ve always been trying to make work for a post-secular audience. I could never accept the sacred/secular divide, and I’ve always been trying to bring these two realms together: trying to bring religious discourse back to earth, and trying to reveal how religious the secular world always has been. The prophets have always been my model as an artist, and they simply addressed their people, whether they worshipped this or that, something or nothing.

I find the present moment a very exciting one to work in, because the post-secular mishmash has now become the fact (where it is accepted that religious narratives of all sorts are sloshing everywhere, and nothing is neatly contained or separable). Meanwhile, the old sacred / secular divide is collapsing. We could gone on about what all that might mean for a long time.

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JM: The Book Of Jonah then- give us the hard sell. Why should this release be added to our bookshelves and Itunes libraries?

DBB: The Book of Jonah is a radiophonic production of the biblical story, read in it’s entirety from the old King James bible by the deep voice of theologian Professor N. T. Wright, whose wisdom and wit illuminates the narrative. Jonah himself is played by the theologian and activist Professor Alastair McIntosh, in his wheezing Hebridean sea-dog’s tones. The story is punctuated with dark folk ballads and awash in spaghetti western soundscapes.

Sympathy for Jonah is a series of meditations on the biblical tale, delving into the necessity, and the dreadful cost, of enemy-love, for all of us. Especially in these divided times. It’s short. I’m told it’s funny, though I didn’t particularly mean it to be. And it gives theologically digestible exploration of both the Book of Jonah and of the cross of Jesus.

JM: What’s next for you? How are you going to promote this project and have you got anything else in the pipeline?

DBB: I’ll be spending time performing The Book of Jonah where I can; lounges, bars, churches and gatherings, and holding discussions around the themes of the book. There’s always something new in the pipeline, but I’ll focus myself on planting our community garden and gathering some theological learning groups in the coming months.

* * *

Thanks Dave. As always a pleasure. And if you can’t wait until the 13th March, here is an exclusive little preview of a track called ‘Sackcloth and Ashes’to whet your appetite…

https://soundcloud.com/sputnikmag/sympathy-for-jonah-exclusive-sackcloth-and-ashes