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

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

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

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

Please introduce yourself Ali!

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

Tell us about the project that Sputnik is funding.

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

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

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

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

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

It’s a good place to reach isn’t it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What would you hope for the future of the piece?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tell us more about what Sputnik is funding.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So who is Eek and Wild?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hi Tom, can you introduce yourself?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Anna O’Brien tells stories to build healthier relationships

Anna O’Brien of Face to Face Storytellers is a professional Storyteller and works in educational and community settings delivering dynamic performances and workshops both for adults and children. She is fascinated by the power of stories for transformational change.

Introduce yourself: Who are you and what do you do? 

My name is Anna and I’ve been working as a Storyteller for nearly 20 years now. Yes, it’s a real job! There couldn’t be a better one! I deliver storytelling performances of traditional folk tales in all sorts of educational and community settings. I also deliver workshops to groups of children and adults, helping them to devise stories and work on their delivery skills.

What do you think makes a great story? What makes a great Storyteller?

I recently read a book called The Seven Basic Plots, that suggests there are only 7 story plots that have been told throughout all the world and all through history; and the reason for this is that there is a subconscious truth that we are all linked to, which is telling a universal story. The author of the book (Christopher Booker) had his own explanations for this, based on the theories of Carl Jung, but my interpretation is that our Creator is a Storyteller and has wired us all to communicate in stories. Each of the 7 plots – for example, rags to riches, defeating the monster, the quest, the tragedy – can all be found in the great story of love, rebellion and redemption between God and Man. 

So, all good stories, in my opinion, must have elements of this God–Man story as its underlying truth, so that it resonates with our spirits, and makes us want to pass the story on.

Anna O’Brien performing with Face to Face Storytellers

You recently received a Sputnik grant to train you in something called Theraplay. What is this? How have you used this training so far in your practice and how do you intend to develop this in the future?

I am so excited that I’ve been introduced to Theraplay® and am so grateful that I was able to attend the Group Theraplay training in September. The training course was excellent and it totally clicked and made sense to me.

Theraplay is a theory and practice of relationship-based play. When used one-to-one by a fully trained therapist, it can be such a healing tool in a young person’s life and help deal with very deep-seated, attachment-based issues. When used in a group setting it can increase self-esteem and a sense of well-being; it can help us to create stronger and healthier relationships with others. I have been trained to use Theraplay to inform all my work in group settings.

“I hope to keep bringing Theraplay into all my practices, to create groups that are warm, friendly, and empowering.”

I have begun practising what I have learnt in a surprising number of settings: with parents and pre-schoolers, Stay and Plays and nurseries, and also with primary school children and Play Workers; even with adult groups in workshop settings. There is much to learn, and I have become part of a local Peer Support Group run by a Certified Theraplay Therapist in Birmingham which has already proved really fruitful.

I hope to keep bringing Theraplay into all my practices, to create groups that are warm, friendly, and empowering to be a part of. I would love, in time, to run courses for parents and their children, to help parents to enjoy and have fun with their children, and lead them well. I am learning all of these things too, and finding it so helpful in my own parenting journey.

Storytelling and Theraplay go so well together because they are both about face-to-face interaction with the person or people in front of you; they are both about how to give and how you receive; they are both very live, improvisational and playful!

To find out more about Anna and Face to Face Storytellers, go to

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All That Nothing: A Poem

‘All That Nothing’, read by Hannah Kelly


When I was a child learning to draw my father leant over the page and said,
Don’t forget the gaps

I didn’t know at all what he meant.
I drew anyway, cramming the paper.

Did you know there’s a different line for hair, another for cloth, another for stone and lake and knife and hem and grit.

But where are the gaps? he would say.
You haven’t left space for anyone to get into the drawing.

I had no idea what he meant.

Here, he said
Just hold the pencil differently.


Already, you can draw a leg.
It’s very good.
A leg is hard to draw as you have; to scoop the line over the bridge of the hamstring,
to get the knuckle-shaped bone by the heel.
That is difficult.
But did you know that your lines don’t have to join up?
That the way the pencil goes down and
s w i f t s
across the page
can make – not just a foot

but a leap?


So when I was older learning to write an instinct stood at my shoulder and said,
Don’t forget the gaps.

I didn’t know at all what it meant.
I wrote anyway. Cramming the paper.

Long hours, I bent double over books
And floundered there.
I hurried, harried,
through Lays of welsh hills and the coast of stones
bound by the cadence of those ancient walls
and wandered keenly through the learned halls
of forebears I could not discern
for loudness of their honour.

I don’t want to write a foot

I want to leap.



Cut out
of noise
the harbour
the sliced-up gap and gash through ‘proper’

It turned up
nick of time

come lumbering out of the woods
of acre
the wills
of other say-ers words
from their strings of verses
Their dark wars
and purses
Ways of

And birthed-
words came
where their strokes
Left off- blunt
and barrowed
Bellowed into
being born


I’d love to put Wilfred Owen in a room with Emily Dickenson and see
who comes out standing

only a steady hand
leaves all that nothing in
and lives


did you know?
An eyebrow is not just many hairs shaped like the bend of a bow
It is a flick of question
A tick, darkened at contact, frowning.

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What’s So Interesting About the Reverse of a Painting?

When perusing the TATE Liverpool’s permanent modern art collection, I love to think on how the paintings are hung. A number of famous paintings are sandwiched in a clear acrylic, bordered by a steel frame. These paintings (see George Grosz’s Suicide, 1916) are suspended in the middle of the gallery spaces rather than being fixed to the white walls.

This display method presents the works, not as two-dimensional portals or windows to look through, but as sculptural works: an object in itself, to be examined in its materiality. In this we see something of the philosophy of the modernist movement; an emphasis on materials, techniques and processes in response to the new landscape of modern life. The canvas is not a window into another reality, but a surface to be acted upon.

Examining the unseen face

George Grosz’s Suicide is one such image. Disturbed by the horrors of the first world war, Grosz turned to political and satirical cartoons that ‘expressed despair, hate and disillusionment’.

George Grosz’s ‘Suicide’ at TATE Liverpool.

Unlike the canvases held fast to the wall, one is able to orbit the work and examine the physical properties of the pictorial and non-pictorial areas. For someone who is quite fond of Grosz’s work, I feel like a fan, enjoying all the unseen details that we are not usually privy to. The age of the wooden frame, the stamp of the manufacturer, the tickets of the auctioneers and the markings of careless manhandling all add to the mystique of masterpiece.

Having examined Suicide numerous times in books and catalogues, I find myself so much more interested in the unseen face of the painting, the reverse. This ‘unseen’ is what gets us geeks going. Whether it is Drake’s old lyric notebook selling for more than my salary, or Nike releasing a series of Air Max 1s inspired by Tinker Hatfield’s original schematic sketches of the shoe, the art viewing pubic thrives off the restricted initial sketches of an artwork in its infancy – or as Nike have shrewdly branded it ‘NOT FOR RESALE’.

In the second half of the 17th century, the fantastically named Flemish painter Cornelius Norbertus Gijsbrechts, an old-school trompe-l’oeil master, depicted the reverse of a painting in 1670 (appropriately titled, Trompe L’oeil: The Reverse of a Framed Painting). Though this painting does not specifically address the charm surrounding the celebrity object, it does certainly draw our attention to the unseen support – the artistic underbelly of almost every famous canvas.

‘Trompe L’oeil: The Reverse of a Framed Painting’ by Cornelius Norbertus Gijsbrechts

Picking up on this, in recent years artists and curators alike have turned to the unseen painting as an art piece in its own right. In 2015 contemporary artist Paul Litherland created a series of photographs showing the reverse sides of artworks drawn from the collection of the Leonard & Bina Ellen Gallery, Concordia University. The images reference the trompe-l’oeil tradition which depicts objects in an incredibly lifelike manner as to cause the viewer to question what is real and what is illusion.

Litherland’s official webpage explains,

“He [Litherland] shares in an overarching interest in the gesture of elevating the mundane material support of an artwork to the status of art, and thus flipping the normal status of the front and the back. He also engages with the trompe-l’oeil tradition, which confronts viewers with the pleasures and questions that come from mixing up the “real” and the “representation” of the real.”

The photographic reverse of a painting plays the part of the pictorial window, portraying something which is not really there. One 2016 Milanese exhibition titled ‘Recto Verso’ focused solely on the power and allure of the reverse of the painting in both traditional and contemporary art. This exhibition brought together a range of works that look at the unseen support and structure of the painting, questioning how the art object carries its celebrity status and how the spell can be broken when the vulnerable substructure of the canvas is exposed.

From the ‘Recto Verso’ Exhibition

Revelation and Disillusionment

When one finally encounters their idol, in whatever form it takes, there can often be a sense of disappointment and disillusion and yet for others an intensification of their delight. Whether it is releasing that the Mona Lisa is not much bigger than an A4 piece of paper, or the reality that Lady Gaga is only just an inch over five foot, when a person or an object fails to meet up to our expectations we can be left feeling bereft. On the other hand, when we have a sense of sharing or partaking with something which is exclusive and unseen, our enjoyment of an object or person can increase.

Have you ever been hit by one of these contradictory reactions? Enamoured that the often unobserved is laid bare before you or disenchanted as the magician’s secrets are all revealed?

So what about George Grosz? In viewing Suicide and other works, I felt the privilege of seeing the side of work that often only the gallery handlers get to see. To imagine the story behind the artefact. Where did Grosz buy the canvas? What was his mental state like when beginning? Did he have to return to the work when struggling with his ill health?

Yet, as with Grosz (and much European art of the period) there is a sense of defeat in seeing the artefact in its entirety. No magic, no mystical allure, just some wood, staples and canvas.

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Tanyaradzwa Chitunhu performs her poems as if they’re brand new

Tanyaradzwa Chitunhu Praise Protest Sputnik Intern Faith Art

Jessica Wood: I always find it a weird question when people ask me ‘what kind of poetry do you write?’ I don’t really know how to answer that question, but I’m going to ask you anyway: ‘How would you describe your poetry?’

Tanyaradzwa Chitunhu: I would say it’s Spoken Word poetry. The difference, I think, between spoken word and page poetry is that spoken word is written with the intent of sharing it out loud. It incorporates hip-hop, storytelling, theatre; it is many different elements all at once, but it is intended to be heard out loud. Whereas page poetry is intended be read. 

JW: I think with my poetry, you can read it out loud and there’s something to be gained from that, but it takes multiple readings in order to understand it fully.

TC: I think the more accomplished performance poets can walk the line, but there’s an immediacy about performance poetry. I don’t have all day to listen to you, or for me to go over a line multiple times so that you get it. I have to be powerful enough to capture the essence of what I’m trying to tell you.

I think that better poets are able to do that; they put enough work and effort into their craft that even though you can get something in the moment, something else should hit you later. There should be a level of realisation even after the moment is done, but I think that takes a lot of craft and a lot of understanding of how to use the words and the performance to create something bigger than the moment. 

JW: What do you think is the benefit of seeing performance poetry live?

TC: Some of the work that has inspired me has made me think after they have finished it. There’s something about the way they’ve done it: the words, the atmosphere they’ve created, that remains with me and it resonates. I think those are the best ones. I’m still striving to get there. That’s where the craft is. 

JW: For me, I have that feeling sometimes after watching music, after seeing someone live. I like to come away from seeing art when I feel like I’m buzzing, really alive and my only response is: ‘I have to create’.

TC: To this day there are things that I’ve carried from those performances, things I’ve learned from that, and those things were spontaneous, they were in the room, they can’t be replicated. I really love that. I love the spontaneity and flexibility of recreating a moment or recreating a poem every time I perform.

Tanya Chitunhu Performance Art Sputnik Faith Arts
Tanya Chitunhu performing at the ‘On Praise & Protest’ launch

That’s one thing I’m trying to do now: even if I’ve been doing this poem for five years, I should be able to ‘re-create’ this, every time I’m on stage. So it’s a different performance every time. It’s a one-off.

That’s hard to do because you’re using the same words. It’s a challenge for me as a performer; how do I say this in a way that’s still real and true to what I wrote it to be, but also bring it forward into today.

JW: Does the way you perform differ a lot between groups, places or people?

TC: I don’t think I’m there yet. I’m still trying to experiment with what that’s going to look like. I hope to bring something different every time, but I don’t think I always manage.

When I’m doing My Africa – which I’ve done hundreds of times – it becomes stale after a while. But [the flexibility of] performance over the page is that I should be able to recreate My Africa in such a way that it’s new, it’s fresh, as if I’m speaking in this very moment. Rather than speaking it from the past, it’s a now thing. It’s a very different performance. 

I should be able to recreate [a poem] in such a way that it’s new, as if I’m speaking in this very moment.

JW: That’s interesting. In my poetry – in Precariat, it’s centred in a very specific time, a specific issue. But if I choose to read it in a different space in ten years’ time, who knows what the context will be like then? It might speak differently compared to what it tells people today. 

Jess Wood, as featured in Sputnik’s Anthology Vol. 2

TC: My favourite poem now is Imagine the Angels of Bread by Martin Espada – it’s so urgent right now, but he wrote it in 1999, and I’m telling you what he says is timeless. Essentially – in the way I interpret it – it’s the kingdom come. He’s put what’s underneath on top, he’s talking about righting wrongs and injustice, but he’s imagining it the other way around and it’s now more urgent than it was in 1999.

That’s the best writing, when your work in twenty years time can still speak and be as urgent or even more so than when you wrote it. That’s the kind of writing I would love to do. I know I’m not doing that right now, but it’s exciting. I just don’t know how often that sort of work happens.

JW: It’s interesting thinking about the seen and the unseen of art; there’s something about time and context which can determine what people are able to achieve or articulate.

TC: You know what – I think the truth is timeless. If you speak the truth it should live forever. There’s truth in the Espanda poem. For me it’s a prophetic piece because he’s talking about universal ideas, big ideas: if your work has these things, it’s going to speak regardless of what time you wrote it and it should speak in sixty years. The nuances might be different, but the truth will always resonate, whether it’s on page or on stage. But for me I love when truth is said out loud. That’s why people preach, right? It’s because there’s power in that.

I think it’s a challenge in this day and age, because we’ve lost the art of being present. We’re consuming the world through media, but there’s still something really beautiful about connecting with an audience. That’s how I look at performance poetry – it’s a live conversation. Yes, I’m doing the piece and I’ve got the words, but the audience is just as much part of the performance as what I’m reading and what I’m giving to them. Their reaction, their faces, however they’re reacting to me, that’s part of my conversation with them. Sometimes I get people to be part of it – I tell them to do this or do that, because I want them to feel that they’re just as much a part of the performance as what I’m doing. 

Using all these phrases and the buzzwords that people love nowadays can get you the affirmation that you want, but does it actually help people grow?

I think that’s the difference with the page. I don’t know if you write with an audience in mind?

JW: With what I was writing recently – all the stuff that’s in Temper – I think I had in mind people who are like me, encouraging those people to be empathetic in how we engage our opinions, our views and our voice.

What you say about the fact that we’re not present anymore is so true – it also relates to the way we form our opinions on situations. I really wanted to step into that and challenge that a little bit. I’m learning more that it’s a valuable thing to do to focus my work, but I’m still growing in it. 

TC: It shouldn’t overtake you. There’s also the fear of writing to please people, writing to impress people. Unfortunately spoken word can be a bit like that, particularly competitive slam poetry. People can write with the intent of winning a slam and write knowing what the audience wants to hear, or what is popular-

JW: Yes, that vexes me so much. That’s what I was trying to get at in Temper, I want to speak about these issues that everyone is talking about, but in a different way. Using all these phrases and the buzzwords that people love nowadays can get you the affirmation that you want, but does it actually help people grow, and see the world differently, and see the world from different people’s perspectives? 

TC: This is something that poetry should do in general: authenticity. There should be a level of being honest and real. Sometimes it’s easy to write with the intent of pleasing or to fit in or to conform, whereas I think the best kind of poetry is authentic. 

There’s this saying ‘what comes from the heart, enters the heart’. I like that. What drew me into spoken word was that I really felt these performers were not just performing, they were giving me their guts, giving me their heart, and I thought – wow, I’ve got to be part of this, because this is meaningful, this is powerful, this is weighty, this is costly, this is awesome – you know, in the best possible way. 

Tanya Chitunhu Performance Art Sputnik Faith Arts
Tanya Chitunhu performs at the ‘On Praise & Protest’ launch

JW: If people only ever saw your work online, a video or on youtube, or even reading it in your book, what do you think is lost? 

TC: I think that that’s an audience question. I think that you should answer that, because you’ve seen me. It’s hard for me to answer

JW: With your poetry, the way you perform it engages your senses and you have so much genuine joy when you’re reading it. I can see how much you love and value all those elements, and that really comes across in the performance. There’s something about your personality that’s only scratched on the surface in the words, and that comes to life in your voice and your character. 

TC: What I’ve always loved about performance poetry and what I always try to give is passion. Passion, passion, passion – I try to embody the moment. I don’t know if I do it well every time, but I am literally becoming the poem. I’m taking on the emotions, the intent, everything.

I’m investing me into this piece. I’m giving you a piece of me, essentially. Taken to its fullest extent, it’s very exhausting, but I feel like it’s worth it. It says that this is important enough to put me into it. So then the poems will be different than on the page, I think, because it’s missing something of who I am. 

JW: You’re still there in the poems on the page, but it is like a little scratch on the surface. There’s something different when you perform, when you embody it. 

[In performance] I’m giving you a piece of me, essentially. The poems will be different on the page, I think, because it’s missing something of who I am.

TC: Also I think ‘performing’ and ‘performance’ is different. I tend to be quite big on stage, but I think I need to learn as well how to be small. That’s as much performance as being big, you know? You can’t be big all the time, not every poem is big. It’s learning how to do that, but still how to be myself, how to be authentic, but learning how to use everything that I can on the stage. 

There’s more to work with on the stage than the page. I could sing a line or I could say a line. I could say it quietly, or loudly, I could say it with force. 

JW: I see that as well on the page actually, I see that there’s so much room. You know the book On Poetry by Glen Maxwell? He talks a lot about the use of space in poetry, specifically on the page. He talks a lot about black space and white space, how the white space of the page interacts with the blackness of the words and the text and how you can manipulate and use that. 

TC: A performance space is very much the same for me. I’ve thought about starting a poem from the back of the room and walking my way to the stage. I’ve never done it but i think I should- 

JW: You should! I think that carries the audience through the poem in a very different way. 

TC: -and it’s always that element of surprise, that’s the thing that you miss, the potential for surprise on the stage. The Haitian-American poet Carvens Lissaint, he came over almost ten years ago, performing with a group, and this poem he did – Beauty Part Three – he’s basically talking about how he grew up and was being bullied, he was overweight and then he lost the weight.

In the performance when I saw him, it was in this dark room full of people. At the end of the poem, he did something that wasn’t even part of the set. He got off the stage and he started saying ‘you are beautiful’, ‘you are beautiful’ ‘ you are beautiful’ – I remember that moment. I thought wow…  when he said those words I swear something shifted in the atmosphere; something magical happened and I never forgot that, as an audience member but also as a performer.

He created that moment, and ten years later I’m still talking about it. As a performer and as a poet that’s what you want, to remain, but how you do that is going to look different on the page as on the stage. I love creating those moments – I don’t think I’ve really mastered that, but I would love to be able to do that for other people. 

JW: So what are you working on at the minute?

TC: I’m praying about, how do I use this art form to serve in a bigger way, in a bigger capacity. Paul in Philippians says don’t do anything out of selfish ambition or vain conceit – value others above yourself, seek other people’s interest over your own. That’s really a challenge, especially as someone who’s on the stage, which is all about ‘what i want to say and what I want to put out’. 

I don’t want my work to just be about me. I want it to be bigger than my own experiences, or my own life. The best kind of poetry helps you to see differently. I would love to be able to do that. I just know that my work can’t be rooted in myself – I’m too small and to be boring for my work to be about me, when there’s so much going on in the world. 

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Matt Tuckey creates immersive soundscapes

Through our Patrons Scheme, we support Christians who are making engaging, powerful art or who are using their skills to serve their local communities. This term, one of our grants has gone to Matt Tuckey, a sound designer from Newcastle. Jonny caught up with Matt to find out about his practice and his latest project.

JM: Hi Matt, who are you and what do you do?   

MT: So, my name is Matthew Tuckey, I am a sound designer and sound artist. I live in Newcastle upon Tyne with my wife Molly, and I spend a lot of time pointing microphones at things/people/places.

JM: Most of us would be familiar with graphic designers, or fashion designers, but a sound designer seems a bit more abstract. What exactly is the role of a sound designer?

MT: Good question. It’s hard to pin it down as it’s a term used across multiple platforms, industries and artforms. The best ‘job description’ I can offer is: to plan, through a collaborative creative process, the creation and playback of all sonic content in a live environment, digital media, or tangible product.

So whether that’s in theatre, video, music, or UI (I have done elements of all), I am constantly collaborating. My practice is mostly based in theatre sound design and this is the most collaborative artform I work in – I am often approached by a director, who then introduces me to a writer (or their words) and puts me in a creative team with a set designer and/or lighting designer. My approach is often to problem solve – what aspects of the story can be and need to be clearer by the creative manipulation of sounds? This normally involves, for me at least, finding an interesting or thematically relevant source material (recording an ambience, creating sound effects, working with music/composer) and creatively manipulating and playing those sounds as part of the dramatic narrative.

I also design the playback system for the theatre performances whether touring or running in one location. I like to call this a holistic sound design – working from creative storytelling all the way to technical innovation. This often sees me collaborating with another set of people – the technical or production team, and on larger productions (such as musicals) a whole sound department team.

JM: Sputnik is proud to be supporting your latest project through our Patrons Scheme. Could you talk us through it?

MT: I am very grateful to Sputnik for running this Patronage Scheme, my work is extremely technical, and these funds are crucial to its success.

I am creating an abstract piece of soundscape inspired by the poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Through a recent connection with Newcastle Universities Oral History Unit and Collective I am now hoping to incorporate elements of oral history from Newcastle’s disappearing shipyard heritage.

I am using immersive and multi-channel audio and my hope is to complete research and development by early 2020. Then to move into final production and initial preview run mid 2020, and prepare for a rural coastal tour of the piece starting early 2021.

JM: As a freelance artist who has to raise your own funds for projects, what advice would you give others regarding fund raising?

MT: These past nine months have taught me a lot about this. I’ve learnt a lot as I’ve gone along and have had to ride some disappointing rejection.

I constantly keep thinking “this is too complicated, I can’t do this” – but this brings me to something that Ed Catmull (founder of Pixar) says – “get smarter”. Having worked in theatre so much, I know the value of a team. I knew nothing about funding applications until I asked someone who did!

The match funding, bursaries, and team have been huge victories for the project. First contacts and drafting applications is really scary, but we have a saying in Newcastle “Shy bairns get nowt!”. I also would have not put in the Sputnik application, or any of the subsequent bids without listening to the words of the late Huw Evans – “just turn up”. 

Thanks Matt. To keep updated on this project or to help support similar projects like this in the future, sign up for our patrons scheme.

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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 Chaotic, Emotional Impact of Childish Gambino’s ‘This Is America’

Childish Gambino’s single ‘This is America’ dropped about a month ago, to widespread debate, admiration and viral sensation. We asked guest writer and poet Jessica Wood to unpack a little of its cultural resonance and emotional impact.

I’m not sure This is America could have dropped at a better time. As opposed to Kanye’s controversial TMZ comments where he said that slavery was a choice, Childish Gambino’s new song takes an unflinching look into the current state of America, hitting on issues from gun violence to the treatment of black bodies and our complex relationship with popular culture in the 21st century.

I’m no music guru, so I can’t speak to that aspect of the song; however, I can tell you how I felt at every moment of watching the video, and hope that it translates to you some of Gambino’s intention behind what may otherwise seem to be an eclectic, raw and confusing piece.

In the opening to the video, Gambino’s dance moves had most people laughing both from humour and discomfort as he contorted his dad-bod around an abandoned factory. He’s enjoying the beat, and we are too – until he takes a gun and shoots the man to whose music he had just been dancing. The gun fires and we’re all left a little shell-shocked. But Gambino looks to the camera and says matter-of-factly, “This is America”; the gun is carefully wrapped away whilst the dead man is dragged across the floor.

In this first scene alone, Gambino sets the tone for the next four minutes of emotionally intense music and film.

The dance between enjoying the artistic and cultural products of a person, yet in the same breath being willing to end their life, is a recurring image within the video. Gambino creates a series of shifts from funny to serious that give you heart palpitations.

On first watch, your eyes can’t focus on the chaos happening in the background as you try to grasp the dance moves of Gambino and the troop of school children surrounding him; but as you watch more, and read the endless decoding articles that have flooded the internet since the video’s release, you begin to notice some of the complex symbolisms and meanings behind the chaos.

Gambino creates a series of shifts from funny to serious that give you heart palpitations

For example: Gambino’s strange body contortions reflect the character of Jim Crow, a one-time minstrel character in American minstrel show (American folk entertainment that mocked African-American people) which is used to describe the experience of segregation within Southern America into the 20th century. It’s a reflection that entertainment, through music, dance and performance, is always being pushed to the forefront of our minds, a convenient and sometimes necessary distraction from the abuse and injustice that runs rampant in society.

Amongst all this, Lady liberty herself does nothing but watch.

The experience of This is America is a very pointed and calculated critique of a country which bases itself on the values of liberty, freedom and tolerance, but doesn’t have a great track record of turning these nice words into positive action for groups and individuals.

In the closing scene, Gambino runs through a dark corridor chased by a mob. He looks terrified, and the unsettling thing is that I don’t think it would have been difficult for him to conjure up the fear in his eyes.

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LifeBox Theatre and the StageWrite festival of new writing

StageWrite Festival Theatre Sputnik Faith Art

Phil and Harri Mardlin are the founders of LifeBox Theatre company, based in Bedford. Both relative latecomers to the theatrical world (at least, by the industry’s standard) they’ve nonetheless carved out a successful niche for themselves by switching between several different hats: communication training in businesses, education and healthcare; agency-style management of other actors; and of course, your meat-and-potatoes gigs acting, writing and directing.

Sputnik Patrons helped to fund the 2018 StageWrite festival, run by LifeBox Theatre – a festival for new writers which Phil and Harri have built from the ground themselves.

Sputnik Patrons Promo Phil Harri Mardlin
(L-R) Phil and Harri Mardlin.

PHIL AND HARRI exemplify the Sputnik credo: an abundantly creative, affable duo, operating at a professional level; embedded in their industry, but also dedicated to their local environment, Bedford, where they lead a Sputnik Hub thriving with poets, painters and other actors.

For Phil and Harri, work, life and faith commingle every day; with humility, they pour themselves out serving a community that is rarely on the church’s radar. And by embodying a person onstage, they can challenge an audience to new empathy and perspective, without being heavy-handed (a well-known maxim of good writing: show, don’t tell).

“We have an opportunity to be embedded in our industry, and to give people a positive experience – whatever the stage of their career.”

In conversation with the Mardlins, it’s clear that they have a deep-felt, nerdy love of their artform, and an unabashed desire for the community around it to flourish. One particular passion project of theirs shows this in crystal clarity: StageWrite, which is run in collaboration with No Loss Productions.

StageWrite: a theatre festival focused on new and undiscovered voices

“STAGEWRITE IS A festival of new writing,” Harri explains. “We invite scripts from any writers, emerging or established, to give them the opportunity to see their work performed by professional actors, in front of an audience, and to gain an understanding of how their work really sits in that context.”

“It’s the most valuable thing, to see your work in front of you, being performed by professionals,” adds Phil, principally a writer/director himself. “We bring a sense of what it might look like in a fully-realised, professional production. You realise, for example, that those 25 lines of dialogue you wrote – an actor can do with one look.

“Out of the new writing festivals that exist, not many are offering that. The feedback we get from writers is that it’s hugely valuable: they learn to hone their voice, to get their message across.”

StageWrite is a fundamentally generous endeavour on the Mardlins’ part. Not only has it been self-funded for the last four years, but in its very essence, it exists to do good for the industry, to show a helping hand to all writers, whatever their background; to encourage people, and amplify unheard voices. It has immediate benefits in some cases: three pieces from previous StageWrite years have gone on to full production and/or touring. But it also takes the long-term view that to bring Gospel life to any community means inhabiting it fully, not as a ‘project’ but as a group of fellow humans in a notoriously difficult and discouraging line of work.

StageWrite, self-funded for the last four years, is a fundamentally generous endeavour on the Mardlins’ part.

Harri considers how to summarise the project. “StageWrite represents a greenhouse, to grow new theatre, which is important. But it also provides us an opportunity to be embedded in that industry, and to give people a positive experience at our festival: directors, actors, writers – whatever stage of their career. We want to live out our professional relationships with people well. We want to honour people.”

StageWrite LifeBox Theatre Sputnik Faith Art
Performers rehearse with LifeBox Theatre.

The Christ-like art of rehumanizing everyone in the room

IN A WAY, StageWrite has at its heart the same golden thread that runs through all of Phil and Harri’s work: communication. Whether they are teaching people how to communicate in a corporate setting, collaborating with actors to bring a play to life, or interacting directly with an audience, the Mardlins help people both to speak, and to listen: a distinctly Christ-like art of re-humanizing everyone in the room, showing us the face of our neighbour.

Phil: “You need to learn, as a writer, to capture your own vision so clearly that any director and a set of actors can pick up your script, and they’ll communicate what it is that you intended to communicate.

“We invite writers to come to the rehearsal of their piece, but they’re not allowed to feed into it; that’s really difficult as a writer – you’re sitting there, thinking ‘That’s not what I meant!’ But actually, that’s how the industry works: the process of submitting a script to a professional company, and having to step back.”

The same golden thread runs through all of Phil and Harri’s work: communication.

This year, our Sputnik Patrons scheme is helping Phil and Harri to fund StageWrite. After honing the list of submitted scripts down to just four, they’ll select one to take beyond just rehearsal into a more fully-realised production – and pay the actors who are taking part.

“Theatre is like no other experience,” Harri smiles. “It can’t happen without an audience; there’s an energy in live performance that doesn’t happen in other situations or mediums. You work with the audience, and off the audience as an actor: it’s an extraordinary experience that can have a very far-reaching, lasting impact.”

Help us to support StageWrite, and other artists like Phil and Harri, by becoming a monthly Patron of Sputnik.

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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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Jessamy Shreeves presents a new kind of Arts Festival

Last week we caught up with Keir Shreeves on the back of his booklet ‘Art for Mission’s Sake’. However, Keir is only half of team Shreeves. Jessamy Shreeves is an artist and the founder of Christian arts festival ‘Thou Art’, and today, it’s over to her.

Hi Jessamy, who are you and what do you do?

I’m someone who is having a messy but fun go at following Jesus. At this stage of my life, I’m also doing a lot of following toddlers (I have a busy three-year-old who I’m always chasing, mostly with my 4-month-old baby dangling in one arm). I studied History of Art and English Lit at Edinburgh University but always got a bit of cash in from painting (mostly portraits). Via art school, a digital start up and trying my hand as a headhunter, I then found my way towards fundraising, which I now do for a number of charities as a consultant. I still paint though – a few commissions, but mostly for pleasure- or because I get itchy fingers if I don’t!

How do you and Keir work together in your artistic pursuits?

Our mutual interest in creativity and faith is one of the things that drew us together. We first went on a date after getting to know each other when I was organising an exhibition in the church where Keir was working. He came over and said “I’d love to take you out for lunch” and I turned to the whole hanging team and said: “Everyone, Keir is very kindly taking us out for lunch!”

Broadly speaking Keir’s the thinker and I’m the doer. Keir’s got a perfectionist streak whereas I just tend to go for things and hope that optimism and a few late nights mean I’ll pull them off!

When we first met we realised we both have bi-polar bookshelves. Stuff like The Art of Looking Sideways by Alan Fletcher, Buckminster Fuller books & Scottish Colourist catalogues on one side and the Bible, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Phillip Yancey on the other. Until recently there hasn’t been much to plug the gap- but now the tide is turning and it feels like the arts are coming back into playing their part in announcing the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Thou Art Festival

Tell us about ‘Thou Art’. What is it? How did it come about? How is it different from other exhibitions/festivals?

Thou Art is part exhibition, part gig, part festival- a general celebration of creativity and its source.

Beauty has always helped me connect with God. When I was at university I found other people who felt the same, so we ended up doing a few exhibitions of the art we’d made and inviting our friends who weren’t into God stuff to see.

Thou Art was a natural extension of this- putting our art into God’s epic art work (a stunning, wild garden) so you might find a Nick Fiddian-Green huge bronze head of Christ amidst the bluebells, bump into an insightful portrait peeping round a tree, spot a bike-powered cinema in a bush or hear some fresh new music as you enjoy a local cider.

“The tide is turning – the arts are coming back into playing their part in announcing the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

There seem to be loads of festival type things for Christians and obviously lots which are in no way Christian, but there doesn’t seem to be a space to just ‘taste and see that the Lord is good’- to hang out with people who are trying to love like Jesus did, to experience art work that points to God, to be in a place that is beautiful but comfortable, normal but prayed in, and open oneself up a bit.

Thou Art Festival

How do you hope that the world will be a little different through ‘Thou Art’?

I guess just a little more colourful, creative and open. At the last Thou Art, an atheist friend of mine was moved to tears looking at a sculpture down by the lake. I don’t know what was going on for him but I hope it was a helpful release of emotions and engagement with his feelings at the very least.

For those who aren’t into God stuff, I hope it’s a chance to encounter something of God’s love, beauty & truth- whether that’s through the people, the artwork, the music or the garden itself. And for those who already know and love Jesus, I hope that the arts help them find new depths, get beyond the rational and into a new place of freedom, acceptance and joy.

Thou Art Festival

How can artists get involved with ‘Thou Art’?

Have a look at and if you are interested please do make contact, telling me what you and your work are about and pinging a few images and the curating team and I would love to have you involved I’m sure!


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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 and secure your place.

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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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Patronage in Practice

As we continue our series looking at arts patronage and all the hows, whats and whys thereof, we thought it would be good to give a concrete, practical example of patronage in the 21st century for those of you who don’t happen to have Charles Saatchi’s expendible income. Therefore, I asked my friend Adam Haywood, from Woodside Church, Bedford, to share how he became an arts patron.

I’ve been to a lot of gigs, seen a lot of bands. Most of them now I don’t remember too much of; just a loose memory of what happened and a lasting resonance of the emotions stirred at the time. Some great. Some good. Some bad.

I remember seeing Green Day at V98, when the band set their drum kit alight as Bille-Joe closed out their set with ‘Good Riddance’. I remember the next band (The Seahorses, I think) trying really hard to follow it with their slow melodic brit-rock, whilst trying to coax the audience into creating some semblance of an atmosphere. They didn’t. And their attempts were joyously hilarious. Me and my friend Rob were still laughing as we made our way back to our tent. That was a good memory.

I remember watching Gomez in Leicester in the early 2000s as I stood bored for 2 hours whilst they refused to play the songs which everyone loved (‘Tijuana Lady’, anyone?) Why? Because they were now loved songs. And that meant they couldn’t play them anymore. Musicians, huh? That was a bad memory.

But a great memory? One of the best? Well, watching ‘The Augustines’ take their post encore-encore (muscians, huh?) outside of the venue, on to the high street in Oxford because the curfew at the venue had passed. That has to be up there. Standing there on the pavement, singing along with 100 other people as pedestrians slalomed around us in to the oncoming traffic and watching then, as the lead singer, aware of the increasing likelihood of an imminent fatality, took the sing-along to a low-lit, real ale serving, traditional pub, not 10 feet away- which my friend Dan got a back-row view to by clambering through a half-open window – yeah, that was a great memory.

Thing is, maybe a year after that, the band broke up.

Now bands break up all the time: band members can’t get on, the trappings of rock and roll decadence, the inability to write any good new songs, but this wasn’t that. It was financial. The lead singer posted a very honest explanation of the situation which ultimately said that because of the current state of the music industry, with content being consumed through mediums such as Spotify, Music Unlimited and what-not, people are not buying albums like they used to. When this is coupled with the increasing challenge of touring and making money- financially it just wasn’t viable for them as a smaller band. Therefore for them, breaking up was the only option.

When bands that I’ve enjoyed have broken up previously, even for those reasons named earlier, it’s got to me a little. But to have broken up because of financial challenges, whilst making sense, felt really unjust- like I’d been robbed of something unfairly. These bands we listen to are a part of our lives; our childhoods, our teenage years onto adulthood and beyond. These bands who write these songs spark memories of events, people and personal feelings that really are a massive part of you. And as such, they’re priceless.

I often checked in with the band’s online profiles, just in the hope that something would change- and after about a year the lead singer of the band posted that he was going to try something different; a new way to try and release music again that might be more financially viable. It was through something called Patreon.

Now, at 38, and not being on the digital graveyard quite yet, I was already aware of what this was- an online method of personally supporting artists financially so that they can make their art for others to continue to appreciate. So this is what I did- I supported him financially. I signed up for a monthly amount simply because this music is something that is important to me. And it feels good knowing that I’m part of continuing to keep this music going.

Two months ago, at Bush Hall in London, me and my friend Dan saw the lead singer again; we got a grossly overpriced Mexican meal prior and caught up on all things ‘life’; stood in one of the most impressive venues around as the lead singer told stories which we laughed at and sometimes pretended to laugh at; sung at the top of our voices to new and old songs and tried at the very end to steal the set-list that was stuck to the stage (unsuccessfully). The beer was overpriced. The journey back overlong due to roadworks. A great memory. And one I can genuinely say I had a part in making happen.

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An Interview With the Perfect Summer Band

Have you noticed the days elongating in a very satisfying manner? Wouldn’t it be good if there was some new music to accompany this happy seasonal change? Well, rarely are a band as well named as Midsummer. The Mellor family has just been on holiday and Midsummer’s new album ‘The Stories You Tell’ even managed to bring joy to a ponderous crawl up the M5. I caught up with Chris to fill us in on all things Midsummer.

Do introduce the band, Chris…

Midsummer is a band/collective of 6 musicians based in Birmingham.  We’re acoustic singer-songwriters with a folk edge.

Our songwriting core is Chris Taylor (me) and Lizzy Daniel-Sam.  Lizzy’s the main singer, although I sing on a few songs too.  I also play guitar, mandolin and percussion.  Then there’s Ben Kyte (bass), Jenny Chen (violin), J Clay (trumpet and percussion) and Andy Gordon (guitar, accordion, ukulele and pretty much everything else). Everyone joins in on the singing too!

How did Midsummer come about?

At the end of 2014 Lizzy and I got a small band together to play some folky carols as a one-off at the Oasis Church carol service.  It was really good fun and worked well.  Afterwards, Danielle Wilson asked if we’d be up for supporting her band Eeek! at a gig the following October.  We didn’t have a set or any original songs, but since it was 10 months away it seemed like a fun challenge and we said yes!

So we spent the next 6 months or so writing songs together and building a short set. Our original band from the carol service was made up of students who were coming to the end of their time in Birmingham, so in August we started to gather a new set of musicians, mainly from church and from other bands I’d played with in the past.

The gig with Eeek! went well and Lizzy and I carried on writing songs together and looking for gigs and things went from there.

Oasis Church, Birmingham seems to propel musicians into the local music scene more effectively than any other church I’ve come across (The Broken. Joanna Karselis. Thinktank. Ticking Boxes. You guys) What’s your church’s secret?

Firstly, I think collaboration and helping each other out is a big part of it. Out of the bands/artists you’ve mentioned, we’ve all been in other bands together, played with each other live or remixed each other’s music.

Secondly, I also think we help inspire each other as to what can be achieved. When Thinktank recorded their triple EPs Faith, Hope and Love, I saw Rod and Collin taking their time over it to make it as good as they could.  If I hadn’t already seen someone I know do that, it would have been hard to have the vision to write and record the Midsummer album.

Thirdly, Impact definitely plays a big part too. (Ed: Impact is the live music promotion team that has come out of the church). Although Impact doesn’t exist to promote Christian musicians, we’ve all played at Impact gigs, and they’re useful stepping stones to try out new ideas, show other people what we can do, and to use as a platform to get other gigs (as well as being really good events in their own right).

And finally, Oasis Church is also good at inviting its musicians to be creative within church life.  I’m particularly thinking about the carol services where we’ve been invited to create something different – you never know where that could lead.

I know that the album has gone through a lot of honing and crafting, and Chris, I hope you don’t mind, but you have a bit of a reputation as a perfectionist. What advice can you give on how to make a good album even better?

First off, I don’t think of myself as a perfectionist(!)  But some things I think helped improve the album are:

  • We practised the songs a lot, gigged with them and made demo tracks before recording. That helped us to know our parts and the feel and flow of the song before we started recording.
  • Once we decided to record 10 songs, we set a deadline for a release date. I worked backwards from there to work out when we needed to finish each stage of the process and worked hard to meet those deadlines.
  • When we were mixing the songs we spent a lot of time going through them with a fine tooth-comb, but we also regularly took a step back to listen to the whole thing to make sure it still worked as a whole.
  • We compared the sound to other records we liked and we asked for feedback from people we knew who we felt could give an objective opinion.

I’m really proud of the album, and I’m also aware of its limitations.  There was a phrase someone posted in the Sputnik group, which I really liked: ‘finished, not perfect’, and it was really helpful to keep that in mind as we were getting towards the end of the project.

Talk us through the album then. What are your influences? What themes do you explore in the songs?

When Lizzy and I started writing, I really wanted to write songs like Frank Turner, which everyone can sing along to.  Lizzy had wanted to sing songs like Eva Cassidy.  I think you can hear those influences a little.  But we also sound a bit like early Mumford and Sons, Goodnight Lenin and maybe Fleetwood Mac’s Buckingham/Nicks songwriting partnership.

The things we write about tend to be a search for home, dealing with loss and enjoying community; there’s an underlying sense of hope in most of our songs.

Can you break down one of the songs on the album for us?

The idea behind the song ‘Summer’s Over’ was sparked by Pip Piper’s film ‘Mountain Biking – The Untold British Story’, and the interview with mountain biker Martyn Aston.  After breaking his back he thought he’d never ride again, but was able to find a way to keep riding.  He said ‘I never knew, on the day I had my accident, my best day on a bike was yet to come’.  It’s a really inspiring story.  Something he said ‘you don’t know what lies ahead, you only know what’s happening in this moment’.  That line became the heart of the song.


Thanks Chris. And thanks Midsummer.

To get a flavour of the music, ‘You Got It Then’ is free to stream to your heart’s content:

To buy digital and physical copies, visit

And to keep up with Midsummer generally, try their facebooktwitter or soundcloud.





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Pip Piper: The Dog & The Hippo

If you’ve been checking out the blog over the last week or so, you’ll be up to date with Pip Piper’s past– the journeys he’s been on and some of the lessons he’s learnt along the way. To finish our interview, I wanted to find out a bit more about the present and future for Pip.

You head up two companies: Blue Hippo Media and One Small Barking Dog. What do the Hippo and the Dog have in common and how are they different? 

Sounds like we are running a small zoo!

Ok. So OSBD began out of the youth work I was doing at Riverside church, Birmingham back in the 1990’s. At the time I felt there was very little around media wise that helped youth workers communicate with both young people inside and more importantly outside of the church. After finishing work with the church in 1997, OSBD really began to take root.

It was just on the cusp of the digital revolution and we were making short films around issues that spoke into contemporary culture. We were also creating moving image “visuals” to enhance events and worship experiences. I once overheard a nun who was watching one of our “visuals” films describe what she was seeing up on a video screen “Oh yes, its like a stained glass window, only it moves“!

The “Images for Worship” video series was one of the things that helped OSBD become well known. Over time we made many, many video resources and short documentaries both for ourselves and other organizations and helped many young people to find an outlet for their creativity. The journey took us as far afield as Peru and Ukraine.

After several years I found myself being asked to look at feature film scripts and ideas for larger film projects. Rob Taylor (who was chair of the charity at the time) and myself decided to establish a new company that could be more focused on bigger commercial projects that told bigger stories on bigger screens.

Blue Hippo Media came into being in 2008 and since then we have made 6 feature length films, many of which have won awards and been distributed into cinemas and on TV around the world. As an indie film production company we have had some hard lessons to learn around just how tough it is to compete in that market as well as secure ways to earn a living! It’s a roller coaster ride for sure.

One Small Barking Dog is both the older of the two and, in a way, the newer, in that it took a hiatus, but is now back. Why did you bring ‘The Dog’ back from the dead, and what are your immediate plans?

It has been a long while thinking, exploring and praying about whether “The Dog”, as OSBD became affectionately known, should live or die.

However, over the past 18 months, others and I have felt increasingly that it should be engaged again in creating meaningful media and content that can speak into contemporary culture as it works with and for young people. Media that has the DNA of the kingdom embedded in it but isn’t pushy or trite but has real meaning.

We also believe that the newly revived OSBD can gain wider traction and impact based on the great strides Blue Hippo Media has made.

Our core areas are:

  1. Engage young people through training and development in film-making.
  2. Create innovative media to explore and communicate.
  3. Connect disparate groups and individuals interested in creativity and contemporary culture.

The specific projects we want to develop include;

  1. A feature documentary about what it means to be a young person in 21st century Britain. An ambitious film that we hope will have a really big impact on society.
  2. A series of FREE on line/downloadable visual meditations, that help those within and outside of Church explore and engage with spirituality.
  3. A series of FREE provocative and thought provoking short viral films aimed at on-line sharing. Issues around contemporary and spiritual themes that help us all explore what it means to be connected and engaged with our world.
  4. A pilot scheme to run a film school for young people who want to be filmmakers and make a difference in their world. This will become an on-line virtual school that aims to enable young people both here in the UK but also from countries facing real challenges through war and conflict and natural disaster.

So, how can we get involved?

To do all of this and max out our potential impact we need support.

We are hoping to build a bedrock of monthly givers who believe in what we are doing and can stand with us for the next 12 months. We are also hoping that we will get some one off gifts and find some partners who want to work alongside us on some specific projects.

This support will give us the “oxygen” to develop and create the key areas of work, pay some part time salaries and very small overheads ( we have no office base and very little outgoings that detract from the core work ). The difference it will make will be in enabling media to be made that really does have an impact both in and outside of the Church, helping young people to engage in those processes and learn skills to become filmmakers themselves.

If you can help that would be awesome.


For a third time, then, thanks a lot Pip. If you’d like more information about Blue Hippo Media or One Small Barking Dog, those words aren’t underlined for nothing. To support what Pip is doing and give to the work of OSBD, click here


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The Grotesque And The Beautiful In Faithful Art

Grotesque Beautiful Faithful Art Sputnik

One occasionally hears complaints from Christians, that art these days is ugly where it ought to be beautiful. Unsettling installations, chaotic abstractions, unsavoury juxtapositions of images and symbols; all seemingly calculated to jar and upset. Why would Christians be joining in with these gloomy trends? The question was posed to me last week, “shouldn’t they be making work of beauty, in order to point people towards God, who is beauty itself?”

I must say, the person who asked me this didn’t think so, but was relaying to me a sentiment brought to him by perplexed others. I have occasionally met with these questions myself, but less often the more I go (perhaps I have been gradually sorted out of those circles). I hope I’ll be forgiven if I seem to be knocking down a straw man. Perhaps, in that vain process, we might also stumble over some useful thoughts on the grotesque and the beautiful in faithful art.

To begin with, I find the idea that upsetting themes and images ought to be avoided very puzzling coming from Christians, of all people, who gather each week around the imagery of ancient Roman torture and execution instruments. We who claim to follow the crucified God (and have done for nearly two millennia before Nietzsche was causing people to faint in their drawing rooms) ought really to be unshockable by now; though by no means un-grieveable. The notion that dark meditations are unfitting for Christian artists, raises more questions about the theology of the questioners than the faith of the artists.

I certainly don’t think that all aesthetic grimness is justified or, worse still, that beauty is somehow theologically deficient. “By no means!” How then shall we navigate the grotesque and the beautiful as artists of faith? Since I’m no aesthetic theorist, I’ll confine myself to considering some examples I have admired (and aped), and to exploring their theological imperatives and justifications.

The Grotesque

The prophets of both testaments have always been my model as an artist, and prophets are called to tear down and to build up. In this spirit I see both grimness and beauty coming into play. I notice the former emerging in several ways.

Firstly, grotesque art often speaks of the things which are, but which cannot be spoken; because they are taboo, or inexpedient, or unpleasant, or ugly. Sentiments like doubt, shame, terror, lust or hate, for example. This is a task which saves the whole, because the whole is poisoned by the unexpressed and unheard suffering within. As regards the individual, the psychologist Carl Jung frankly called this “confession.” Within a community or a society, it is artists among a few other groups, who make this possible. Consider the Psalms; ancient songs for the community which often gave voice to doubt (77:9), despair (22:1), vengeful hate (137:9), self loathing (22:6) and so on.

Secondly, grotesque art emerges when artists attempt to deconstruct the powers and principalities. When power structures become wicked and oppressive, it is the job of their spin doctors, propagandists, publicists and architects to ensure that what remains seen is the image of legitimacy, stability and righteousness. The task of the prophetic artist is to re-present the powers as they really are (as best the artist can discern). What often results is a horrifying image of something we are used to seeing as orderly and harmonious. This is all the more jarring when we find that these are structures that we ourselves are passively leaning on or invested in. Consider John’s re-presentation of the Roman Empire as a diabolical and blasphemous dragon (Rev 13). Or Jeremiah, whose answer to King Zedekiah’s triumphalist propaganda was to walk about Jerusalem wearing an oxen’s yoke (Jer 27).

It must be added that, while the prophets often contended for the people against the powers, it was not beneath them to critique the people too, who were very capable of capitulating to the powers and becoming a poisonous power in themselves (as we plainly still are). Such was the message of Hosea’s work, which makes Tracy Emmin’s Unmade Bed look quite benign. Had he done what he did today, there would surely be no end to the disapproving pastoral visits.

Underlying all this is a theology which is cross-shaped to the last; a theology that doesn’t recoil from suffering but boldly steps into it. The history changing event, of the incarnation of God into human life, human suffering and human death, is also an ongoing practice… a way of being in the world. We are told that, if we want to follow, we will need to take our crosses with us, and the cross is a step into the sufferings of the world, not an off-the-shelf escape from them.

The Beautiful

The route to resurrection is death, and so it is not in spite of all this grimness, but rather through it that beauty triumphs. In the work that I have admired, I think beauty has emerged in roughly two sorts of ways. The first I will find difficult to articulate, and the second is, I think, the concrete practice of living toward that hazy imagination.

A good starting point would be Theodor Adorno, who once wrote this:

“The only philosophy which can be responsibly practiced in the face of despair is the attempt to contemplate all things as they would present themselves from the standpoint of redemption. [ . . . ] Perspectives must be fashioned that displace and estrange the world, reveal it to be, with its rifts and crevices, as indigent and distorted as it will appear one day, in the messianic light.”  (Minima Moralia, maxim 153)

This is what Walter Brueggemann calls hopeful imagination – the task of creating encounters where a wholly beautiful future can be imagined. Christian hope is anticipatory. We are not forever looking backwards at a merely mechanistic atonement in the past, nor are we looking sideways for momentary escape from the experience of the present. Christian hope looks, ultimately, forward, to the renewal of creation, to the healing of the nations, and to a time when God’s Goodness resides fully among us. Every glimpse of beauty is a glimmer of this end, a present manifestation of a future which will ultimately swallow up and transform a suffering and broken present, and the faithful artist works to cultivate this sort of anticipatory imagination.

Of course this beauty comes, necessarily, with suffering: with the pathos of anticipation… the intensified longing for what will be revealed, while still surrounded by, and experiencing, the suffering, brokenness and incompleteness of the present. Even in (or perhaps especially in) works of utterly unclouded beauty, like Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians, the pathos is only all the more present in the listener, who listens from the place of his or or her own broken and incomplete experience. Perhaps this is why authentic beauty in the present age is so often met with tears.

On the other hand, work which offers a moment of escape from the world’s ills cannot be, if I may say so, Christian, in that respect at least. It offers escape from the very story we are called to deeply inhabit – the story of God’s suffering creation, which is to be redeemed.

The second way in which I see beauty emerge from faithful artistic practice, is simply by making the world that we and our neighbours inhabit more beautiful. Of all the work I’ve created myself, I am perhaps most delighted with a natural slate floor, a coffee table, a good loaf of bread. These are not things which aim to transport the heart and mind elsewhere, but to make life here and now more beautiful, and to refashion it toward what it must one day become. We badly need to recover the thought of people like William Morris and John Ruskin, who believed everyone should live amongst things well-made, useful and beautiful: gardens that delight, architecture that lifts, furniture that charms, objects wise in form and function. The manner in which people today are housed in shoe boxes and high rises, betrays the fact that we no longer see the image of God in people, we see, rather, populations to be managed by governments. The fact that most objects of use today are neither well made, nor carry the wise human touch of the craftswoman and the craftsman, betrays the fact that we no longer see life in its fullness, but consumer markets for industries. It is the work of the artists, artisans, chefs, bakers, gardeners, builders, joiners, dancers, singers and poets to make life on the ground more beautiful – right there in the places and communities where they actually are. To leave this task to governments and multinationals while we busy ourselves making escapist art to fling meaninglessly into the placeless glitz of cyberspace would be a very sad abandonment of our calling indeed.

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This is one shoddy sketch of why faithful art may well be grotesque, or beautiful, or both. Faithful art lives in the real tension between the cross and the age to come, between suffering and hope. It shouldn’t surprise us too much that the deeper we sit into the biblical story, the more universally resonant our work will be. And never more so than today.

It is, I think, for such reasons that artists of faith are no longer content (if they ever were) to make cosmic tourism brochures for escapist religious institutions. A cruciform people will make cruciform work.

I’m told that some have begun to wonder what sort of art will survive when creation is renewed? It is suggested that perhaps the beautiful will remain, and the grotesque, naturally, will pass away. Maybe so, but the Kingdom of God, as we know well, is in the habit of turning our categories upside-down. The resurrected Jesus still carries his wounds. Perhaps it’ll be so with many things, that the grim marks of suffering, trauma and abuse might themselves be redeemed and turned into a mark of beauty, while triumphal greatness waits outside the gates.

(To read the rest of our ‘Beauty and Art’ series, click here, and for the next instalment here).

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So, What Do You Think Of My Work?

I realise that creatives come from every degree of the personality spectrum. Regardless of our temperament, our level of self-belief, our raw talent, our techniques or our oratory skills, as artists it feels risky and vulnerable asking people to talk about or evaluate our work. You might well have issues or misgivings about one of your own art pieces, songs, designs, poems, short films etc. but hearing someone else critique it can feel like a dagger to the soul.

Perhaps artists will balk at what I’m about to suggest but suggest it I will. When the opportunity presents itself ask people what they think of your work.

As I wrote and shot my short film ‘The Quickener’ I tried to strike just the right balance between mystery and revelation, rap lyricism and medieval instrumentation, sorrow and hope, grit and grace, hip-hop culture references and arcane quips. After the gruelling months of post-production I was still wondering ‘Does this work?’

Despite having numerous opportunities after screenings of ‘The Quickener’ I often felt unable to ask viewers what they made of it. I’m frustrated that I didn’t have more face-to-face conversations about the film. I want to get better at asking one or more of the following simple questions about my work:

  1. Did you like it?
  2. What did it make you think about?
  3. How did it make you feel?
  4. Can I tell you some of the story behind it?

And if you and a friend are responding to the work of someone else you can also ask:

05 What do you think the artist wants to say through this? 

Are you able to ask people about their perspective on your art? When I’ve asked the right question and got a well-considered or simple, honest gut response it’s made my day. People reveal things about my work I didn’t even recognise while I was making it. Moreover I’ve actually started friendships in those ‘what do you think of my work?’ conversations. And yes, I’ve also had some ego-bruising (and at times baffling) critiques.

I know that some art is made for quiet engagement and prolonged reflection. I’m not saying that an intense conversation is the indicator of success. What I am saying is that much of our work has got something prophetic, transgressive, provocative, evocative, satirical, hopeful, melancholic, autobiographical, surreal, biblical, beautiful we genuinely want people to respond to. If you’re keen to get people talking you’re the one whose probably going to have to get the conversation started.

Just ask one of those 5 ridiculously simple and completely natural questions.

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Political Posters and a different kind of kingdom

Earlier this year Wolverhampton Art Gallery played host to a V&A collection titled ‘A World to Win: Posters of Protest and Revolution’. The exhibition chiefly looks at posters that have contributed to historical and perceptive change in the general public.

The power of many of the posters lies in their ability to combine text and image in a way that brings about a powerful message that elicits some form of response: many beginning and ending with a shift in ideology, others often calling for a radical and concrete commitment to the cause.

The exhibition did require a small amount of reading (all essential information was provided in the exhibition itself, no real understanding of political history was necessary), but if one really engaged with the work, A World to Win was a weighty marvel. By no means attempting to answer questions about the relationship between art and protest in the abstract sense, the exposition did have a nice little feature that explored the transformation of ‘protest posters’ into a viral phenomenon.

The Church has more than played its part in this history. Having both stood in the position of the authoritarian oppressors and the dissenting revolutionaries, we have played the game, and arguably, we mastered it in its earliest forms!

Was not Protestant Reformer Martin Luther one of the first to fully utilize the power of print technology to “mobilize, educate, and organize”? Luther also used cartoons and caricatures created by Lucas Cranach in his pamphlets, books, and posters

Has not the book of Revelation often been interpreted as the polemic of an aging and imprisoned apostle against the tyrannical Roman Empire? The apocalyptic literature was certainly not created to legitimize the contemporary order: its symbols and images utilized popular emblems in the subversive story of the imminent downfall of the powers and principalities (as it is still today!).

Before print, Jeremiah was creating some radical political statements against Ancient Israel’s corrupt government using very physical means. Soiled loincloths, broken flasks, and wooden yokes are all part of the prophet’s oeuvre in his protests against the nation’s immorality.

Though these are not all examples of ‘posters’ in the strict sense, they are certainly the supporting media of a type of ‘campaign’, not purely ‘religious’, nor purely ‘political’.

I am not suggesting that our art should now all become poster based and illegally pasted on the side of governmental buildings, no less that my post on Cildo Meireles’ Ideological Insertions is advocating printing bible quotes on Coca-Cola bottles. But what I am suggesting and asking is how much should a Kingdom inspired art practice seek to couple image and text, word and flesh, to mobilize, educate, and organize people, not ‘into the Church’ but ‘in step with the Kingdom in our midst’?

Where advertisements have the power to lull an unsuspecting public into a position of continual and mindless mass-consumption: I do not believe it is our role to be publicizing a nice religious product to purchase. Rather, how can we, learning from the history of campaign call out for an unwavering commitment to a different kind of kingdom?

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Kan Xuan: Pound… Pound… Pound

Whenever I return home to Birmingham after a few months away, I am always impressed by the amount of quality art displayed across the city.

Before I focus in on one specific work in the IKON gallery, I would like to recommend Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery’s Turning To See exhibition curated by artist John Stezaker. This exhibit provides an exploration into the work of the curator through art history (from Van Dyck to Lucian Freud); it is certainly worth a look, especially if your art practice/interests involves themes of portraiture and metamorphosis.

Kan Xuan (b. 1972, China) is currently exhibiting a journey of her video works in Birmingham’s IKON gallery (6th July – 11th September). As is often the case with video art, this exhibition provides an immersive experience, examining and evaluating the every day through the inspective lens of the camera (if we are patient enough to sit, watch, and listen).

Xuan’s work takes to common objects and landscapes trying to, in the artist’s words, “find a way to express an encounter with and perception of a kind of “happening” inside of everyday life”. IKON’s website description assesses the exhibit as “profoundly philosophical about the nature of human life”.

The work I would like to briefly examine is a four channel video installation titled Island (2006-2009). The screens flash up with an image of an object that either costs a pound, a euro, a dollar, or two yuan (each currency given its own video). The cheap objects flash up with the computer-generated vocalization of the currency. The slides are separated by a brief moment of darkness. The rapidity of the succession of images creates a sense of anticipation to see the next object revealed. From hex keys to sweets, Island highlights the novelty of the string of cheap devices marketed to us. The looped videos never actually end, that is not until the gallery closes and the operating system is switched off. There is no pause from the barrage of ‘deals’, the same lifeless audio is rhythmically repeated into meaninglessness.


Consistent with Xuan’s oeuvre, two of her great themes are found in this work: globalization and commercialization. The seeming cultural gulfs between the continents and imperial powers are reduced to absurdity: the same objects, the same opiates, the same ceaseless series of tinny nick-nacks fighting for attention and financial devotion. Pound… pound… pound… Yuan… Yuan… Yuan…

Kan Xuan’s works confront the inanity and insanity of living as a meaning-making individual in a wholly disinterested metropolis and under totalitarian rule. It is a rousing call to march against the numbing effects of a consumer society. As the chasm between the rich and the poor widens, how is one to be reconciled to a severely alienating world of commodities?

The lack of the human figure or form in this video work stresses the cold and mechanical processes behind the manufacture of the ‘one size fits all’ pound-shop articles. In comparison with Xuan’s other works in this exhibition, the video’s processes are altogether quite unnatural, as are the goods depicted. Island narrates the feelings of discord and detach one can come to feel in the city: an ever-present reality in our world of self-checkouts and fingerprint access gyms.

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madebymotive: Joanna Karselis

We had 3 musical exhibits in the madebymotive gallery. Barrowclough and Ebenezer’s ‘Breath and Blood’ and Mr Ekow’s ‘When Space Stares Back’ both seemed to go down well, but I wanted to particularly draw your attention to Joanna Karselis’ uplifting ‘Cry’.

Jo is a longtime Sputnik favourite and it’s yet another beautiful addition to her repertoire. You can’t argue with her motivation either.

 My motivation is, simply, worship.  All the music I make is God-centred in one way or another, and the act of creating and performing is my “spiritual act of worship”. Cry is about raising your gaze upwards, away from the things of this world, meeting with Him, and bringing the best of you- whatever that may be- before His throne.

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madebymotive: Jon Doran

It was great to connect with some new artists for this exhibition, most notably Ruth Naylor (whose piece, Swanpool was on display) and Jon Doran.

Since studying Fine Art at Falmouth, Jon has exhibited from the south coast up to London and even across the channel. It is fair to say that his award winning work is pretty in demand, so it was an absolute pleasure that he agreed to let us exhibit his piece- Nearing The Cascades- in the madebymotive exhibition.


It was also great to hear a bit about what motivates him to do what he does, so I thought I’d give you both (picture above, motive below).

 Why do I paint? Well, firstly I paint because I’m fascinated by the process and always have been. The journey an image takes as it is constructed of slabs, streaks, and washes of colour is an exhilarating process to orchestrate. I find a satisfying sense of freedom through the action of conducting brush stokes and marks, and exploring the possibilities that arise.

I also love to look at paintings, as a whole, in their completed states. It’s amazing that a painting is simply pigment on a surface arranged in a particular way, but also so much more than that. One person’s simple and sensitive arrangements of tone and light have the possibilities to bring others to tears, as I have seen. I myself have been deeply moved in the first moments of viewing an artwork. 

But as well as for the love of it, I also feel a degree of responsibility that compels me to work hard and be part of the larger art world. Art opens up dialogues about meaning, existence and what it is like to see through one particular set of eyes; endless journals, reviews, and documentaries show this. It is a desire of mine, and what I feel to be a calling, to be part of and to contribute to that debate bringing my particular experience of reality, to the marketplace of ideas.

For more about the exhibition, check out this link.


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madebymotive exhibition, Catalyst Festival 2016

At the recent Catalyst Festival, we put on the exhibition: madebymotive. It acted as a cracking centrepiece of the SputnikZone this year and thank you so much to all the artists who exhibited as well as Chris and Hannah at Creative Arts Network for their help.

What’s funny about doing these exhibitions at the Catalyst Festival is that we work hard to make sure that they are designed not to primarily appeal to the people who are actually at the festival! I find something about the idea of Christians entertaining Christians slightly pointless, and while we hoped that people enjoyed the exhibition, its primary purpose was to make a statement about what ‘Christian art’ is and isn’t.

But I do recognise that such an obtuse strategy does need a bit of explanation, so I had to produce a write up explaining the gallery. For some reason this year I found this particularly tricky. However, I got there eventually and thought I’d stick it up here as in the end I think it explains our general ethos pretty well (and it makes me feel better about the 7 or 8 drafts that I ended up rejecting):

 In the SputnikZone this year, we want to talk about motive.

Perhaps a good place to start then is by telling you about ours. Our motive in putting on this exhibition is to highlight the important role of the arts and to showcase some Christians who we think are making the kind of art that has the power to speak into a society that is no longer listening to our preachers, our theologians and our apologists.

Some of the artists submitted work to this project (as part of CreativeArtsNetwork’s madebymotive project late 2015) and others were approached specifically for the exhibition. Our final selection was made, not because we thought this work would connect with people who might go to a Christian festival (ie Christians!) but we felt it would be likely to connect with people who are not here, who don’t know Jesus, who won’t naturally turn up at our meetings or come to our Alpha Courses. They may not all be explicitly about Jesus, in fact very few are, but let’s face it, not every lesson a Christian teacher teaches will contain a gospel presentation, not every patient a Christian doctor treats will be prayed for, not every deal a Christian business person makes will come with a personal tract. Very few will. We are called to be in the world, and be excellent at what we do in the world.

However, the thing about art is that artists who excel in their craft have the ability to communicate in a very powerful way. Excellent art communicates to people’s minds and hearts and shapes the very way they live. Excellent art also tends to be authentic, so a skilled artist will end up communicating their passions naturally through their work. Therefore, it would be very difficult for an artist who loves Jesus to not let their faith shine through at some point.

For that reason, we want more Christians to be making excellent art. 

So, if you are creative and are wondering if you should pursue your artistic leanings, we hope this exhibition inspires you to put time and effort into learning your craft. If you wouldn’t consider yourself creative, we hope this exhibition shows you something of what makes artists tick. They have many reasons for the hours they spend at their work. Some of these reasons are overtly spiritual, some are not. But all are valid as these guys look to become excellent at their art forms and potentially gain the ability and opportunity to communicate the good news of Jesus into people’s lives who presently will not hear it told to them by more straightforward means.

Alongside some reflections on the festival (and the ones that preceded it), I’m going to showcase some of the work from the exhibition too, alongside the artists’ motive statements. Some of the work won’t be quite the same as seeing it in the flesh, but it’ll give you the right idea.



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A Response to ‘Artist & Empire’

Dissent, mass noun, pron. (dɪˈsɛnt), The holding or expression of opinions at variance with those commonly or officially held.

I’d initially wanted to write a blog about the place of dissent in art after visiting an interesting and at times bemusing exhibition about the legacy of the British Empire through the prism of visual art at the Tate Britain.

Jonny, Sputnik’s equivalent of the Daily Bugle’s J. Jonah Jameson, sent the piece back and asked me to flesh it out into a longer exploration of this general theme. So, here begins a series of re-reflections on the art of dissent; why it is no vice, how it fits with Romans 13 and why it is really important that Christian artists are doing it well.

There are a variety of reasons why Artist & Empire at the Tate raised thoughts and questions about dissent. Myself and Benjamin Harris, who accompanied me, were frustrated by how placid the entire production felt. It looked upon the effect Empire had upon colonised communities, at spaces like Bristol which are also indelibly changed by the profit of Empire. It also reflected on the narratives of those who have transcended and traversed the boundaries of Empire; stories of civilised savages and the concept of ‘going native’. And then it ended. There was not one angry afterword; not a single piece of art which communicated so much as a ‘No!’

A lot of my frustration with the lack of vitriol in looking back at Empire comes down to the fact that as a white, middle-class man, I like best to reflect on Empire with as much anger as possible to cover my back. I genuinely hate what the British Empire did, but infuriatingly I also benefit and very much enjoy the comfort these outrages have afforded me, and frothy rage is the way I best process the ensnaring nature of this hypocrisy.

The final, retrospective part of Artist & Empire drew on a variety of narratives and in hindsight was incredibly dignified, for which it deserves credit. The British Empire has gone, in its sprawling physical and legal sense, and I think it is good to embrace peaceful and forgiving narratives in relation to it. It was the lack of dissent, not polemic, which was disturbing.

Though the Empire might not spin the same grand myths we were sampling in the Tate’s many rooms, it’s still there. It’s there in the fact that the Tate Britain, a gallery of paintings from the collection of a Victorian Englishman who made his fortune refining sugar, exists. It’s there in the fact that spending a Saturday afternoon wandering round a building looking at the story of the British Empire is something Britons can just do.

I believe that ‘godly dissent’ treads something of a middle ground here. It should tell a positive, creative story, pointing to a better way of life – the Kingdom of God. It also needs to call out the bad stuff, particularly the subtle, pernicious bad stuff that we quite comfortably live with without having to think about it. I think this is where invading ideological circuits, the subject of Ben’s article the other week, is a vital discipline.

Under this definition, movements of godly dissent need Christian creatives – people with the eyes to see the sin that so easily ensnares and with the imagination and gifts to forge something which helps the rest of us see this and helps us do better. I think this is why so many of the protest movements ‘out there in the world’ begin with artists and carry creativity at their heart. Think Nina Simone, Bob Dylan and the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960’s. Think Jazz in churches in East Germany. Think, erm, The Proclaimers and Scottish independence. Maybe not. But it is significant that so many creatives came out in support of the ‘Yes’ vote for Scottish Independence in 2014

There’s often been an assumption, particularly within the Church, that creativity gives birth to rebellion; that art and deviancy are intertwined. I would argue instead that good defiance requires creativity, which is why artists and creatives are so often at the heart of those protest movements.

So from this initial response to Artist and Empire, I’m going to explore this topic in a bit more detail in my next few posts, exploring whether it is a virtue or a vice, how it fits into a biblical worldview and why it is really important that Christian artists are doing it well.

In the meantime, what do you think…

Does dissent involve breaking stuff or making stuff?

Does this go against what God says about how we honour those in authority?

What are your favourite dissenting moments from history?

For the next post in the series, click here

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Would you like to share your work with 5,000 people at the Catalyst Festival?

This year at the Catalyst Festival, we are looking to provide a platform for artists from within the Catalyst sphere of churches (and beyond).

The Catalyst Festival is the annual gathering point of the Catalyst sphere of churches. It will be happening at Stoneleigh Park, Coventry, from 28th May to 1st June. There will be up to 5000 people there and every year the SputnikZone is given a fantastic platform to showcase the arts.

Sputnik has essentially grown from out of this Festival. Each year we have met new artists in all fields and it’s been a pleasure building on these relationships and starting to work together. However, we know there are more of you out there and this year we’d love to give you the chance to display your work. We’d like to do this in two ways:

1) Live performances

We are looking for performers for the festival! If you are a…

… musician– we’re looking for artists/bands of any musical genre to perform on the Saturday and Monday afternoons at the festival.

…poet or storyteller– we are looking for performers for the SputnikZone’s poetry and story telling afternoon on Sunday afternoon.

If you are in either of these categories, all you need to do is send:

  • an example of your work (for poets, ideally this would be a video of a performance)
  • a brief description of your involvement in your art form (how long have you been writing/performing/recording? Previous releases or key performances? etc).

Please send this to by Sunday 1st May.

On the other hand, if you are an…

…actor or a writer– we are looking for scripts and actors for a project during the festival that will culminate in a performance on the Monday evening.

For writers scripts can be of any genre, up to 20 minutes long & for no more than 4 actors.

Please send these to by Sunday 15th May.

For actors, you will need to be available on Sunday and Monday afternoons from 2-5 to rehearse, and on Monday evening to perform. The whole process will be overseen by experienced directors. If you’d like to be involved, please email by Sunday 1st May. We will consider all applications, but are particularly looking for actors with experience, so please outline any experience in your correspondence.

2) Main Gallery

For our Exhibition at Catalyst Festival this year, we are looking to explore the different motivations that drive artists. As part of Creative Arts Network’s ongoing MadebyMotive project we will be considering submissions in five categories:

  1. Images
  2. Film
  3. Poetry
  4. Music
  5. Sculpture/installation

We would simply like you to send us the piece of work that you have made that you think best embodies why you do what you do and accompany it with a written explanation of what motivates you in your practice (it could be relating to this specific piece or to your art in general).

The final selections will be made on the basis of both skill of execution regarding the piece you submit and the perspective you give on your work through the write up. As always with Sputnik, we will be looking for work that is capable of communicating to a broader audience than just Christians.

Please send all submissions to by Sunday 1st May, alongside:

  • a short description of your entry (no more than 100 words)
  • an explanation about what motivates you as an artist (no more than 200 words)

All artists that are selected will need to arrange the framing of their work and both bring their work at the beginning of the festival (Friday afternoon/Saturday morning) and collect it at the end (Tuesday evening). There may be an opportunity for you to help hang your work as well, and we can discuss this once the final selection is made.

We look forward to seeing what delights you lot send my way!

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Cildo Meireles and Creating Cracks In The Current Order

“Art shapes thought, and thought shapes life”: The Sputnik maxim speaks not just of the ‘fine’ arts such as painting and sculpture but also of all types of art; high and low, public and private, global and local alike.

From the images that dominate billboards to the tunes that hum out from the radio, our cultural furniture helps shape the way we think, both collectively and individually. It becomes our language, our words, and our means of understanding and interpreting life itself. This is by no means a purely negative phenomenon, without these systems of cultural significance and value judgements, we would have no readily available means by which we would measure worth.

All cultures have ideological circuits in which certain ideas and ideals are upheld, and other concepts are rejected. To use an example from within Christianity, certain church denominations will sing their own songs, build their own kind of buildings, publish their own brand of books, and ultimately uphold their own ideology. I became a Christian in a Pentecostal church and am attending a Pentecostal bible college: from the index of books in our library through to one of our lecturer’s own rendering of church history, our culture is saturated with this denominational stance.

The same would be true in wider culture. The books we read, the songs we sing, and the media we watch all contribute to the ideological circuit we are operating within.

Though ideological circuits are by no means ‘closed’, they certainly do legitimize their own orders, and therefore refrain from questioning their own authority. Though an abstract reality, the circuit is upheld through concrete and physical means; art, music, advertising, and so on.

Cildo Meireles’ Insertions into Ideological Circuits (1970) sought to insert ruptures into these systems of circulation. The Banknote Project printed politically volatile anti-US messages onto US dollars and Brazilian bank notes in both Portuguese and English such as ‘Yankees Go Home’ and ‘Straight Elections’. The mobile graffiti attached itself onto the symbols of cultural power, and were unknowingly circulated around, under the nose, and in the guise of the dominant order.


The Coca-Cola Project similarly printed such statements onto glass coca-cola bottles that were recycled back into production. These symbols of the American dream thus became vehicles of the subversive messages that sought to undermine their hegemonic control over cultural manufacture: a witty take on the ‘message in a bottle’. Meireles’ resistance art attempted to, in a brief moment, destabilize the ostensible reign of American capitalism oppressing the Brazilian artist’s homeland (the Coca-Cola bottle had become an image of US imperialism in Brazil.)

Ultimately Meireles points to the existence of these controlling circuits, and also to their passivity to the individual agent. There are cracks in the current order: the objects that embody unquestionable cultural authority temporarily became messengers of treason to their consumerist kings. In this, Meireles looks to an exchange of information independent of a centralized system of production. By transmitting an opposing message through hijacking the (literal) currency of cultural exchange, the artist is able to demystify the claims to absolute authority.

As implied above, Western Christians, with our sanctified radio stations, denominational publishing houses, and holy film industries tend to create our own ideological circuits that can be equally unforgiving to the external. And so, as Christians who engage in a culture with an alternative (dare we say, defiant) perspective, how are we to make inserts into the ideological circuits around us? We, with Meireles acknowledge, “the container always carries with it an ideology”, and so how are we to insert the ‘counter-information’ of the Kingdom? For example, the Kingdom principles of love and the absolute value of the human being in the face of a demoralizing system that further impoverishes and punishes the poor for being poor?

I do think that it is of interest that biblically, Yahweh is seen to wrestle with the circuits of language by modifying phrases in cultural circulation through the prophets (“the children’s teeth are set on edge” in Ezekiel 18 and Jeremiah 31). Doesn’t Jesus deliberately re-assemble the law in the Sermon on the Mount as well (You have heard it was said… but I say to you…)?

As Christian artists who believe that we live in a world under the ideological influence of the “god of this world” (2nd Corinthians 4:4), is our response to create our own circuit in which we isolate ourselves, or are we to make insertions into dominant ideological circuits around us? If so, how are we to subvert the current system?

What I am speaking of here is not the poles of east and west, north and south, capitalism and communism, or even sacred and secular, but the divisive “the Kingdom is like…” that seems to cut through all of these binary opposites. The ‘us vs. them’ dichotomy simply is not part of the dialogue; rather it is ‘us and Him’.

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What Was It To Be Human? Another 3 Reasons Why I Loved Our Last Art Project

Last time, I started explaining why I was delighted with our ‘WhatIsItToBeHuman?’ Art project. Today, I’m going to continue in a very similar vein.

As far as I’m aware the project served a load of artists really well and served a few of our churches really well, but that’s not all. Here’s another 3 reasons why I loved our last art project.

3) We’ve served our local communities

I think Christians often undervalue the importance of simply doing good for our localities. Jeremiah was told to seek the welfare of his city. And he lived in Babylon. However rough your area, this probably trumps you regarding levels of godlessness! (Jeremiah 29:7)

One of my favourite moments of the project was when I checked on a little Facebook event I’d created for our Birmingham exhibition launch night to see that it had gone kind of crazy. Apparently, over 1000 people were going or interested in the event. This was weird in that I’d only invited 500 and more than that, it posed us a few problems considering the venue’s capacity was a little more than 100 as far as I could tell! A couple of days later, a Christian friend messaged me to tell me that her boyfriend who wasn’t a Christian had suggested going to the event. When she pointed out that it was a Christian event, he told her that she was mistaken because he’d found about it from another friend who definitely wasn’t a Christian!

I still don’t know which promotional network we managed to tap into, but what I do know is that on one Friday night in Digbeth, Birmingham, over 150 people turned up to an art exhibition launch, music and poetry  night that was clearly put on by Christians and were subtly introduced to the Christian worldview, through the creative grapplings of a whole load of Jesus followers. The vast majority of the crowd were totally unknown to me and they all seemed to have a really good time.

We served our city. Result!

4) We helped Christians who aren’t artistic to understand the importance of art and artists (I think)

This may sound funny, but I wonder if this will be shown to be the most important impact of this project. Church and art haven’t had a rocky relationship in modern times for no reason. There are all sorts of potential pitfalls that could arise from letting us artists actually be ourselves in churches, and I’m really thankful that David and the other Catalyst leaders are willing to take that risk.

One of the key stumbling blocks is misunderstanding on both sides. Yes, artists can be elitist and obtuse (I know this because I have been these things). But, it’s equally true that church members or leaders can be insensitive and judgemental (I know this because I have been these things- as a church member and a church leader!) Often these problems arise from a lack of mutual understanding. I’m always keen to trumpet the importance of the local church to artists, especially to those who have written off the church’s relevance to their own spiritual lives. At the same time I’m equally keen to help people in our churches who wouldn’t call themselves artists, understand the immense contribution that artists can make to our churches and the mission our churches have been given.

Therefore, it has been so encouraging to hear loads of people approach me over the last year to say that they ‘get art’ for the first time and they see why it’s important. This project, coming as it has from within a family of churches, has really helped that happen.

The thing is, it’s not that artists are any more special than business people, mums, teachers, social workers, politicians, doctors or accountants. We’re just another limb of the body that needs appropriate honour, like all the rest. And a body with this particular limb working properly will work better than one without. I think that this exhibition, in its own way, helped the body of Christ start to function a little more healthily, and for that alone it was well worth all the van hires, framing and bubble wrapping.

5) We hooked up with Creative Arts Network!

One more thing that happened that may have gone unnoticed by most people was that Sputnik ourselves made a new friend: Creative Arts Network. Creative Arts Network is the arts community based in the New ground part of the Newfrontiers family and more specifically at New Community Church, Sidcup. You can find out all about them at

We’d had a few chats and exchanged a few emails before, but when it came to this project, they have really helped us get it off the ground. They’ve helped us in connecting with new artists, with our new website and with most things remotely technical.

In short, thanks guys (Chris and Hannah in particular) for all your help and we really appreciate being art network buddies with you guys!

Well, I’m sure there’s more I could say, but that’ll do for the time being except to say that if you didn’t visit any of our exhibitions, although in a sense you’ve missed it, don’t panic, as you can see, hear and read the work that featured in our exhibitions at and you can buy the pack that features all of the work featured here.

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What Is It To Be Human? 2 Reasons Why I Loved Our Last Art Project

5 exhibitions. 39 artists (from at least 22 different churches). 45 pieces of art. 55 days. Over 30 set uppers and downers. Over 10,000 visitors. Enough bubble wrap to mummify a large suburban semi.

It was only just over a year ago that Sputnik kicked off our WhatIsItToBeHuman? project and at the end of January we set down our final exhibition. I’m delighted with how the project has gone and I thought I’d put together a couple of posts summarising what went on and also, with the dust now settled a bit, whether it was worth all the effort.

So, getting down to brass tacks, has it been worth the effort? Well, I can think of at least 5 reasons why I’d say yes. (I’ll include two today and two in the next post)

1) We’ve encouraged and motivated a load of artists (I hope)

Sputnik exists to serve artists, primarily in the Catalyst family of churches. We’ve been reasonably convinced of the ‘why?’ from the beginning. The ‘how?’ however has proved a little more tricky. We didn’t want to just sit around, talk about art and stroke our chins. At the same time, providing a forum for feedback and technical help is also not always constructive before proper relationships are formed. However, it’s hard to build relationships and network unless you have a discernible purpose to gather people to. So what do you do?

Well, art is about making stuff, so we’ve decided to underpin everything we do with an element of creation. Our primary activity, then, has been encouraging people to create and themed art projects have seemed to work so far in this regard. First of all it was ‘God.With.Us’ (2011), then ‘What are you waiting for?’(2013), then ‘Kingdom’ (2014), and in 2015 it was ‘WhatIsItToBeHuman?’

For some of the artists who’ve got involved, this has provided a helpful impetus to dust off creative talents that have lain dormant for some time, for others it has provided a creative project that allows a bit more freedom than the briefs they’re paid to work on, for almost all of us, it has provided a better platform to get our work seen, heard or read.

Therefore, these projects have served artists in a number of ways I hope, and I’ve personally benefited hugely from getting to know artists who I’d just never have met if we’d not put on this project. Win win!

Thank you so much to all you guys who got involved and submitted work, I really do hope that we served you well in this, but I also hope that you are encouraged by the impact your work had through this project, which moves me on nicely to my second point…


2) We’ve helped churches engage with their local communities in new ways

Local churches have historically been central to their local communities in this country, but now this is not usually the case. Instead they are often marginalised in their villages, towns and cities, and in turn churches can choose to deliberately hide away from a world that seems hostile to them. This obviously is not what Jesus had in mind when he inspired the invention of the world changing machine that is the local church and so in our churches we’ve got to find ways to connect with our local communities. Traditionally, there are some tried and tested ways of doing this like toddlers groups, work with senior citizens, social action projects, etc. Art is a great way to do this as well. There are loads of practical ways to do this and I know of churches who run very successful art classes, open mic nights and writers’ groups. However, exhibitions can be effective in this way as well (as long as the work is of a decent standard. Sorry but it needs to be said!)

So, it’s been great seeing City Church, Newcastle connect with The Holy Biscuit. Churchcentral, Birmingham get to know the great guys at Centrala and dip their toes in the thriving Digbeth art scene and Jubilee Church, Coventry continue building relationship with Fargo Village (although these guys are a model in this area, already helping to run a city wide motor show each year!)

The results of such link ups are sometimes hard to pin down, but each relationship built and connection made cannot help to warm people to our message and break down popular misconceptions about people who follow Jesus.

Those two things alone would have been enough, but I’ve only just begun. Keep your ears to the ground for our next post and the next 3 reasons why I’m very happy with how this project has gone.

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Anya Gallaccio and These Beautiful Changeable Things

Christian theology has the tendency to exalt the abstract and immaterial over the corporeal and transitory parts of creation. When I was baptised, a scripture from Second Corinthians was given to me that spoke about how “the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18). This understanding, when not tamed or tapered with an understanding of the full bodily incarnation of Christ can become dualistic and dichotomising (God “up there” far away, and us “down here”).

Here at Sputnik, we fully hold to the idea that “thought shapes art, and art shapes life”. The heaven-up, earth-below theological-thought-attitude that holds an inseparable chasm between ‘heavenly realities’ and ‘earthly things’ has undoubtedly infiltrated our art. The almost alien-like faces of Byzantine iconography stripped of any imperfections bears witness to this. When our understanding of life is stripped of all materiality and ‘flesh’, our art follows suit. Historically, we seem to have forgotten about the God who descended into clay, and then used dirt to restore sight to the blind.

Certain modernist artists have attempted to make their visual-theology more ‘earthy’ and have succeeded in their representations (Graham Sutherland, or Otto Dix are great examples). What I would like to ask in this short post is whether we should be going further than simply allowing some earth into our timeless representations?

Where film necessitates considerations of time and change in art, standard pictorial representation generally seeks to freeze it, glossing over it, and preserving the static. ‘A good painting is one that stands the test of time’; symbolically and physically. Should our creations continue in their insulation from time and mutation though? Are we to keep making monuments to eternity? Or does the unique incarnational story of Christ instead push us to become partakers in the mutable creation? Are we instead created to be collaborators with a fluid cosmos?

Anya Gallaccio is one of the generation of Young British Artists whose direct engagement with cultural materials and objects created both a sense of immediate recognition (the work is not too abstract, it is created with tangible objects that are instantly recognisable,) and contemplative dislocation (the work is somewhat transformed and ‘edited’, creating a realm of possible understandings of a given artwork) within the viewer.

Gallaccio’s most widely recognised work, currently housed in the Tate Britain, is Preserve ‘Beauty’ (1991-2003), a four panelled composition of 2000 gerberas encased in glass, fixed against the gallery wall. During the installation of this work the flowers wither and die, leaving stains on the gallery wall. What begins with a fresh smell and vibrant colours finishes with an odour of decay and an image of putrefaction.

Though Gallaccio’s wider body of work deals with natural processes of transformation, from melting 34 tons of ice from within with a 1.5-ton boulder of rock salt (intensities and surfaces, 1996) to the erosion of a 60-ton column of locally quarried chalk wrapped in plaster at sea off the coast of Hull (Two sisters, 1998), I find Preserve ‘Beauty’ particularly instructive because it actively speaks in to the aforementioned dialogue. The material and very ‘stuff’ of Gallaccio’s art is the changeable; the mutable objects through which Augustine claims we see “the God who made things, through the things which He made.”




This work serves as a soft critique of the institution (Tate) that it currently resides in. When ‘beauty’ is preserved, it dies. How can we then, as Christians and as creators cooperate with the transformability of nature, as agents of change and metamorphosis? A friend of mine described this different approach to participating in a changing creation rather than stagnating it and trying to ‘eternalise’ nature as the difference between a still pond and a flowing river.

A ‘good’ portrait sketch freezes and immortalises an ever-changing biological form. Is there a space for an art form that instead takes pleasure in the divine authorship of what St. Augustine aptly calls “these beautiful changeable things” in his Easter sermon of 411AD? Perhaps Gallacio’s work points us in the right direction.

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Artists As Servants: What I Learnt From The Circus

Recently, I went to the circus for the first time. My parents never seemed to be very keen on the circus and my wife’s lingering memory of her one childhood visit was of mangy, ill treated tigers cowering in cages. However, when you’ve got three kids, it’s half term and Living Social are being generous- needs must!

Anyway, quite unexpectedly, I had a great time. Not only was it thoroughly entertaining, it was actually an instructive experience in artistic etiquette.

First off, I was taken aback by the level of skill on display. From the tired looking clown, whose feigned ineptitude enabled him to hoodwink 5 audience members into an absolutely brilliant piece of comic theatre halfway through (totally at their expense) to the Dynamite Riders trio who hurtled around a metal globe on their motorbikes at about a million miles an hour, these were exceptionally gifted performers who’d clearly given their lives to mastering their crafts.

But there was a joy and humility about the whole thing that was remarkable. My 7 year old was welcomed on the door by a friendly steward who turned out half an hour later to be a member of Trio Zetsimekov who were one of the main acts (doing this crazy thing with curtains, poise and an intimidating level of upper body strength). One half of Las Chicas Morales, the duo that kicked the show off by scaling and descending interlocking ramps while standing on enormous globes, painted the kids’ faces in the interval. Chico Rico, the clown, personally saw you out at the end.

Here was something truly unusual- extraordinary skill without any hint of celebrity or ego. And they were clearly having a whale of a time. The Bulgarian duo who performed all manner of gravity defying acrobatics upon ‘the wheel of death’ entered and exited beaming from ear to ear and gave every indication that they felt that it was a genuine privilege to be there. (To put this in perspective, the whole thing was in a tatty big top in a car park at Merry Hill Shopping Centre. All I can say, if you are not familiar with ‘Merry Hell’, is that this would not have been the most prestigious leg of the tour!)

It was remarkable, but I found it quite chastening too. I know that I’ve performed a number of gigs in quite the opposite manner. Perhaps the crowd was a little small, the sound system wasn’t quite up to scratch, the promoter was a bit unhelpful. For whatever reason, I know that at times I’ve performed with a grumpy functionality and have acted before and after my performance with an aloofness that demonstrated that I’d bought a very twisted view of the role of the artist. The artist as one who is there to be served. The main event. The one whose name is on the flyer. Who people have come to see. Paid to see. Someone incredibly special. What’s funny is that I’ve even felt this way sometimes when my name wasn’t on the flyer, there was no admittance fee and nobody had actually come to see me anyway!

Gandeys Circus troupe reminded me of something. The artist is essentially a servant. We have been gifted with talents and skills and hopefully we’ve put time and effort into nurturing these gifts but we are there to serve not to be served. This may involve providing entertainment, it may involve providing a challenge. In fact our service may be to make our audience feel decidedly uncomfortable, but we are there for them. Therefore, we should always do it with joy and humility.

The models in most of our fields will be demanding, self serving egotists and we must be under no illusions- they will affect us. As we follow Christ in our art, we must not then just concern ourselves with our content, but also with our manner. I want to serve audiences with at least the same level of joy and humility as Gandeys Circus.

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Our Annual Art Project for 2016 is here…

So, after the success of this year’s WhatIsItToBeHuman? project, we have another open submission art project for you guys to get involved in and it’s a little earlier than you may have been expecting.

As we did with our last project, we are partnering with the brilliant Creative Arts Network on this one and want to get as many of you guys involved as possible. The theme is ‘madebymotive’and it is looking to get a glimpse at what is going on behind your work- your motivations. Submissions should explore either what motivates you to create in your chosen discipline or the journey shaping the motivation of an individual project. The full brief is here and the deadline for submissions is 10th January 2016.

If you’re struggling to get started, the latest edition of Hue magazine will give you a very good starting place. It features 12 creatives from different disciplines, exploring the trigger behind their creative practice. You can get it here.

Selected work will be displayed in a series of exhibitions- both online and physical- and details of these will follow. Creative Arts Network have a growing reputation and reach and this project gives you a great opportunity to explore what fires you as an artist as well as offering the potential of a fantastic platform for your work.

I recognise that this is a little different to what we’ve done in previous years and while there may be links with the Catalyst Festival for some of the final work, the festival will not act as the focal point of this project as before. However, do not fear, we have something quite different up our sleeves for the festival this year regarding how we will get you guys involved and creating, but to find out more about that, you will have to wait until the New Year…