God of mystery, when the cloud descends, when you seem unknown, when doubts assail me and darkness surrounds me, lift the mist, break into the darkness and let your light shine in me and through me. Amen.
This year, internationally renowned artist Susie MacMurray will be displaying a new work Doubt from Ash Wednesday, 14 February until Good Friday, 30 March. This new site specific installation is created in direct response to Southwark Cathedral and the lofty spaces within it. Doubt fills the volume of air above the high altar sanctuary like a dark cloud.
Clouds feature a great deal in scripture and in the Christian tradition. Popular imagination might expect faith to be lived out in bright clear sunshine but from that moment when Moses climbed the holy mountain, shrouded in cloud, and experienced the presence of God, it has been a familiar experience and theme. The Gospel writers described a similar event in the Transfiguration of Jesus and as Jesus died on the cross the clouds brought night into day and the onlookers were plunged into darkness.
The mediæval mystical tradition in this country did not shy away from the cloud which can exist in the world of faith. In ‘The Cloud of Unknowing’, a 14th century book written anonymously, the writer says ‘Beat with a sharp dart of longing love upon this cloud of unknowing which is between you and your God.’
The cloud that Susie MacMurray has created and which dominates the chancel and high altar during Lent and Holy Week, draws us into this apophatic tradition. We recognise our doubts and sense the darkness but beat both ‘with a sharp dart of longing love.’ She conceived the piece through the connections of the weight of darkness and uncertainty suspended from above. It stems from a conversation Susie had with a soldier who had served in Afghanistan at the time that she was installing Cloud in The Great Hall, Winchester, 2014. They talked about PTSD and the effects that the pressure of extended periods of tension and anxiety have on the mind. The soldier spoke about how all the time he was in the war zone he felt a dark weight hovering behind his neck. It made Susie think of 40 days and 40 nights.
The Very Reverend Andrew Nunn, Dean of Southwark
Susie MacMurray is a British artist whose work includes drawing, sculpture and architectural installations. A former classical musician, she retrained as an artist, graduationg with an MA in Fine Art in 2001. She lives in Manchester and has an international exhibition profile, showing regularly in the USA and Europe as well as the UK. An engagement with materials and with the body is at the heart of MacMurray's practice.
Her role is one of alcemist: combining material, form and context in decepively simple ways to stimulate both physical and cultural associations within those who encounter her work.