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Luminous sphere sheds light on liminal space 

Monday 20 June 2022 2:16pm

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Karen Sewell, Awakenings IV, 2020, installation, custom pvc sphere, helium, nylon line, organza mesh, Holy Trinity Cathedral, Parnell for Auckland Art Week 2020 (Photo courtesy of Artsdiary)

Fresh from a major international festival in a city best known for its canals, the art installation Luminary l Luminare is set to illuminate cathedrals and churches in Aotearoa.

The sculptural work by Auckland installation artist Karen Sewell launched at the Venice Biennale in April. Support from the University of Otago and Northart Gallery Auckland means from early July, it will also visit Dunedin, Christchurch and Wellington.

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Artist Karen Sewell

Luminary l Luminare features a two-metre sphere that is suspended near a gallery or church’s ceiling. An intriguing low-level soundtrack, recorded by NASA’s Voyager spacecraft while travelling around our solar system accompanies the visual element, which also includes photographic, lumen prints of everyday objects that resemble celestial bodies.

Sewell says the multi-media work explores the “largely forgotten dialogue between contemporary art, histories of faith and places of worship”.

She describes Luminary as a metaphor for “light and light-giving bodies” that speaks of the “unfathomable mystery and beauty of cosmic phenomena and is a threshold into the spiritual realm that can only be experienced, rather than seen”.

“Placing it in a space designed to proclaim the beauty and glory of God not only contributes to the theological resonance of the piece but connects with the history of cathedrals as patrons of the arts and engages the public with a contemporary sacred place.”

Co-presenter and Otago Theology Professor Murray Rae has a background in architecture and his research has often explored the relationship between art, architecture and theology. He has been instrumental in having the work installed at the Venice Biennale and touring to Dunedin, and says its “sacramental quality and spiritual evocations” will appeal to audiences in Aotearoa.

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Professor Murray Rae

“Aside from being visually stunning, Luminary invites us to contemplate the mystery, the interdependence, and the wonder of things by exploring the expansive, uncontainable giving forth of light and sound in the cosmos. Viewers contemplate their own capacity to be, see and hear, and to contemplate the source from which light and sound come. It is both expansive and intimate; it presents us with the vastness of time and space and yet invites the viewer and the listener into the still repose of a contemplative soul.”

A special Theology paper, MINS414 Arts and Cultures in Christian Ministry and Mission, will be offered as an intensive course from July 4 to 8 to coincide with the exhibition. The paper explores the role of art in expressing, shaping, nourishing and critiquing Christian faith, and how art in different theological traditions might enrich Christian ministry and mission.

The paper will be taught by Visiting Lecturer Judith Brown, who also contributed an essay to a recent publication about Sewell’s work.

Based in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland, Karen Sewell works across media including sculpture, installation, photography, painting, sound and light. In 2016 she graduated with a Master of Fine Arts with Honours from Whitecliffe College of Art and Design. Her work has been selected for multiple awards, including the Glaister Ennor Graduate Art Awards, the New Zealand Portrait Awards, and the Wallace Art Awards, and in 2011 she won the Premier Award at the Waitakere Trusts Art Awards. Her work is represented in national and international private collections and is currently hanging in the European Cultural Centre Exhibition, ‘Personal Structures’ 2022, at the Venice Biennale. Sewell has been artist in residence at the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Parnell, Auckland since 2021.

The Luminary l Luminare New Zealand tour dates and venues are:
Dunedin’s St Paul’s Cathedral from 2 July
Christchurch’s Oxford Terrace Baptist Church from 16 July
Wellington’s Church of St John’s in the City from 31 July.