It was just a little bit magical to find butterflies “fluttering” inside the vast spaces of the abbey I know so well when I visited Bath yesterday, like a potent metaphor made manifest. Their colour and variety seemed to flutter new life into torpidity, as though the leaden religious narrative of so many quite massive stained glass windows had been exploded into shards then grown wings before hitting the ground; so, not the end of the world, just a fresh new beginning that had required the courage to break with old ways. Their unexpected presence there above my head seemed like a breath of fresh air sweeping through those unreachable spaces from one arched window to the other, stirring up the dust motes of heavy tradition. The reaching and arching endlessly higher and higher of all those immense gothic ceilings that speak of always striving, never quite getting there, seemed to be brought down to attainable height, their pristine stone made mortal yet in no way trivialised by fragments of coloured paper that could have been cut-out with scissors by a child. It felt like a sacred marriage to witness the two side-by side; both aspects made “better”, somehow more whole and perfect, by the collaboration of art installation and its most ideal space; in fact, I realised I had never seen the space look better than it did on this day. This is what the masculine does so well; it holds space for the feminine to express herself in ways that are fluid, playful, relatable, earthy and without pretension or the kind of loftiness that alienates. The two work perfectly together…. (extract from my post Fire and Water on Spinning the Light).
The current art installation iMigration 2 at Bath Abbey is by Anthony Head, lecturer and researcher at Bath Spa University. Perhaps I saw in it different, even broader, themes than he intended but then that is surely the purpose of art and its relationship with the reviewer, who is at liberty to take it beyond what the artist envisioned. It reminded me of another installation that I happened upon in Stockholm last summer; and I never did find out that artist’s name as I only ever saw it through the window of the gallery, which was always shut when we passed. In fact, I took the reflection of “the outside world” on the glass of the gallery window whenever we peered in as part of the metaphor, like the butterflies were conspiring to break down the hard structure of the building and break free from containment – a theme I have worked with extensively in my own photography and painting.
A search around the internet will find quite a number of such butterfly installations “out there”; which I take as a sign of, not lack of originality but rather, an impulse towards fluttering some unexpected, colour, variety and movement back into the conventional three-dimensional space and softening all the edges of our current reality through the introduction of a creature that is all about undergoing evolution and taking a leap (or a launch…) into the unknown. The use of butterflies in installation art is a refreshing and liberating urge loaded with all the metaphorical power of something that undergoes metamorphosis; something that has inspired my own work for some considerable time (see my posts Out of the Blue and Reflection Upon Life for more on this theme). You can see my photo collection Glass Butterflies with some of the installation shots I refer to here, plus other butterflies “under glass”, on Flickr by clicking the adjacent image from the Stockholm gallery.