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Mocan, Liviu - VM - Jonathan Tame 2

Liviu Mocan: Archetypes

Theology in 3D

by Jonathan Tame

Since last July five striking brass sculptures by Liviu Mocan have transformed the churchyard of Great St Mary’s in the heart of Cambridge. This Archetypes exhibition shines a light on five deep cultural themes: Revelation, Sacrifice, Transcendence, Belief and Destiny. With such names the sculptures hold a wide appeal for the numerous visitors coming to Cambridge from every continent. However, the symbolism points towards a deeper Christian influence, which is confirmed by the longer titles which Mocan has given to each of his sculptures.

The title of Revelation, the smallest artwork, is Book That Reads You. Forty-nine identical brass sheets are stacked vertically to form an open book, its leaves quivering in the gentle breeze. In place of words on the page are rows of shapes like eyes, looking up at the reader. It represents no ordinary book but one with the power to penetrate ‘even to dividing soul and spirit’. The Bible was the first book ever printed. It was the foundation for every Cambridge student’s education until the Enlightenment and it continues to be the world’s number one bestseller, as it brings a unique revelation of God, the human condition, even our own hearts.

Next to it is a creature set on a pedestal 1.8 m above the ground. As you approach it, your gaze is lifted up to the impressive form of a ram. The two eyes looking down from its mask-like head are firm, even majestic, but convey a great sense of pathos. The fleece of the animal is also made from shapes like eyes, looking out in every direction. Closer inspection reveals a great nail buried deep in its breast. Lamb of God echoes the majestic lamb in Van Eyck’s Ghent Altarpiece and is a fitting representation of the archetype Sacrifice.

The sculptures ascend in size and the next one takes a human form, 3 metres tall, with outstretched arms that sweep back behind the body to create a semi-circular wing or canopy. Made of 49 brass layers that are held together by 365 rods, the sculpture for Transcendence is named Ladder of the World – another metaphor for Jesus Christ. The slope of each layer and the spaces between them means that from one side the figure looks quite solid, but from another angle you can see right through it. Spirit and matter seem to be fused together. As the former Regius Professor of Divinity at Cambridge University, David Ford, declared, the sculpture captures simultaneously the incarnation, resurrection and ascension of Christ.

Continuing around the circle you come to a sculpture in two parts. Down at ground level the remains of what appears to be a small boat are clearly sinking. From the wreckage a thick rope in lattice form shoots powerfully upwards, lifting an anchor towards the sky, defying gravity. Mocan’s Belief or Anchor Cast up to Heaven is 4.6m high and symbolises the confidence that can be found in the God who loves and cares for all who call out to him. Even though prayer can at times feel counter-intuitive, it comes most readily when the boat of our lives seems to be sinking. It holds us fast when our world crumbles.

Finally, in the centre of the circle, the fifth and largest sculpture – Trumpet in the Universe – towers over all the others and symbolises Destiny. An inverted cone, formed of 15 brass rods and filled with balls and spheres of different sizes, this art object is perhaps the most complex of the Archetypes. Twelve inscriptions surround the base of the trumpet, the first being the clue to all the others: ‘It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; the glory of kings to search it out’ (Proverbs 25:2). The other 11 are the works of scientists, writers and musicians who have searched out the mysteries of the universe or created and enriched human culture, all of them with some connection to Cambridge.

What do these five sculptures have in common, apart from being made of brass and sharing certain design features? The brochure reveals yet another layer of inspiration: the five solas or great theological themes of the Reformation. Book that Reads You is an interpretation of ‘sola scriptura’, Lamb of God of ‘sola gratia’, Ladder of the World of ‘solus Christus’, Anchor Cast up to Heaven of ‘sola fide’ and Trumpet in the Universe of ‘soli Deo gloria’. 

The Archetypes exhibition is ambitious in that it turns profound theological concepts into material forms. Theoretical ideas take shape, asking visitors how their beliefs work their way through to reality in everyday life. 

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Liviu Mocan: Archetypes, 2017-2018, brass and bronze, 7 m (diameter of the circle) x 5.4 m (height of tallest sculpture).

Book That Reads You: brass, 1.2 x 0.6 x 0.3 m

Lamb of God: brass, 2.45 x 0.65 x 0.27 m

Ladder of the World: brass, 3.0 x 1.5 x 0.9 m

Anchor Cast up to Heaven: brass and bronze, 4.6 x 1.8 x 0.7 m

Trumpet in the Universe: brass, 5.4 x 1.2 x 1.2 m

Liviu Mocan is a Romanian artist living in Cluj-Napoca, Transylvania. The rich Christian legacy that he inherited from his parents, from nature, from church and from mature artists and theologians has guided his philosophy of life and formed the essence of his creative work. His many and varied works – which can be found exhibited in private collections, indoor and outdoor, on all continents – are a testimony to his commitment to the visual expression of his beliefs. He is currently developing various art projects centred around the major themes of the Bible while experimenting with different materials and new technologies. 

Jonathan Tame is the director of the Jubilee Centre in Cambridge. The Archetypes sculptures by Liviu Mocan will remain at Great St Mary’s Church until January 2020, after which the organisers hope to find a permanent site in the city for them.

ArtWay Visual Meditation 12 May 2019