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Jordan, Maureen - VM - Jonathan Evens

Caroline Bugby and Maureen Jordan: Confluence

Water Miracles

by Jonathan Evens

A confluence is an act of merging that also describes the junction of two rivers. ‘Confluence’ was an art installation in the beautiful 12th-century St Mary Burham church, inspired by a recent archaeological project ‘Finding Eanswythe’ which explored the life of St Eanswythe, the Anglo-Saxon, Kentish royal saint and granddaughter of Ethelbert, the first English king to convert to Christianity under Augustine. The installation was a collaborative project by two artists – Maureen Jordan and Caroline Bugby – who met – who met while both attending Vermont Studio Center in Johnson VT, where each came to see connections in the other’s work.

St Eanswythe is believed to have founded one of the earliest monastic communities in England on the Bayle, the historic centre of Folkestone in Kent. One of the miracles attributed to the princess was that she made water ‘run up-hill’ from the Downs to the Bayle, thereby providing fresh water for the nunnery. A collection of coincidences had originally channelled the attention of the ‘Finding Eanswythe’ team towards her story; beginning with a mysterious local feature, the buried course of an ancient aqueduct built to carry water from the down-lands to Eanswythe’s minster.

That story captured the imaginations of both artists and, seeing the effort people made all those years ago to move water to their settlement, reminded them of how critical water is to us all. Using reclaimed materials, including glass pantiles and sea-glass, Maureen Jordan took the theme of water as a source of life and played with the ideas of the miraculous and transformative. Caroline Bugby created a series of fragmented and crumbling vessels that speak of the actions of containing and drinking water, exploring our connection to the past through this most essential resource.

There is much that merged in the making of this installation: the interests of the ‘Finding Eanswythe’ team; the meeting of the two artists; and their shared responses to the ‘Finding Eanswythe’ project. The installation itself brought contemporary art and ancient architecture together.

Jesus connected water and the Spirit when he spoke of rivers of living water flowing out of the hearts of those who would believe in him. The writer of John’s Gospel says that he spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in him would receive. Water is essential for life carrying nutrients to all cells in our body and oxygen to our brain, allowing our bodies to absorb and assimilate minerals, vitamins, amino acids, glucose and other substances, and flushing out toxins and waste. Similarly, the Spirit flowing in and through us brings the life of Christ and cleanses us from sin.

We also need to recognise the work of the Spirit in confluence (the act of merging), coinherence (the coming together of things) and coincidence (the unexpected coming together of things in a providential way). Recognising and welcoming coincidences is a means of keeping 'in step with the Holy Spirit'. Scott Peck calls this the 'principle of synchronicity' and views it as an expression of God’s grace. In their song entitled ‘Synchronicity’, The Police describe this phenomenon as a connecting principle which is linked to the invisible. If we share this sense of synchronicity, then we are able to dream Spiritus mundi (Spirit of the world – a sense of the interconnection of all things).

The true miracles in life – the work of the Spirit – involve the coming together of people and ideas and images in ways that merge to form something more than the sum of their parts. The artist Makoto Fujimura likens a thriving culture to an estuary where salt and fresh water meet to form a complex, diverse, and challenging environment where everything works together for mutual flourishing. ‘Confluence’ was just such a coming together of waters.

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Caroline Bugby and Maureen JordanConfluence, 2019, installation, papier-mâché, chicken wire, brick, mirror, lights, earth, rope. Photographs by artist Caroline Bugby, http://carolinebugby.co.uk/  1. An uphill struggle - installation view; 2. View from Front - installation view; 3. La Piscina - installation view.

Caroline Bugby is a sculptor and installation artist who works and exhibits in both the USA and the UK and has public artwork on permanent display in New York and Vermont, USA. Currently she lives in England and has just finished a year-long residency at Tonbridge School in Kent, during which she researched the archaeology of the local area, joining a community archaeology team excavating an ancient Roman villa and drawing from this experience in her practice. She makes sculpture and installation art that renders the familiar strange and encourages contemplation of the richness of reality. http://carolinebugby.co.uk

Maureen Jordan is a Northern Irish artist now living in Kent, UK. Throughout her career she has worked with many artists in diverse contexts: touring theatre companies, university departments, in EU projects, as a director in the Arts Council of England and currently as a project manager for Folkestone Triennial 2020 in Kent. Since 2009 she has also been developing her own artistic practice, exhibiting and creating site-responsive installations using reclaimed materials and found objects. She likes to work in the ‘contested territory’ of our places and our histories – therein lies the gap between the stories we are told and what we actually experience. https://www.mvjordan.com

Jonathan Evens is Associate Vicar for HeartEdge at St Martin-in-the-Fields in London, UK. Through HeartEdge, a network of churches, he encourages congregations to engage with culture, compassion and commerce. He is co-author of ‘The Secret Chord,’ an impassioned study of the role of music in cultural life written through the prism of Christian belief. He writes regularly on the Arts for a range of publications and blogs at https://joninbetween.blogspot.com.

ArtWay Visual Meditation 4 October 2020