Thursday, 19 August 2021

Science in the Cathedral

 Lichfield cathedral, with its perfect setting, its three spires, its magnificent west front and its gracefully beautiful interior, has already established itself as one of my favourite English cathedrals. However, it seems to be having a bit of a funny turn just now, filling its lofty and numinous interior with 'immersive light and sound installations' telling 'a history of science as never seen before'. The Great Exhibition: Science is an artistic collaboration described as 'a stunning light and sound show inspired [by] the evolution of science. This unforgettable multi-sensory experience transports visitors through elements, molecules, DNA, as we contemplate [the] world around us.' Happily, this extravaganza is limited to the evening, so the visitor is free to wander around the cathedral in daytime. However, even then there is ample evidence of this celebration of science, in the shape of a loud, intrusive and chaotic 'contemporary installation artwork' called The Laboratory, which occupies much of the south transept, and icons of various 'pioneering scientists you may never have heard of' (including, bizarrely, the nurse and businesswoman Mary Seacole). I rather doubt if the Science Museum is planning to return the compliment with an immersive light and sound show celebrating the wonders of Christianity...
  It's a shame that Lichfield, or any cathedral, should be using light and sound for a spectacular glorifying science, when they can be put to so much better use bringing the building itself to life, returning it to its original polychrome splendour or simply playing with the chromatic possibilities of the façade, as I have seen done with many great French churches. Amiens cathedral, I remember, did it particularly well. 
  Never mind, The Great Exhibition: Science will be gone by the end of the month, and the cathedral – and, one hopes, its purposes – will endure. 

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