Chichester Cathedral: Pacheco's figures offer continuity

There will probably always be war; but there will probably always be hope '“ twin aspects of the human condition sculptor Ana Maria Pacheco captures in Shadows of the Wanderer, on show at Chichester Cathedral until November 14.

Wednesday, 27th July 2016, 9:35 am
Updated Friday, 8th June 2018, 1:57 am
Ana Maria Pacheco sculpture Shadows of the Wanderer installed at Chichester Cathedral. Picture date: Thursday July 14, 2016. Photograph by Christopher Ison ? 07544044177 [email protected] SUS-160715-162031003

The Cathedral’s entire North Transept is now inhabited by a powerful set of sculptures depicting a scene that resonates with some of our most pressing contemporary issues. Shadows of the Wanderer presents a complex scene of twelve figures, each of them larger than a human and carved out of a single lime tree. Ten of the figures stand in the shadows around a young man who is carrying an older man on his back. These two central figures have been symbolically carved out of the same piece of wood and draw from Virgil’s Aeneid. In Virgil’s ancient poem, dating from 29BC, a young man, Aeneas, carries his lame father on his back and flees from the burning ruins of Troy. Ana’s present-day depiction of the scene is sure to resonate powerfully with current debates about exile, migration, and the displacement of people who are trying to escape persecution. Hence a programme of supporting events including new People on the Move workshops developed with Amnesty International UK, specifically to explore the refugee experience.

As Ana explains: “The way I work is slightly different from the current mainstream. I like to refer to the past because I like continuity. But you can’t live in the past. It has gone. But you need to make a reference, and that transforms the present, and in this case, the particular subject I am referring to is war. War is a constant in the human condition because humans are very bellicose, and there is also the devastation of war, and I go back to this seminal image of war from the Aeneid. For humans, the destruction of your cities, of your homes is the most cruel thing because it means you have lost your place. And now we are talking about refugees so much. That is the continuity. That is why I was used this image of Aeneas carrying his own father.”

You could argue that it proves we don’t ever actually learn much from history: “But I would say it also has implications of love and hope and compassion. The parallel is that despite all that happens, the most extraordinary thing about human beings is that everything might be destroyed, but there is still the birth of hope. That is the ambivalence of the human condition…” Not that Ana would dream of telling us what to think of her work. Each of the figures in the installation has their own story to be interpreted – the older crippled man reaches out to the audience and looks forward, perhaps hoping for a new transformation. By contrast, the younger man concentrates on the heavy load he bears and the arduous ground before him. The towering figures in the shadows around the wanderer are clad in dark robes, their differing postures and expressions suggesting a range of profound emotional reactions; one might be showing anguish, but another, denial.

“I always feel that it is open to the onlooker to take whatever they feel is relevant to them. People come to see your works, but you have to remember that they bring great experience themselves. It would be an enormous arrogance if you try to tell them what to think. The onlooker should take whatever he or she wants, and I have just got to hope that my attempt is worthwhile…”

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