How a film sparked debate
An art project seeks to unite faith groups using sparklers — and God’s name. By DanaGloger
THERE ARE STRICT rules in Judaism which govern how and where the Hebrew name of God can be written. Now, two non-Jewish artists have created a work that challenges those rules while encouraging understanding between different faiths.
Nick Crowe and Ian Rawlinson have made a film called The Name of God, in which Jews, Christians and Muslims write their respective religion’s version of God’s name.
But they do it using sparklers, waved in the air, so that the “word” vanishes almost immediately.
Forty-two-year-old Rawlinson, whose work has been exhibited in galleries throughout Britain, explains: “Because, by using a sparkler, the writing vanishes and doesn’t endure, it was OK to write the word.”
The two artists were commissioned by the Foundation for Arts and Creative Technology (FACT) in Liverpool to create three new video works, of which The Name of God is one. “We had long been preoccupied with aspects of faith and with the image of fire as a metaphorical tool,” says Rawlinson. “The two aspects have been quite prominent in our recentworks,andtheideabehindthisfilm was to explain faith and to use light as a metaphor for that.”
The artists, who have been working together for 14 years, contacted Liverpool’s Princes Road Synagogue, the Liverpool Arabic Centre and the Somewhere Else Methodist Church to find 10 participants for the project. The film was made at the FACT gallery in the city.
According to Rawlinson, the film serves as a metaphor for faith requiring continual renewal and affirmation by the believer.
“You have to keep writing to see the letters at all,” he explains. “And this represents the idea that faith needs to be continually renewed and involves effort.”
But he admits that he and Nick Crowe, who works in a range of media, had not planned for the work to have this meaning.
“We were just interested in exploring faith using fire and the metaphor evolved from the work but was not necessarily what we set out to do,” says Rawlinson. He adds that not every viewer will take the same mean- ing from the film, and that there may also be other interpretations. “With all art, people come away with different ideas and meanings. We don’t want to tell the viewer what to think,” he says.
The film also serves an interfaith purpose by including people from three religions. But Rawlinson says that there was an assumption before the project was filmed that there would be religious tensions. “When we spoke to outside people about this project, there was often a very immediate assumption that the Jewish and Muslim people involved would be at each other’s throats in the filming room.
“We were very surprised by that attitude as that did not happen at all. It was actually a very relaxed atmosphere and everyone got on very well.”
All the Jewish participants in the film are members of the Princes Road Synagogue. Rawlinson and Crowe met the synagogue’s senior minister, Rabbi Zvi Solomons, and he spoke to his congregants about the project.
“It seemed like an interesting idea,” says Rabbi Solomons. “The three religions all have in common the reverence of God’s name, although we all call God by different names.”
The rabbi, who is himself featured in the film, says that he wrote God’s name in several different ways, in both Hebrew and English. “The work is about the temporary nature of the human imprint in this world and encourages people to think about their relationship with God,” he explains. “It also brought people of different religions together, as well as people from my own congregation who wouldn’t normally be together, so it was very good to be involved in that kind of project.” The Name of God is showing at FACT’s Liverpool gallery until January 13. For tickets, call 0151 707 4450
Artists Nick Crowe ( left) and Ian Rawlinson
In The Name of God, Jews, Christians and Muslim write their religion’s holiest words… with sparklers