ADVENTurous is an open submission exhibition exploring the christmas narrative, which we're staging in 3 UK venues during advent this year : at Engedi in Colwyn Bay, Leftbank in Leeds and the Union Chapel in Islington, London.

The work exhibited at Union Chapel will also be part of the one-day ‘ADVENTurous' conference, hosted by Greenbelt Festival and partners.

On this blog we'll be posting regular updates about how plans for the Leftbank Leeds show are progressing, with information about the contributing artists, and possibly some previews of the work being created for the exhibition...

Friday, October 12, 2012

introducing... Ric Stott

Left Bank: Hi Ric, welcome to ADVENTurous... 
Can you tell us a bit about your job, because it sounds fantastic...

Ric Stott: Thank you, yes I guess it is fantastic, if a little ambiguous and frustrating at times (although I do enjoy the ambiguity). I work for the Methodist Church in Sheffield exploring new ways of being Church centred around the visual arts. This means exploring spirituality and community through inclusive art projects as well as working with artists to produce work that explores themes of life, meaning and spirit. 

We've just finished a major creative project called 'Soul of Sheffield' that drew in a rich variety of participants from across Sheffield that celebrated the stories and communities that make the city a vibrant and complicated living thing. We're hoping to build on the momentum from that project in a space we'vebeen given in the heart of the city centre.

I'm excited by what happens when creative people from all kinds backgrounds and with a variety of world views and beilefs get together to seek to make the world a better place. I hope that some kind of bright, unpredictable and creative prophetic community might emerge from all this - but nothing is guaranteed in this role, I just take one step at a time and am often surpirsed at where I end up!

LB: I like that idea of being 'prophetic' - in the broadest sense i think that's what artists are, or can be.
So that leads me to wondering what you think the role of an artist is; what is art for, and how that relates to your context in Sheffield? [is that too huge a question??!]

RS: It is a huge question but for me it gets right to the heart of what I'm trying to do here in Sheffield. I agree that all art at its best is prophetic - but that word needs unpacking a bit. The ancient prophets (in the Old Testament for example) were imagining new worlds - better ways of being and living and inviting people to participate in that. Not only were they challenging injustice but also provoking transformation in the deepest parts of communities and individuals (I would call this 'spirituality' but other words might be more helpful for some people).

It seems to me that art does the same thing. When we experience art we enter into a space that opens us up to new possibilities: new ways of seeing and experiencing the world. In that space there is huge potential for us to be transformed in our inner life, but also I think there is the potential for communities to be transformed by such experience. 

This is a risky business both for the artist who is exposing the deepest aspects of themsleves for people to engage with and for the viewer, as personal transformation is almost always accompanied by the acknowledgement of painful and uncomfortable truths. I think that's why prophets were pretty much universally unpopular in their time, and were certainly outsiders - speaking from the margins into power rather than the other way round. I have a feeling that artists often occupy that same place in the 21st century. 

LB: Can i pick up what you said about enjoying ambiguity? Working for the church whilst embracing ambiguity might seem a bit contradictory - religion often seems to be all about certainty and conviction, so i'm wondering how that sits with you?

RS: Religion at its worst is all about certainty and conviction. What religion at its best is doing is pointing to something beyond the frameworks of perception and experience that we take for granted. For me that religion is Christianity because I find Jesus such a compelling figure so I don't have much right to speak for other religions. But the contemplative Christian tradition that I'm finding myself more and more engaged with opens up a world beyond dry dogma and oppressive rules. It's a place of depth and ambiguity that can't be nailed down in words which is why I find visual art such a powerful way of exploring the experience. But it also takes me again to that risky place of transformation, to allow yourself to engage with the world in this way will inevitably lead to living in a different way.

LB: The strapline for this show is 'old stories new works' and we're hoping that our contributing artists will really grapple with the story of advent and [to quote the show's blurb] "bring a fresh perspective to the traditional and familiar narrative"... 

RS: When you go back to the real story that's accumulated so much kitsch over the centuries it really is startling. It's a bloody, dirty and difficult tale that touches on universal themes of human experience. I think that the culture of Christmas, and the church to a certain extent, has done its best to sanitise and domesticate a story that has a certain wildness and vividness to it. For me there is, once again, a beautiful ambiguity in the various narratives in the Bible that invite us to enter into and be transformed by the story.

LB: Can you tell us a little bit about your own art-making, what are you working on at the moment?

RS: I'm very fortunate at the moment as I've been given a 3 month sabbatical. I'm spedning most of this time in the studio painting, using the creative process as meditation and contemplation. The themes I'm exploring are emerging from my experience as a gay Christian. I'm so tired of all the negative things that we hear about in the media regarding the church's attitude to glbt people. Whilst its certainly true that the church has often treated us abominably and many people bear the scars from that (as do I) I'm conscious that that is far from the whole story. 

My understanding of my sexual identity came from a deepening of my faith rather than a rejection of it and so I'm making a series of works that engage with my experience of Christ from my persepctive as a gay man. As with the best creative adventures I'm not quite sure where it will all lead, but I'm finding the journey to be an exciting and surprising one at the moment.

LB: Lastly, want to plug anything that you've got coming up?

RS: The next steps for me are in my work in Sheffield involve beginning to have conversations about what a prophetic, creative community might look like. So if anyone is interested in engaging with that process and they live in the area then do get in touch. And if you're interested in the work I'm exploring for my sabbatical then drop me an email: or keep your eye on my blog as I will be posting some images and reflections on the experience from December.

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