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Hope is in the air

Philip Halcrow visits Salisbury Cathedral to see how art is playing a part in the city’s recovery after a poisoning put it at the centre of the news 

The dove becomes the sign of new life

EVEN before the artist had finished installing his paper doves in Salisbury Cathedral, the idea was taking off.

Wherever he takes his installation, Les Colombes, German artist Michael Pendry encourages members of the public to fold their own origami doves, which he then includes in future installations. But in response to the recent poisoning in the city, the cathedral and the wider community are going further and are arranging for doves to be displayed in businesses, schools, shops and homes.

The installation in the nave of Salisbury Cathedral is scheduled to open to the public today (Saturday 12 May), but just over a week ago, while Michael and a team of helpers were putting up a net from which he would hang the doves, people from the cathedral and the general public were already joining the artistic process. Sitting at tables, they followed instructions on how to turn white sheets of paper into birds in flight.

Carmen arrived at a table after reading about the project on a Facebook group. Katy dropped by after seeing a poster outside the cathedral.

Michael explains that ‘the installation is travelling the world. Most of the doves here have already been hung in Munich or Jerusalem or London. They were made by people from the cities we have visited, from all religions and all social backgrounds.’

The artist traces his installation back to when he was creating a work for the Church of the Holy Spirit in Munich. He decided to add more doves to the ones he saw in the art works around the church.

Canon Treasurer Dr Robert Titley, chair of the cathedral’s art advisory committee, sees the biblical symbolism of the dove as being ‘full of potential in that it’s associated with the coming of the Holy Spirit’ as well as appearing in the story of Noah, where ‘it’s the dove returning to the ark with the twig in its mouth that becomes the sign of recovery and new life’.

The plan to bring Michael’s doves to the cathedral had been under way for months.

‘But,’ says Robert, ‘it has taken on a whole new significance for us in the city.’

In March, Sergei and Yulia Skripal were found severely ill in the city having been poisoned by a toxic chemical. A police officer who attended the scene was also taken to hospital.

‘In Salisbury itself there was initially confusion,’ says Robert, ‘because no one knew exactly what had happened. Then there was anger that such a deed should be perpetrated.

‘After that, there was a sense of resilience. The amount of the city that is cordoned off is tiny, so most people’s lives have carried on as normal. Where people have had to adapt, they have done so quickly, although the businesses that have had to close have been in people’s minds.

‘Then there has been frustration because Salisbury is a place whose economy depends on visitors, but an unnecessary anxiety has meant that fewer people have been coming here.’

While neither the artist nor the cathedral want to prescribe precisely how people should interpret the work of art, Robert and others saw that the symbolism of the dove may be particularly appreciated in the city now.

He points out that, as a symbol of the Holy Spirit, it is connected with ‘love, joy, peace’, which the Spirit gives.

‘But the dove in the Noah story is absolutely right for us. When the dove returns to the ark, it’s a sign that the waters are receding, life is returning. That can be true for this place. The flourishing of human lives matters to God.’

As well as creating doves for Michael’s installation, the cathedral has teamed up with local amenities and businesses to launch the City of Doves project. Shops, schools, community groups and other establishments – including HMP Erlestoke – have been making paper doves that will be displayed around Salisbury.

‘As soon as the attack happened, we started a series of meetings among cathedral staff about how to respond,’ says Robert. ‘We thought that the doves concept was a gift.’

The cathedral took the idea to other members of the community and they jumped at it.

Michael was happy to see his concept spread its wings.

‘I am not anxious about people picking up an idea and adapting it. I like to co-operate with people and see where we get to.’

He believes Les Colombes has a relevance in Salisbury and farther afield.

‘Everyone’s talking about crises and wars all over the world. Wherever I go with the work, something has happened before or while we’re installing it. Last year, when we were in London, there were the stabbings at Borough Market. A year before, when we were in Jerusalem, there were attacks. Our need for a symbol of peace is more evident than ever before. My perception as an artist is that togetherness is something we have to stand up for.’

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