Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Pater Noster


I am often asked what is there to say about a chair made of plastic.

In the past I would probably have done what many people do, that is to ignore it, walk on by or take it for granted. My association with the Museum of Design in Plastics has changed all of that. I now look at the chair of plastics in a new light, it has become my friend and in a way my muse. I see a plastic chair everywhere and record its existence in image and verse, placing it centre stage in an inescapable relationship with all of us.

My latest contribution as student-writer-in-residence to MoDiP was conceived from a humble plastic chair observed with thousands of its comrades in a most extraordinary place. It is a place that is not normally recognised for its plastic chairs but other things entirely.

A trip to Rome is sure to be filled with art, architecture, history, pasta, coffee and colour. It assaults the senses and leaves its mark on most of those who travel from all over the world to visit its sites, ancient and new. It is also home to many plastic chairs, at the caf├ęs, bars, and restaurants where detached, imperious staff are eager to draw in the many visitors who have come to share Rome’s colourful way of life, for a few days, a week, perhaps. Many travellers are just passing through on the eponymous ‘European Tour’. I keep coming back because I have family there and a more than useful excuse to visit this eternal city.

The Vatican is at the heart of Rome and for many Catholics, it is seen as their spiritual home. The journey of Christianity has seen many a scene played out within its boundaries and in Rome itself. The presence of the Pontiff makes it a place of pilgrimage and brings with it all the trappings associated with a place of special religious interest.

Having been raised an Irish Catholic, I am very aware of its role in my life, having had its doctrine implanted firmly during my childhood and early adolescence. Regardless of my current lack of religious enthusiasm, I was, like many drawn to the weekly Papal audience in St Peter’s Square, a ‘must-do’ on the tourist list.

It was a square filled with upward of 30,000 human beings and thousands of grey chairs. The counterpoint of Bernini’s warm and glowing architecture was in marked relief against a swathe of grey plastic chairs set-out in row upon ordered row, all anticipating the arrival of thousands of visitors, some there for their immortal souls, some for the satisfaction of having been there, witnesses to something unique. 

'Anticipation' by Kate Hall 2014, St Peter's Square, Rome.
The chairs, whose maker I was unable to establish at the time were distinctly based on a British design by Robin Day. One of the most celebrated, pioneering modern designers, he transformed the face of furniture with his innovative designs and application of technology. This poem is in part an homage or reference to him and his contribution to art and design. He could well be the ‘Father’ in Pater Noster.

'Abandonment'. Image courtesy of Rose Marie Peake, 2014, St Peter's Square, Rome.
The Vatican chairs may be ‘copies’ but they seemed to represent or epitomize so many different aspects of the human story combining them in a visual metaphor.

With no real sense of what to expect, I was open to the experience and its impact on me. ‘Pater Noster’ is a poem that was an immediate creative response to this brief visit, but one, which would remain with me through its images and language.

I chose to play with the contrast elements of art and design, of materiality, colour, individuality and collectiveness, of religion, of good and bad. Though the creative process of making this poem, I found it touched me on a deeply personal level, tapping into my own personal story as well making connections with my work and in particular my research activities.

Pater Noster
(Our Father)

Who came to see these grey chairs?
A holy sea of grey in a golden glow.
Thousands on a pilgrim’s path,
following in the feet of thousands gone before.
Now casualties of zealous crowds who long to glimpse St Peter’s heir.
They will make their offering again, without question, Day after Day.
Collecting stories from the multitude of Babel’s Tower,
they continue to bear the weight of the hoards,
swelling the ranks of those who share the passion and the pain.

From on high the saints look on with nonchalant regard.
The grey against the golden glow, the flashing scarlet of the guards, a tiny white figure emerges to a roar of thousands in the square.
Contained and cheery chatter transforms into the cries of ecstasy and madness, as chairs are pushed and dragged and toppled against the human rush to reach the boundary and glimpse the simple man,
elevated to greatness by his peers, carrying the weight of a church on his small shoulders,
a church sitting at a crossroads.

Mothers reach towards the little man as he passes by.
Their babies thrust before him for his kiss, a blessed kiss.
Frightened, crying children thrown toward the cavalcade with little care for the precious bundle.
The chosen child is greatly blessed, its tears and fear ignored by an exalted parent.
Forgive our foolishness.

Who came to see these grey, unnoticed chairs?
Battered, bruised and weather-aged.
Honoured guests at lofty celebrations,
welcoming the new and bidding farewell at many passings.
Do they sit at the right hand of the Father?

Ordered and disordered.
Marking time, safe behind the Vatican line,
ignorant of a world beyond,
eyes closed to horror and betrayal,
keeping secrets through years of silence and duty.
Who came to see these grey chairs?
Will their Kingdom come?
Their sins be all forgiven?

Kate Hall (Student Writer in Residence)

Kate Hall is a Doctoral Student at the Arts University Bournemouth. She writes across a range of contexts and publishes her work online. She uses creative writing as her art practice and an anthology of creative writing will be part of her Doctoral output. With support links to the Museum of Design in Plastics, she will draw on objects from the collection to inform her work. The chair made of plastics will feature as the central object around which a literary narrative will be created alongside the critical component of the thesis.

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