Installation | 08-11-2021

Coventry Cathedral’s Broken Angel art project

The ‘Broken Angel’ art project at Coventry Cathedral invites artists to create new art in response to damage to one of John Hutton’s West Screen etched angels. Glass artist Anne Petters is the first designer to show her new work in the space. Here she explains her inspiration and the development of her installation artworks.

In December 2020 the independent curator Michael Tooby invited me to develop work for the new ‘Broken Angel’ project at Coventry Cathedral.

The Broken Angel project was set up in response to the violent destruction of the ‘Angel of the Eternal Gospel‘ window at the Cathedral, during a break-in in January 2020. This window was one of the remarkable engraved angels and saints in the Cathedral’s West Screen, which was designed by renowned glass artist John Hutton.

The Cathedral’s decision not to replace the panel, but to make room for new conversation and contemporary artists, follows its ethos of finding hope in the new. This resonates its fundamental belief in forgiveness. The people who destroyed the screen have never been found.

The previous Coventry Cathedral building was destroyed by German incendiary bombs during the Second World War in 1940. At this time, the decision was taken to build a new cathedral and preserve the remains of the old one as a reminder of the waste of war. Several up-and-coming artists were involved in designing different artworks for the new Cathedral, which was opened in 1962.

The West Screen’s original engravings were created over the period of a decade by John Hutton, who invented an entirely new glass-engraving technique in the process. Commissioned by the Cathedral’s architect, Sir Basil Spence, the panels were set in the 21.5m x 18.85m screen according to a design by structural engineer, Ove Arup. The work’s importance to Hutton is shown by the fact that, when he died in 1978, he requested that his ashes be buried at the foot of the window, beneath the ‘Angel of the Eternal Gospel’.

West Screen at Coventry Cathedral.
The West Screen features etched saints and angels. photo courtesy Coventry Cathedral.

The West Screen is one of the many masterpieces created for the new Cathedral, which include works by John Piper, Graham Sutherland, Jacob Esptein, Lawrence Lee, Geoffrey Clark and Hans Coper. The Cathedral will celebrate the 60th anniversary of its consecration in January 2022.

I remember standing in front of the cathedral’s West Screen for the first time in 2016, overwhelmed by Hutton’s unique and dynamic way of cutting into glass. Having worked with glass for 15 years at the time, my emotional reaction was quite intense. I could hear the sound of grinding into glass and sense the physical effort that would go into an artwork like this. For me, the massive West Screen is not only overwhelming in its beauty, but it also feels dangerous, almost threatening, and fragile at the same time – an attribute always inherent in the material glass. It is beautiful and fragile, and it can cut you deeply when it breaks.

When we met to discuss my work, Coventry Cathedral’s Dean, John Witcombe, mentioned the sound the panel had made when it smashed, resonating in the big, quiet space of the cathedral.

I am originally from Dresden, which is coincidental and not the reason why Michael Tooby asked me to work on this piece. However, this fact pulls me into the project even more emotionally, with a deep connection to the cathedral’s history and the relationship between Coventry and Dresden as twin cities that were devastated during World War II.

The new Coventry Cathedral, St Michael’s, symbolises a new beginning, hope and reconciliation. It embraces the new, but always with a reflection and cherishing of the old, just as the remains of the old cathedral reflect on John Hutton’s West Screen, where one sees oneself between the two.

Coventry Cathedral West Screen
The view through the West Screen from within the new cathedral. Beyond you can see the remains of the previous cathedral, which was bombed during the Second World War. The West Screen forms a link between the two. Coventry is twinned with Kiel in Germany and the candle holder in the foreground was a gift from that city. Photo courtesy of Coventry Cathedral.

I made two works for this exhibition, which opened on 6 November 2021: ‘Lichtung – Break‘ and ‘Lichtung – White Drift’.

Glass Shard by Anne Petters
Anne Petters created detailed wings from glass shards for the project. Photo: Anne Petters.

‘Lichtung – Break’ is a projection installation, which responds directly to the destruction of the glass and the cathedral’s idea of hope and reconciliation. It follows the concept of my previous works, like ‘Reflection on Reflection’, ‘Lunula’ and ‘(1ALL)’, where I used real-time projection.

The projection 1ALL
In the projection piece ‘(1ALL)’ dust appears as shooting stars. Photo: Anne Petters.

Each projection features a beautiful, cosmic phenomenon that is based on something small and seemingly insignificant, but which resembles a memory or moment of beauty we can all relate to. In ‘(1All)’ this is dust appearing as shooting stars, in ‘Lunula’ it is a fingernail becoming the moon and, in ‘Reflection on Reflection’, a small piece of gilded glass turns into a golden sunset.

‘Reflection on Reflection’ projection installation. Photo: Anne Petters.

This body of work is a metaphor for unity and the importance of the overlooked in a universal context, plus appreciation for all existing things and beings. I aim to offer a new perspective on familiar things to create curiosity, awareness and appreciation.

The interactive aspect of these installations is also important to me. Merely by being in the space, visitors become part of the work through the sensitivity to changing light, flying dust, air draft, and movement in space.

Anne Petters setting up her installation at Coventry Cathedral.

I have always been touched by the simple beauty and meaningfulness of broken glass, and use it often in my work.

For the Coventry installation I have staged a broken piece of window glass by magnifying it and projecting it on to the screen where the Angel used to be. This piece is sensitive to light. The image appears and disappears over time, depending on the brightness in this open space.

Anne Petters test sandblast.
A test sandblast of the wing for the projection. Photo: Anne Petters.

I am creating another layer of reflection on the screen and filling the void with new light.

The second work in the exhibition, ‘Lichtung – White Drift’, responds to the book that the Angel of the Eternal Gospel was holding. It follows the themes of previous works that speak about spiritual fleetingness and the desire to freeze moments in time.

‘Lichtung – Break’ and ‘Lichtung – White Drift’ are showing until 1 February 2022. Then my work will be replaced by work by the next commissioned artist in the ‘Broken Angel’ project.

It is a big honour and joy for me to work on such an important project and I would like to thank Dean John Witcombe for his engagement and passion, and curator Michael Tooby for inviting me, and for being such a backbone and inspiration. A big thank you, also, to the tireless team at Coventry Cathedral.

About the artist
Anne Petters is a multimedia artist with a background in glass art and design. In 2009 she received a Diploma in Fine Arts/Glass at the Institute of Ceramic and Glass Art in Germany and in 2011 the Master of Fine Arts in Sculpture/Dimensional Studies at Alfred University, New York.

Her work is exhibited in glass museums and art institutions in Europe and the USA. She has developed a specific glass kiln forming technique and teaches internationally.

Find out more on her website.

More information on the exhibition:
‘Broken Angel’ is a sequence of new, site-specific works temporarily replacing the ‘Angel of the Eternal Gospel’ window at Coventry Cathedral. Check out dates and times when you can view Anne Petters’ artworks, ‘Lichtung – Break’ and ‘Lichtung – White Drift’, on the Cathedral’s website.

Address: Coventry Cathedral, 1 Hill Top, Coventry CV1 5AB, UK.

Main feature image: ‘Lichtung – Break’ features a projection of delicate glass wings. Photo: Anne Petters.

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