Reflection on Sanctuary

As the 2017-18 Cascadia Artist Residency came to a close, Bethany Arts (Elder Sarah Sawers and Director of Worship Ministries Kyle Turver) talked with Artist in Residence Colleen RJC Bratton about the experience.

Photo: Rafael Soldi

Bethany Arts: What was a positive / memorable moment from the residency and what was a difficulty you faced?

Colleen Bratton: To have both of my communities (arts & faith) come together was monumental. I had convinced myself that they couldn’t do so peacefully and so I usually kept the two very separate from one another. I was wrong. My vulnerability and honesty during the artist reception allowed for a respectful and healing conversation to take place. Friends & colleagues asked their own questions about the intersection of the arts & faiths. The difficulty with this residency was for me, finding the courage to be the facilitator of those conversations. I had to let down a lot of walls and allow the Holy Spirit to guide me in those moments. It can be very emotionally taxing to open myself up in that way.

The theme was sanctuary: speak more to what that word means to you. If you had to fill out the card, “What is Sanctuary?” – what would you say?

For me, sanctuary means a place where one can be themselves free of judgment or condemnation and to be surrounded by love that is unconditional. Where one’s best self is given the time and resources to flourish. It is something we all deeply desire and something I desperately desire for those that I love.

How do you see this work speaking to people outside the church and outside of Bethany?

This installation has spoken so loudly. It has been incredibly valuable for those in my life to witness a church that has given so graciously and unconditionally. To see a successful exchange between an artist and a church is so rare. Also, using abstraction and color has created a neutral bridge for people to meet on and discuss their own ideas.
This is the first time in a long time that many of the attendees of the artist reception had been inside the church building. We talked about how important quiet spaces for contemplation are to a community and how they desire to have more spaces like it.

Can you speak to the general theme of your artwork? How does Sanctuary relate and how is it different?

The general theme of my artwork is self and space. Within those concepts I’m interested in harmony/disharmony, the interaction of strangers, adaptation, and the visual and textural psychology found within those moments. I implement both abstraction and symbolism within my work because color, shape and texture provide easy access points for people to understand the work that I’m making.
Sanctuary fits in perfectly with my practice. It implements both the self (congregants/church body) and space (the physical space of Bethany). It inhabited a space with so much history and energy and propelled conversations in the hope that that community would become stronger and more transparent. One of my favorite parts about making work is involving other people into the creation of the work, and the survey taken this past winter did exactly that. It expanded the work far beyond my own conceptions.

What physically did this installation entail? What emotionally?

To create work this large is physically difficult. It takes an incredible amount of time, energy & materials to execute. With over 100 yards of fabric, over 40 sculptural elements, and approximately 50 hours of tracing congregants’ handwriting onto the fabric, this installation was a grand feat. I worked on this installation full-time for almost three months. Casting resin shapes is a very toxic process. In order to get them smooth and shiny one must sand them for hours. It took a team of eight people eight hours to install the work.
What this show took from me physically, it gave back to me emotionally tenfold. To have so many people fill out forms and to be contrite in their answers was such a blessing. It was also so lovely to receive the support of Bethany for this project, and to feel like I was fulfilling a need in its community. I developed deep friendships with Sarah Sawers and Kyle Turver and they’ve helped me countless times in navigating my own troubles and victories the past year.
It was difficult to talk about Sanctuary with Bethany as I went through turmoil at my own church in Capitol Hill. But Bethany’s example of love has given me hope for the future.

What is your experience in the art world as a artist of faith?

My experience in the world as an artist of faith has been one of vulnerability. I’ve held onto a lot of fear when it comes to sharing my faith with non-Christians. Recently, I’ve found that being honest and forthright with those I love about my faith has shattered those fears and has allowed my trust in God to grow. There have been times in my past where I was mocked for my beliefs, but as of now those are in the past and currently I feel very supported by both of my communities in both of my practices (arts & faith).

Featured Photo: Rafael Soldi

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