Edinburgh’s City Art Centre is the stage for Precious Light, an epic firework display of fine art by the internationally renowned Scottish artist, David Mach. He and a group of artists joined forces to create this exhibition which celebrates the birth of the King James Bible, first published 400 years ago. ‘Precious Light’ explores biblical stories in relation to the present day and the worldwide legacy of the first English translation through sculpture, collage and words. David Mach actually has no faith in either God or Christ and did not read the Bible at all before starting this large-scale project; what he is enthralled by is the Bible’s topics, and the exceptional depth of its influence on our culture.
Installed at the entrance is his towering Golgotha, wrought out of thousands of standard coat-hangers, each figure bound to a broken cross. The bodies of Christ and the robbers are entirely pierced with scores of cruel antennae, their features contorted with agony. Mach’s decision to use metal coat-hangers for these sculptures is ingenious because they express not only the unbearable pain of crucifixion but also how Christ is, theologically, like a plethora of hangers carrying the sins of the world. Like radio antennae, the sharp rods in their bodies are sending out signals not only to their audience but also represent how the story of Christ’s death was diffused throughout the world. As well as sculptures like these, Mach also produced coloured match-head figures of Jesus and the Devil which he will set alight at shows in the city.
His collages, cinematic in size, blend images sourced from comic books, newspapers, magazines and other media to build pictures in which popular culture is coalesced with biblical subjects. Each opus locates its story in a different present-day city to bring the Bible into play with the places it has reached; thus Daniel in the Lion’s Den has Seattle as its backdrop, The Plague of Frogs occurs in Belfast, in the series of Heavens and Hells we are transported to Istanbul, Tokyo, Paris, Athens… even a dystopian version of Disneyland. Mach’s action-packed collages are like snapshots, paused news footage or DVDs – we fancy pressing play would set all that frozen chaos back to life. We witness at a safe distance the earthquakes, wars, corruption and debauchery throughout this exhibition in the way that we do when we open a paper, go online or switch on the TV. Indeed, Mach states that this project was ‘not just about celebrating four hundred years of the King James Bible, but about a presentation of the very nature of the world we now live in’.
Biblical passages line the walls of a further floor, where there is also a display of early editions and an audiovisual exploration of the countless phrases and words from the King James Bible that have entered contemporary language. The third floor is David Mach’s studio, where people can watch his group of artists working on a huge decoupage piece depicting the Last Supper, which will be unveiled on September 21st.
David Mach’s fantasy and Hogarthian eye for social detail forcefully brings the Bible to life. This exhibition shows us that the stories of the Bible are not distant, but the bedrock of our culture, a fund of powerful archtypes with which we identify our own world. If you have any spare time during Freshers’ Week, I strongly recommend seeing Precious Light.
Image credit – City of Edinburgh Council