‘The Journey’ by Christine McIver
Home is a big thing. If you’re lucky, like I’ve been, home is a place you care about, with people who care about you. Losing home must be like losing a part of your own body. Losing home because of the violent acts of others is something almost unthinkably painful, and yet this may be the least of the suffering which forms the stark reality of millions of people in the world today. It is not something I find easy to think about. It is not something I really want to think about. Perhaps “Mankind cannot bear too much reality” after all.
I think that an important role of the paintings in Christine McIver‘s exhibition “The Journey” is to bring the viewer to look again at images of migration, and to help us to think again about something that it might be easier to put out of mind.
The exhibition at the Dunblane Museum is quite small – only a dozen or so works in all, but several of these are unusually long images of a panoramic aspect ratio. Christine’s subject is migration. She shows us shadowy tides of humanity drifting by the perimeters of our world in the liminal light of the edge of day. These long journey-friezes, resembling lost scrolls rendered on archeologically fragile rice paper, are at first vaguenesses of crowds. But as the eye lingers on interesting textures, and shadows of movement, individual moments of story become visible, lagging children are gathered up, pained backs hunched inward, bone-weary people prop each other up. It’s necessary to work to visualise the details, and that requirement is part of the skill of these paintings. The eye wants to engage, and the mind needs-must follows, even if into territory that we might rather not consider.
There’s more than this at work here, and I hesitate a little before bringing up another driver that I think underlies the compassion and urge to convert empathy into action here. It is something unfashionable, and something that I think the artist might hesitate to discuss directly…
open rant [
Let me be upfront about how I feel about faith. Although I’m an avowed atheist (I have been reliably told it’s a pity I’ll be going to Hell before now), I’m not a Richard-Dawkins-hang-’em-high kind of an atheist. I do have major concerns about what religious belief can do to people when it goes awry – and, Jings! it often does. Faith aggravated conflict seems itself be a significant contributing factor to the causes of so much contemporary migration. However, that doesn’t mean that I have no respect for the beliefs of the many people of faith who I know to be remarkable, generous, and plain-honest-to-goodness sound individuals.
] rant ends. Apologies!
Having said all of which, I feel that faith is very present in this work. The titles of some of the works like ‘Exodus’ and ‘To the river’ point the way to biblical references, and the show has a strong feel of the drive of Witness about it. My point is that these works – which are neither derivative nor preachy – are empowered by this drive. We do tend to fall back on biblical metaphors when presented with a sufficiently catastrophic mass of human suffering. But I do not think this is what is happening here. Rather it seems to me that faith, perhaps metaphorically informed by biblical narratives, is a core part of the artist’s psyche. It would have been disingenuous not to allow this to be present into these paintings.
Across open fields (scroll to view)
This provoking show was two years in the making. It has already sold well, and this forms part of the artist’s intention to generate action as well as empathy, as proceeds are being passed on to refugee charities.
The images shown here are frustratingly small – I think it is important to meet these paintings face-to-face. When I did I felt engaged, and compelled to think and question in several uncomfortable directions at once. Where next? I am not sure.
The Journey by Christine McIver is at the Dunblane Museum until May 29th 2017, admission is free.