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Peace Doves artist Peter Walker on his stunning Liverpool Cathedral work

As an exhibition space, Liverpool Cathedral takes some beating.

But artist Peter Walker has made something of a speciality of bringing large scale, though-provoking and visually arresting works to some of the UK’s most historic places of worship.

Peace Doves was due to be staged in the Well at the grade I listed sandstone landmark last spring to commemorate the 75th anniversary of VE Day, along with a complementary exhibition of the artist and sculptor’s fine art.

In fact, it was one of around dozen major cathedral commissions Walker was due to work on in 2020 which had been designated Year of Cathedrals and Pilgrimage – until Coronavirus took hold and the country was confined to home and hearth.

Walker, who is artist in residence at Lichfield Cathedral, explains: “I’m always keen to show fine artwork in settings where everyone can come, where it’s free to enter, where people can engage with it in perhaps a slightly more personal way, and perhaps even a more emotional way given the setting of Liverpool Cathedral.”

Peace Doves was first staged at Lichfield in 2018 when it was designed to commemorate the centenary of the end of the First World War. Just as in Liverpool, before the first lockdown that is, people were invited to write their thoughts or messages on a paper dove to add to the contemplative artwork.

Artist Peter Walker. Top: Peace Doves. Photo credit Gareth Jones/Liverpool Cathedral

It’s one of four Walker installations at the Midlands cathedral which have engaged with thousands of people – one of the most recent, The Image of Lightness, involved 42,000.

“A lot of artwork can be seen perhaps as exclusive, or it’s in areas where people might not be able to get to,” he says.

“I’m very keen that the wider public speaks freely and has subjectivity in the way that they approach artwork and that they can communicate about it and it becomes something that becomes part of daily life. That art is part of everyone’s daily life.

“So mass participation allows individuals who may never have been involved in art, who don’t like art at all, who don’t understand art or don’t think they understand art, to actually put their fingerprint on something that is fairly simple for them to create or participate in but actually when they see the result, that one small action that they’ve done actually is part of a result which tens of thousands of people will see and enjoy.”

Peace Doves. Photo credit Gareth Jones/Liverpool Cathedral

The Liverpool work, which sees 18,000 paper doves rising on ribbons in arcs towards the lofty ceiling of the Well, is accompanied by a soundscape specially created for the commission by composer David Harper.

“It creates a really beautiful space for people to go and contemplate, look up, see all these wishes of peace, but also see it as a beautiful installation in itself.”

Cathedrals have, in recent years, started to open up their internal spaces to more unusual uses – albeit with eyebrows raised and some concern about the suitability of some events or activities.

Liverpool Cathedral has led from the front – from hot air balloons to classical raves to Luke Jerram’s Moon and Gaia installations.

So perhaps the artist is already preaching to the converted when he says: “We try and make sure that everything we do has a direct relationship to the cathedrals in which we work.

Peace Doves in Liverpool Cathedral

“And I’m very passionate that there’s an opportunity for the art of our time to really embed itself into these buildings and to talk about the culture and the world that we live in now, but without using these places purely as museums or galleries.

“A building such as Liverpool Cathedral is a living, breathing space, and it’s one that is imbued with art – with stained glass windows, with paintings, with sculpture, with architecture, all of that art has been created.

“I think what happened for a long time was we treated these buildings as just historic spaces, as just tourist attractions, or as religious venues.

“But if we create artwork as it was intended when these buildings were started, if we use installation art and contemporary artwork which is the modern way of working, but if we do it in a way which is fitting to the building, its legacy, it history but also its future, then actually we start to create a new renaissance of art within these buildings that says something.”

Peace Doves is on show at Liverpool Cathedral until August 31. Book a timed entry ticket HERE


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