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PASSION (2010 Exhibition)

Art and religion combine with beguiling effect in Andrew Rafferty's current exhibition in the Crypt of St Pancras Church.


The Crypt of St Pancras Parish Church is a remarkable place. Cold and damp and dark, it's a maze of corridors, alcoves, old family vaults, broken masonry and hazardous flooring. It's a venue that demands to be exploited, but with a sense of reverence (or at least relevance). Andrew Rafferty's current solo show, Passion, is a perfect match – art and space in a reciprocally beneficial discussion.


Split into fourteen narrative sections, The Passion tells the story of Jesus' last days and hours – from the machinations of the plotters to the crucifixion and resurrection. Making intelligent use of the Crypt, the exhibition takes one on a real journey, one filled with questions and echoes of questions. First up: Conspiracy, a corridor of sixteen close-up photographs. One is surrounded on both sides by ears, eyes and toothy whisperings, the echoing voices of other visitors somehow implicating one in these secret plottings.


From here one enters a large open room, in which a table is laid with an aerial montage of the Last Supper. The apostles sit around a white disc of table. All are out of shot and all you can see is twelve pairs of hands gesticulating – arguing, pleading, blaming. Judas, in the top right corner, is simply a single hand in blurred withdrawal. It's a striking image: innovative, clever and thought-provoking.


In a little alcove comes Agony. Like an inverse ultrasound, a Gollum-esque Rafferty represents Jesus' pain in prayer. By using a slow exposure, Rafferty adroitly captures a writhing, twisted, tortured individual. Is Jesus clutching his side here, prophetically anticipating the soldier's spear wound? We can't be sure.


There's then an image of Judas kissing Christ, their faces merged together as one, a cruciform Judas signifying Remorse, a hypnotic video piece of a slow drop of water (an oblique reference to Cowardice) and an effective evocation of Mockery. There's something very anti-iconic about this image: no idealised Jesus this, but – as in every work in the show – the role is played by Rafferty himself, in all his normality.


Two further works extend this desire to play with ideas of the icon: specifically, the Turin Shroud, which, Rafferty points out, has never been officially endorsed or rejected by the Catholic Church. Pain is reminiscent of the Shroud, but with Christ's serenity replaced by open-mouthed anguish. The final piece in the exhibition, Hope, consists of a troublingly open-ended video version of the Shroud, with muslin draped across the Crypt's broken bits of masonry.


The crucifixion – obviously the most prominent of Christian icons – is here a video triptych. The central panel focuses on the chest of Christ/Rafferty. An infra-red lens exposes the body's veins, whilst slow, laboured breathing resounds around the whole crypt to create an underlying feeling of inevitability. 


This is a remarkable exhibition, and demonstrates how far Rafferty's project has come since I last saw some of the work back in 2008. It's less neat, more experimental. Light boxes, videos, innovative installation pieces: all represent a development in the artist's oeuvre. In a way it's less assured, but probably the more engrossing for that. One feels that the artist, like the subject here – and indeed the viewer – is undertaking a journey, one that may nominally end in hope, but is far more ambiguous and comfortless than that single, loaded word. The destination will always be uncertain.


© Tom Jeffreys


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