Art Review: Richard Woods’ Little House, Southwark Cathedral

The early Church gathered in the homes of members to share the meal at which Christ is received. Although first-century houses looked very different from the archetypal house drawn by Western children, Richard Woods’ 2D cartoon of a terraced house, built to scale (7.5 meters high) and spanning the large screen in Southwark Cathedral, recalls one of the domestic origins of the Eucharist and the buildings that often house its celebration.

The little house is the 11th in the series of annual art installations in Southwark Cathedral. Most have been during Lent, although more recent ones have not, due to the pandemic. Several of the early installations darkened the big screen, which to some extent ties in with the practice of veiling images during Lent. This installation temporarily completely covers the screen, which was last done from 1703 to 1830 when a Corinthian-style – then contemporary – altarpiece was in place.

Woods sees his tiny houses as disruptors of the architecture in which they stand, sparking a dialogue – in this case with the transcendental architecture of Southwark Cathedral. One uses the scale to transcend the everyday, while the other builds on the everyday. The house of God should ultimately be both/and. Woods also sees his tiny houses as energizers for the surrounding architecture, allowing the viewer to see the familiar through the contrast between the two. In this case, the stained glass window by Ninian Comper depicting Christ in Majesty is just above the roof of The little house, bless what it is and all it contains.

The artist gave us a blue house to connect with the deeper blue of Comper’s window, while the windows in the house are a solid gray, ensuring there is no competition with the window above, and emphasizing the difference between these dual conceptions of the house of God.

The playful temporary disruption this installation causes in the space allows for a rich biblical reflection on the house of God: as a memorial stone in Bethel, as a tabernacle in the desert, and as a Temple in Jerusalem. Psalm 23 promises that we will dwell in the house of the Lord and eat there; and Jesus describes heaven as a house with many rooms, one for each of his disciples.

The Dean of Southwark, the Most Reverend Andrew Nunn, gives us a blessing for this little house and prays that we will be drawn into this many-roomed house where we will dwell with God forever. This little house is therefore a temporary sign of what is to come.

youuntil August 31. cathedral.southwark.anglican.org