Walking into the Methodist Central Hall in Westminster, I expected the third Station of the Cross to match the baroque style of the hall. What I found, from the restrained, humble aesthetic of the wood-panneled chapel, to the sculpture by James Balmforth, was an unexpected departure from the grand entrance to the space. Facing the Bible, open to Matthew 27:11, in which Jesus appears before Pilate, is Balmforth’s Intersection Point (2015). For Lent, the artist has replaced the chapel’s traditional wooden cross with two white construction beams that form an ‘X’. The adjusted crucifixion creates a different atmosphere and gives the religious icon a contemporary feeling. Instantly, I found myself asking: why Methodist Central Hall? Why this choice of angle? And why steel beams?
The seeming simplicity of the sculpture in fact generates complexity. Rotated on its side, this Crucifix brings to mind the image of Jesus carrying the cross. Looking closely at the singed edges of the beams, however, Intersection Point speaks to the collective, intersecting struggles of today. Immediately, I recalled devastating stories from recent headlines, from the destruction in Syria and South Sudan to attacks in Turkey and the Ivory Coast. And yet, the art also conjured a sense of hope.
Originally a much larger structure, the artist cut the beams with high intensity heat, producing the burn marks at the ends. For Balmforth, “in engineering terminology an intersection point is an element in a structure that takes the strain of those parts it supports and joins; converging forces, conducting weight and absorbing stresses. An intersection point is essential in that it is crucial to stability. The sculpture Intersection Point shows precisely this structural element but cut away - severed free - from the larger framework it supports." While the artist does not reference religion in his original conception of the piece, in the context of the chapel and this exhibition, his reflections take on a theological dimension. Perhaps the cross bears the weight and absorbs the stresses of the world. Maybe the steel, even in its severed state, conveys the solidarity of people overcoming moments of crisis. The two separate beams, reminiscent of scraps found in the wreckage of a building, crossing to form a single piece, show the strength of unity and the possibility of redemption.
Leaving the Methodist Central Hall to make my way towards Station 4, the city already seemed different. Balmforth’s simple work fosters lingering thoughts of both the heavy weight born by Jesus, and wreckage that often fills our world. He leaves open the question whether the first might help provide relief in the face of the latter.
“Sculptures don't have to have definitive meanings” says Balmforth, “but should make use of their associative and interpretive potential in order to lend themselves to different purposes and be open to new contexts. “ When seeing Intersection Point in the Hall, visitors have the space and time to find their own connections to new purposes and contexts. This symbolic act of crossing illustrates the intersection of religion with modern life. Here in the centre of London, joining the traditional heritage of Central Hall with evocations of contemporary devastation, the artwork becomes an intersection point for both trauma and hope.