Throwstar, an arts movement in Birmingham England, is intent upon worshipping God through creative means, and serving and loving people who are involved in all forms of art. Relevant Magazine’s Keith Giles spoke with Danielle and Joel Wilson of this UK Arts Movement about the power of art, asking the right questions and why being “new” isn’t necessarily a good thing.
According to their own online manifesto, Throwstar (http://www.throwstar.com/), is all about expressing creativity and faith, not only by demonstrating worship to God through art, but also by telling others their own stories about Jesus. “We function mainly as a Christian arts charity,” says Danielle, “putting on events and activities and spending time serving, challenging, encouraging and collaborating with local artists and musicians.”
For example, this year the people at Throwstar put together a book club with half a dozen local secular creatives. “The book is John’s gospel,” says Joel. “ As well as getting these folk to chew over Jesus’ words and actions, we’re also looking at the author’s unique writing style, his literary devices and the narrative.”
Another example of how the folks at Throwstar are reaching their culture for Christ is found in their Thanksgiving Dinner held in November, which you might agree is an unusual occurrence in the UK. “During the meal everyone is asked to say one thing that they are thankful for,” says Joel, “our secular friends are struck by the profundity of this ritual and genuinely delve deep for their answers.”
As well as helping their secular collaborators grapple with the possibility that all art and music have their roots in honouring the great Artist, Throwstar also helps Christian creatives find their voice. “We aim to make them aware that there is another way to live out our faith and it involves chauffeuring people to gigs, discussing installation art, inviting touring musicians over for a meal, sharing our burdens and doubts with both our Christian and secular friends informally and through our art, and telling our personal stories of Jesus. These things don’t rely on church-endorsed out-reach initiatives. In fact, these very activities are church,” says Joel.
Perhaps one of the most successful and ambitious efforts produced by Throwstar, was something called The Wrong Exhibition. Danielle explains. “We wanted to run a project that would adequately value and honour the artwork of young artists, challenge people to consider their position on absolute morality, and demonstrate to the art and educational communities here that Christians care about the whole person and can put on events of high professional quality and excellence,” she says. “We challenged young artists from 11 Birmingham secondary schools to answer the question ‘What is wrong with the world?’ through a piece of fine art. Over the course of the academic year, we taught lessons on art and morality in the schools and facilitated art and graffiti workshops. Then we coordinated several preliminary exhibitions where hundreds of pieces by the young artists were put on display. The strongest of these pieces were chosen to be hung in the prestigious Custard Factory Gallery this past May alongside contributions from a dozen professional artists, including New York artist Makoto Fujimura and Northern Irish artist Ross Wilson.”
The fruit of their efforts can be seen at the online version http://www.thewrongexhibition.com/
“It was amazing to involve artists of such prestige, like Makoto Fujimura,” says Danielle. Fujimura, a well-respected artist started the International Artists Movement, which is affiliated with Throwstar’s parent organisation. In addition to contributing an installation piece called ‘The Fire and The Rose are One’ (connecting the two Ground Zeros – Hiroshima and NYC), Makoto was also able to attend in person for the first few days of the exhibition in order to judge the young artist’s contributions and to speak at the opening night ceremony. Fujimura also took time to teach a few seminars discussing the history of Japanese art and the impact of 9-11 on his view of ‘wrongness’. Fujimura even worked with Birmingham experimental music group, Iacon, on a live art/music collaboration piece about bad news. “It was fascinating to watch him create a piece of art live in response to music,” says Danielle. “I think this was a new experience for him which he enjoyed as much as we did.”
The most powerful thing about The Wrong Exhibit was that not one of those artists who contributed, felt a need to challenge the concept of evil in the world. “At the gallery itself, there was an opportunity to feed back and none of the attendees challenged this concept either. This surprised us. It seems that, at least in the UK, when push comes to shove, for most people, there is no question that humans have a concrete morality,” says Danielle.
While all of this seems exciting and new for most Christians, Danielle and Joel have a different perspective. “Sometimes I think that because we are orthodox in our theology and lifestyle that it can seem like we are doing something different. We’re not. We simply want to strip things down to basics and, in our own lives, put an emphasis on what Christian community, or church, is always supposed to have been about: loving and helping people, prayer, eating together, challenging each other with Scripture, and telling people our own stories of Jesus. I don’t think we want to pursue the ‘new’ and radical as much as we want to embrace the old and radical forms of Christianity,” Danielle says. “Today, I think we discount the wisdom of those who have gone before us simply because it is ‘old’. But age isn’t necessarily an indicator of relevancy. Personally, I think that St. John of the Cross has more wisdom to impart about suffering in ‘Dark Night of The Soul’ than some contemporary writers who seem to water down wisdom with 21
Joel agrees, adding that, “Many Christians either consciously or subconsciously compartmentalise their lives. Church, social life, intellectual discussion, faith, or hidden doubts, worship, art appreciation, witness and cultural interaction, they are all separate entities. Our sacred life and secular life rarely touch. For many years now, we have seen the need for Jesus’ followers to work out how to live more holistic lives. How to dismantle the awkward barrier between the ecclesiastical and the every day.”
Even though events like The Wrong Exhibition and the various musical jams that Throwstar put together are able to communicate the Gospel in creative ways, Joel isn’t trying to use art as bait. “We are artists. Period. It’s how we are wired. I, for one, am constantly scrawling down lyrics. I am compelled to do this. If we see the arts as merely some sort of evangelistic fishing tool, then we overlook the fact that when we make intense art for the pain and joy and wonder of it that this really speaks volumes about our God’s character. It honours His vast creativity and demonstrates His day to day interaction with us as we respond to his inspiration,” he says.
Danielle agrees, but is quick to clarify that they take their faith very seriously. “Don’t take this to mean that we are wishy-washy about communicating the importance and pre-eminence of Jesus in our lives. Our love for Jesus should overflow into every area of life and drive our desire to serve and love the people around us. We don’t want to shy away from talking about Jesus and challenging others with His words.”[Keith Giles is one of the world’s greatest enigmas. Ruggedly handsome yet surprisingly gentle and compassionate with small animals, Keith actually has a very weak grasp of reality and often talks to himself in the bathroom mirror. He’s currently writing his own story about his time in the wilderness, serving as a Pastor at The River Church in Tustin, California, and putting together a few subversive projects of his own in his spare time. You can see one of them here at www.parabolicjournal.com]