John Foxx - Cathedral Oceans Installation

Deluxe Gallery, London - 21-31 January, 2003

"One of the greatest works of art I have ever experienced"

[Cathedral Oceans] Site Soundings was a three-man exhibition. John Foxx under his real name of Dennis Leigh, along with Richard Colson and Jeremy Gardiner at the Deluxe Gallery in Hoxton Square, London, each installation exploring various digital terrains.

Foxx's Cathedral Oceans is an ongoing project that combines a lush ambient soundtrack with equally lush imagery of ivy enmeshed architecture. This installation first appeared, appropriately enough, in churches and botanical gardens around Europe. Since then it has toured intermittently, this being its first appearance in the UK. Like the abandoned architecture it depicts, Cathedral Oceans changes gradually, slowly over time - the audio and video layers building upon what has gone before. A limited edition DVD of the first installation was released last year and the second Cathedral Oceans album has just been released by Foxx.

The installation itself comprises of a 5.1 surround sound ambient soundtrack that accompanies projected portrait digital images, also produced by Foxx, and runs in a loop, lasting approximately 50 minutes. The images are mostly close-ups of ivy covered stone faces, lost statuary in various green hues. Occasionally, the colour spectrum shifts towards blues, purples and reds, but always returns to the signature organic green.

The work is calming yet dazzling in its trance like effect. The images of noble faces carved from stone slowly dissolve from one to the next, extremely subtle and soothing transitions that create a dream like state in the observer. Foxx himself has described the effect as like "a moving stained glass window". The simplicity of the images (at first glance this could be mistaken for the same placid visage simply changing colour very slowly) might be considered a shortcoming, instead it is its very strength. A tranquility and serenity emanates from the languid expressions, the hardness of their construction given a softened, indeed organic dimension by the moss, lichen and ivy that threatens to engulf their limited perspective. The soundtrack has a vast, yes cathedral-like, ambience. Lush, expansive soundscapes of shifting perspectives seemingly enhancing alpha wave activity in the brain resulting in a tangible drop in heart rate and a state of mind rarely experienced outside of devout religion or drug use.

The work itself aside, the Deluxe Gallery installation left a lot to be desired. Firstly, such an ambient, enveloping piece demands its own room. Here it was given the return in an 'L'-shaped space but sound from the other two exhibits constantly bled into the audio (until that is I went over to the other two exhibits and turned down their volume!). Likewise, the ambient lighting was too bright for the effect to have been entirely successful. A darkened room of its own would have solved all of this. Lastly, for such a piece, it was shortsighted that no seating was offered at the point of the installation. Again, I had to intervene, getting gallery staff to provide two chairs for my partner and I to take up our positions in the centre of the 5.1 speaker set-up. We sat through the entire fifty minute loop and it felt more like twenty minutes.

Foxx fans who know only the musical aspect of Cathedral Oceans and thought that to be a work of art in itself (which it undoubtedly is) will find it hard to comprehend what effect the full Cathedral Oceans installation can have on the observer. As the installation is exhibited only infrequently, the limited DVD release offers an opportunity to experience this incredible work in the comfort of your own home, which if it is like mine and includes a video projector, can recreate a good enough facsimile of the installation that the viewer may just be moved to tears. Truly one of the greatest works of art I have ever experienced.

Rob Dyer

See also:

John Foxx Music Reviews
John Foxx Live Reviews
John Foxx Interview
Deluxe Gallery