Ordinary shoes with extraordinary stories at the heart of St Mary's Church art exhibition

Written by Tony Millett.

Holy Ground ProjectHoly Ground ProjectArtist Paul Hobbs combines his artistic skills and imagination with his Christian faith. The exhibition his works completed over several years is entitled 'The Heart of Things' - and faith is at the heart of this exhibition.  His creations turn 'things' - many of them everyday things - into illustrations of religious beliefs that are relevant today.

At the centre of his exhibition in St Mary's Church (open Saturday to Monday, 30 April to 2 May - see link below for times) is an installation featuring pairs of shoes - each donated by an individual - some of them anonymous - and each accompanied by a short and clearly written panel telling their story.

It is called the Holy Ground Project and takes its cue from the verse in Exodus where God tells Moses at the burning bush: "Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground."  At the centre of the illustration is an abstract  representation of that burning bush.

His installation has to fit the space available - this version is four metres in diameter with twenty pairs of shoes.   A larger version stretches to six-and-a-half metres in diameter with thirty pairs - and thirty stories.

"What connects all the people whose shoes are part of the installation," Paul tells Marlborough.News, "is they are all Christians and so have at some point encountered God and made a response."  

It is not very helpful to pick out individual pairs and their stories from this complex installation - so with apologies, here are three pairs:

Haile GebreselassieHaile Gebreselassie Laura CallenbergLaura Callenberg SabinaSabina

This is a pair of Haile Gebreselassie's running shoes.  As a schoolboy in Ethiopia he ran ten kilometres from home to school each day - and ten kilometres back again:  "When I was young I always dreamed of becoming an athlete.  And it's thanks to God that I was able to realise my dreams" - and run to achieve Olympic glory.

These pink sandals - with, I can assure you, have perky little heels - were donated by New York model Laura Calenberg.  Her modelling career led her into the depths and she finally realised she had, as she puts it, "neglected my relationship with God and chosen my own way."  She went on to found the organisation Models for Christ.

Third - and last of the three I have selected - are the pair of boots donated by a Kosovan mother called Sabina: "These are my daughter's boots.  They are not the shoes that Katerina wore when she was killed...a bomb blew our home up and we ran for our lives."

These are shoes that may not fit neatly with the lives of the people viewing the installation - but they make us all think about people's lives and our own.

Paul Hobbs' 'Ten Words' Paul Hobbs' 'Ten Words'

The other large installation is called simply Ten Words.  Blocks made into eleven towers in all sorts of liquorice colours - ten carry words from the ten commandments juxtaposed with appropriate newspaper headlines.  The eleventh tower depicts Christ: "Ten words and the final word."

And to one side there is a smaller version of Ten Words which visitors can explore and re-arrange.

Paul Hobbs Paul Hobbs There are some more representational works. And there is one 'ordinary thing' put into a frame to make us think about the extraordinary and the dreadful:  'In emergency break glass' is simply a machete in a glass case - whose blade can catch the light filtering through the church to make it look extremely chilling.  

It acts as "a memorial to the tragic bloodletting in Rwanda, Sierra Leone or Kenya."  But it is also about what fear can push humans to do - and asks what we would do in similar circumstances.

Paul Hobbs, who lives and works in Gloucester, has been touring with this exhibition for three years - three or four locations a year.  It is, as someone described it, 'a bit of a travelling circus' and certainly complex to set-up. 

Two Australian visitors to the town visited the exhibition in St Mary's on Saturday (April 30).  They told Paul they were atheists, but that they found his works thought provoking - and thanked him for the exhibition.

You can find details of opening times and of supporting events here.