'Loss of Face; Iconoclasts, Zealots and Vandals',
images by John Goto,
soundscape (Ludham Bells) by Michael Young

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The Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century was a defining moment for British culture. During this period iconoclasts stripped churches and monasteries of their paintings, sculptures and other 'idolatrous images'. The new Protestant Church claimed that these obscured the more direct experience of God to be gained through reading His Word. The Reformation created a dramatic rupture in the development of the visual arts in Britain, and it has been argued that the dominance of literature in British culture is directly attributable to the events of this time.

The Loss of Face series comprises over one hundred photographs taken from church rood screens in Norfolk, Suffolk and Devon. The rood screen traditionally separated the nave, which was occupied by the congregation, from the chancel, which was the domain of the clergy. Painted images of saints, prophets, kings, archbishops, Apostles and angels, sometimes rustic in appearance, populated the lower part of these ornate and colourful screens. The rood itself was a carving of the crucified Christ that appeared suspended between the screen and the chancel arch above.

My images can be viewed as forensic photographs showing evidence of the often vicious methods used by the iconoclasts, or more precisely ambonoclasts (breakers of screens). The eyes were gouged, the faces slashed and the mouths sometimes bunged. One might speculate on the instruments used - knives, daggers, swords, pikes and chisels. By exposing the materiality of the painting, by hacking back to the wooded substrata, they aimed to reveal the illusion of the painting to gullible believers who might otherwise worship the image itself. 'See, it's only a painting', said the iconoclasts, or as one declared 'Lord Block Almighty!'

I am uncertain as to why in remote areas of Norfolk, Suffolk and Devon these screens were not cleared away as elsewhere in England. Maybe the beauty of the screens defeated the iconoclasts, or were they left as a warning, like a corpse hanging from a gibbet at a crossroads? The images in their present condition have a strange beauty that goes beyond being simply evidence of their historical circumstances. They seem to me to embody the aesthetic conflict between order and disorder, creativity and destruction, love and hate, which forms such a troubling part of our conscious and unconscious lives.

The series was developed over a decade and for the final exhibition Michael Young wrote a soundscape, which emphasises the connection between these distant events and our present times.

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