Telling the stories of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, NZ and Polynesia

Cathedral hosts ‘numinous’ artworks

Auckland-based Aotearoa New Zealand artist Karen Sewell has taken her artwork on spiritual themes south to show at St Paul’s Cathedral Dunedin.

Julanne Clarke-Morris  |  19 Jul 2022  |

Holy Trinity Cathedral Auckland’s Artist-in-residence Karen Sewell has brought her spirituality-themed art installation ‘Luminary’ (also known as Luminare) to St Paul’s Cathedral Dunedin between 2-10 July. 

Currently exhibiting in a 2022 Venice Biennale collateral event in Palazzo Bembo, ‘Luminary’ sets out to start a conversation on the realms of human experience that sit between the known and unknown, the ‘here and beyond’, in the space of mystery and wonder known as the “numinous”. 

Luminary had its first outing in an Anglican Cathedral at Holy Trinity Cathedral Auckland, during the city’s 2020 Art Week. Alongside her installations at NorthArt Gallery, Karen has often chosen to place her work in sacred spaces. 

This July, St Paul’s Cathedral Dunedin displayed the work against the backdrop of their temporary sanctuary wall, while the apse still remains under reconstruction two years on from its August 2020 fire damage. 

For Karen Sewell, the choice of showing her work in religious buildings is not an arbitrary one.

“My work is an exploration of all things sacred, so I am interested in showing in sacred spaces, places with an ecclesiastical resonance. It was great to be able to install this work in St Paul’s before the work on the Cathedral was finished.”

The Luminary exhibition comprises an outsized translucent sphere suspended above the cathedral crossing – held aloft by helium and covered by a veil of translucent fabric – giving the impression of a planet or comet stopped in its path.

The orb floats above the cathedral crossing without any visible means of support, accompanied by a background soundtrack the artist curated from NASA Voyager craft recordings captured between planets, which have been decoded for human hearing. 

“The installation invites people to reflect in the space surrounded by those recordings from space itself, which are in effect the ‘silent sounds of the spheres’ made audible.”

In her work, Karen Sewell wants to encourage people to think beyond the obvious, to open their minds to awe, wonder or mystery as they contemplate the expanse of the universe – and perhaps even consider their own place within it.

“My work looks at the relationship between sacred space, contemporary art, alternate spaces, faith histories and histories of faith. It invites people into an experience of the numinous.’

While Karen is a person of faith, her goal is not to confine her work to religious believers, or to any one religious tradition, but instead she wants to offer a glimpse into the bigger picture of spirituality.

St Paul’s Cathedral Dean Very Rev Tony Curtis said the Cathedral was delighted to host the show and to build links with both Cathedral ministries and the wider Anglican whānau through the nine day event. 

“This installation forms part of what we want the Cathedral to be in the long term – a welcoming home for the arts – celebrating the creativity that God has given us.” said Dean Tony.

St Paul’s Cathedral choir rose to the challenge of the exhibition’s otherworldy theme, and recorded a night-time performance of Ēriks Ešenvalds’ “Stars” while illuminated by the installation. That recording will now be presented to audiences at the TILT Arts Festival at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco.

Dean Tony reports that students attending a University of Otago course on ‘Theology and the Arts’ also enjoyed visiting Luminary and reflecting on its power to communicate beyond the usual reach of the church. 

St Paul’s parishioner and volunteer Molly Crighton noted the effect the exhibition had on Cathedral visitors over the days it was on display,

“People seemed quite awestruck when they walked through the door and saw it.” 

“Usually you get a few people who take time to sit and reflect in the Cathedral, but with the installation there it was like everybody who came in took the time.”

In Dunedin, the Luminary exhibition offered another small gift to the city. Over the course of the show St Paul’s Cathedral held a silent auction of photographic prints that connected with the theme of the exhibition. Proceeds from these prints (which were donated by the artist) will go to support Otago’s Anglican Family Care respite caregiver programme. 

Anglican Family Care’s General Manager Mike Williams attended the exhibition reception on Saturday 10 July and was pleased to receive the help towards their much-needed social service. 

“Our respite care programme is mainly for parents of younger children from families who are doing it tough, some of whom have high needs. We find caregiver families who are thoroughly assessed and well-matched to fit the families they support.”

“This valuable service gives parents the opportunity to have a break, usually for the weekend, and so we are pleased to have the Cathedral’s and the artist’s support.”

‘Luminary | Luminare’ is now on tour and will be installed at Oxford Terrace Baptist Church in Christchurch from 16 – 24 July, then at St John’s in the City Presbyterian Church in Wellington 31 July – 7 August, 2022.

For more information about Luminary go to: