The other day, Jamie and I went to Pitzhanger Manor. It’s been under wraps ever since we arrived in Ealing, so we had no idea what it had been like before or what to expect. Over the last year, we’ve watched as the hoardings have come down little by little, and the building has been slowly revealed in all its eccentric glory.
It was worth the wait. The house is full of surprises: every room has a different style of ceiling; the décor includes plaster painted to look like wood and wood painted to look like marble; mirrors bring light to dark corners, and tiny rooms contrast with a huge and very modern-looking conservatory along the first floor. Sir John Soane, the architect who bought the house and largely rebuilt it, wanted it to showcase his work; maybe it’s just as well that he used it for entertaining, rather than living there full time. I particularly liked the way information is displayed, in a variety of ingenious guises that echo the house and period.
The way into the house is through the Gallery, currently hosting an exhibition by the sculptor Anish Kapoor. He, like Soane, plays with ideas of scale and shape, light and mirrors. The work looks very simple, but I was and still am intrigued by the effects he creates. On the far wall, as we went in, were three half-spheres of polished metal. As we went closer, they seemed to flatten. Not being able to work out quite what I was seeing, and how far they stuck out, I went right to the wall to look at them side-on – only to discover that they didn’t stick out at all but were shallow dishes.
The other sculptures raised similar questions: Is that a hole, or a reflection? Where does this colour come from? How far away is that reflected door? I’m generally fairly confident in my spatial ability; it was fascinating, and slightly disconcerting, to have it challenged like this. At least I didn’t feel seasick, as apparently some people have.
Thinking about it afterwards, I wondered about other ways in which we take the world for granted. We work on the assumption that things will carry on as they always have – we need to do this, to leave our brains free for processing new events – but sometimes it can be a good thing to have our assumptions challenged. On June 9th, we celebrate Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit disturbed every assumption of the first disciples and still disturbs us today. And in our Area Day on June 22nd we’ll be looking at Holy Habits, which might challenge some of our assumptions about what we can and can’t manage as a church. It should be fun – and I promise it won’t make us seasick.