A new, free exhibition exploring the fleeting nature of life and the spectre of death will open this summer in a 17th-century Wren church in the heart of the city of London. Odyssey will fill St Edmund in the City with sculpted works which explore the many varied routes people take on their way to the inevitable endpoint that awaits us all.

Odyssey runs from 27 June – 18 July 2014, seven days a week, at St Edmund in the City, Lombard Street, London. The exhibition has been devised and curated by London’s bo.lee Gallery, which, since its establishment in 2009, has developed a reputation for showing contemporary art covering complex subjects.

Among the exhibits is Damien Hirst’s Saint Bartholomew, Exquisite Pain (2006), an eight-foot tall bronze sculpture that follows the Christian artistic tradition of depicting the martyred apostle with his flayed skin and instruments of torture. The work was inspired partially by etchings of the saint that Hirst was exposed to as a child educated in Catholic school and also by Marco D’Agrate’s statue of Saint Bartholomew (1562) wearing “his skin around his shoulders like a shawl” in the Duomo in Milan.

Hirst has described his faith in art as a feeling akin to religious belief, explaining: "It's almost like you can't just believe in science because it's too logical, too difficult to comprehend" and stating that he "likes the confusion you get between science and religion". Saint Bartholomew, Exquisite Pain is a reminder that the strict demarcation between art, religion and science is a relatively recent development.

Historically, depictions of Saint Bartholomew – the patron saint of surgeons – were often used by medics to aid their anatomical studies.

Discussing the work, Hirst explains: “His pain is seemingly self-inflicted. He looks peaceful, even beautiful, despite this horrifically violent thing that he's undergone. I find the concept that someone else can suffer so as to avoid others having to fascinating; it’s that sense of hope coming from tragedy.”

Inside the Church entrance, Rebecca Louise Law will create The Flower Garden Display’d, a beautiful organic sculpture of 4,600 flowers (of over 40 varieties), all entwined with 8800 metres of copper wire.

Originally commissioned by the Garden Museum, the floral sculpture will be pieced together by Rebecca, who, for over ten years, has explored the possibilities and challenges of using flowers as a material for her work.

Kathy Dalwood’s Secret Society - A Last Supper, continues her series of seemingly luxurious sculptural banquets in historic settings. A supper table, dressed for a biblical banquet and featuring a gathering of members from Dalwood’s celebrated ‘Secret Society’ plaster bust collection, will materialise on the tiled floor in front of the Church altar. Every ‘Secret Society’ venue suggests a particular style of feast; in this case, St Edmund’s chancel inspired an all-female Last Supper. While each society member wears a costume reflecting both classical and contemporary styles, the large scale installation will show the influence of historical paintings of the scene.

Flagons and flasks, fruit and fish and skulls and bones (the ever-present reminder of death) will share space with mobile phones and computer keyboards (a nod to the City of London location) and those other crucial appendages to the city workers’ day - the shrink-wrapped sandwich and take-away coffee cup - all transformed into bright white plaster. On the floor, as in many Renaissance portrayals of the Last Supper, will be shoes, in this case high-heeled stilettos, and a large basin, represent the washing of Christ’s feet.

A giant sculpted bronze plant by Bath-based Patrick Haines will reach upwards and fan out across St Edmund’s vaulted ceiling. Right at the very bottom of this gleaming symbol of life is a single, sculpted goldfinch, a symbol of the suffering of Christ and, specifically, the legend in which a goldfinch’s head was stained by a drop of blood while it was trying to remove thorns from Christ’s crown.

Tessa Farmer will create tiny sculptured creatures from insect wings, plant roots and an assortment of organic material, in the process taking the viewer to a nightmarish, apocalyptic world in which fairy tales collide with exact science. In Battle Ship, Farmer’s miniscule creations are presented posed in dramatic battle formations, waging war against each other.

Koji Shiraya’s bright white, meditative, porcelain installation is a series of sculpted 35cm ceramic balls, each illustrating the human mind, with the pure mind at birth taking the form of an untouched, perfectly shaped ball, but with others distorted and dented by the experiences that take place as life is lived.

Cathy Lewis's work is often concerned with identity. Orlando is from the 1928 novel by Virginia Woolf. After a 100 year sleep, Orlando wakes to find himself female and, as a woman, decides to act and dress as a man sometimes. While Lewis's sculpture references classical nudes, Orlando looks past the viewer, with a rebellious quiff and y-fronts, not renouncing her femininity but as an act of freedom.

Beth Carter’s work constructs a world in which darkness is always lurking just a few steps away and murky subconscious dreams come to the fore. This haunting, and sometimes beautiful, place evokes our night-time dreams and subconscious imaginings and is both strange and familiar. Beth’s piece, Travelling Shoes, highlights her personal approach to understanding the puzzle of life.

Jemma Hickman, founder of bo.lee Gallery and curator of Odyssey, said “Each of the works in Odyssey explores a different type of journey through life and I am hoping that the combination of the dramatic, intense nature of the works and the architecture of St Edmund in the City will create an opportunity for visitors to reflect on life and death in a sacred setting. I am extremely excited to be bringing these artists and their work together at the Church, a beautiful setting for a captivating and sometimes confrontational collection of contemporary sculpture.”

The Church of St Edmund the King

Lombard Street
London EC3V 9EA United Kingdom

Opening hours

Monday - Friday from 11am to 6pm
Saturday - Sunday from 12pm to 4pm

Related images
  1. The Garden Display'd 2014 by Rebecca Law, © Nicola Tree
  2. Bumblebee by Tessa Farmer, © Tessa Farmer
  3. After the Dream by Koji Shiraya, © Cathy Lewis
  4. Tomcat by Kathy Dalwood, © Kathy Dalwood
  5. Orlando by Cathy Lewis, © Cathy Lewis
  6. Bookworm by Kathy Dalwood, © Kathy Dalwood