Review: Peace Doves by Peter Walker, at Liverpool Cathedral

Peter Walker, Peace Doves Installation images Liverpool Cathedral. Picture by Gareth Jones

Review: Peace Doves by Peter Walker
at Liverpool Cathedral

Words, Bryony Large (www.confessionsofanartjunkie.com)

Amongst the chaotic bustling of Concert Square, the jam-packed queues circulating through Liverpool One and the booming sounds of (mostly) unrestricted living echoing across Merseyside, Liverpool Cathedral is currently holding one of the more tranquilising indoor spaces of the city centre. 

Held up by a total of 15.5 miles of ribbon are thousands of delicate paper doves hovering in the air, compiled by the internationally renowned sculptor and artist, Peter Walker. However, this enchanting installation could not have been completed without the 18,000 pair of hands within the Merseyside region who made each individual dove an intimate possession of their own. Every dove owns a small, private message of peace, love and hope from members of the local community, including schoolchildren and community groups. 

Combined with a serene soundscape from the composer David Harper, Walker’s installation makes for a magical experience. In just seconds of entering this Grade I listed building, everything seemed to slow; people’s footsteps, their glances levitating up towards the top of the ribbons, even my own breathing became increasingly measured. It can be described as the surmountable hush of a library, except rather than abiding by a governed rule, I felt that my body was just responding to the hypnotic nature of what I was viewing. The regular, but leisurely transition of colour gleaming against the installation encourages this ethereal dimension. Varying shades of lilac, baby pink and neon blue glow gracefully against the skeleton of the cathedral, but no colour electrifies those 18,000 doves more than the purest of hues: white. It undoubtedly has the most impactful effect, causing a momentary forgetfulness that you are, in fact, surrounded by dozens of other people. It. At first, the lighting makes it difficult to comprehend that the artwork is made up of ribbon, rather than a community of perpendicular lasers shooting through the roof. Though, through the act of circulating the piece and standing underneath it like it might just hoover you up like one of those sci-fi movies, the intricate details of how it has been formed becomes more clear.

Known for his community-based art projects, Walker had originally designed ‘Peace Doves’ prior to the pandemic and the date for the installation to be revealed was set for March 2020. Unfortunately, plans had to be delayed which is a notion a lot of us have become very familiar with over the last year. Alternatively, this setback allowed for new opportunities for this work of art to expand further and wider, with more messages being written as COVID-19 took its course. The Dean of Liverpool, Sue Jones commented on this, stating: “There has been a real progression of messages over the duration of the pandemic as the cathedral has been open and shut, messages of loss, prayer and most importantly hope. It has been really moving, especially the messages from children.”

Moving is certainly one way to describe the cathedral’s latest art feature and it is overwhelming to realise that each petite, paper dove belongs to someone who has a message to share, something to get off of their chest or a hopeful wish for the future. It also reinforces Liverpool’s prideful sense of community and togetherness, with the artist Peter Walker himself adding: “Nearly every message on there is not about one person, but about the community, the city, and the bigger picture. This artwork is designed really, by me, but it has been made by the people of Liverpool.” 

When standing close to the installation, the scribbled writing upon the doves that are floating the lowest can be vaguely seen, but not visible enough to read. This provides a warming element of privacy and solitude, knowing that only the scribe and selected members of the artist’s team have been able to read these heartfelt messages. 

Despite being curated in the largest cathedral in the UK and fifth largest in the world, Peter Walker’s ‘Peace Doves’ successfully dominates the building, whether that is through its other-worldly essence, the volume of space that the reflecting light takes up, or just the staggering psychological comprehension that 18,000 people had their role to play in creating such a beautiful artwork. When asked for a justification to why a cathedral was chosen to house the piece, the artist said: “The space is less of a concern, and also I’m not a religious artist, so for me, we struggle for art infrastructure in this country and accessible art infrastructure where people from any background can come. And what I find with cathedrals is they have a certain way of drawing people in from all backgrounds, especially this cathedral which is a real community space.” Walker also added: “This type of work is a public artwork, so when you walk in here and see it, it belongs to you.”

Not only are we spoiled with ‘Peace Doves’, but Liverpool Cathedral is also acting as a host for two more of Walker’s works. Labelling their award-winning artistic collaboration as the Luxmaralis, Walker and David Harper have also produced a type of light graffiti called ‘Angel Wings’ which can be found towards the right wall in the middle of the cathedral. Designed specifically for this site, it’s visitors are invited to take pictures with the wings and share the photos with others, as a way to connect with the building and the community. The interactivity doesn’t stop there, with a third and final piece by Peter Walker placed on the opposing side. ‘Peace to Ourselves’ is an adaptation of one of Walker’s previous works called ‘Buttons’ (2018) to help people make sense of the last year during the pandemic. Shaped like a dove, people are encouraged to either take a button from the table given or bring one of their own and place it inside the outline of the bird, while remembering someone special. It allows for an undisturbed pause, as well as a fond sense of admiration towards the city as you scan your eyes across the hundreds of buttons laid out across the floor.

Participatory art projects will always stir a newfound enthusiasm within me as I am outrageously passionate about spreading love for the arts across the public, like it’s butter on toast; Peter Walker has done exactly that. He has acknowledged that the people of Liverpool have an undeniable urge to express themselves, their beliefs and their stories, and has given them the perfect mode to do it. 

More of this artist’s work can be found on his website: http://peterwalkersculptor.com/ or his social media channels: @pwalkersculptor on Twitter and Instagram.

This installation will be on display until 31st August 2021 before it tours to other places across the country, so ensure that you don’t miss out. Due to current COVID-19 regulations, the artwork can only be viewed in booked time slots that are made in advance. So to pencil yourself in for an ethereal experience, click here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/liverpool-cathedral-for-visitors-june-tickets-150015148347?aff=erelexpmlt#

Words, Bryony Large (www.confessionsofanartjunkie.com)