Public Service (Art)

Before James Webb was a telescope he was an artist.

(As can be expected from any telescope)

Gazing into the distant past, it amplified the light of the cosmos

But like any telescope, it wanted the one thing light could not provide –


James Webb is the artist behind Prayer.

Prayer is a multi-channel sound installation of voices gathered from all the different spiritual practices operating in the host location.

When he visited Tasmania, I was delighted to spend some time with him, helping with recording and installing the work in Launceston and Hobart.

James says thank you in the most genuine manner I’ve ever heard anyone say anything.

He talked to, and recorded the prayers of thousands of individuals around the world over the course of the project.

In three weeks in lutruwitta, he recorded over a hundred individuals and groups from dozens faiths and religions

It’s a gift to a city

The setting and the red carpet gives it a dimension of respect. James is not here to judge. He was here to bring people together, to listen and to expose human commonalities through voice

Hearing the richness and diversity of the voices in my island neighbourhood was an exercise that diminished my sarcastic outlook on religion

The ghosts and miracle stories come and go, but the essence, the common theme, for me at least, was how vocalisation by prayer, song or words help people feel like they belong.

I hid my sarcasm under the carpet and agreed to sing a song in Hebrew selected by my friend

She is about my mum’s age and lived in lutruwitta for over 40 years. It was important to her to seperate her faith, hope and spirituality from any formal religion, while still identifying as Jewish.

She wanted to be free to express her Jewishness through a song about the tragic longing for life and the natural world to exist forever.

The beach was her temple

We had a couple of rehearsals over the phone and James and I drove to her house near the beach in Hobart

There, in the intimacy of the wooden interior of the house, surrounded by paintings and books, I forgot about all the anger I felt for the religious institutions who tried to control my life when I was growing up in Israel

My home now is lutruwitta

But my voice has residues of memories from another place

James’s project provided a shell of comfort that allowed me to use my voice

The generational gap between my friend and I was bridged by a song

We looked deep into each-other eyes

And sang

A song for life and a red carpet full of prayers

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