Advent in Art 13: Nigel Smith

Nigel Smith
Sunday, 8 December 2013

The video of Nigel's work can be viewed here.

Some notes that supported his presentation are below:

Jeremiah 33:15 provides the overall metaphor for the piece. That a fresh and true shoot is imagined and hoped for. - Tsemach Tzedekah is the Hebrew for righteous branch / fresh and true shoot


So almost all the photos are of plants – often branches coming out of an existing tree.

This metaphor has some implications for how we view our faith, founded as it is on the fresh and true shoot, rather than the David-Tree itself.


I have tried to give the whole piece a dream-like quality – so the images flow and are periodically interrupted by unfocusedness and a question that then prompts the next sequence of images. The music is part of trying to create this dream-like imaginal atmosphere.


A series of shots – all taken in the last month showcasing the variety of what a fresh shoot / tree branch could be like. I had the good fortune to visit Los Angeles and Canada a couple of weeks ago, so some of the shots are from that trip.


Would the messiah be prickly and provocative?, colourful or staid?, elegant or hilariously awkward? Strong and straight, or fragile and precious? What role amongst other ‘trees’, might the messiah play



Also in the verse from Jeremiah is the idea of sprouting forth. – so the next segment is an attempt at exploring what it is to sprout. And I just wanted to do a time lapse series….

Sprouts start out small and weak.

They can become strong.

They can have an ending.


I began thinking about the branch as it developed – Christianity. When you look at the fruit of this fresh and true shoot from the perspective of now, is it still growing?


Then there are a series of shots that play with focus as a way of engaging with the questions of how clearly could the messiah be recognised, firstly from the perspective of the OT – from the time of Jeremiah – would the messiah be identifiable amongst other potential leaders/saviours/reformers…


Clearly not all Jewish people agreed with the identification of Jesus of Nazareth as this righteous branch, this messiah. Judaism carried on.


These first two images explore that – firstly in relation to other very similar potential branches (bamboo), then in relation to all the other types of reformers or branches that might have happened upon the historical stage.


Then from another perspective – that of our own, 2500 yrs after the time of Jeremiah – do we recognise the root of our faith, or is it lost in time? Can we see clearly what, who the fresh shoot was that started our faith 2000 yrs ago. We are but the tip of a leaf in relation to the tree of christianity that has gone before us.


Walk through the three ‘trees’


From the Protestant focused one, through to the ‘Abrahamic one’ – but note the construction showing Christianity as the trunk. Both historically and in terms of how the people of the day must have seen the new faith, Christianity was a new branch, not the trunk.


Anyway – this is a bit of background on why this attempt to portray our perspective of the origins of our particular branch of faith resulted in the shots where the only thing we see clearly is the tip of the closest leaf



While taking the shot I had just liked the reflections and the shape aesthetically.


But it struck me while working on the editing that this pattern of branches bore a striking resemblance to imagery I had seen in cathedrals and other works of Christian art.


This imagery is the christogram, often represented as HIS, or in medieval times, as IHC – both are romanisations of the first three letters of Jesus name in Greek – iota, eta, sigma.


It seemed to me a beautiful artistic experience to discover this image late in the editing process, in the midst of articulating questions of trying to imagine the fresh and true shoot, the messiah, starting from the verse in Jeremiah and thinking about how we can see this messiah clearly from our modern perspective.

So this is where the piece ends – with a very cultural symbol found in shapes from the natural world – pointing directly to the historical identity of the righteous branch the piece began searching for.