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Pendry, Michael - VM - Jonathan Evens

Michael Pendry: Les Colombes – The White Doves

Elegant Simplicity

by Jonathan Evens

Doves are a symbol of the Holy Spirit and of peace. The dove as a symbol of peace is derived from the dove which brought news to Noah of the flood having receded, enabling life to begin again on earth. Then, at the baptism of Jesus, doves were associated with the Holy Spirit as the Spirit descended on Jesus in the bodily form of a dove.

For Pentecost at St Martin-in-the-Fields in London two thousand white paper doves were hung in the nave forming a 15-metre-long paper sculpture called Les Colombes – The White Doves. Light moved around the space and over the sculpture simulating the doves in flight. Quietly and playfully they integrated their movement into the atmosphere, exuding a magical sense of tranquillity and strength. A sound cloud, especially composed and produced for the installation by digital music producers Digital Haze, infused the space with the sound of cooing and fluttering wings, a gentle rustling of the wind and mystical chords which hovered in space, alternating between a strong intensity and an ebbing away. The installation, quietly, tenderly and intricately, opened up mystical space, offering a place of quiet reflection in place of the noise and movement that characterises public space in modern cities.

Following successful installations with over 300,000 visitors in Jerusalem and Munich, these origami doves bore hopes and greetings from people who came into the church, from passers-by, from night revellers in the bar around the corner, from locals and strangers, people from all over the world. Catholic and Protestant, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, poor and rich, everyone could fold them. Michael Pendry, the German artist who created this installation, has said: “Folded by different people, the doves in their unity stand for a fundamental human right. The time has come to admonish and to stand up for this – for the right to peace and freedom! So that that the flock of doves might grow, from place to place, from country to country, across all borders.”

In the flock each individual, separately folded dove became one of many. In this way this flock of doves was a symbol of a collective spirit of peace; one which is particularly needed at this time when terror has revisited the streets and leisure activities of the UK. Michael thinks Les Colombes “is easy to understand, has a simple and most of all a very emotional message which is so relevant in our times.” He says that installations like Les Colombes are “very aesthetic, playful and colourful, meaning people can easily find an approach without needing to know too much about it.” Yet, when someone wants to get more involved with the work and the ideas behind it, different levels can be appreciated, but it is not necessary to do so in order to enjoy the art work. Vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields, Sam Wells, said that “like the best liturgy The Doves is about words and signs and sounds and space – and its glory is its elegant simplicity.”

The flock of doves headed from the entrance of the church towards the sanctuary, where lies the answer to all the questions of our spiritual potential – who am I, where do I come from, where am I going? In answer to these questions, the descent of the Spirit in the bodily form of a dove tells us that we are the beloved sons and daughters of our Father God and that we are here to use our God-given abilities to do work for him that only we can do. Sam Wells says that: “When at his baptism the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus like a dove, Jesus wasn’t blown away – he was touched more deeply than words can say or eyes can perceive. That’s what this exhibition is about – and what’s more, it affirms that the Holy Spirit works through the humble hands of you and me.”


Michael Pendry: Les Colombes – The White Doves, 2017, 2000 white paper doves, 15 m. Photo 1 is copyright Marc Gascoigne, Photo 2 is by Jonathan Evens.

Michael Pendry was born in Stuttgart, Germany. He grew up in Munich and partly in England, where his father comes from; his mother is from Bayreuth/Germany. Pendry studied interior design, stage and set design at the FH Rosenheim and, for several projects, at the art academy in Munich. Das apokalyptische Weib for the Long-Night-of-Museums in 2006 and the light and video installations Sacre Coeur and Störung’ (Disturbance) have been some of the highlights in the career of this multimedia artist to date and showed his great innovative talent in finding new means of multimedia expression and catching the interest of thousands of people. Lighting the rotor blades of a nearly 100-metre high wind wheel just outside Munich in 2010 with Star of the South was definitely one of his most ambitious projects. With this project he also attained a new level in his public profile in the national press and media, even in France and Spain. Two of his latest installations, Les Colombes and Urban Paradise in 2014, also became popular successes and were reviewed throughout the media. 

Jonathan Evens is Priest-in-Charge at St Stephen Walbrook and Associate Vicar for Partnership Development at St Martin-in-the-Fields, London, England. A keen blogger, he posts regularly on issues of faith and culture at His journalism and art criticism ranges from A.W.N. Pugin to U2 and has appeared in a range of publications, including the Church Times. He runs a visual arts organisation called commission4mission, which encourages churches to commission contemporary art and, together with the artist Henry Shelton, has published two collections of meditations and images on Christ's Passion. Together with the musician Peter Banks, he has published a book on faith and music entitled The Secret Chord.

ArtWay Visual Meditation July 23, 2017