Michael Ayrton’s uncompromising work ‘The Arkville Minotaur’ and Sophie Ryder’s fabulous wire sculpture ‘Lady Hare – Sitting’ were for me two of the real highlights of our visit to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. I say this because both pieces challenged me to consider gender awareness and identity as presenting issues in the life of the church and society.
The Minotaur is rendered with all the power and menace of the original half-man, half-bull hybrid depicted in the Greek myth, where its life is spent confined in the depths of a subterranean labyrinth. The sculptor presents us with no place to hide as we are confronted with raw animal power and sexuality, and all the frustrated anger of being trapped and held captive. The guide suggests that Michael Ayrton identified with the trials of the Minotaur, and portrayed him with a degree of sympathy. Rather than slaying the beast as did Theseus with his sword, perhaps the sculptor is inviting us to try to understand the creature, and in so doing explore the disquieting and darker depths of the male psyche. The sculpture certainly opens up the questions for us and provides a means of engaging with the difficult and vexed subject of male identity. This is especially true when one looks at the photo of the Minotaur alongside that of Lady Hare, Sophie Ryder’s exploration of female identity, sexuality and spirituality. The interaction between the two is disturbing and thought-provoking, not least as it calls to mind centuries of male violence and oppression against women.
Lady Hare is equally as striking as the Arkville Minotaur. Unlike the Minotaur, it seems to convey power without aggression and sexuality without force. In particular, the ‘split down the middle’ portrayal of the female psyche begs so many questions, not least does this represent something imposed or freely chosen? What is its significance? I found the work to be evocative, compelling and somehow deeply ‘authentic’. In its own way it challenged me just as much as did the Minotaur. The woman in the photograph stood quietly contemplating the work for several minutes, and left me wondering what, if any, identification and affirmation had been engendered by her encounter with this sculpture. I also wondered whether it was by accident or design that Lady Hare is surrounded by a fence.
So I offer these two images as starting points for discussion and reflection.