Photobook Saturday






Pippa King




Pattern as Icon 20

Labyrinth reflection 25




All art works and photographs by Pippa King unless stated otherwise

Front cover: Snakes, 2020

Inside cover: Death, 2019

Left: Three 2020

Next page:


All works, words and photographs © Pippa King 2020



My quest is to create objects that facilitate

connection with the divine, and that challenge the

patriarchal and hierarchical representations of the

Christian tradition. I use the idea of ‘the Abject’ as

described by French feminist Julia Kristeva as a

way of approaching this.

Icons in the religious sense are religious paintings

used for devotion, strongly symbolic. The word

usually refers to a specific style and tradition, but I

am using the word more widely for images made

to help people connect with soul, spirit and ‘god’. I

come from a white Western Christian tradition,

but find that the almost exclusively masculine

images and language for ‘god’ do not help me

make this connection and in many cases are


A non-patriarchal and non-hierarchical

understanding of ‘god’ is outlined in Kristeva’s

writings; not the patriarchal religious system she

calls ‘symbolic’ but the ‘semiotic’ religion she

would describes as a divine power that connects

everyone and everything to the divine and each

other.[1] This idea is similar to some

contemporary Christian thought: ‘Everything I see

and know is one uni-verse, revolving around one

coherent centre. This Divine Presence seeks

connection and communion, not separation or


Human belief in a force or being that created and

sustains the universe, in universal pattern, or a

deity, is by definition impossible to understand or

describe, so I set myself a fairly impossible

question. Monotheistic religions agree that no

image or name can represent a god who, when

asked for their name, would only say ‘I am who I

am’. While Pantheistic religions have many gods

portraying different aspects of the divine, even

within themselves, monotheistic faiths rely on a

multiplicity of metaphors, and in some cases a cast

of saintly characters to connect with different

aspects of the divine mystery.

Universal Pattern1 and II

Pippa King, 2019

Linocut and collage on paper, 420 x 594

Photographed among the arches on which the design is based, Pippa King, August 2020



Pippa King 2020

Photograph of randomly folded cloth printed with a repeating pattern made from a drawing of a triskelion pattern,

mounted on board, (Pippa King, 2019) photographed 2020 in a niche with tapers

Not patriarchal or


My particular question is the search for icons –

ways of representing the divine within the

Christian tradition - that are non-patriarchal and

non-hierarchical. It was decades ago that Mary

Daly summed up the negative impact on society of

patriarchal religion: ‘if god is male then male is

god’[3] – yet the ‘graven mental image[4]’ of god

as a man persists. This is relevant to wider society,

not just religious groups. Despite equality

legislation (to which some religions in the UK re

exempt) ingrained misogyny proves hard to shift.

In even mainstream Christian theology, it is

understood that God is a spirit beyond gender –

both male and female are ‘made in God’s image’

and it’s reasonable to say that God is nonbinary.

But in practice the language and imagery used is

almost exclusively masculine. The most cursory

look at centuries of Christian art shows images

that are overwhelmingly male, with female

characters limited to the Virgin Mary and a few

images of women with bare breasts who are being

sexually assaulted or repenting of sexual sin.

Christian liturgy, song and scripture uses almost

entirely masculine pronouns and metaphors for

God, and the Archbishop of Canterbury[5]

bizarrely made the newspaper headlines in 2018

when he mentioned that both male and female

pronouns for God were valid. Even the word

‘God’ is difficult to use as it has patriarchal and

hierarchical associations – which is why I put it in

don’t capitalise it unless referring specifically to

Christian ideas. But the use of ‘Goddess’ suggests

a separate, niche, character, despite the image of

the great divine creator and sustainer of life being

overwhelmingly female in ancient times.

I like the phrase ‘graven mental image’, coined by

one Christian writer[4] to describe this

unconscious idea Western cultures have of god as

male. This, she says, is an ‘idol’ (or graven image)

as it’s something that is worshipped instead of

what god actually is (something much less

comprehensible or describable, and beyond



Broken Icon

Pippa King, 2020

A pair of carved wooden hands originating from an old icon, photographed in a church


Not patriarchal or hierarchical

Potential collage materials observered, 2019


My way of approaching this question has been to

disrupt the ‘accepted’ view of an icon. Early on I

decided not to approach this in the obvious way

with a female-bodied god in place of male. This

has been done historically, to controversial effect;

for example the Christa[6] statue in 1984 and the

Sister Chapel[7] in the 1970s. And I don’t think

there is anything wrong with this; a female Christ

(as opposed to the historical Jesus) is theologically

fine[8], just as it’s considered appropriate to have

representations of Christ with different skin

colour and ethnicity. And on the grounds that all

humans are ‘imago dei’ then pictures of anyone

can represent god, as in the uncontroversial

contemporary interpretations of Rublev’s Icon of

the Trinity by Meg Wroe[9] that use real people

from different churches as models, with one

version commissioned by Southwark Cathedral.

Catholic theologian Fr Richard Rohr’s view of the

Universal Christ would see ‘the Christ’ in all living


Immediately before beginning this research, I was

working on a project I called ‘in pursuit of the

giant rabbit’ that began with a recurring dream of

a giant rabbit. Research then led to ancient

goddesses who were associated with fertility and

sometimes were accompanied by rabbits or hares

– such as Ostara who gave us Easter and its

bunny, or the Chinese moon goddess Chang'e. I

found it hard to make contemporary

representations of powerful female deities like

Wenet (part hare) or Inanna. Even prints I made

of them as girls, which aimed to avoid sexual

objectification, such as ‘Inanna as a girl practicing

for world domination’ were read as boys - unless I

gave them obvious skirts or long hair. This,

followed by another experiment with the

perception of male and female characters, led me

to look for different, more oblique, approaches.


Queer Trinity, Pippa King 2020 (detail)


Womb of God, Pippa King 2020 (detail)


I use the idea of ‘the Abject’ in my work to

explore this question. ‘Abjection’ is described by

Julia Kristeva as that which ‘disturbs identity,

system, order; does not respect borders,

positions, rules; the in-between, the ambiguous,

the composite.[10]’ It provokes disgust or


Kristeva writes that the demarcation between

male and female is one of society’s most universal

taboos, and that which blurs this boundary is

‘abject’. I think we see this in the reactions of

disgust, horror and violent aggression towards

trans people. Another definition of abject is ‘that

which we thrust aside in order to live’ and I am

interested in questioning ideas of identity that are

tied up (even unconsciously) in patriarchal and

hierarchical assumptions and lead to the exclusion

those who threaten these. In the Church of

England some men who believe that only men can

be priests refuse to be ordained (made priest) by

a Bishop who has also ordained women, and this

is called a ‘theology of taint’. In my opinion that

phrase indicates that disgust, fear or revulsion

towards female bodies lie behind protestations of

theological (or ideological) purity. Kristeva talked

about ‘the other’ as being people that are cast out,

‘outcast’ to protect identity. As someone who has

found a fruitful place on the queer edge of

Christianity, it is this place on the margins that I

am interested in. Theologian Linn Marie Tonstad

says, ‘Queer holiness is always a holiness of the


Abject art back in the 1980s was associated with

the shock tactics of using bodily fluids as a

medium, and that is not part of my methodology.

My references to female bodies and blurring of

gender are more abstract than that. I am more

interested in employing ‘surrealist strategies to

denaturalise ideologies and conventions…making

the familiar strange[12]’ in order to provoke

feelings of that reveal and challenge assumptions.


Broken Labyrinth

Pippa King 2020


Drawn on the Body 1

Pippa King 2020


And one important aspect of this is fragmentation.

I learned as I worked that my strategy, in

photography in particular, is to always show the

part, not the whole: details, oblique angles,

abstract shapes, interesting juxtapositions, rarely

centred. This is a way of trying to look at

something beyond the obvious – a strategy that I

think fits with my task of making icons, which can

only ever be partial and hint at the indescribable.

The fragmented approach is described as tentative

and un-masculine but also as possibly a better

method of exploration in this article about

Charlotte Prodger’s work: ‘You never see her

whole body, or anyone else’s. You might see a

portion of her hand, or a bit of her furry hat. The

self is fragmented …. , offering the opposite of the

certainty of a masculinist point of view. It reminds

me of the Scottish poet and nature writer Nan

Shepherd – a writer whom Prodger admires –

saying that ‘the better way to discover a mountain

might be not to walk up it, but to walk around it,

finding its secret places and crevices rather than

its peaks.’[13]

Another way of disrupting over-familiar

assumptions so they are revealed, and possibly

questioned, is suggested by James Hunting’s textile

pieces, which have small disturbances in the

pattern. He says, “Woven cloth follows a rule of

warp and weft. Disrupt these and the eye cannot

smooth over difference. These exclusions hold the

glance. They disturb the non-looking and nonseeing

that pervades, enforcing an


So, something that doesn’t fit – an out-of-place

object, a jarring juxtaposition, some missing

information – can provoke that shift to another

perspective or dimension, maybe by starting up

the imagination to fill the gap, create a narrative.

Thus, I am making ‘icons’ that are in some ways

familiarly religious, but also don’t fit. Something

that provokes not just a question but a feeling of

strangeness or discomfort, while also being

compelling. And I’m making more than one, as

there is not one answer but a number of


This and next two pages, all Pippa King 2019

Kitchen Crucifix

15 th Century Arch and Duster



In search of non-figurative ways of representing

the divine, I explored pattern.

Pattern can be an icon, a way of representing

god/dess or the unseen world. It is used in

different traditions (Kolam, mandalas, Tantra

paintings[15]) as well as by Spiritualist artists

(Emma Kunz[16], Hilda af Klimt and many lesser

known[17]) to seek the divine, or represent the

pattern of the universe.

It is non-hierarchical in its flattening of elements,

as well as potentially in its design. Pattern is

typically associated with women and the domestic

sphere[18], so not patriarchal. It is ancient,

connected to the earth and its rhythms, and iconic

ancient symbols inducing circles and spirals have

strong female associations. And something about

to me is drawn to pattern: there is an impulse to

break up an image, play with repeating it through

print, or put it through a kaleidoscope app, and

transform it into something new and abstract.

On the other hand, I questioned whether abstract

pattern could meet the need for something to

connect to or believe in, in the way I see icons as

functioning. McFague[19] pointed out that her

chosen metaphors for god – mother, lover, friend

- are all personal, because, she says ‘any

imaginative picture attempting to unseat the

triumphalist, royalist model must be at least as

attractive as it is. It must … come from a place

deep within human experience... imagery of sex,

breath, food, blood, water, birth.’

This as well as my interest in the abject drew me

to ancient patterns and symbols that have deep

associations with human experience, and also to

making tactile, physical, sensory objects rather

than just 2D computer-generated designs.

Womb of God, Pippa King 2020, detail

Triptych, Pippa King 2019 : a series of three patterns

made from photos

Changing the pattern

In summer 2019 I spent three days working in a

12 th Century church. Behind the choir stalls, the

church has a line of ‘blind’ Norman arches made in

the early 13 th Century overlapping to create what

would become Gothic arches. I made some prints

based on this with a linocut arch, then deliberately

tried to arrange the arches in a circle, to reflect an

idea of god that is about inclusivity, connection

and flow - a common attribute of ‘goddess’ or

‘mother god’[20] but also Rohr’s metaphor for the

Trinity as a circle dance[21].

Hierarchy was reflected in the typical architecture

of the church building, with a rope barrier

restricting access to the chancel, the area close to

the altar, and a (long-disused) special door for the

priest behind the altar so ‘he’ didn’t have to mix

with the people. The prints I made re-arranged

the arches in the way I imagined re-ordering a

church in an egalitarian circle.

Metaphorical theologian Sallie McFague points out

that ‘hierarchical, dualistic pattern is so

widespread in western thought that it is usually

not perceived to be a pattern but is felt simply the

be way things are[19].’ Changing a linear pattern,

one that is so normal it is not even seen as a

pattern, both reveals it and offers another option.

Photos made in the church are partial, fragmented,

focused on slightly odd juxtapositions and

everyday objects. None are scenes which I set up,

merely observations of what was there. It is the

out-of-place object, the ‘mistake’ such as a dying

flower arrangement, that interest me. I feel this has elements of ‘the abject’ in that it focuses on the in-between,

the slightly smelly and domestic reality behind the high ritual of Sunday worship.

This might have the effect of abjection, if it causes mild disgust or the feeling that the mess should be put away

and not interfere with the order of an ancient religious building designed to draw the thoughts to God. But the

photos are not meant to be critical; I personally feel that what happens behind the scenes, and the people and

relationships involved – mostly women - is as much part of the pattern as what happens behind the altar on a

Sunday. The photos that show hand sanitiser alongside crucifixes have more resonance now than when I took



Universal Pattern I, II and III

Photographed in the arcade that inspired them.

Pippa King 202

Opposite: Universal Pattern II, Linocut and collage, Pippa King, 2019




There is a small but fascinating genre of

European women artists who used abstract

patterns to represent the structure of the

universe or the unseen world. This was

abstract art before it was officially ‘invented’

(by male artists). In 2019 the Serpentine

Gallery had an exhibition of Swiss healer

Emma Kunz’s[22] pastel-coloured

geometric line drawings, whose creation was

guided by a divining pendulum. Georgiana

Houghton was a British medium whose

spirit-guided abstract patterns from the

1860s/70s look ‘as if they were objects from

a reverse time capsule that had been

projected back 40 years from the period of

the avant-garde.’[23] Swedish artist Hilma

af Klimt (1862-1964) pursued theosophy,

which led her to ‘a visual investigation of

psychical abstraction’.[16] An exhibition at

the Museum of Everything in December

2019 included lesser-known artists who

explored ‘sacred geometry’ through pattern.

The practice of Olga Frobe-kapten (1881-

1962) was an investigation of the other; she

was an associate of Jung, and her abstract

works reference Jungian archetypes[16][17].

Spiritual pattern is not a Western

Spiritualist idea. Islamic art features

geometric patterns as representation of

living things is forbidden. Kolam patterns

(above) made daily by women, and rangoli

patterns use repeated traditional religious

symbols and domestic, ephemeral

materials. Yantra (tantra paintings), which

look like abstract patterns, are ‘visual

mantras’ and the maker meditates on the

image to manifest the divine. This practice

is based on the belief that life provides

fulfilment only when its threads are woven

according to the pattern designated by

nature. Self-centred behaviour tangles the

threads, but practices like yantra restores

the original pattern[15].

Jung included in ‘Archetypes and the

Collective Unconscious’ many

reproductions of mandalas, abstract

patterned images whose name in Sanskrit

means 'circle' or centre, and refers to art

created within or with reference to the form

of a circle. He believed that when a person

draws or paints a mandala, unconscious

leanings or wants are expressed in its

patterns, symbols and shapes. Art therapy

pioneer Joan Kellogg developed the

practice and identified Ten Archetypal

Stages of The Great Round[24].

Patterns are ancient, and universal. Circles

can represent the archetypical mother

goddess, also known as ‘the Great

Round’[25]. A circle can represent God in

Christian thought: St Hildegard of Bingen

said, ‘Just as a circle embraces all that is in

it, so does the godhead embrace all’. She

drew the universe after visions from God.

Spiral patterns - a sacred symbol that can

represent the journey of life to the Source -

are found from Neolithic carvings in

Scotland to aboriginal cave art. Labyrinths

are one step on from this. Visual patterns –

and those expressed in ritual, dance, liturgy

- sometimes represent or reflect the

patterns in nature and the rhythms of

natural life: seasons, tides, day and night,

life cycle, monthly cycle. Or they represent

ideas, beliefs, things imagined. ‘Maybe

labyrinths were placed in churches to hint

at the notion that the universe is subject to

design, however impenetrable its patterns

might appear’. And sometimes they tell a

story, impose a pattern on chaotic-seeming


Pattern is associated with women.

Spiritualist pattern, Kolam pattern, ancient

circular symbols all make this association

positive. But this becomes negatively

perceived when pattern is associated with

domesticity and the home. This may be

why it has also been considered trite and of

little value as art.

Ana Arujo[18] describes the link between

repeating patterns and the repetitive

rhythms of domestic work. This has not

been entirely negative: the pattern-making

machine of the loom was once the heart of

the home (and in some cultures still is;

there is a beautiful film[27] of Iranian

weavers ‘singing the pattern’ of the carpet

they are making). But the idea of the home

as an extension of the woman’s body and

her only permitted environment clearly

made it oppressive. The flower-patterned

furnishings that marked a non-working

woman’s status were nature tamed and

mass produced, forming a comfortably

decorated cage.

William Morris fabrics and often seen to

typify cliched suburban domestic pattern.

But in reality, the Arts and Crafts

movement was radically socialist, they

protested against cheap mass production

and the exploitation of cheap labour and

promoted craftsmanship, including that of

women, valuing the natural world,

materials, and handmade work

characterised by imperfections, not

machine-perfect reproduction. Their ethical

framework is relevant today those

attempting to live more consciously, justly

and sustainably – upsetting the capitalist

system. Something which made the H&M x

Morris & Co collaboration in 2018

somewhat ironic even as it ‘shows the

relevance of Morris’ iconic patterns


Imperfection in pattern makes it

interesting. At the Queering Space[14]

exhibition of textile artist James Hunting’s

work, he said: ‘Woven cloth follows a rule

of warp and weft. Disrupt these and the eye

cannot smooth over difference. These

exclusions hold the glance. They disturb

the non-looking and non-seeing that

pervades, enforcing an engagement.’ The

techniques of ‘the Feminist Uncanny’ from

the 1970s made ‘homely’ things like

crochet slightly unsettling revealed the

oppression of women and the assumptions

that restricted them to the home[29].

People who refuse to fit in a pattern or

system show up the existence of that system

- which can otherwise be unrecognised as a

system as it’s ‘just the way things are’ – and

point the way to a different reality, a

different belief system, just as an icon does.

As part of the London Design Festival in

2019 I met ‘Patternity’ who had installed a

black and white labyrinth outside

Westminster Cathedral. This design studio

aims ‘to use pattern to better understand

life. But in an increasingly complex,

materialistic and fast-paced world, filled

with large conglomerates and flooded by

vast amounts of waste, we also wanted to

break the pattern. We want to use pattern

as an antidote to humankind’s mounting

disconnection and sense of isolation; to

promote a ‘new way of seeing’ …. To

observe the overlooked and consider

coincidence is to find an enduring sense of

connection to our environment and to each

other – a connection that can simply begin

by opening our eyes.’[30] If an icon is

something made to connect us with the

divine, with the soul, with a wider

perspective, with a different way of living

then it’s interesting to see pattern being

explicitly used in this way.

Image captions

Left page: Coronavirus pattern; Fallen

Blossom pattern; Kolam drawing in India,

photo McKay Savage/Flickr; spiral pattern

from a Sharpie drawing from St Mary

Magdalene church; Making natural

mandalas at an art workshop; Flytipped

Shopping Trolley pattern; St Hildegard of

Bingen, Das Weltall (the Universe),

1151(public domain); pattern from a

drawing in the style of Emma Kunz.

Right page: prehistoric stone carvings in the

National Museum of Scotland; Pattern

from Labyrinth/ Map print; H&M x Morris

& Co x XR; James Hunting work at the

Queering Space exhibition; Patternity

labyrinth at Westminster Cathedral


In looking at icons, I focused on the Christian

metaphor of the Trinity that can be used to

imagine god as a pattern, as plural, as collaborative

model of unity in diversity. But traditional icons of

the Trinity include some of the most masculine

and hierarchal of all Christian images: two men (or

sometimes and old man holding a male baby) plus

a little bird that is barely visible in the picture.

One different and interesting version is by

Hildegard of Bingen, a 12 th century female

Christian mystic who drew here visions. As well

as the universe as a vulva-like shape, she drew a

Trinity with Jesus (the visible form of God) in the

centre of concentric circles of light, so, like other

traditions, representing the divine mystery using

the form of a circle.

Catholic theologian Richard Rohr’s popular book

on the Trinity[21] uses the metaphor of an

inclusive circle dance to describe god and claims

the Trinity means ‘God is relationship itself’.

Metaphorical theologian Sallie McFague proposes

an alternate trinity of ‘mother, lover, friend[19]’,

and queer feminist theologian Lin Tonstad[11]

describes a trinity of non-hierarchical relationships

best represented by the clitoris (in contrast to

‘phallic’ penetration of each other’s space) This

‘symbolises the economy of surface touch in

which intensification and co-presence permit evergreater

intimacy between those who remain

different in their particularity’.

considered unclean. This influenced my desire to

include elements of female embodiment around

birth and sexuality in my work, by implication if

not obviously. And my pursuit of universal,

circular pattern is influenced by Hildegard of

Bingen and Richard Rohr’s ideas of connectedness

and flow[21].

The abject is referenced in my choice of

characters for my queer Trinity. I was inspired by

both metaphorical theology and surrealist art to

think freely of images. The giant rabbit came from

a recurring dream, an on refection represents the

Mother archetype. Rabbits and hares have long

symbolised fertility and rebirth, and been

associated with fertility goddesses.

Girls have embodied the idea of suffering for

others (not necessarily by choice) throughout

history and still widely in the world today. The

third person started out as a drag queen angel,

inspired by a joyous life drawing session at the

National Portrait Gallery modelled by the Virgin

Extravaganzah in LGBT+ history week. Through

drawing this became more of a non-binary

character, as many of the traditional icons have

people that are meant to be male wearing clothes

that would nowadays be considered female.

Fertility (or birth) and the blurring of male and

female are noted as examples of things considered

‘abject’ in patriarchy, and surely the horrors

inflicted on girls result from the fear or revulsion

of patriarchal society.

Although this sounds like a niche religious idea,

really it is wider cultural issue that needs

addressing for a post-patriarchal world. People

don’t have to be religious to have underlying

mental associations of male with god - and thus

with characteristics such as authority, strength or

wisdom (or tropes like the maverick genius or

lone saviour). The one feeds off the other, in that

different models of leadership or government –

consensual, collaborative, less ego-driven – are

not necessarily even recognised as leadership.

Whereas if your idea of how the world is ordered

is based on an ideal of collaboration and unity in

diversity then the way you want society to be

structured will be different.

Thinking of The Trinity in terms of female orgasm

– surely as taboo as anything in patriarchal society

– links with the idea of ‘the abject’, since female

bodies have traditionally been considered (in

Kristeva’s words) ‘the source from which

defilement springs[31]’ as the fluids associated

with sex, menstruation and childbirth tend to be


Queer Trinity on the Altar

Pippa King 2020


While continuing to explore images through

drawing and making patterns, including from

multiples of my photos, I researched ancient,

universal pattern and symbols such as the

triskelion, spiral and circle - ‘the great round’,

symbolising the archetypical creator goddess.

This led to the labyrinth, an ancient symbol used

by people of different belief systems to represent

the journey of life, the inward journey into the

soul, or enlightenment, or the path into the heart

– or womb[32] – of God. I have experienced

different labyrinths as a profound spiritual

experience, and included them on drawings of

people as metaphors for the struggle to

understand, but this was the first time I learned

that they have been understood as the womb of

God[33]. Theologian Rosemary Radford Reuther

claims that the most ancient human image of the

divine was the ‘primal matrix’, the great womb

within which all things are generated[34]. Entering

and leaving the labyrinth then represents a

powerful symbol of rebirth.

Personally, I have been drawn to the physical,

ritual aspect of a labyrinth which can be walked as

a kind of bodily prayer. It is a practice that brings

together the body, mind, sprit and emotions. My

interest was drawn to the labyrinth as an ancient

pattern that is physical and can be participatory,

involves ritual, functions as an icon in that its

purpose is to connect people with the divine, and

is a metaphor for a female-bodied deity.

Labyrinth Journey 1 (Travel)

30 x 30 cm, relief print using recycled polystyrene, ink

on newspaper, Pippa King 2020

Labyrinth Journey 2 (Map)

31 x 31 cm, relief print using recycled polystyrene, ink

on wrapping paper, Pippa King 2020

Snake Labyrinth

20 x 20 cm, digital drawing with pattern made from a

photograph of a tree shadow, Pippa King 2020

The labyrinth is an ancient and

universal pattern, found all over the world

sometimes marked into the landscape. Its

shape echoes spirals in nature: galaxies,

clouds, spiders’ webs, ammonites, ferns.

And in our bodies: the surface of the brain,

inner ear, intestines, umbilical cord and

womb. Charlotte Higgins suggests, ’if the

labyrinth is a diagram of the brain it is

therefore the symbol of the imagination…

the manner in which humans make

associations. Freud described the

unconscious as the dark corridors of a

labyrinth, with psychoanalysis providing the

way to navigate it.

Whereas in a maze there are many

possible routes and dead ends, in a labyrinth

you can’t get lost: there is only one way in

and one way out. But it doesn’t feel like that

as the path twists and turns back on itself:

it’s confusing and disorienting. But it does

have a pattern, whether we perceive it or not

Labyrinths have a strong connection to

dance, perhaps mapping out the steps. They

are linked with weaving, also with fertility:

the labyrinth can represent the womb of god,

its journey a metaphor for rebirth.

A few years ago, I walked round the

labyrinth in the City of London, on the site of

a church that was burned down in the Great

Fire of London. I soon felt almost certain I

was going the wrong way and it was an effort

to keep walking ahead. It looked like I was

back at the start and hadn’t got anywhere,

just before I reached the centre. Walking a

labyrinth is meant to be a metaphor for the

journey of life, or inward to the soul, or a

pilgrimage on a very small space. When I

went to this labyrinth near Fenchurch Street

on a day when my work was unexpectedly

cancelled, I struggled with feeling guilty to

be walking in quiet circles while city workers

and traffic bustled all around: it did feel like

walking deliberately to a different rhythm.

On that trip, I noticed, for the first time, one

of Mark Wallinger’s labyrinths on my local

tube platform, a magnificent public artwork

seen at every station on the underground

that reflects the repeated and sometimes

convoluted journeys in and out of London.

Labyrinths, whether on the ground to

be walked on or small ones to be traced with

a finger, are used as a way of mediation or

prayer. It is entered alone, leaving behind

distractions. The centre is a place of stillness,

encounter and transformation, where we

face our deepest selves honestly, dwell in the

spiritual world, or find clarity. The journey

out is just as long, and a time to think on

what we will bring away from this experience

and back into the world.

While I was working on labyrinths,

the coronavirus pandemic reached the UK

and lockdown happened. It felt to me as that

the experience was like finding ourselves in

a labyrinth. All other journeys were

suddenly cancelled and we were forced

inside ourselves. It was lonely and


I think this enforced pause was a time

when we saw things about our world that we

hadn’t noticed before, about community,

inequality, our interconnectedness with

each other and the environment. As the

brakes were suddenly put on capitalism,

many suffered, and many more saw the

insanity and injustice of the system that is

normally accepted as ‘just the way things

are’. It was like a great glitch in the pattern,

helping us to see what we usually don’t.

I’d like to hope that as we emerge from

the global pandemic, we will bring with us

this new perspective and will use it to reset

priorities, make a fairer society and finally

act to halt the climate crisis.


Womb of God

90 cm x 90 cm, imitation rabbit fur and recycled polystyrene

Pippa King 2020

Photograph Pippa King 2020

The Great Round

Video, 30s, Pippa King 2020

Three short loops of found footage that reflect the round and round movements of tracing a labyrinth.

This goes alongside the Womb Of God video and reflects the three persons of the Queer Trinity.


Womb of God

Video, 1m 57s, filmed in St Mary Magdalene, East Ham

Pippa King 2020

Music: Ubi Caritas © Schola Sanctae Scholasticae 2014,


Womb of God

Pippa King 2020; photos Pippa King 2020

Queer Trinity

38 x 28 cm, hard and soft pastel on paper

Pippa King 2020

Photos Pippa King 2020

Queer Trinity

GIF (here as 10 s looped movie), Pippa King, 2020

Three characters in an eternal circle dance


Serpentine Labyrinth

Limestone, 20 cm x 20 cm x 8 cm, Pippa King 2020

Photos Pippa King 2020

Fun Fur

47 cm x 47 cm, Imitation fur, card, gold paper

Pippa King 2020

Photos Pippa King 2020

Fill Up the Hungry with Good Things, Pippa King 2020 (Jack Monroe donated 7,000 copies of their book to Foodbanks across the UK)

Drawn on the Body

Series of four photographic prints each 20 x 25 cm

Of a direct print on tissue paper from a labyrinth cut out of fur

Pippa King 2020, Photos Pippa King 2020


A labyrinth of fur

Early in lockdown I contributed a short reflection to

a LGBT+ event that was moved online. I needed a

two-minute video to go with my thoughts on

lockdown and labyrinth, so I filmed a hand tracing the

path of the rough polystyrene block I had used to

make some relief prints of a labyrinth. It was covered

in dried ink and made a rasping sound, but it worked.

superior quality grey imitation rabbit fur. The interior

of this is made from polystyrene.

The Womb of God

The finished work is pleasingly strange. The

combination of labyrinth and fur is immediately hard

to reconcile. The recognisable, formal shape

contrasts with the thick, dark fur which is sensuous

and luxurious, but calls to mind a big animal’s body. It

is deeply tactile, soft and appealing, but also

somewhat large and forbidding. Especially mounted

on a square background of the same fur it makes a

dark monolith in lights when the grey fur seems



A labyrinth is meant to be experienced, not looked

at, so I recreated the experience by filming a hand

‘walking’ the labyrinth. Nuns chanting in the

background (a positive song about love and

connection) add to the meditative atmosphere. An

endoscope camera was used to film inside the walls

of the labyrinth. This is accompanied by The Great

Round, where short loops of found footage reference

the circular motion of the labyrinth which in turn

references cosmic movement. The rabbit, the dance

and the drag queen link to the Queer Trinity.

This led to the thought of making a finger labyrinth

out of a different textured material, and immediately I

longed for fur. This would be both surreal (like the

quintessential surreal ‘objet[35]’), comforting (like a

pet animal or soft toy but particularly like the giant

rabbit of my dreams), but also bodily in a way that

could be sensuous but could be gross or disturbing.

The process of design and testing included making a

stencil and cutting out two ‘flat’ labyrinths from fake

fur (one of the ‘walls’ and one of the path), from

which I decided I needed to construct a 3D labyrinth

with raised up ‘walls’. I tested ways of using

cardboard covered in fur to make these 3D walls and

‘paths’ of different widths.

In brighter light the shape of the labyrinth is clear and

undulating in the dark fur and it has the air of a

magical object, or a fetish. Photographed on the altar

of an old church it looked heretical, transgressive,

alternative, threatening, but also scarily in-context

with the range of strange artefacts from different

eras. Filmed or photographed in closeup with a finger

entering between the fur walls, it becomes sexual.

This ambiguity surely makes it disconcertingly ‘abject’.

Queer Trinity

Although there are serious ways of reimagining the

three persons of the Trinity, my version has a giant

rabbit (representing the mother archetype) a girl

(suffering for others), and a nonbinary adult, originally

a drag queen, bringing extravagance and celebration.

It plays with the idea of metaphors for God, a god

without a single gender, and also the belief that every

aspect of humanity and creation reflects the divine in

some way. I have drawn these characters in a number

of different configurations reacting to a number of

traditional representations of the Trinity and mostly

trying to adapt them into a circular format. These

include Rublev’s familiar design of three people sitting

around a table, and others that are extremely

hierarchical and male.

I made a stencil and constructed a 45cm diameter

labyrinth made from cardboard packaging covered in

honey-coloured fake fur mounted first on a square of

the same fur, then later on a square gold-coloured

mount. Finally, based on learning from this, I made a

larger and deeper 90 cm diameter labyrinth from

Andrei Rublev, Public Domain

The table design eventually shifted as I wanted the

characters to be close to each other, and the circular

table became a pattern representing

interconnectedness. This has echoes of the sacred

geometry of abstract Spiritualist art.

The picture is drawn in soft and hard pastel, in a

more conservative, traditional style than I usually

employ. The gold haloes, and the drapes and colours

of the clothing are borrowed from iconography, and

it is styled like a traditional religious picture. I framed

it in a heavy, very old, slightly broken wooden frame

to photograph it in a church context where I hoped it

would look both at home and strange. It is a surreal

icon, calling to mind characters from an alternative

fable or gospel.

Although to my mind the realisation is not

immediately ‘abject’ this theory lies behind the

blurring of gender boundaries, and the upsetting or

challenging of an established order, if in a way that is

blatantly surreal and fantastical. Placing three strange

characters in a work titled Trinity undermines

expectations. It is deliberately disorienting and the

viewer needs to interact with the work, use their

imaginations, to create meaning where ‘meaning


I cut up a small copy of the picture to make three

separate miniature figures, and incorporated them

into a section of one of the circular geometric prints

inspired by church arches. A different version of this

pattern has miniature icons of the Virgin and Child.

By making the pattern containing the Trinity rotate, it

gives pleasing associations with Richard Rohr’s idea of

the trinity as a circle dance or infinite flow.

Serpentine Labyrinth

In the popular book about labyrinths, ‘Red Thread’,

author Charlotte Higgins writes about the time she

went to see the famous labyrinth in the floor of

Chartres Cathedral. I was inspired by her comment,

‘It was as if some vast serpent had coiled itself there

in the cathedral nave’ to first draw a labyrinth in the

form of a snake, then carve it in Maltese limestone.

While stone carvings and labyrinths are found in old

churches, snakes generally are less popular. In

Christianity they are associated with Satan tempting

Eve in the garden of Eden. However, snakes, as they

shed their skin, can also be symbols of rebirth,

transformation and immortality - in fact one of the

monuments in the old church has carved wooden

snakes on it. Snakes also represent healing - the

snake coiled round a stick (as held up by Moses in

the desert) is the symbol for doctors and health

services in some countries. Snakes can also represent

fertility, either represented straight as phallic symbols

or coiled around the goddess as in Cretan statues.

The coiled snake can represent the umbilical cord

connecting us to mother earth.

I am happy with the ambiguity of a very familiar

shape, the labyrinth, made of something unfamiliar.

I’m pleased with using a symbolic creature that while

unusual in the context of a labyrinth is perfectly

logical – as labyrinths are also about rebirth and

healing. Particularly I like an ‘icon’ with female-bodied

imagery for the divine.

It appeals to me as both superficially beautiful but

also slightly disturbing, both for people who fear

snakes (a common phobia) and Christians who fear it

looks like worshipping Satan. The stone is smooth

and gives the desire to touch it, and this carving is

about the size of a ‘finger labyrinth’ designed to be

traced with the hand as a form of mediation, but the

thought of touching a snake is repellent to many. This

might make it an abject icon. This contrasts with the

deep plush of the fur labyrinth, which suggests a soft

and strokeable animal, and the contrast itself is

pleasing. As stated, I don’t believe there is any one

way of describing the mystery of god or the universe;

we need many metaphors or image.

Fun Fur

The first 3D labyrinth, intended as a prototype, was

made from obviously synthetic fur, as used for a

cheap teddy bear or a pencil case. It gave it a retro,

1970s feel, like something from a bizarre toyshop.

But it worked surprisingly well despite that, perhaps

because it made so little sense. Again, the material

jarred with the ancient formal shape. The colour and

texture of this fur photographed well, and for me it

linked with my previous rabbit-inspired project which

involved unpicked soft toys, so I took it with me to

the church locations and took some photos. I initially

mounted it on a square fur background, but tried

changing it to gold, to reference an icon. Despite the

colours making a bright combination, the contrast in

textures make it pleasing.

Drawn on the Body

In exploring the labyrinth, I made a number of

experimental drawings and prints using different

materials. My first attempt at cutting out a fur

labyrinth was too spindly, so I stuck it to a support to

try and make prints from. I took these photos of a

direct print in black ink on light pink tissue paper,

which I held up to the light and allowed to fold and

crease in various directions.

The effect is abstract and bodily due to the fleshy

colour and folds, especially when the hairiness is

visible on the print. The shape of the print on the

paper also references traces on a landscape, as if the

connection is with the earth. When the photos were

laid on a wooden bench in the church, the grain of

the wood reflected the lines of the distorted

labyrinth. There are aspects of the womb of god, the

Abject, exploration of the self or the body, and



Location photography

Without the option of presenting my work in a

gallery setting in 2020, I photographed it in two

contrasting church buildings. The first was the same

church I visited last year, a beautiful Norman church

building where I filmed the Womb of God labyrinth

against a 12 th Century wall alongside a Jacobean

monument. The other is a 1930s Baptist church that

is used for the local Food Bank – which is why the

context of these photos includes bulk packs of food

and copies of Tin Can Cook. I’m grateful to the

Parish of East Ham and Bonny Downs Baptist Church

for allowing me to use their buildings. Thanks also to

Georgie King Clift for assisting with the photography.

Here it was the contrast with everyday objects that

appealed. The gold icon shone against a slightly

battered wall, but the snake somehow fitted in

amongst the boxes, with its colour and shapes

echoed in the cream panelling and the light giving a

softness to the stone. This contrasted strongly with

the picture of the same work in the Anglican church

alongside a coiled red rope, echoing its shape in a

different way. This has a far more magical,

transgressive air, especially as the rope is used to

restrict access to the area near the altar.

Likewise, I feel the softness of the fur of the Womb

of God labyrinth is highlighted in the daylight of the

Baptist hall, whereas it seems dark and imposing on a

traditional altar, like a portal to another dimension.

I ask myself how much my own feelings affect these

perceptions. Apart from working more tentatively in

the Anglican church out of respect for a grade 1

listed building, that church and its traditions are

unfamiliar, possibly alien, to me whereas the Baptist

hall has a scruffy familiarity.

The context of the ancient church gave my work

more apparent significance as icons or artefacts, in a

context where there are monuments, icons and

religious art from many centuries. The deep colours,

and ancient walls added a feeling of richness and a

mystical, possibly intimidating quality. By contrast it’s

only the wooden cross at the front that obviously

identifies the Baptist church as a religious building

rather than any other community hall from that era.

Right: White Snake, Pippa King 2020


Pippa King is an East London based artist who works in drawing, print, photography

and sculpture. She leads workshops locally and at events.

This work is the outcome of an MA by Project at The School of Art, Architecture

and Design (formerly The Cass) at London Metropolitan University. Get in touch via

the website if you are interested in a printed version of this book or prints of these

works. Also to talk about commissions, collaboration or workshops.

Insta @philippa.king

ABJECT ICONS copyright ©Pippa King 2020

Words, artworks and photography © Pippa King unless stated otherwise.

Design by Pippa King and published using Bote e-publishing

All rights reserved.



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Pippa King 2020

Reflection of Christ Church, Spitalfields obscured by graffiti, with

blue sky in windows behind. Taken on Zenit-E camera

Back cover:

Womb of God

Video still, Pippa King 2020

Pippa King 2020

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