Artwork > Tilting at Giants

Tilting at Giants is a permanent site-specific sculpture located in the historic Chambers-Wylie Memorial Presbyterian Church building in downtown Philadelphia, PA. Now operated by Broad Street Ministry, the work was commissioned by the ministry with an open call for proposals administrated through the Philadelphia Percent for Art Program.

Proposal Excerpt:

A person catches their breath as they enter the church and their eyes are confronted by a startling image: an array of enormous windmills fills the sanctuary, hovering in the air above them, looming over the worship space.

The windmills are unexpected; out of their element; mysteriously misplaced in this setting. And they are still. This stillness infuses the atmosphere with a sense of tense expectation. The sanctuary, for a moment, is a hair pulled taut, waiting to snap. The brilliant aluminum towers, tall and clean, gleam against the dark, vaulting canopy above, like sentinels keeping watch; the sun-burst fans are poised, waiting for a mysterious, transcendent wind to fill the sacred space. Cradled within each tower, nearly lost in the spectacle, float votive candles, glowing in prayer. The space itself seems to become a living prayer—a longing, tense, expectant prayer.

Another person is reminded of the event at Pentecost, recorded in the biblical book of Acts, where the twelve disciples were waiting in a room together and “suddenly, a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.” This room, they think, is waiting for wind and fire.

For one person, a song comes to mind, Leonard Cohen, she’s pretty sure. It must be, because this place is pregnant with the same melancholy yearning, the same conflicted faith she senses in his words:

If it be your will
that I speak no more,
and my voice be still
as it was before;
I will speak no more,
I shall abide until
I am spoken for,
If it be your will.

If it be your will
that a voice be true,
from this broken hill
I will sing to you.
From this broken hill
all your praises they shall ring
if it be your will
to let me sing.

If it be your will,
if there is a choice,
let the rivers fill,
let the hills rejoice.
Let your mercy spill
on all these burning hearts in hell,
if it be your will
to make us well…

For another person nothing dramatic has happened, yet the ‘sacred’ space has lived up to its billing. There is hope in this place; a hope, that hope does, in fact, exist somewhere. There is a sweet version of joy that comes from being in the presence of great possibility, and they can taste it.

And for the artist, it is all of these and more. It is an installation rich with suggestions, and images of the invisible. “The wind blows wherever it pleases,” spoke Jesus, “You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.”

To the artist it is Gothic anachronism and rustic Americana. It is a Quixotic appeal to the numbed imagination of the sleepy parishioner:

"It is easy to see," replied Don Quixote, "that you are not used to this business of adventures. Those are giants, and if you are afraid, away with you out of here and betake yourself to prayer, while I engage them in fierce and unequal combat."

It is an invitation to doubt and it is an invitation to faith. It is an invitation to wrestle with God.