HOW much do we really notice of the world around us?

Our senses seem so acute and sophisticated that it’s a surprise to realise that it’s our brains doing all the real work.

The image formed on the retina is rudimentary, much of it unfocussed and with very little colour information, so the brain must fill in the rest.

Hearing works in a similar way: for instance some of the lowest notes we perceive in a recording are not physically present: our brain infers they ought to be there.

Yet it is familiarity that presents us with the biggest perception problem: we stop paying attention to things that are always there.

This was brought home to me recently after my stepson wrote an A level essay on the architecture of the cathedral. It was enthralling; so much so that I had to go and have a fresh look for myself.

The essay described the west front in some detail.

It is an imposing sight, of course, but when you approach it in a critical manner, it doesn’t withstand scrutiny well. The main doors seem to cower under the weight of masonry, and the statuary is largely Victorian and of very ordinary quality.

I wasn’t too happy with my judgment so consulted Pevsner’s Architectural Guide to Wiltshire, and no, he didn’t rate the west front either.

It’s still magical inside and there is a new feature which adds to the magic. The cathedral has a good record for bringing in contemporary works on art and Bruce Monro’s light installation gives new focus to the font.

Monro has been at the cathedral before: in 2010 he created a cascade of light in the spire crossing, and the next year placed water towers made from 16,000 plastic bottles in the cathedral cloisters. Lit by coloured LEDs they were gaudy, glitzy, and I loved them.

The current work is a much gentler and more subtle intervention, and is probably the better art because of it.

A high projector beams an image of white dots and dashes (Morse code) vertically down to the font. These lines of light spread from a central moon across the water and onto the surrounding floor.

Apparently the Morse code contains a biblical text, should anybody care to decipher it.

The work is called ‘The Star of Bethlehem’ and despite the Christmas theme it will be here until early February.

The light projection is simple and well-integrated, seems thoughtful and contemplative, and has something of the sacred about it.

It really works best when it’s getting dark but I feel quite strongly that it should stay, or at least return for the winter seasons.

That way we could appreciate it anew every year.

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