Saturday, November 21, 2009

tracey emin and the popes

two interesting things happened in the last week or so:

1. tracey emin wins art + christian enquiry (ACE) award for [i]art in a christian context[/i] -- tracey emin?! she of the tent with the names of everyone she had ever slept (and not necessarily sexually, mind you) with embroidered on it? she of the frank and overt sexuality? she of the abject and throwaway? hmm...but she is also the tracey emin who repeatedly, and directly, without the subterfuge and obfuscation of many other artists, addresses God in her work. i remember reading an interview where she noted that no one ever discusses the religious/ spiritual aspect of her work and instead focus on the shock/ scatological aspects. in an interview with sarah douglas, tracey states:
Judge my work, that’s fine. It’s here, it’s on the wall. But don’t judge my soul. So even though it sounds a little tongue-in-cheek, it isn’t. And in terms of God — not religion, but in terms of God — I have a vast amount of faith, and belief.
and it's not the only time her connection to faith is mentioned. try here, for instance. i find her increasingly fascinating.

2. pope benedict met with artists from around the world in the sistine chapel to discuss the relationship between the church and artists, and the possibilities of Beauty - a gesture of reconciliation and entreaty. it happened to have occurred on the tenth anniversary of pope john paul II's letter to artists, as well as the 45th anniversary of pope paul VI's original meeting with artists in 1964. see the full text of pope benedict's address here.

pjp2's letter starts with "to all who are passionately dedicated to the search for new epiphanies of beauty so that through their creative work as artists they may offer these as gifts to the world". epiphanies of Beauty. lovely.

that's one of the primary ideas i'm currently exploring - the once again acceptable idea of Beauty. dostoyevsky said that "Beauty will save the world", and the idea often finds itself linked to Truth, [moral] goodness, hope. i find that Beauty is invoked a lot in contemporary art, especially art that explores spiritual content. i'd definitely be interested in any suggestions for reading, exploring, thinking about the role of Beauty in art and the world.

(more later)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


i will be displaying some new pieces this weekend at a fundraiser/ exhibition for the mustard seed in edmonton.

from their website:
The Mustard Seed Street Ministry is a non-profit Christian humanitarian organization that has been caring for Calgary's homeless for over 24 years. We help meet the essential needs of the less fortunate through food, clothing, and shelter provisions. The Mustard Seed also provides a broad range of progressive and innovative education and employment training programs to help guests regain confidence, find hope, and rebuild their lives off the street. Supported housing, arts and recreation programs, an integrative health and wellness centre, and personalized mentoring provide comprehensive care to our guests, helping restore wholeness and confidence.
look at these images in that context. as always, i'd be very interested in your responses.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

re: god in the gallery

just finished reading this a second time. i think daniel siedell presents an interesting approach to (and much needed corrective to the usual theological attitude towards) modern and contemporary art, especially from the position of the viewer/ reader as opposed to the maker. that being said, there's a lot to chew on in this book as one forms a theology of art.

right off the top, siedell asks why art, which is "complex and difficult and contextual", is so often communicated to people as "fun, accessible and child-friendly"? obviously, the desire to make art accessible confuses the issue -- there is a difference between the therapeutic effects of self-expression and making art. in turn, we create an expectation that makes it difficult to engage with art in a critical manner (by which i mean analysis, evaluation and judgement). it's actually quite counter-productive. as siedell notes, it is crucial to consider the work's historical and philosophical conditions. i also found the idea that "creating meaning is an institutional practice" intriguing, especially when we consider modern and contemporary art as genres.

there is a lot of discussion about the spiritual element of art. siedell does a very good job of outlining why there is that parallel between the aesthetic and the spiritual by addressing art's role in embodying ideas. art has a phenomenological depth; it (hopefully) presents, or bodies forth, human experience. museums are often described as the new "secular" temple, but rarely does anyone unpack why that might be so. if "the aesthetic" has replaced "the religious", it does so through a union between the sensuous material and ideas, bringing them together in a way that is more than the sum of its parts.

one possible approach to this spiritual/ aesthetic connection can be found in the approach to the icon. icons have a curious parallel to modern and contemporary art, especially the earlier manifestations of abstraction (malevich, kandinsky, etc.) -- they are similar in size, their spiritual power/ presence, composition, and self consciousness. these images are doorways, portals to the ineffable, a claim that is equally important for both icons and abstract art.

a very important idea that siedell emphasizes is that art is a cultural product, and that creating art is a cultural practice; and that cultural production functions best within its own [interpretive] context. this, in turn, means that it must be conscious of its audience if it is to be interpreted properly; obsessed, even. this idea is especially important in the context of modern art and the idea of the avant-garde, which, as siedell shows, was all about finding its own, different audience, whether his example of courbet, the impressionists or dada.

one question he raised, which i think is an important one, especially for the christian artist, is: how can i develop "a telos that is less explicitly religious in its subject matter but more profoundly religious in its structure"? this question relates to the experience of the work, its liturgy, the environment of our interaction with it. it involves an engagement with the work, which breaks down any traditional aesthetic distance, a deeper contemplation and communion. to return back to the icon, the 2nd council of nicea determined that images were not merely educational; the icon projects presence. that presence, however, is contextualized by its place in the liturgy and rituals of the people in a church environment. the nicean icon, therefore, provides a model for modern and contemporary art by "incorporating objects, practices, and environments into an expansive and comprehensive aesthetic network".

art is not simply about the object; "it is an institutionalized way of making, looking, experiencing and interpreting. it is a confluence of specific circumstances that include the artist, viewer, object and the way that object is presented and displayed" -- and, i would add, how it is discussed and written about.

i also appreciated siedell's forthrightness about art criticism and its alienating effect on the general public. art criticism, or "talking around the art", is a literary genre. it's really not so much about explaining the artwork as it is about the critic's experience of it. the call being sounded is one inviting christian critics and curators to speak about "the relationship between the immanent and the transcendent, the material and spiritual, the aesthetic and ethical implications of consubstantiality and the hypostatic union, and the inextricable relationship between dogma and practice as an intellectual framework" (p. 111) and "to creatively bend and shape contemporary art towards christ". which isn't as difficult as it seems, judging by the increasing interest in the art world in the True, the good, and the beautiful.

i also appreciated siedell's attention to the much different context of the church, and how art functions within its liturgy and the rituals of the people. there, art serves the larger purposes of the gathering. its purpose is to aid prayer, not "ask difficult questions" or "challenge beliefs". this contextualization also means that the meaning [of an artwork] evolves over time, both within and outside the context of the liturgy. the middle ages are often trotted out as an exemplar of art being used to communicate to an illiterate populace. but that is a misrepresentation; art was never used for "the common people" for illustrative purposes -- those images functioned in the context of an immersive environment and multi-sensory experience. the sense of transcendence was, and is, accomplished through instilling in the participant an awareness of presence where the aesthetic parallels the spiritual.

daniel siedell's god in the gallery is rich. it is a book i will return to repeatedly.

Thursday, November 5, 2009


i just discovered a new site through one of the list-serves i'm on, and i find it quite intriguing: dear computer. as the website states: Dear Computer is the quest for beauty in algorithmic randomness. Using various tools I'm trying to create surprising results in the field of generative art.

i've always been interested in systems and their relation to creativity -- partially because i tend to work in series and with collage, but also because i think that creativity really shines when we are given limits to work within, push against, transcend. in fact, it's a great way to develop your "chops" - working with different styles, genres and other limitations. certainly, utilizing forms and structures as generative devices is not new, nor is it a new thing to incorporate randomness as part of the process.

and while you're there, you may also want to check out glitch. just sayin'...


i just discovered blublu.

i'm not kidding. especially

MUTO a wall-painted animation by BLU from blu on Vimeo.

gobsmacked, i am. utterly gobsmacked.