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Home arrow Religion arrow Art and the Church: A Fractious Embrace: Ecclesiastical Encounters with Contemporary Art
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  • 1 For a prodigious review of ethnographic accounts inspired by Hertz’s research, see Right and Left: Essays on Dual Symbolic Classification (1973), Rodney Needham’s collection of essays by various anthropologists with a particular investment in this field. In example after example we see anthropologists stepping forward to cite Hertz as the theoretical progenitor of observed facts, lending further support to a right/left dualism.
  • 2 Even the term that serves to alleviate this bias in favour of an equality of use, ‘ambidextrous’, displays a prejudice for the right by suggesting that one is gifted with two right hands (a positive bias reflected negatively in its lesser-known antonym, ‘ambisinistrous’, meaning ‘clumsy on both sides’).
  • 3 Many later anthropologists almost entirely dismissed any such division. Evans-Pritchard, for example, though an admirer and leading advocate of Hertz’s work, was quite clear in stating that, in his fieldwork experience, no such absolute polarity of the sacred and the profane could be found in the societies he studied. Consequently, it cannot be called upon as proof for some further inference. Neither can it be stated unequivocally that, historically or culturally, deference has always been given to the right hand over the left. Even within Hertz’s own endorsement of this division, one soon finds contradictions creeping in which rather undermine his argument.
  • 4 From the very beginning, says Jamin, with his ‘two left feet’, Leiris ‘stumbled’ through Africa producing a serious ‘sprain’ (entorse) to a ‘savoir-vivre ethnographique’ (Jamin 1981: 103). From Jamin’s text alone, these string of terms are applied to Leiris: trebuche- ment (stumbling), malhabile (clumsy gesture), maladresse (awkwardness), faux pas (misstep, social blunder), gauchissements (misperceptions),gaffeur (blunderer) and maladroit (clumsy, awkward). Echoing Jamin’s assessment, Michele Richman aptly describes Leiris’s text as an affectionate ‘portrait of the artist as young clod’ (2002: 157).
  • 5 Interestingly, both at Northampton and Assy, the most hysterical protestations came not from the congregation, but from those outside the church. By contrast, for the congregation, regular viewing appeared to ameliorate whatever initial reservations they may have had. Two years later, Sutherland’s Crucifixion was greeted with very little of the furore that had surrounded Madonna and Child.Though it was described as a shocking and distorted vision of Christ, the war had taught people the horror of death such that so brutalistic a depiction no longer appeared inappropriate.
  • 6 Q. R. — the figure of the Question is in the Room; I. P — the figure of the Interrogative Philosophy; O. Q. — the figure of the One Question; Q. D. — the figure of the Question of Death.
  • 7 Conference, Commissioning Art for Today’s Church, University College, Chichester, 1999.
  • 8 In 2004 John Newling’s Stamping Uncertainty, an installation in the Chapter House of Canterbury Cathedral, augmented just such a spirit of questioning. Newling isolated every questioning sentence in a hymnbook, turning each into an individually rubber- stamped statement, thereby disclosing a seam of doubt running through the songbook’s usually affirmative creed.
  • 9 This idea was recently reinforced by its current artistic director, Guido Schlimbach, in the pages of Arts Sacres. Keen to avoid the banalities of imitation, he affirmed his belief that Kunst-Station Sankt Peter is not a model to be copied, but, rather, a laboratory for experimentation (2014: 62).
  • 10 This ‘reshaping, reconfiguring or reinterpreting’ of an aesthetic tradition is evident in a work like Martyrs, Viola’s latest production for the church, as well as many other of his films in their use of the predella, diptych, triptych or, in this case, polyptych form to create a modern retable. Simultaneously, it presents us with a religious artistic tradition re-envisioned in a new form alongside a rupture with the past through the use of new technology.
  • 11 Giorgio Agamben, for example, has dismissed religare as ‘an insipid and incorrect etymology’, insisting instead on relegere as indicating an ‘uneasy hesitation’ that, far from uniting man with God, preserves a separation of sacred and profane realms (2007: 74—75).
  • 12 As David Brown has examined in his two volumes on the theological imagination, the incarnation reveals a God who engages with the limitations of specific cultural contexts. While the historical sources of Christian tradition must be respected: ‘Revelatory insights [are] by no means to be confined to the canonical dispensation, but instead God must be seen as continuing to speak equally across the subsequent two millennia’ (2000: 1). And, Brown continues, speaking in a near-Derridean tone, ‘trajectories have been opened up which have the inherent power to turn back upon the tradition from which they come and force a new reading of its implications’ (2000: 2).
  • 13 Perhaps this is what the artist Jean Bazaine — who created numerous works for French churches, including Assy and the Eglise de Sacre-Creur d’Audincourt — had in mind when he upheld as supreme the rule that ‘each new picture must be a start from the very beginning’, conscious of the burden this places upon the artist (cited in Regamey 1963: 166). By contrast, what better negative example of uncreative repetition could there be than Crucible 2, Gloucester Cathedral’s exhibition of sculpture in 2014? Here was indeed a dearth of nerve and imagination aiming to build on past glories. Following the success of Crucible, an earlier exhibition of sculptural works in and around the cathedral, Crucible 2 was effectively the same exhibition repeated, using many of the same artists and similar works. Indeed, the curators had even placed works by certain artists in the same parts of the cathedral where they had previously appeared, reinforcing that sense of deja vu. Individually, many pieces were shown to good effect in both exhibitions, forming interesting, dialogic relations with their ecclesiastical host, but one has to ask what such a sequel hoped to achieve other than capitalising on past successes by treating the church as a showcase for art.
 
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