Ecce Homo // Mark Wallinger

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The Fourth Plinth of Trafalgar Square in central London was left unadorned for 150 years after its construction. In 1999, Mark Wallinger’s “Ecce Homo”, the first of a series of commissioned sculptures, was installed on the plinth. The other plinths feature larger-than-life sculptures of George IV on horseback, General Sir Charles James Napier, and Major-General Sir Henry Havelock, while the fourth was intended to support a statue of William IV. Conquerors and kings.

Wallinger’s piece is life-sized, making the bound Christ appear particularly small in a context of exaggerated figures of outrageous men. Even more striking is the quiet, insistent presence of a man condemned to death by Empire standing in the heart of London, one of the great centers of global capitalism.

 

 

 
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Images from “Mark Wallinger”, Thames & Hudson (November 8, 2011)

The following is a brief interview with Wallinger, with footage of the piece, and surprisingly affecting footage of its removal from the plinth in 2000.

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Dropping A Han Dynasty Urn // Ai Wei Wei

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Ai Wei Wei as a student in New York, posing as a street portrait artist.

 
 

 
 

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With Allen Ginsberg in New York.

 
 

 
 

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After the 2008 Sichuan earthquake and the discovery of corruption that left thousands of children to die in poorly-built schools, Ai Wei Wei produced a series of works that exposed the “true plight of our spiritual existence”.

This piece, from an exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum, is composed of metal rods used to reinforce concrete, pulled from collapsed structures. The devastation twisted each bar horribly. Each bend was meticulously undone by one of Ai Wei Wei’s many assistants, thousands of hours dedicated to restoring what had been distorted.
 
 

 
 
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#Ferguson and Western-Christian Civilization // Leon Ferarri

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“Western-Christian Civilization”, Leon Ferrari, 1965.

The deification of Whiteness generates a religion that demands the sacrifice of all that is not White. When power is worshiped, all that resists is subjugated. Constantine envisioned the Cross as a sword. America’s dominant religion imagines Christ as a weapon in the service of White power. Christianity is consistently invoked by White Christians to justify the atrocities committed by its government abroad while White Christians remain silent about atrocities committed by this same government against people of color at home. This is a religion that understands clearly that Christ is for Whites, and serves their interests exclusively. 

Ferrari’s piece captures this relationship between Western-Christian Civilization and power, but his skill as an artist allows him to tell the truth of power in such a way that the truth of crucifixion may also be seen. Those who worship power may see Christ as a payload to be deployed against (non-White) enemies. Those who do not worship power can see Christ crucified by power.

Christ is shot six times in Ferguson.
Christ is grieving the loss of her son in Ferguson.
A son who has no tomb, whose body is left to go cold on the pavement.
Christ’s hands are raised, pleading.
“Don’t Shoot.”
Christ is tear-gassed and under curfew in Ferguson, crying out to be heard.

Two Poems // Langston Hughes

Who But The Lord?

I looked and I saw
That man they call the Law.
He was coming
Down the street at me!
I had visions in my head
Of being laid out cold and dead,
Or else murdered
By the third degree.

I said, O, Lord, if you can,

Save me from that man!

Don’t let him make a pulp out of me!

But the Lord he was not quick.
The Law raised up his stick
And beat the living hell
Out of me!

Now, I do not understand
Why God don’t protect a man
From police brutality.
Being poor and black,
I’ve no weapon to strike back
So who but the Lord
Can protect me?

We’ll see.


Question and Answer

Durban, Birmingham,
Cape Town, Alabama,
Johannesburg, Watts,
The earth around
Struggling, fighting,
Dying–for what?

A world to gain.

Groping, hoping,
Waiting–for what?

A world to gain.

Dreams kicked asunder,
Why not go under?

There’s a world to gain.

But suppose I don’t want it,
Why take it?

To remake it.

“stubborn tiny lights vs. clustering darkness forever ok?” // J.M.W. Turner

 

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Click to enlarge. Really. You need to see this one up close.

 

 

“You have to carry the fire.”

I don’t know how to.”

Yes, you do.”

Is the fire real? The fire?”

Yes it is.”

Where is it? I don’t know where it is.”

Yes you do. It’s inside you. It always was there. I can see it.”

– Cormac McCarthy, The Road

 

 

 

 

Turner is one of my favorite painters, so I was excited to discover that the Yale Center for British Art has a room dedicated to his work. The collection ranges from his early almost-crystalline paintings to his mature style. “Staffa, Fingal’s Cave” is among these later paintings, and I was struck when I saw it hanging on the wall, having never come across it in books or online. At first glance, it looks typical of Turner: a nautical scene, a pending storm, wrapped in haze.

 

 

 

“Keep a little fire burning; however small, however hidden.” – Cormac McCarthy, The Road

 

 

 

The steamer is leaving the light and seeming security of the island, heading into darkness. The sun is before it, but it is setting. Readers of this blog are largely on board with the idea of confronting the unknown. But here’s where Turner’s genius shines through: with the smallest gesture of his brush, he calls us deeper into darkness.

 

 

 

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The absence of light is its own stubborn light –

no light is a light,

no light is the true light,

and there is no light so there is a light so there is no light so there is a light!

Though we’ve been denied too much hope in our lives

let tonight be the night when it ends.

-Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra, There Is A Light

 

 

 

In the darkest part of the canvas, and with the slightest bit of  paint, Turner keeps the fire burning. Hot coals radiate from within the steamer. This is not the fire of optimism: many of Turner’s finest paintings prominently feature shipwrecks. But it is a fire, burning hidden, carried across the waves.

 

 

 

 

 

The clip below is a high-quality live performance of “There Is A Light”.

Hang on darlin’
Chant aloud
This boy’s lost his thunder
Amongst the dirty clouds

Dull white starlite,
pale as the morning falls away.

The devil each dawn,
and flat greys upon,
we’re torn asunder neath his gaze.

So c’mon ye children,
if there’s one thing we know,
it’s that them gathering clouds are swinging low.

So don’t you be precious,
man don’t you be meek,
there ain’t no damn glory in the long retreat.

Go call the fuzz,
they’ll shine their lights on us,
we’ve been building in the dark,
there’s so many of us.

Now blinking in the light,
there’s so many of us.

Illuminated and proud,
there’s so many of us.

But there ain’t no truth but the no truth but the not truth, yeah!
Ain’t no thing but the nothing but the nothing, yeah!
Ain’t no fall but the long fall is a long fall, yeah!
And there ain’t no light but the true light is a dim light, yeah!

But I’ve been waiting and longing for that light to fall all over me.

6 and 6 parsons and he doth proclaim that the best little bits of us misfits and strays
make a light in the night that needs to be shamed,
all for some none for all,
and all fallen the same.

And we surrender the stage to those pale horse riders.

Go forth, man
Get down,
With a mighty fist and a retarded crown,
do the one-step the two-step,
Sweet jubilee!
And show me the light, goddamn!

And lay me down in a bed full of rain.

Yeah shit is bleak – we’ve seen it and worried,
our timid leaps get knee-deep and buried,
entire weeks where I swear I can barely rise.

Electrical fits,
tantrums and prayers,
pride un-does what mercy repairs,
the pits of this,
toss a match to it and start again.

The absence of light is its own stubborn light – no light is a light,
no light is the true light,
and there is no light so there is a light so there is no light so there is a light!

Though we’ve been denied too much hope in our lives
let tonight be the night when it ends.

Tell me there is a light!
There is a light!

There!
Is!
A!
Light!

Yeh I’ve Been Searchin’ // Bas Jan Ader

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Fall II, 1970



 

 

 

 

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Broken Fall (Geometric), 1971



It’s not uncommon for an artist to reflect on human fragility and vulnerability in her work.

What I see in Bas Jan Ader is an intense fragility, a deliberate fragility.

This isn’t a heroic pose, claiming acceptance of the human condition.

This is a move beyond acceptance to embrace.

The movement in Ader’s work deliberately increases his vulnerability.

 

 

 

 

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There is nothing more vulnerable than the search.

To seek is to bear witness to what we lack, and to our desire to find.

To search is to be open to failure, to loss, to getting lost, to being lost.

Seeking makes us vulnerable to not finding.

Seeking also makes us vulnerable to finding.

If our search is honest, we can’t predict what we’ll find, or lose.

 

 

 

 

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Six months after he attempted to cross the Atlantic in a 12 1/2 ft. sailing boat, his boat was found off the coast of Ireland.

 

Bas Jan Ader went in search of the miraculous.

 

 

 

 

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“Tomorrow We Believe, But Not Today” // Stephan Doitschinoff

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This collection of Doitshchinoff’s work is a riff on the story of St. Expeditus, a Roman centurion and early Christian. When Expeditus decided to convert, the devil sent a crow, crying “Cras! Cras!”, Latin for “Tomorrow”. Expeditus responded by crushing the bird’s skull, declaring, “Hodie!”, “Today!”

 

Doitshchinoff, a Brazilian artist, is the son of an evangelical pastor. In his teens, he began branching out, exploring anarchism, shamanism, punk, entheogens, Freud, Jung, Russian mob tattoo codes. His concerns are political, ecological, cultural; a man stunned by our inability to confront ourselves and the worlds we’ve created. As a result, manifold symbol systems are at play in his work, calling for the decision (if not the religion) of St. Expeditus.

 

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“Inside Out Outside In”, installation at Museu de Arte de Sao Paolo, Sao Paolo, Brazil, 2009. Click to enlarge.

 

 

 

 

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To my eye, Doitschinoff’s work draws out the contradictions and tensions that define our days, pulling the poles apart, and cramming the space between with signs. Part of our struggle is the difficulty of decision in the absence of an absolute perspective. The skull of Adam resting at the foot of Doitschinoff’s crucifixion points to this. In Renaissance Christian art, the cross was often depicted as resting on the skull and bones of Adam: Christ overcoming death, which Adam brought into the world. In Doitschinoff’s engagement with this tradition, however, he makes a subtle move. The observer sees Adam’s skull inverted, its jaw broken. Death defeated. From the perspective of the cross, however, the skull is upright, undefeated. A parallax results, in which neither view captures reality. The status of death is in some way undecidable, and so calls for a response, a risky step into the void between. A step to be dared today, not “Tomorrow.”

 

 

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Q: Science or Religion? A: Art

When people learn that I have a background in physics and am now studying theology, they are often surprised, seeing the two pursuits as divergent. I often stumble through some inadequate explanation that both fields ask “the big questions”, so really, I’ve just been doing one thing this whole time.

And there’s something to that, but that’s just a shorthand way of explaining my interests.

Of course, I’ve gone to grad school in both fields, so these aren’t just casual interests. Both pursuits stem from my insatiable curiosity coupled with my anxious, all-too-often desperate, need-to-know. To know what? Everything. And that just gets exhausting.

There’s a question certain music fans like to ask to sort out someone’s tastes, “Beatles or Stones?” My answer, invariably, is “Velvets”. There’s just too much that gets left out of the Lennon/McCartney vs Jagger/Richards dichotomy. Namely, Lou Reed. The underside, the dark side, the wild side, the truth.

That’s where I’ve come in my travels in science and religion. Both have helped me immensely (which is more than I can say for the Beatles). Yet neither has the corner on reality. Something more is needed that moves beyond the confines of each while simultaneously calling out something more from each. Art doesn’t trump science or religion, art stands as a reminder that there is no trump. That any claim of trump is bullshit.

Over the next few weeks I’m going to post works from some of my favorite visual artists. People who have called me out on my pretensions, and have opened me up to worlds I hadn’t imagined. I’m not going to say a whole lot about what I share. I might offer some context or share a little of why the artist or piece matters to me. Mainly, though, I just want to bear witness to a little of what I’ve seen that has helped me see better. I hope you find something good here.