OK, let’s be a bit provocative, shall we? If you don’t know much about art, there’s a good chance you know what you like. If you don’t know much about religion, there’s every chance you know what everyone else should like. No two topics have ever been so universally divisive, though I don’t think anyone ever said their five-year-old could have come up with a religious doctrine. Oh, hang on, I bet they have!
So, having offended as many people as possible, let’s look at what we have here. First off, I like the title. It’s not “art & religion”, it’s “art + religion”. I’m going to hazard a guess that that little difference isn’t a typographical mannerism but rather a deliberate indication that this is a book about where these two (I think we’ve already established) controversial topics collide. Fusion, rather than fission, of course, produces a whole new element.
The blurb tells me that this is a “timely and thought-provoking” book. You don’t say! It’s certainly not afraid to get you thinking, and to shock if necessary. Not all – in fact I’d probably go so far as to say few – of the images are religious in themselves and certainly not devotional. Marco Brambilla’s Creation, for instance, culled from film vignettes from The Sound of Music to Star Wars, gets in because it premiered in one of the oldest Roman Catholic cathedrals in New York and was accompanied by a live choir. It evoked (it says here) queries about what visionary experiences people expect to have in church today. Pardon me while I stick my head out of the window and shout “bum” as a critique of modern life in a traditional English village.
Inevitably, there’s an element of The Emperor’s New Clothes here and you can have fun choosing your own favourite exemplar. However, the book is indeed thought-provoking and I’ll venture to suggest that this is what religion should do. Jonathan Hobin’s A Boo Grave recreates the famous Abu Graib image, but using children. I’ve looked at it a few times and it’s still unsettling. Less so, but still thought-provoking, are the Tower of London poppies, which made a point about war, death and remembrance. The obligatory Banksy is, well, obligatory. I’m still trying to work out what Spencer Tunick’s Sydney 1 has to do with religion or spirituality – or his assertion that being nude “can be a very spiritual experience for [participants]”. Cold, uncomfortable, yes. On the other hand, shamans often use discomfort to provoke an out-of-body state, so what do I know?
OK, I know I find this an interesting, provocative and frequently disturbing book. What was intended, I think.
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