In collaboration with The Federation's Art Action Day marking one year since Trump's inauguration, my paperworks class made small collage books that engaged some aspect of culture deemed important to them. The group urges that art is essential to democracy and this little project allows each student to put their voice out into the world on particular topics. Students picked themes of multilingualism, homelessness, immigration, religion, among others.
Students collected collage materials, assembled them into this easily reproducible low-brow book form. We then scanned them, had multiples printed via a photocopier. Students are then to "shopdrop" them around the city. Shopdropping is defined as "To covertly place objects on display in a store. A form of "culture jamming" s. reverse shoplift, droplift." This seemed like a good subversive form of dissemination that connects to the theme of the work and Art Action Day. Students are to then document the shopdropping process with their phones.
Tomorrow, on Art Action Day, I will post images of the books themselves and the shop dropping.
From time to time, when I have time, I try to post articles and thoughts related to religion and the arts, and specifically Christian theology and the arts.
Here are a few articles that I've recently run into:
Lucifer, Patron of the Arts
This is an interesting article on the recent movement by the Catholic Church to venture directly into the art world. As the author implies, as a means to "lure" (my nice word choice given the title) lapsed Catholics back to the church via their interest in arts. What I found most interesting in the article was her Protestant utilitarian sentiment stating, "The archdiocese plays art patron on the downtown scene while parishes are shrinking, schools and churches closing". She takes up that old chestnut of Protestant critique against the excesses of the Catholic church suggesting that it should be used for missions etc. And perhaps it should. However, my artistic sensibilities are excited about the idea. Sure, approaching the wealthy lapsed Catholics through art patronage might be well down the slippery slope, but I still find it exciting to see the church catholic engaging the arts in a new way.
5 Ways the Church Can Make Great Art Again
Overall, this is a pretty nice little article put out by Relevant Magazine. While #1 falls prey to the typical Modern romantic notion of the artist, the rest are certainly on track to address some of the surface issues. There are deeper issues of cultural education, sacramentality, consumerism, and entertainment at work in this discussion not mentioned.
Can We Enjoy Good Art from Morally Questionable Artists?
This is another old question from my Evangelical background and obviously it is still alive and well in cultural consumption. Do we, in viewing films, art and listening to music give consent to the actions of the performers, artists, directors etc? Perhaps we do well to reduce this question to the absurd...Do you give consent to the actions of your mechanic or checker at the grocery store when you shop there? The article raises the same question about Yoder's theology (and while not mentioned you could add Paul Tillich to this list) because of his questionable actions toward women. Do these actions discount their brilliant work? Do the actions highlight the distinction between the ideal and the actual in their life? Certainly, we all, whether Christian or not, should be sensitive in their media consumption, but my fear is that we as Christians are too fricken reactionary from our perceived moral high ground. Thoughtfully engage the work...always.
What Can Artists Teach the Church?
Alyssa Wilkinson reflects on her MFA in Writing experience and offers 3 ways artists might help the church. What is interesting here is that she focuses not on the artistic product but the process. Artists are masters of failing well. We all write, paint, play failures and this process of getting back up and trying again is an important spiritual virtue for the church. She also thoughtfully explores the ideas of Practice as Formation and Bodily Knowing.
With the NABPR and CTS conference in the books it is time to transition to my project for the CIVA Just Art conference at Wheaton. In just over a week I will be heading out to join other scholars, artists, ministry professionals to explore the roles of faith, justice and the arts. It looks to be a great conference with exhibitions, quality presenters and presentations.
As I often do, I tend to bite off more than I can realistically chew. I love conferences in theory (and in actuality as well once my responsibilities for it are over). I hate passing up opportunities to present my research so when the call for papers came I waited until the last moment to throw my proposal out there. With the exhibition last week and Maymester the two previous weeks, the paper has sat dormant for some time. Thankfully I did have some time to work on it at the CTS conference while I was attending to the gallery.
My paper will explore the thought of Johann Baptist Metz, a German Catholic political theologian and use his thoughts to engage the work of recent Guggenheim recipient Daniel Heyman. The papers (for good and ill) are only 15 minutes...which actually makes it quite a bit harder to layout Metz' project and make coherent connections to Heyman. But it is exciting to actually be writing this paper that came to mind last year at the CTS conference in San Antonio. In the coming days, I will post briefly about my progress and overall thoughts on their work. Stay tuned...
Formation Matters takes its name from a simple, but evocative play on words. If taken literally, the phrase suggests the relevant topics or concerns relating to formation. Rhetorically however, the phrase implies the overall importance of formation. In a third turn of the phrase, it also hints at the substance or physicality of the artists’ creations through which viewers engage the initial two turns of the phrase.*
This plurality of meaning allows for the same in the directions of work chosen for the exhibit. While all the artwork in some way deals with memory and tradition, it also embodies a variety of conceptual approaches. Both Donovan Widmer and Patrick Luber investigate the dynamic and formative relationships between religion and culture. Whereas Katelyn Reiter and Mary Kocal explore the power of family narratives within their own lives. My own work, and that of Cherith Lundin, raises questions about the ambiguities and possible loss of traditions. Micah Bloom’s recent work on the 2011 Minot flood haunts the space between these two positions as a metaphor by regarding his childhood formation and the passing of the paper book. Additionally, while all artists work from particular traditions and influences, be it media or school, John Kaericher’s work often makes explicit visual ties to his mentors.
In these ways, the exhibit offers another voice into the conference conversations. Building around the theme of Teaching Theology and Handing on the Faith, the exhibition is rooted in the belief that the visual arts can be remarkable catalysts within these conversations, as well as profound symbols and mediations of the Divine. While the church has historically drawn upon the devotional and didactic potential of art, the engagement and contemplation of contemporary art allows divergent points of affirmation and provocation of its traditions.
*The beginning is a modification of Liz Well's introduction to her wonderful text, Land Matters
After a very busy day yesterday with a lot of help from my niece Brittany, the exhibition is up and looks great. The conference starts this evening with the first plenary speaker and people have been trickling into campus. I am so thankful to CTS & Creighton for allowing me this little artistic experiment within a theological conference. I am also in debt to the artists who have shared their work with me and made this a great looking exhibition.
I have put together a hastily edited and unedited collection of images from the show into a gallery below. I will update names and piece titles when I have more time.
Today I am packing the artwork for the Formation Matters exhibition that I have curated for joint meetings of the College Theology Society (CTS) and the National Association of Baptist Professors of Religion (NABPR). This exhibitions represents the culmination of years (since CTS's meeting at Regis in Denver in 2006) thinking and discussions on how to include art into the conference discussions. Back in 2006 the theme was on art and beauty (a natural connection to host an exhibition) but alas no actual visual connection was made beyond the standard conference presentators and presentations (of which I was one).
The Arts Media Literature and Religion section does a wonderful job at providing a venue for discussing such matters. My hope with the exhibition is to dovetail this group and offer a first hand, or primary source, kind of opportunity for conference goers to connect their research and thoughts to the work and vice-a-versa. This year's conference theme is Teaching Theology and Handing on the Faith: Challenges and Convergences. For the exhibition, I have chosen for focus the chosen work on ideas of memory, tradition, and formation (I will say more about these areas in the coming days).
As I mentioned, I have talked to CTS folks about this for a few years now and I am so excited to see it come to fruition. I am so thankful for Creighton and CTS for allowing me to experiment with this little venture. Over the course of the week, I will be posting more updates, information on the artists, and images from the gallery.
I've waited to post anything on Barton for a couple of weeks because I have not known what to say. Barton's death on May 30th caught me by surprise...and yet it did not. I knew he had aids...I knew he had been ill for much of the past year...and well...all people die eventually. But I guess I was just not prepared to say goodbye to someone I felt I had just met.
Before coming to ND I had no idea who Barton was, but was quickly introduced to his work by fellow students and faculty. While Barton had friends and collectors across the country no doubt, peculiarly he had a pocket of friends, admirerers, and acquaintances in the Red River Valley of North Dakota. It is through these connections that I had two opportunities to meet him. First, on our print trip to NYC in the fall of 2011, we stopped in to his apartment and studio for a few hours and chatted with him. It was such a remarkable space filled with art and artifacts that bespoke of Barton's imagination, creativity, sense of humor. He welcomed us in to his cramped home as if we were long friends.
The second visit (from which this photo was taken) spoke more to me about the man than I could have expected. Sundog Press, here at UND, did a print for Barton...a prayer rug made from stamps. It is a beautiful peice. I was headed to NYC to speak at the College Theology Society annual conference and it worked that we could meet up and I would assist Barton in signing and dividing up the prints. It was a great 3 hours or so. Not only did we snoop around his place, look at the artifacts again, see his new work, but he bought us dinner, answered my silly questions, and even discussed religion with me (I have in mind to do a paper on Barton's religious imagination some day).
I will be the first to say that I did not know Barton well. But it is strange how in the course of two short visits, this man came to impact my life in such a unique way. His sense of humor and hospitality was remarkable as was his generosity. I am truly thankful for those brief hours with him, it was the highlight of our trip to NYC, and those memories will linger on shaping my life and art practices from here on out. Thank you Barton for your courage, humor, challenging us with your work, and your gracious spirit.
For more about Barton, check out this recent article by the NY Times.
This past month has been a busy and exciting one with two solo shows up simultaneously. Tomorrow, the show Concrete Abstractions at Minot State University will come down and I will make the 3+ hour drive out to pick up the work. Minot State has 2 galleries, one in the art department and one in the library. This exhibition was in the library. It is a unique but quality space for displaying. As Micah Bloom shown with his images below, the reflective surfaces mirror nice angles. (A special thank you to Micah for his photographs...leave it to the photographer (me) to forget to shoot images of his own show at the opening). I am immensely grateful to Minot State for the opportunity to show my work, much of which has not been seen beyond the walls of UND's art department.
Last week was the first of UND's MFA final exhibitions. First up was Patrick Awotwe. Patrick's African influences are unmistakable in his beautiful work. He blends traditional symbols and imagery into both his metals and fiber works. I have included a variety of images from the show, including his artist statement. Enjoy.
Last week was a great week in spite of the all the different things going on. Thursday I drove out to Minot and Minot State University for my opening of Concrete Abstractions (a collection of 24 photos of regional architecture). During the opening I gave a short artist talk about the work and my interests in photography. The next morning, I gave a lecture on the art historical influences of the body of work that ranged from Edward Hopper, Charles Sheeler to Ed Ruscha, and of course, the New Topographics. It was a great to visit and mingle with students, meet faculty and generally see the work hanging. Much of the work has never been shown before so it is nice to have it see the light of day.
Saturday was unexpected. A friend offered us free to tickets to see Sir Elton John. While I am not a huge fan, I wasn’t gonna pass up the opportunity to see a legend…especially for free. He put on a great show that we followed up with a trip to Rhombus with friends.
And now its back to getting ready for my show at the Empire Art Center here in Grand Forks. Another solo show. Sometimes I wonder why I do this to myself. Sure it looks great on the CV, it doesn’t feel the best amidst the craziness. The Empire show goes up next Monday and will be a series of 21 small prints from the Visual Analogues series. This collection of prints is largely all new (2011-2012) and has yet to be shown anywhere. We are still contemplating an opening or closing reception…details to follow.
This week also marks a busy month of MFA grad shows at the Hughes Fine Art Center. This week is Patrick Awotwe from Ghana. His metals and tapestries are remarkable. If you are in the Grand Forks area, please get over to UND to see the show.