Wikio - Top Blogs - Religion and belief

Saturday, 16 July 2016

Friedhelm Mennekes, Dom Sylvester Houédard, Mark Dean & Sister Corita Kent

Andy Crouch executive editor of CT, has written recently on the church's relationship to the arts claiming that faith and the Arts represents a fragile friendship: "Even as churches are more willing to engage the arts, artists who work at the highest levels of craft are engaging the church less readily."

My view is, increasingly, that that only seems to be the case because of a conspiracy of silence on both sides; a Church focused on contemporary engagement with the Arts either does not know, does not acknowledge or does not wish to learn from its recent history of engagement, while the contemporary art world maintains the outdated view that the Church, when acting as patron or curator, will inevitably seek to exercise the same level of control that was shown when it held the principal powers of patronage in the Western world.

Despite having for many years been fascinated by and having documented the relationship between faith and the Arts (see Airbrushed from Art History, Sabbatical Art Pilgrimage and Christianity and literature, for example), I am continually uncovering new (to me) examples of modern or contemporary engagements between the Arts and faith.

Jonathan Koestlé-Cate's book Art and the Church: A Fractious Embrace - Ecclesiastical Encounters with Contemporary Art provided the example of Friedhelm Mennekes, a Jesuit who, for over 30 years, has been involved with exhibitions at the crossroads between art and religion: 

"... he introduces works of art of our time into old and new churches – a gesture that elicits broad discussion. From one side he is praised and from another blamed, yet he steadfastly goes his way.

Mennekes has been engaged in many discussions with artists through exhibitions and lectures that address this vital relationship of creative expression and experienced religion, such as Donald Baechler, Joseph Beuys, Christian Boltanski, James Brown, James Lee Byars, Francis Bacon, Eduardo Chillida, Marlene Dumas, Jenny Holzer, Anish Kapoor, Barbara Kruger, Arnulf Rainer, David Salle, Cindy Sherman, Andreas Slominski, Antoni Tàpies, Rosemarie Trockel, and Bill Viola among others. Mennekes poses systematic questions, adressing individual works and also their vital relationship to the broader world of contemporary culture. He seeks structural correspondences and parallels that address our experience of a faith and doubts in organized religion as well as the secular worlds."

Similarly, work by the artist and arts chaplain, Mark Dean, has highlighted work by the late Benedictine priest, theologian and Concrete poet Dom Sylvester Houédard (aka dsh). Lucy Newman Cleeve writes:

"dsh understood his visual poems and ‘typestracts’ as “icons depicting sacred questions,” and Dean’s video works, which have been described by David Curtis as “votive offerings”, also function in the interrogative mode. In each case, there is a tacit acceptance that answers will not be forthcoming. For dsh, questions are met with mysteries, “to which the appropriate response can never be an ‘answer’ but has to be a growth of awareness and awe – gratitude, depth and pleasure.” This attitude of praise defines the creative act, but cannot necessarily be conveyed to the viewer who joins with the artist in constructing the meaning of the work …

dsh frequently affirmed the Dadaist principle that “the logos and the ikon are one.” Elsewhere, he wrote, “it is possible to think in images alone – in diagrams, models, gestures and muscular movements – as well as in words alone.” This recognition of the primacy of visual/tactile forms of language is also central to Dean’s work, in which the categories should also be extended to include music. In Dean’s work, the logos functions as a vessel or carrier of meaning, in much the same way as the ikon, whilst the juxtaposition of logos and ikon exponentially increase the possibilities of interpretation.

Dean’s work relies heavily upon the appropriation of, often iconic, film and video footage and music. It introduces visual and aural puns that behave as the generators and interrogators of meaning within the work, setting up a series of disputations between the different elements being sampled. Although the work is always carefully constructed, the reverberations and analogies created by placing potent symbols side by side are myriad. The screen becomes a crucible in which layers of meaning are compounded, burnt and refined."

The Henningham Family Press introduced me, some years ago, to the work of Sister Corita Kent (1918 – 1986), an activist nun who ran the art department at the Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles for over 20 years. Hazel Saunderson writes:

"... Sister Corita Kent's striking prints commanded me to revel both in the layered beauty of the printed word, and the direct messages they conveyed in pieces such as Life is Difficult (1965) and People Like Us Yes (1965).

So it was surprising to discover that although Sister Corita Kent was recognised by revolutionary design thinkers such as Buckminster Fuller, Charles and Ray Eames and Saul Bass, she was largely neglected by the art establishment at the time. However, this quirky 1960s pop artist’s list of admirers has continued to grow in time and the work crafted by the five contemporary artists (Ruth Ewan, Peter Davies, Ciara Phillips, Emily Floyd and Scott Myles) confirm that Kent’s lasting impression on art has remained, whilst the medium of printmaking has gained fresh appreciation in contemporary art."


Mark Dean - Scorpio Rising 2.

No comments: