Monday, July 24, 2006

urochrome filter

(this) is a controversial photograph by American photographer Andres Serrano. It depicts a small plastic crucifix supporting the body of Jesus Christ submerged in a glass of the artist's urine. Some have suggested that the glass may also contain the artist's blood. The piece was a winner of the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art's "Awards in the Visual Arts" competition, which is sponsored in part by the National Endowment for the Arts, a United States Government agency that offers support and funding for artistic projects.

The piece caused a scandal when it was exhibited in 1989, with detractors accusing Serrano of blasphemy and others raising this as a major issue of artistic freedom. On the floor of the United States Senate, Senators Al D'Amato and Jesse Helms expressed outrage that the piece was supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, since it is a federal taxpayer-financed institution.

Surprisingly, the art critic and Catholic Nun Sister Wendy Beckett voiced her approval of (it) whose public exhibition offended all conservative, most moderate and even some liberal Catholics.

Serrano produced other similar works to much less controversy; Madonna and Child II (1989), for example, in which the subject is similarly submerged in urine, is not nearly as well known...

(it) is often used as a test-case for the idea of freedom of speech, and was described in the journal Arts & Opinion as "a clash between the interests of artists in freedom of expression on the one hand, and the hurt such works may cause to a section of the community on the other."

It is referred to in many popular publications including Bill Maher's book When You Ride Alone You Ride with Bin Laden. (as per

fredcall sends me the strangest stuff. i've been on holidays from my computer for awhile, and was glad that this didn't 'expire' the way things in my hotmail junkbox regularly do when i don't attend to them.

so... this photograph. hmmmm. really bad title. kinda funny, the things that set us off. for me, i just hated the title so i substituted all of the (it)'s because the tone just brought everything down somehow. sorry- my blog, i can censor as i see fit, but let's just refer to this photograph as PC, okay? you can look it up in the wikipedia under the name of the artist if my little title problem is really bothering you.

anyway, there are two things that come to mind when i think of this photograph and the controversy that surrounds it- one has to do with literal interpretations, the other with figurative ones:

A) literal:
i've gotta give a big 'whatever' on this one.
i mean, yes, there is real urine- but let's also not forget that there is also a plastic figurine.

this isn't Jesus, it's just a little plastic thingie that bears some resemblance to him according to popular arts expressions from the euro renaissance. we should all try to remember that there is nothing inherently more holy about this figurine than about the figurine of 'earthworm jim' that is on the file cabinet behind me as i type. as a matter of fact, i believe both of them represent humankind's propensity for idol-making and fancy.

as for the urine? well, it's the very healthy product of a well-functioning urinary system which was designed by God to flush out the effluent in both animals and mammals. an entry in the wikipedia asserts that "Healthy urine is a clear aqueous solution, varying in colour from dark yellow to colourless, depending on the dilution. The main constituent besides water is urea; urochrome is the pigment that gives urine its color. Urea is one of the three nitrogenous waste products. The other two are creatinine and uric acid. Urine also contains various inorganic ions, including sodium and chloride. Lighter urine indicates higher water consumption."

so basically, plastic is plastic and piss is piss.

B) figurative:
having said that plastic is plastic and piss is piss, we probably need to look at what these things have come to represent to us. plastic first- artificiality. something easily fashioned and easily refashioned with the help of a little heat. plastic often means counterfeit or fake to us. if we want to be all uptight about the significance of things, then we should probably reconsider whether renderings of Jesus should be permitted at all. i mean, how often do people bow down before or talk to a picture or figurine of Christ as if it were the actual God? pagan idols were also representations of characters from an unseen pantheon that were prayed to as if they were the real thing, yet this was called idolatry by both God and man... oh, but it's all different when it's Jesus? i don't think so.

if one wanted to be really strict and legalistic, then the words of j.i. packer in his classic book 'Knowing God' probably bear some repitition (note: i have done a bit of clipping in order to summarize what i believe are his key relevent points of discussion- totally good book from start to finish if you're into that kinda thing)
  • 1) images dishonor God for they obscure his glory...the pathos of the crucifix obscures the glory of Christ, for it hides the fact of his deity, his victory on the cross, and his present kingdom. it displays his human weakness, but it conceals his divine strength; it depicts the reality of his pain, but keeps out of our sight the reality of his joy and his power... the symbol is unworthy most of all because of what it fails to display. and so are all other visible representations of deity
  • 2)images mislead us. they convey false ideas about God... the very inadequecy with which they represent him perverts our thoughts of him and plants in our minds errors of all sorts about his character and will... the use of the crucifix as an aid to prayer has encouraged people to equate devotion with brooding over Christ's bodily sufferings; it has made them morbid about the spiritual value of physical pain and it has kept them from the knowledge of the risen saviour. (Packer, Knowing God, 1973, p50-51)

as for the piss? well, typically we equate pissing on something with disrespect. that's probably why all the controversy. here's what i think, though:

art is about bringing into the physical world, the abstractions of the artist's heart and mind. somehow taking that which is intangible and making it tangible. sometimes these abstractions and the apparent metaphoric connections with life are intentional, but often they are random, unintentional and subliminal. regardless of what the artist might have intended, i take from this piece some interesting (to me) reminders of life, the universe and everything... but most importantly of God's love for me.

if we are gonna just ignore all the 'right thinking' of packer and attach something really significant to the plastic figurine, fine. i'm okay with that, because then this photograph speaks to me of the divine in the presence of the profane; the holy withstanding the unholy; life in death.

we regularly, willfully piss upon all that Christ was and is about... our pissing was and is his suffering on our behalf. as we disrespect and blaspheme through thought and action, we pour out our derision upon the crucified Christ, not even realizing that his suffering was for our relief and freedom.

yet he didn't remain submerged in it. that's where the real hope is.

and, in a miracle of mercy, grace and transformative power, he turned our fetid water into fine wine, beckoning all of us to drink deeply of it as often as we think of him. the cup of his suffering becomes the cup of our salvation because he is God and behold, he makes all things new.

all truth is God's truth. all hope is found in him and him alone.

Labels: , ,

Sunday, July 09, 2006

silence explained

jollybeggar is off in the mountains listening for the voice of God.

here's a challenge: this summer, instead of taking a holiday from God
(dropping all of your disciplines and slipping backwards in your faith journey)
take a holiday with God... in short, unwind without unraveling.

read more
pray more
give more
live more
love more... all of it... find refuge in him rather than from him.

bless you