“This is Water” - David Foster Wallace
“This is Water” - David Foster Wallace
“I’ve heard [Peter Rollins] talk a couple of times about how, if we turned off the music and turned up the lights in a nightclub, everyone in there – who until that point had ostensibly been enjoying themselves – would be in tears within minutes, confronting their own and each other’s brokenness. I think the same thing would happen if you ‘turned the lights up’ at an academic conference. Just as clubbers can be enthusiastically engaged in the various rituals that are expected of them as a way of disavowing their brokenness, so too can academics – who engage in a variety of ritual mechanisms that can enable us to avoid confronting ourselves in our own broken humanity.”
Michael Wolf, Architecture of Density
Thanks to Tripp Fuller at Homebrewed Christianity I received a copy of Clayton Crockett and Jeffrey Robbins’ new book Religion, Politics, and the Earth: The New Materialism. I’ve been aware of Crockett and Robbins for several years now and have appreciated the pioneering work they are doing in radical theology at the intersection of religion, politics, and continental philosophies. This new book is truly a manifesto with far-reaching implications—a book that demands to be read and attempts to make difficult theory more accessible and applicable to the very real religious, ecological, and political challenges of today’s world.
As part of the Homebrewed blog tour for Religion, Politics, and the Earth I am focusing my attention on chapter 4 and the role of art in the new materialism (Michael W. Wilson is also listed as a co-author of this chapter). In some ways this chapter is an odd match for me, since I am not an artist and have no formal art education. However, I was especially drawn to this chapter because of my interests in transformance art and the impact of radical theology on alternative faith collectives that are found on the fringes of religious life (particularly as expressed in the work of Peter Rollins). Taking this as my starting point, I want to explore how the discussion of art in this chapter might illuminate the importance of transformance art, as exemplified by collectives such as ikon Belfast, ikonNYC, VOID, and vaux.
Crockett/Robbins/Wilson (CRW) primarily look to the critical and often anarchist artistic movements that began to emerge in the twentieth century—avant-garde movements such as Dadaism, surrealism, and Situationism. Drawing on Guy Debord, CRW find in these movements a direct political engagement that charges artists with “the task of…creat[ing] revolutionary actions that free subjectivity from the sublime force of capital.” Avant-garde art becomes for CRW a space for “reimagining social creativity.” Quoting Felix Guattari, CRW affirm the role of art as the “activity of unframing, of rupturing sense, of baroque proliferation or extreme impoverishment, which leads to a recreation and a reinvention of the subject itself.” The purpose of art becomes the imagination of “new forms of living, working, and playing…with the goal of producing a more life-affirming collectivity.” CRW go on to connect this “field of social sculpture” (a wonderful phrase from Joseph Beuys) to the work of Catherine Malabou and her notion of plasticity. Art as “social sculpture” has the potential to enact Malabou’s call for an “alter-worldliness” that can counter capitalist globalization. In concluding the chapter, CRW offer the following charge:
“It is the task of art…to resist its own instrumentalization by capitalist forces and to rematerialize in the streets, the networks, the institutions, and the bodies of artists themselves. Art must become fugitive and multiple—plastic/plastique—disappearing and refusing to participate when tactically necessary—sabotaging, attacking, and occupying sites of power to redistribute resources and attention when possible.”
I want to offer the possibility that the term “art” here might also be replaced by the terms “church” or “religion,” or “faith collective.” I think radical collectives found on the fringes of religious life should take this charge as their own. Of course, the task of resisting capitalist instrumentalization is difficult, as Stephen Keating has recently pointed out, but I think we need more groups like ikon to accept the risk and attempt to act as an impetus for individual and social disruption and transformation (a “field of social sculpture”). I believe activities proposed by Peter Rollins and the ikon collective—transformance art, Atheism for Lent, the Omega Course, and the Evangelism Project—are examples of potentially disruptive Christian practices that encourage “a more life-affirming collectivity.” I am also reminded of Kester Brewin’s call for temporary autonomous zones (TAZ) that embrace the “guerilla war…style of Jesus’ penetratingly marvellous ministry” (see here and here). I envision a church on the fringes that acts as a school of life, both disrupting the status quo and imagining new ways of “life-affirming collectivity,” drawing on the radical and socially-transforming message of Jesus of Nazareth. At its best, this kind of collective might act alongside other creative and artistic movements that aim to reshape the religious, political, and ecological material of our world.
“The backdrop against which art now stands out is a particular state of society. What an installation, a performance, a concept or a mediated image can do is to mark a possible or real shift with respect to the laws, the customs, the measures, the mores, the technical and organizational devices that define how we must behave and how we may relate to each other at a given time and in a given place. What we look for in art is a different way to live, a fresh chance at coexistence.”
– Brian Holmes (as quoted in Religion, Politics, and the Earth)
via IMAGE NEGATION
“What face do we gaze into, respond to, spend more time studying and heeding now than our screens?”
– Marie Howe (as told by Krista Tippett)
one of the greatest moments of STN2
Google Street View Portraits - Michael Wolf (more)