In the final week of my residency I’m quite literally tying up loose threads ; I’m also trying to gather my thoughts, my feelings and clarify my intentions.
The following is the result :
EMBODIED: ST. ANTHONY & THE DESERT OF TEARS
Shoebox Projects – Artist in Residence
Embodied:St.Anthony & the Desert Tears, my latest (ongoing) body of work, is inspired most significantly by Gustave Flaubert’s “The Temptation of St. Anthony” (1874). The richness of detail and illusion that Flaubert evokes almost suffocates the reader in its voluptuous beauty. Flaubert himself was inspired in great part by Brueghel’s own phantasmagoric depiction of the tormented hermit. I wish in some way to allude to that dizzying yet exhilarating experience.
As a young boy Flaubert witnessed a marionette performance of “The Mystery of St. Anthony”. From that point on, “St. Anthony accompanied Flaubert for twenty-five or thirty years”, as the philosopher Michel Foucault has written. Flaubert returned to the anchorite time and again until completing the work in 1872. This is not an easy read, dense, at times over-ripe, seemingly more chant than prose; Foucault describes the work as an “overcrowded bestiary” with “creatures of unnatural issue.”
It is this “overcrowded bestiary” I wish to evoke with the still evolving Embodied, wishing to populate the tableaux with a parade of bewildering, complex “creatures of unnatural issue”. These hybrid embodied beings represent not simply base impulses but our own deep struggle to live a fully expressed life. For when I tackle such fraught topics as sin, temptation and redemption, I am looking beyond the typical biblically inspired admonition (such as Lust or the other Seven Deadlies). I am more interested in the quotidian, seemingly insignificant distractions that prevent us from embodying our truest selves. In essence, what interferes with your being authentic? What is your demon? Who, what shadows your path?
I’m particularly interested in exploring how the tools of modernity – social media, the self-commodifaction through “branding” oneself, the pursuit of relevancy— all hinder full true self-expression, perhaps even censoring it or rendering it mute. Foucault describes Anthony’s temptations as “…false gods resembling the true God….” I argue that false gods lurk in the inky alleyways of a frenetic and rapacious contemporary society.
The mystic Thomas Merton in discussing the Desert Fathers insists, “they did not reject society with proud contempt, as if they were superior to other men”, but instead were seeking the fullest expression of their purpose. Throughout our lives we are given signs which point us (or call us) in the direction of our authentic purpose, so as Merton reminds us: “…whatever you see your soul to desire according to God, do that thing, and you shall keep your heart safe”.
I will do that “thing”, clumsily, distractingly, awkwardly, but like Anthony, sincerely and with purpose.
In addition to my own words I was flattered by this generous review of my work by the art and culture writer Genie Davis . It certainly warms my heart .
Thank you Genie, Art and Cake and ShoeboxProjects.