This is part two of a three-part series based on some of my art encounters at the Christians in the Visual Arts conference held June 13–16, 2019, at Bethel University. This post covers a handful of notable artworks I was introduced to through slides; part three will cover art I experienced in person through the conference’s exhibitions and auction. Read part one, about the Sacred Spaces tour of Minneapolis, here.
In his introductory remarks to the 2019 CIVA conference, Chris Larson cited Lauren Bon’s Artists Need to Create on the Same Scale That Society Has the Capacity to Destroy, the eponymous work of the Brooklyn Rail–curated exhibition running through November 24 at the church of Santa Maria delle Penitenti in Venice, a collateral event of the Venice Biennale. It’s a great rallying quote, one that I hadn’t heard before but that I can really get behind.
The theme of the conference was “Are We There Yet,” a deliberately broad question which I took as referring to the conversation between serious art and serious faith, which CIVA has been heavily engaged in over its forty-year history. We talked about where “there” is and unpacked other aspects of the conference title, but I’m sidestepping those discussions to focus on the visual.
Wayne Roosa oriented our gathering by introducing us to two conceptual art projects by Simon Starling that offer opposing archetypes of the journey. The first, more aspirational one is Shedboatshed(Mobile Architecture No. 2), which involved the movement of a wooden shed from one Swiss riverside location to another. “This journey of 8 km downstream from Schweizerhalle to the centre of Basel was undertaken through the temporary mutation of the shed into a boat. This boat, a copy of a traditional Weidling, was made only with wood from the shed and was subsequently used as a transport system for the remaining parts of the structure. The shed already included an oar of the type used on Weidlings nailed to its facade as decoration. In its new location, the Museum für Gegenwartskunst, the boat was then dismantled and once again re-configured into its original form, but for a few scars left over from its life as a boat, it stands just as it once did several kilometres up-stream” [source].
“What I’m doing in a gallery situation,” says the artist, “is presenting a journey that I’ve been on, a process I’ve undertaken, and I’m asking for people to look at that in reverse. The circularity of many of the projects is a device to tell a story and it means that if you’re making a work about process, if you start and end in the same place, then somehow the journey becomes the important thing.” I think of lines from T. S. Eliot’s “Little Gidding”: “What we call the beginning is often the end / And to make an end is to make a beginning. / The end is where we start from”—and further down, “And the end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started / And know the place for the first time.”
The second Starling work we considered was Autoxylopyrocycloboros, “a four-hour entropic voyage made across Loch Long [in Scotland] on a small wooden steamboat fuelled by wood cut piece-by-piece from its own hull.” This theatre of destruction ends with the boat’s debris floating—or sinking, as it were—in the water, Starling and his crewmate bobbing in their life vests somewhere out of frame. (The journey is presented in gallery settings as a series of thirty-eight color transparencies.) The title is an extrapolation of “ouroboros,” the mythical serpent who eats his own tail.
Roosa suggested that as we navigate the waters, we can either self-destruct, eating ourselves alive, or we can deconstruct and then reconstruct. As an organization, we ought to be committed to the latter—taking apart the structure we started with and putting it back together.
Over two and a half days of conference, there were several artists’ panels that brought to the fore some truly exciting work. I especially enjoyed hearing artists Sedrick and Letitia Huckaby, a married couple, discuss their different artistic media, styles, content choices, and creative processes, and the way their work interacts with the other’s. Both explore themes of family, faith, and African American heritage.
Sedrick Huckaby is a painter, draftsman, printmaker, and sculptor known for his portraits. His earliest body of work is a series of impasto paintings of his maternal grandmother, Hallie Beatrice Welcome Carpenter (“Big Momma”), inside her old wood-framed house in Fort Worth, Texas. These are so tender—they show her resting, drinking coffee, reading her Bible, getting ready for church, talking with family. After Big Momma died, he continued making in absentia portraits of her by depicting accessories she wore or household spaces that bear her imprint—The Shoes She Wore, The Altar Dresser. Sedrick is now renovating Big Momma’s house to serve as a creative project space for the neighborhood.
Family has long been the primary subject of Sedrick’s art. I love the 2006 portrait he painted of his wife seated at the foot of their bed and holding their firstborn son, Rising Sun. Mother and child are surrounded by family quilts, made by aunts and grandmothers. The opening between the two wall-hanging quilts forms a square halo around Letitia’s head.
Last month I attended the biennial conference of Christians in the Visual Arts (CIVA) at Bethel University in St. Paul, Minnesota. Celebrating forty years, CIVA is a membership organization made up primarily of studio artists but also other arts professionals—curators, gallerists, administrators, educators, critics, art historians—as well as collectors, theologians, and church leaders. As a writer about the arts working independently out of my home in Maryland, sometimes I feel disconnected from artists themselves, so five years ago I joined CIVA to plug into and invest in this community of believer artists. The large conference that CIVA organizes every other year, each time in a different US city, is an opportunity to meet and talk with artists, to see what they’re working on, and to worship and pray with them. It’s also a weekend chock-full of amazing talks, panel discussions, breakout sessions, exhibitions, and other activities.
In a series of blog posts, I’d like to share some of the art I encountered at the CIVA conference. All photos in this post are by me, Victoria Emily Jones.
I arrived a day early to participate in a CIVA-sponsored Sacred Spaces tour of the Twin Cities with Kenneth Steinbach, a sculptor and a professor of art at Bethel. The first stop was Bigelow Chapel, designed by Hammel Green & Abrahamson at the commission of United Theological Seminary in 2004. As Ken warned us in advance, the chapel was recently sold by the seminary to a charter school, who will not be using it as a worship space and will be removing its one overt Christian symbol (the inset cross) as well as renaming it. Because of the changeover, the chapel was in a bit of disarray when we visited, being used for the time being as an ad hoc storage space, but I was grateful for the chance to see this acclaimed work of contemporary religious architecture before it fully succumbs to its fate as a secular meeting room.
I first learned about Bigelow Chapel through the book Visual Theology: Forming and Transforming the Community through the Arts (reviewed here, with annotated chapter list). Ken read us the vision statement of this ecumenical Protestant institution—“a generous and welcome seminary where all—trailblazers and traditionalists, questioners and yearning spirits—explore the boundless possibilities of a loving and beloved community”—and we discussed how the design reflects that vision. Symmetry and linearity, for example, can be associated with authority, rigidity, so this chapel is notable for its asymmetry, an uncommon feature in church design, as well as an open floor plan that accommodates different traditions and styles of worship. It’s also curvy, feminine, womblike; a series of translucent maple wood panels sweeps up the wall and over the ceiling, casting the sun’s warm glow inside the space. Some people on the tour expressed a sense of being enveloped in God’s love.
Another mentioned how the cross is far too subtle, almost unnoticeable, and seems to recede; it’s certainly not a focal point as it typically is in other Christian worship spaces. Ken pointed out that the cross was intentionally positioned next to a clear window that looks out into a central garden, suggesting the idea of deep incarnation; nature is itself part of the space, and Christ’s redemption is for all of creation. One person noted how the large green shrub outside, when illuminated by the sun, is reminiscent of the burning bush of Exodus and therefore calls us into an awareness of how God might be speaking to us.
Ken also told us that student worshippers used to stick written prayers between the chapel’s wall-stones, much like at Jerusalem’s Wailing Wall. Several such pieces of paper were still there, wedged in the cavities of the masonry.
It was sad to me to see this building losing its original function as a Christian worship space. The impetus for the sale was the seminary’s relocation from New Brighton, a suburb, into the city of St. Paul, where it believes it can be of better service to the surrounding community. View more photos of Bigelow Chapel at https://www.kirkegaard.com/827.
Next our tour group visited the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, where we spent time inside a James Turrell Skyspace titledSky Pesher, 2005, a subterranean concrete chamber with a square aperture in the ceiling that frames the sky. (The word pesher is Hebrew for “interpretation.”) Turrell calls himself a sculptor of light; light, he says, is his medium. His work is influenced by his Quaker faith, especially the doctrine of the Inner Light. Quaker worship gatherings consist primarily of silence, a time of corporately waiting on the Light, which is God, who dwells within us as wisdom and guide. I did find the environment Turrell built especially conducive to stillness and listening. Quakers say that silence is not a void, it’s full, and I found that to be true as I opened myself to encountering God in that space.
I actually really cherished sitting there in silence with the group, ridding myself of distractions as together we simply turned our gaze to the wonderful gradients of blue stretched out above us. Out of interest in and respect for the artist’s Quaker spirituality, I took the opportunity to commune with God in “wordless thought”; instead of me talking to God or about God, I let God talk to me.
I expressed my particular enjoyment of the experience afterward to a colleague, who was surprised that, because of my fascination with biblical imagery and its possibilities in worship and devotion, I should be so moved by a sacred space that lacks any imagery at all, other than open, undefined sky. It surprised me somewhat too! Continue reading “Art highlights from CIVA conference, part 1”→
Here is a list of upcoming arts conferences and retreats. I will be attending the CIVA conference next month as well as the DITA conference in September—if you’ll be at either, please let me know; I’d love to meet you!
All Things New (International Arts Festival) Date: June 15, 2019 Location: Waterras Common Hall 3F, Tokyo, Japan Cost: ￥2500 (about $22) Presenters: Joshua Messick, Gerda Liebmann, Christopher Elmerick, Roger Lowther, and more Organizer:Community Arts Tokyo (with additional sponsorship by Grace City Church Tokyo) Description: “How can people in a city experience personal, social, and economic flourishing? What is the role of artists in making this world a better place? How can faith, work, and the arts come together for a holistic view of peace for the good of mankind? At this conference, we will hear from artists in the business world, the media world, and the plight of refugees from other countries. Their stories will give us a vision for how the arts point a way to new beginnings and bring goodness and hope into a broken world. Join us as we enter this world through speaker presentations, music performances, a short film, gallery exhibits, small group discussions, and more!” (Note: Presentations in Japanese will have simultaneous English translation over the wireless earphone system.)
The festival will include presentations/workshops/performances by
hammered dulcimer player Joshua Messick, who contributed to the soundtrack of the Japanese animated fantasy film Mary and the Witch’s Flower
visual artist Gerda Liebmann, on how art can foster relationship and connection
Christopher Elmerick, who founded and runs a cultural center in Berlin that promotes the free exchange of ideas through shared work- and performance spaces and more
Megumi Project, a group of women artisans who upcycle vintage kimonos into shawls, scarves, bags, journals, and other accessories
the Charis Chamber Players
organist Roger Lowther, on the physics of music
Roger Lowther is, with his wife Abi, the founder and director of Community Arts Tokyo, “a team of artists, professionals, and Japanese nationals assisting church planting through outreach, discipleship, worship, and disaster relief.” Their work is supported through Mission to the World, the international missions arm of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA).
Are We There Yet? Date: June 13–16, 2019 Location: Bethel University, St. Paul, Minnesota, USA Cost: $350 for nonmembers; $300 for members Presenters: Sedrick Huckaby, Letitia Huckaby, Hawona Sullivan Janzen, Chris Larson, Rico Gatson, Nate Young, Linnéa Spransy, Cara Megan Lewis, Rev. Babette Chatman, Jamie Bennett, Joanna Taft, Kelly Chatman, Joyce Lee, Caroline Kent, Lyz Wendland, Betsy Carpenter, Amanda Hamilton, Catherine Prescott, Vito Aiuto, and others Organizer:Christians in the Visual Arts (CIVA) Description: “If you’re anything like us, working in an age of high anxiety and disruption has been trying. At the same time, the art world has never seen more diversity, wealth, interconnection, and popular appreciation. Some experience our current creative conditions as a ‘joyful noise,’ others a ‘resounding gong.’ This makes art difficult yet at the same time crucial. With our hope rooted in the Lord, we can rejoice in the unfinished state of our work. There is still so much to be made!
“Are We There Yet invites us to inhabit questions together: What are our shared pursuits? What practices and commitments can guide us in our work and collaboration? What would radical generosity do to the global art market? And how might we be participants in making ‘impossible things possible,’ as described by curator Hans Ulrich Obrist? With a commitment to hospitality, we will ask these questions and many more.”
The conference will consist of plenary talks, panel discussions, and breakout sessions and will include a juried art show, late-night artist show & tells, optional day-ahead tours (art museums, city architecture, or sculpture garden) or workshops (printmaking or photography), a Liz Vice concert, and an ecumenical worship service.
Visual Arts Retreat Date: June 21–23, 2019 Location: Apple Hill Lodge, Moravian Falls, North Carolina, USA Cost: $450 (includes lodging, food, and class materials) Presenters: Allison Luce, Corey Frey, Ty Nathan Clark (via satellite), Stephen Roach, Thomas Torrey, Lauren Olinger Organizer:The Breath & the Clay Description: “Come get away for a weekend designed to inspire and deepen your understanding of visual art both as a spiritual practice and as an art form.”
Vocation, Motherhood, and Artmaking Date: July 25–28, 2019 Location: Laity Lodge, Leakey, Texas, USA Cost: $495 (scholarships available) Presenters: Andi Ashworth, W. David O. Taylor, Letitia Huckaby, Phaedra Taylor, Sandra McCracken, Ashley Cleveland Organizer:Laity Lodge Description: “This retreat is an invitation to explore the opportunities and challenges that are involved in the twin calling to motherhood and artmaking. It is open to mothers in all stations and circumstances of life, whether at the beginning of motherhood or in the fullest years of grandmothering, and to artists of all media, disciplines and contexts.” (Read more from David Taylor.)
Kingdom Creatives Con Date: August 3, 2019 Location: National Union Building, Washington, DC Cost: $99 Presenters: Noah Elias, Othello Banaci, Rachel Petrillo, Anifa Mvuemba, John David Harris, Ryan Han, Andrew Hochradel Organizer: Bemnet Yemesgen Description: A conference “aimed at igniting inspiration, learning, and networking in the Christian creative community. . . . Attendees will enjoy workshops and talks by creatives from diverse backgrounds and industries. The conference is specifically tailored towards creatives who love Jesus Christ . . . graphic designers, illustrators, photographers, filmmakers, developers, animators, copywriters,” etc.
New York City Arts Weekend Date: August 9–10, 2019 Location: Various venues, New York, USA Cost: $295 CAN Presenters:Makoto Fujimura, Iwan Russell-Jones Organizer:Regent College (host: Jeff Greenman) Description: “Makoto Fujimura and Iwan Russell-Jones lead this exploration of Christian faith and the visual arts in New York City. Enjoy a fascinating tour of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and participate in shared meals, stimulating presentations, and challenging conversations. Develop a deeper understanding of how creativity finds its place in the new creation.”
Creation and New Creation: Discerning the Future of Theology and the Arts Date: September 5–8, 2019 Location: Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, USA Cost: $175 (student discounts available) Presenters: Jeremy Begbie, Malcolm Guite, Christian Wiman, N. T. Wright, Natalie Carnes, Jennifer Craft, Carlos Colón, Steve Prince, Bruce Herman, Judith Wolfe, and others Organizer:Duke Initiatives in Theology and the Arts (DITA) Description: “At DITA10, we will celebrate past scholarship, reflect on today’s landscape, and imagine with tomorrow’s leaders.” The colloquium will include keynote lectures; workshops for church leaders and artists addressing the challenges of theology and the arts in the church and in our daily lives; panel discussions with artists and theologians; a concert by the New Caritas Orchestra; and a corporate worship service.
The Future of the Catholic Literary Tradition (Catholic Imagination Conference) Date: September 19–21, 2019 Location: Loyola University Chicago, USA Cost: $150 Presenters: Tobias Wolff, Alice McDermott, Paul Schrader, Dana Gioia, Paul Mariani, Richard Rodriguez, Angela Alaimo O’Donnell, and others Organizer:Hank Center for the Catholic Intellectual Heritage Description: “This international biennial conference, sponsored by Loyola’s Hank Center, features over 60 writers, poets, filmmakers, playwrights, journalists, editors, publishers, students, and critics who will explore a variety of questions surrounding the Catholic imagination in literature and the arts. What is the future of the Catholic literary tradition? What is the state of discourses in faith and Christian humanism in a world increasingly described as ‘Post’—postmodern, post-human, post-Christian, post-religious? How is Catholic thought and practice (or the absence of it) represented in literature, poetry, and cinema? If, as David Tracy observes, religion’s ‘closest cousin is not rigid logic, but art,’ what might literary art be trying to communicate to its ‘cousin’—and to us all—as we travel along the first decades of the 21st century?”
The call for papers is still open, until June 15. Also check out some of the special events being offered, which will include a theatrical performance of Flannery O’Connor’s Everything That Rises Must Converge and an evening of poetry readings, live music, and a Chicago blues panel.
Writer’s Retreat Date: October 25–27, 2019 Location: Apple Hill Lodge, Moravian Falls, North Carolina, USA Cost: $450 (includes lodging and food) Presenters: TBA Organizer:The Breath & the Clay Description: “Come get away for a weekend designed to develop your writing both as a spiritual practice and as an art form.”
The Art of the Lost: Destruction, Reconstruction, and Change Date: November 27–29, 2019 Location: Canterbury Cathedral, England Cost: £175 for full conference (single-day tickets also available) Presenters: Sandy Nairne, Simon Cane, James Clark, Ascensión Hernández Martínez, Emma J. Wells, and others Organizer:Canterbury Cathedral Description: “This conference will explore and appraise current and developing studies of how art changes, is reused or repurposed, disappears or is rediscovered. It will look at how and why art is defaced, destroyed or is lost within architectural settings, with a particular focus on art within the context of cathedrals, churches or other places of worship. It will consider changing ideologies, iconoclasm, war, fashion and symbolism. It will cover art from the 6th century to the modern day.”
There are many people and organizations committed to integrating faith and the arts, and they often organize opportunities for public participation. Here are some such opportunities being offered this spring and summer, organized by date. The last one, a weeklong course taught by David Taylor, looks especially appealing to me and my context, and I’m considering registering.
A few early-bird registration/application deadlines are coming up very soon, on March 31, so give these a gander sooner than later. Click on the links for information on schedules/syllabi, speakers, accommodations, and fee breakdowns. Room and board are not included in the cost quotes I’ve listed unless specifically noted.
If you’re reading this post sometime after spring 2017, or the application deadlines are too tight for you, you’ll be pleased to know that some of these events occur yearly, and if not, you’re sure to find similar ones. Check out the websites of the organizing bodies to see what they have going on.
Title:“Art and Theology” (course) Dates: March 26–29, 2017 Location: Ripon College Cuddesdon, Oxford, England Organizer:Art and Christianity Enquiry (ACE) Cost: £225 (~ $280 US) (includes room and board) Instructors: Christopher Irvine; Alison Milbank; Sophie Hacker; Stephen Stavrou; Laura Moffatt Description: “This short course is designed to give participants the opportunity to both engage with Christian art and to reflect through class presentations and discussion how art is perceived. Each day will balance theoretical input with visits to see art in churches, galleries, and chapels in Oxford. We will examine the contexts in which Christian art is viewed, suggest ways of how we may reflect theologically on contemporary art, and look at the place of art in churches within its architectural and liturgical context.” (I’m intrigued by the lecture title “Museums and Galleries as a Theological Resource”!)
Title:“Lux Ecclesiae: The Light of the Church” (lecture series) Dates: April 25–29, 2017 Location: Paraclete Retreat House, Cape Cod Bay, Massachusetts, USA Organizer:Community of Jesus Speakers: Msgr. Timothy Verdon; Filippo Rossi Cost: $1,000 (includes room and board; single-lecture options available) Description: “Practically from the beginning of its history, the Church has used architecture and the visual arts to express its life, investing thought, creative energies and resources. The reasons for this choice are theological and pastoral, but also anthropological: human beings want to ‘see’, are frustrated if they cannot see, define ‘seeing’ as understanding (as when, grasping a point, we say, ‘I see’), and desire above all things to see the God who, invisible in himself, became visible in Jesus Christ.” Monsignor Timothy Verdon, academic director of the Mount Tabor Ecumenical Centre for Art and Spirituality in Barga, Italy, will develop these themes in a series of seven lectures, and sacred artist Filippo Rossi will give a talk as well.
Title:Movies and Meaning Festival Dates: April 27–30, 2017 Location: KiMo Theatre, Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA Organizer:The Porch Cost: $189 Speakers: Alice Walker; Mona Haydar; Gareth Higgins; Brian McLaren; Malidoma Somé Description: The third annual Movies and Meaning Festival, an interfaith initiative, is centered on the theme “Hope in the Dark.” Over one weekend, participants will be inspired and challenged on this theme by artists and activists who work at the intersection of creativity, peace, spirituality, and social change. Films will serve as touchstones throughout the event; screenings include Pete’s Dragon; The Red Balloon; Mary andMax; Alice Walker: Beauty in Truth; Embrace of the Serpent; Reds; I Am Belfast; The ColorPurple; and more. Participants will walk away with a renewed spirit for social justice and tools for community healing. Continue reading “Upcoming courses, workshops, conferences”→