Wednesday afternoon was spent mainly at the GoMA (Gallery of Modern Art). I had particularly gone to look at the infamous sh(out) exhibition. JTL has already blogged about her visit, and I would encourage you to read her excellent reflection aswell as my perspective on it.
Before reaching “that exhibition” I explored the lower floors, encountering first “Echo and Transend“, a collection of abstract art. More beautiful to me than any of the actual art on this floor, even John Houston’s “October Sunset” is the view you get of the backdoor of Boarders, as you walk into the main part of the gallery. Framed between two mock Roman pillars is a thick backdoor with the Boarders sign acting as a header above it. In the glass window above the door hangs a large, circular, Starbucks sign. It is an absolutely beautiful picture representing late modernity.
Anyway, enough of me getting lost in the beauty of contemporary consumer culture and back to the official art. Balcony one contained Rendering Gender, works by David Sherry with Transforming Arts. This was a collection of stuff by a transgender group, exploring their experiences. Three pieces on this floor caught my imagination. The first one was a picture in a set of four images by Sara Griffin. It contained a body wrapped in bandages and strapped to a table in a 1950’s B movie type lab. Superimposed in a kind of pink neon were the words “OF COURSE I KNOW WHAT I’M DOING I’M A GATE KEEPER”. I considered how many things this could be a metaphor for. For a moment looking at it I found my mind focused on my forthcoming trip to Greenbelt and encounters with the “emerging church” & with a slight shudder I wondered. The other two pieces on this floor which caught my attention were both by Kristi Taylor, one film and one text. Totally unrelated to the main exhbition on this floor is a film area showing work by local and international artists. On the day I went it was showing Gobstopper by Roderick Buchanan which was a rather strange piece showing a series of kids in the back of a vehicle holding their breath and being quiet as they went through a tunnel.
Then onwards and upwards to the controversy. I entered “Made in Gods Image“, which is a collection of work created by LGBTI people from different faith communities. Anthony Schrag and David Malone have worked with members of MCC, Quest, Al-Jannah aswell as individuals from a variety of faiths, beliefs and religions (according to the blurb).
To be honest I thought some of it was a bit kak. The photographic stills by MCC were meant to be ironic in terms of reflecting same sex relationships. I just found them ironic for reflecting the nature of Christian am-dram in churches. I did like the Islamic Text in “Two Poems” by annonymous, they were beautifully presented. Also as JTL said in her post the pictures of the life of an ordinary Muslim gay guy were very moving. The MCC did do a think which had within a set of very uninspiring photographs a shot of text saying, “Blessed are the cracked for they let in the light”. If anybody ever sees this on a postcard I would pay v.g. money for a copy.
The Patriots Room by Ian Hamilton Finlay was an interesting take on the whole thing, being influenced by the French Revolution. With heads in baskets on one side and a very basic bedsit room with subversive needlework on the other.
Before returning to talk about Roxanne Claxton’s exhibit, the one which has caused outrage, I will briefly review the rest of Sh(out). The main space on the upper floor had a mixture of art from different mediums. some of it was outrageous and deliberately provocative. I found some of the photography unneccesary and the plastic tree was symbolic of exactly why people mock modern art. Yet arguably the most erotic image in the exhibition I felt was absolutely beautiful. There was a water colour, which you should not open the link of if you are easily offended, “Untitled #115” by Patricia Cronin. It was of two womens hands entering each other as they made love. The way the picture just shows the hands and the crotch area and the delicate colours make it truly beautiful. The fact the genitalia are hidden by the hands means whilst explicit the picture shows the beauty of intimacy. The other picture I appreciated was “The Actresses” by Sadie Lee. It depicts two elderly women in white industrial style underwear on a bed. One is tenderly holding the other, who has her back to her. Whether it is the fact paintings are not as stark as photography or the fact these two pictures reflect intimacy as opposed to raw sex, without relationship, I don’t know but they were beautiful in a way the others weren’t. They were almost out of place amongst the other exhibits.
Then I went back to look at Roxanne Claxton’s work. When I walked into the alcove containing the installation I saw the desecrated bible and felt revulsion. I felt hurt, which I didn’t expect. Then I saw the bible in the box which now has sheets of reflective responses within it on the opposite page to biblical text. Finally I looked at the video of her eating bits of the bible and stuffing them down her top and trousers. I felt very uncomfortable. Then I picked up the headphones and began to listen to the interview she was giving alongside. This was not just an interview, it was a moving testimony. She spoke of wanting to show that the bible is nourishment not something to choke on. I think that if this had been on loudspeaker rather than through one set of headphones some of the reaction to the piece may have been different. Yet the fact remains the images are disturbing and somehow inappropriate.
This is I think my overall feeling about the exhibition; many of the images are provocative and almost confrontational. Yet when you listen, as you can only with headphones to some of the stories accompanying a number of the exhibits, the story and the exhibition alters. This should be, much more clearly, an audio visual exhibition. It would still be uncomfortable but it would be much less confrontational. I know some think the shock factor, the ability to elicit a strong reaction, is what makes good art but…..
My own feelings, as I sat reflecting over a toasted muffin, pot of tea and fix of Rene Mackintosh in Willow Tea Rooms, were mixed. As a queer Christian I have found wholeness and healing through the bible. I have found this through looking at the bible as a whole rather than pulling it apart, as those who would seek to dehumanise me in their pursuit of truth do. It is looking at the whole story of creation and salvation which has healed the pain and enabled me to see myself as a loved child of God, created in his image with my sins atoned blood he chose to shed for all of us. The pain healed has included the injuries to my self-image inflicted by those who focus on certain individual verses. I don’t want the bible pulled apart to nourish, I want it complete to enjoy and celebrate aswell as feed me.
After all the deep art and culture stuff it was good to go and just chill out for the evening with a bunch of the most amazing people I know, and some new friends, at a lovely place called Ad Lib.