Last year when asked to take part in the Big Sculpture Garden at the Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival, I stumbled upon creating art installations with icons as the key component of the installation. I came upon this as i sought to communicate the meaning of the icon, in a context where the spirituality of the icon is unclear or unknown.
Last year I created this installation seeking to create an experience of the connection between the sacred and the profane in Christian sacraments. Also, I wished to open up people to the possibility that the Church is not an isolated and partial thing. Through imagining living space as coincident with sacred space, (not unlike a monks cell).
The movement, contrast, coincidence, and contradiction of sacred and profane space was enacted on many levels through the installation. On the physical level one had sanctuary, iconostasis, nave and baptismal font, that in the installation coincided with a dining or kitchen table, a bed and a wash basin. In various ways I saw people recognize the piece as sacred. Some went out of their way to avoid the installation once they saw it and recognized it. Others simply walked along and casually touched their fingers to the water in the wash basin and crossed themselves as they passed the installation. Others, respecting a sacredness of art created by museums (and the need their of preserving the art), asked if they could move around in the piece, which was the point. With that permission some sat in the chairs at the table other played at eating. Then there was the overall context of the sculpture garden and the festival as a whole, as the context of the installation and the icons in the installation functioning as they would in a church setting and yet being in the world, so to speak.As I think about what I hope to do in these icon installations is perhaps a version of Bonhoeffers “Religionless Christianity” At least as interpreted by Ebhard Bethge. As Bethge understood Bonhoeffer on this point, religion is something that has a particular sphere, and thus is partial. “Religion” is simply one part of life, that is often sequestered off into a corner of an individuals life. Thus a “Religionless Christianity” would be a form of Christianity that insists that faith is about the whole of life and refused to be sequestered in a limited sphere. This form of Christianity then doesn’t seek to guard its sphere but is for the world. “Religionless Christianity” then wouldn’t eschew symbols, sacraments and cult, but would see them as being for the world and encompassing the whole of life, giving us the ultimate, as the church engages the penultimate.What I hope for these installations is that they show that the icon is not for a particular sphere of life, rather they are windows and doors that open upon that which is true life, the fullness of life. The icon like the church and like Christ is for the World. In agreement with Bonhoeffer I think that the time of coercion and power is past for the Church. What Christians must now seek is way to simply offer to the world the life that is Christ, in ways that allow for engagement and even refusal, and the church like Christ bears this refusal with patience and love.