Leaving our Marks: Interiors, Exteriors, and Bodies

In the late 1990’s into the early 2000’s there was a magazine called Nest: A Quarterly of Interiors.  It’s one of the few magazines from when I subscribed to magazines that I have kept the issues, and even purchased some back issues.  What has stuck with me about the magazine is that it wasn’t a showcase, rather it featured articles about the interiors of peoples actual homes as they lived in them.  Often the homes were of artists or authors, though I also remember an issue that featured the interior of the apartment of a stock broker or analyst who worked on Wall Street, and an issue that featured a home made out of milk crates by someone who was otherwise “homeless”.  The articles that accompanied the photos of these interiors were always reflective and philosophical. Each issue was organised around a theme.  The point of Nest was that we leave our trace, our mark, upon the world and attention to the interiors of our homes gives us a glimpse into our interiors (souls/selves).

We are in need of such witness to the relation between what we now call our spirituality and our physicality and the spaces we inhabit.

I grew up among Lutheran Pietists. We affirmed the Resurrection and the body, to a point, the focus of our embodiment was song and music, we had (to borrow a term from the Anglobaptist) a sonic theology.  But too much attention to clothing, the interior of our houses, or the visual arts was discouraged.  This wasn’t so much a denial of the body as a fear of mere ornamentation.  We could spend time focused on singing and playing instruments, and the beauty of the sounds these physical things made but to pay attention to my own appearance, to decorate the house, to meditate upon a painting wasn’t a priority.  Physical beauty for decoration was superfluous and secondary to natural beauty (sunsets, flowers, the well tilled earth, the night sky, the unadorned body, etc.).

I was more visual, I preferred painting and drawing to singing and playing music, I was concerned with fashion, to the puzzlement and bemusement of my mother.  Though she also appreciated that I could tell her if a certain blouse or skirt would go with an existing item in her wardrobe when shopping for clothes.

In a foriegn country staring at myself in the mirror after letting my beard and hair grow out, I realized I could communicate who I was and wanted to be through my appearance.  Not that I thought all would always interpret these signs as I intended (but that’s the way of things Cf. AKMA on interpretation).  This awareness was also the solidifying of my growing goth identity.  It was also for me a theological affirmation: Resurrection had to mean that my physicality had meaning and primary importance.  My appearance wasn’t simply frivolity and decoration but a primary act of meaning and communication.

When my wife and I got engaged we made a pact against the purely utilitarian in our clothing and household items: what we wore and the objects of our interior needed to be beautiful and meaningful as well as useful.

As a regular feature of Gothic musings I’m starting a series on the beauty meaning and self expression of our habitations, clothing, interiors, and architecture.  I invite you to think with me about the meaning and beauty of our habitation: whether in simplicity or extravagance, with meager or abundant means. I have some people I’d like to see what their interior and fashion are like and to hear them reflect on the interiors of their homes and their fashion choices.  I also invite you to leave a comment here or contact me if you’d like to share photos and/or an essay on your physical habitation and its meaning.

These will be found in Gothic Musings because the goth aesthetic is, in part at least, about giving a particular expression of an identity and outlook through dress and decor.  Though,  this theme cuts across all aspects of priestly goth, whether ecclesiology, spiritual direction, or iconography, it all is about the meaning of embodiment and beauty as an outworking of the doctrines of the incarnation and resurrection.

In the next few days, I will post photos of the interior of the Community of the Holy Trinity with some thoughts on what the common spaces of the community say about myself and the community and the other members of the community.

And to wet your appetite here are some photos of my self presentation in the world:

(Click on the photos to see a slide show and see the comments on each photo)


Icons in Stock

Hand Painted Icons in my Etsy shop:

A Sampling of my Icon work

Suffering and Joy on the Dance Floor: or Dancing to Joy Division

My friend Tripp recently published a brief musing on suffering and death: it’s kind of goth. I’ve sat with the musing.  Part of what he’s wrestling with are the ways many Christians often make suffering trite by attempting to make God responsible for it ( in some way) or at least responsible for making it meaningful.  What stuck with me and what trips me up, is his having said God suffer’s and dies everyday.  I get it, but I can’t help but think this says too much, and is also a means to bring God too close, too understandable.

This was in the back of my mind as I headed out to the goth night Nocturna at the Metro, this past Saturday.  Shortly after arriving Scary Lady Sarah spun Joy Division‘s Love Will Tear us Apart.

It’s a great song, I love to dance to it.  As I was dancing to this haunting,melancholic, tortured song I was aware of the contrast between the  joy I was feeling as I danced and the pain of a failing relationship sung about in the song.  As I danced I also recalled the circumstances of Ian Curtis’ death and his own physical and mental health struggles and suffering.

Such an amazing song.  Such beauty that touches so many.  Love Will Tear Us Apart invariably fills the dance floor.

I feel there is something here.  I have great wonderment at how such beauty, joy ( even hope), come out of  expressions of pain and suffering.

As I danced I thought and prayed (for Ian Curtis, for others wrestling with their demons like he did, perhaps dancing next to me), and I observed in amazement how my awareness of  the pain of a failing relationship sung about in the song, didn’t diminish the joy in dancing to a haunting pain filled song of longing for something more.

Love Will Tear us Apart is larger than the pain of a failing relationship, Joy division and Ian Curtis’s songs inhabit a world that encompasses but is larger than Ian’s tragic story.  Even so without the pain, without Ian Curtis and his pain and suffering there wouldn’t be the music of Joy Division, nor the joy found in dancing to it, as we connect with a longing for something beyond pain and suffering.

“God suffers and dies. everyday”.

Ian Curtis’s suffering and troubled mental life wasn’t for the purpose of  my enjoyment in dancing to one of his songs more than 30 years after his death.  Even so, out of who he was and the circumstances of his life and mental state he created some amazing music, in which there is great longing and joy.  There wasn’t purpose to his suffering, but for a time at least he reached beyond pain and suffering and wove that pain into great music.  What I find in Joy Divisions songs and lyrics is longing and beauty in the midst of pain, frustration, and depression.

Things to contemplate, something contemplated in the movement of bodies on a dance floor some 30 years after the song was recorded.

“God does not give us suffering. God does not give us death.

God suffers and dies. Every day. “

Salonathon at the Beauty Bar: A surface and everyday beauty?

Monday night a friend who is an actor was performing as David Bowie at Salonathon at the Beauty Bar.

If you aren’t aware the Beauty Bar is a bar and beauty salon rolled into one ( or as their website says “The World’s only beauty saloon…”.  Specials include such things as a martini and manicure.

Salonathon is a performance art night for armature, emerging and genre bending artists.   Its a bit of hipster place, and Kate and I were goths among hipsters.  We were there also as theater people supporting our friend.

I’m not sure what I expected, or rather I had dread and hope.  I dreaded that, with the exception of our friends performance, the acts would be horrible.  I hoped for some brilliance something that would grab me and make we say wow.  Neither the dread nor the hope happened.

It was an enjoyable and entertaining evening.  Our friends Bowie was spot on, though I have to admit I’m not sure the point of the performance.

This was my overall sense of the evening.  I’m not sure the point beyond being entertained.  This is an odd (though not entirely foreign understanding of artistic expression) attitude toward art, that it is primarily for entertainment.  I had hoped to be transported elsewhere, to be, at least once, confronted and blinded by something incredibly beautiful.  Instead what I found was the beauty of the every day.  The beauty of a skill well performed.

Nothing wrong with that at all.  I’m more musing on my own longing and striving.   I look for art that transforms and transfigures, that disturbs the world, not simply art that reflects, re-presents and mirrors what i already experience.  When I experience and encounter art I want to be different because of the performance, the concert, or encounter with the sculpture or painting.  Certainly I may also be entertainment and find  connection with what i already know and experience.  However, i want art to be different, or more to the point to make a difference.  I’m looking for transcendence that makes a difference in me and the world.

So I enjoyed myself at Salonathon, and I’m glad it exists.  But Monday night made no difference for me.  Salonathon is just one of many entertaining and aesthetically pleasing things I may engage in any give week or month here in Chicago.  I thus find that I’m indifferent to the event.

I find this indifference troubling, so perhaps, there’s something there.  I might change my expectations, but other than a puzzling experience nothing about Salonathon challenges my expectations.  They simply are reinforced in an oblique way.

Lastly I should mention Salonathon is also had a dance party dimension to it, and the DJ was quite good, and the music he spinned was quite good, though none of it exactly my cup of Tea (little if anything approaching my goth aesthetic).  We didn’t stay for the Dance party portion of the event, it being Monday night and staying up to 2 am wasn’t going to happen!  So, perhaps the transcendence is woven into the ecstasy of the dance party for the regulars.

Perhaps that’s it, Salonathon is just a party for artists.

The Circus Is Eternal: Fashion Liturgy

Kate Setzer Kamphausen’s  fashion Show “The Circus is Eternal” Friday night (March 2) at Nocturna was a great time.  Kate’s garments looked amazing on each of the models (who weren’t professional models, but various people for the goth scene).   The preparation was a little halting as neither Kate nor I had produced a fashion show before.  Things though all went relatively smoothly.

In the midst of the show as I was running the projections and directing the models out on stage (so that they came out with the appropriate projected title), the thought came to me that Kate had created a liturgy of the Circus.  The combined elements of the show – the garments were  inspired by the Circus, and our instructions to the models that they should be aware of themselves and their bodies in their garments, which were not circus costumes, were evocative of the circus.  The models were performing and making present the Circus without re-enacting a particular circus(real or imaginary).

Kate designed each garment for particular people she knew of differing body types and designing each “type” of circus performer based on her acquaintance with each model.   In part it was here conception of who fit what role that evoked and invoked the presence of the circus.  Each model and the models together (Kate had them remain on stage or in front of the stage but visible to the audience) embodied  these “types” of the circus. In this way she presented what endures through time or transcends time and place and particularity of the circus.    Her title then stated truly she was articulating what is enduring  and human about the circus, as well as do so in a way consistent with the archetypes of the Goth scene.   In other words “The Circus is Eternal” was a Goth liturgy of the circus.

The liturgies both of the ancient pagan world and of the Christian Church, were spectacles intended to draw people into a particular reality that transcended time and place and yet also would connect with the people and their archetypes.  These liturgies represented the eternal and transcendent types and realities, in ways also recognizable to a particular place and time, but not to articulate the values of the place and time, but to draw those in a particular place and time into something beyond a moment.  These spectacles initiate us into a transcendent moment and its archetypes, and it makes these moments and archetypes present for us.  Or it brings us into the presence of these things that are beyond and yet infuse our daily life.

“The Circus  is Eternal” did this as each model in Kate’s designs invoked and presented to us the various archetypes of the Circus: Janitor, Lion and Lion Tamer, Tightrope Walker, Fire Dancer, Ringmaster, and Dervish.   The show built as each model came out showcasing their garment and in keeping all the models on stage it created the fullness of the circus and its spectacle and controlled chaos as all the models joined in the Dervish’s dance.   We found ourselves in the presence of the Circus, without a circus being present, but its eternal moment its archetypes drew us into the reality and archetypes of the circus, as the music (archetypal yet industrial circus music) also drew us into the world of the circus through sound.  All the elements came together so that we were all, for 6 minutes, at the circus, through this fashion liturgy.

(You may find images here at Kate Setzer Kamphausen’s website.)



New images of Gallery B1 E Dia de Los Muertos exhibit

I have a new album of  Gallery B1 E turned into a chapel.  this exhibit features the Gallery owner’s shrines or offerenda both in the gallery turned chapel and in the Sculpture Garden.  Other artist are showing Day of the Dead themed art.  The opening was on November 2nd for Dia de Los Muertos.

November 1st we had a soft opening opened the gallery for a couple of hours and I lead a Feast of All Saints Vespers with Eucharist service.  Then last night we had the Opening reception with Mexican hot chocolate, life music and Feast of All Souls Vespers and Eucharist that I also lead.  I created the altar and the altar piece is a mural I painted in 2010 for another event.  My icons are also being shown as part of the exhibit.  The idea of  turning the gallery into a chapel and having me lead services as part of the exhibit were all the idea of the owner of Gallery B1E, Andy  De La Rosa.

Peter Murphy’s I Spit Roses

I meant to post this several weeks ago. Peter Murphy has a new Album out, Ninth, below is a video for one of the songs off that album, I Spit Roses.

Icon installations

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).

Multimedia Installation

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.