Art

The Bodies of (Saint) David Bowie

At some point after the news of David Bowie’s death,  across my social media streams came mention of sainthood for  David Bowie.  Dannielle Jenkins of Greaser Creatures while David Bowie was alive made these saint candles of Bowie (and other rock and film icons). 20160112_091621  It makes a certain sense, Sainthood claims not only that a particular person was of significance during the persons biological life but that said person can’t be summed up in their biological life and continues to live on and have effect in the world after biological death.

Jacques Derrida pointed out that when we are dealing with people we know through their body of work (artistic, philosophical, political, theological) there is as desire to connect up their historical and biological body with their body of work.  This is a difficult task.  While there is obvious coincidence of the biological body and the body of work under the same signature and name, each also has a life of its own.

One of the many things the philosopher Jacques Derrida wrote about was this relation between our biological existence, our projections of our selves, and death.  For Derrida death lurks in us, in our communication of our selves, in our attempts to gain access to the other. There is a difference between death and life and yet they’re intermingled.

For Derrida death lingers in the different bodies of an artist or philosopher.  We often want to make these bodies coincide.  Yet, there is a separation. Death shows this separation.  What we have of a philosopher or artist after death is their body of work, this survives death, but their biological body, their self aside from the image projected as philosopher, artist, theologian isn’t accessible to us (and wasn’t accessible in life to a degree these names and bodies are already dead to us even during the biological life).

Sainthood approaches these aporias and conundrums of image and images and multiple bodies attached to a name, by adding a body, the body that transcends or survives death beyond a body of work.  This body continues to interact with the world after the biological body has ceased to live.  This can involve miraculous events attached to the name of the saint, including revelations and visions of the saint.

But we can’t make all the bodies attached to a name neatly coincide, neither can we dismiss the connections, the overlap, and the coincidence of the bodies received under one signature and name.

David Bowie as a stage name hides from us one body, that of David Jones.  And yet the way in which David Jones’ biological  body is also David Bowie’s body and the way in which that shared body was part of the body of work signed David Bowie, there is already in David Bowie a certain transcendence of death even before the death of the biological body.  This is analogous to the ways in which the body of a Saint already shows signs of transcendence in their biological bodies.  David Bowie isn’t only already marked by death, but also marked by the transcendent body David Bowie.

Now David Bowie’s body of work is complete.  We now hear and see David Bowie differently.  We may even begin to wrestle with his darker side, things that we may not want to attach to the body of work and yet are part of the biological life and body of David Jones/Bowie.

Yet it is perhaps important to remember that the bodies of David Bowie are different while they overlap.  We can’t either ignore the difference between David Jones and David Bowie, nor can we ignore their coincidence.

What we have now access too, and only had access to as fans and aficionados of David Bowie is the body of his work of art, the story of which was told in David Bowie Is exhibition, and which we now have  as its capstone in Blackstar.

And I think we also have that body that transcends death in that David Bowie’s body of work because of the nature of that body transcends death, and continues to give us messages and encounters with David Bowie beyond the grave.

Although we have the body of David Bowie complete, we won’t be able to comprehend these bodies.  There will always be those things beyond our grasp.  David Bowie may have a transcendent body that we will only now discover as we carry with us the artistic corpus of David Bowie. However, unlike what is claimed of the saint, we will never have (and never did have) accessible to us the body of David Jones.  David Jones is lost to us, all we ever had and will ever have is the bodies of David Bowie, biological, artistic, and transcendent.

Icons of Enlightenment and Wisdom

I recently completed to miniature icons one of Jesus Christ as  Sophia/Wisdom known as the Holy Silence or blessed silence. and the icon of Saint Mary Magdalene Apostle to the Apostles both icons are related to enlightenment and wisdom.

The icon of the Holy Silence represents Jesus Christ as Wisdom, or as Paul says the Wisdom of God.

In the Icon Saint Mary Magdalene is holding a red egg and jar of Myrrh she brought to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body according to Jewish custom. The egg symbolizes resurrection, new life, and enlightenment. The red egg also is connected to two stories associated with St Marry Magdalene’s hagiography. According to one tradition Mary Magdalene had brought eggs with her to the tomb in a basket. After finding the tomb empty and encountering the resurrected Christ, she ran with the basket of eggs to Jesus’ Apostles to announce the Resurrection. When explaining the resurrection she went to use the egg as an illustration, and found all the eggs had been turned blood red. The other tradition is of her preaching before the Emperor Tiberius, using the egg to illustrate the meaning of the Resurrection. Tiberius remarked sarcastically that the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth was as likely to have happened as Mary Magdalene turning the egg she held in her hand red. After Tiberius said this the egg turned red. This is why it is traditional among the Orthodox to give out eggs died red at Easter.

The icons are available on my Etsy shop

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A Nice Indian Boy: A Rich and Savory Play

Rasaka Theatre’s current production is the Midwest premier of Madhuri Shekar’s A Nice Indian Boy, Running through March 8 at Victory Gardens..  Full disclosure my wife Kate Setzer Kamphausen is the Costume Designer for the production

A Nice Indian Boy is a poignant family comedy that explore the meaning of love marriage, gender, ethnicity and the adaptation and transmission of tradition.  We the theater goer are simply dropped into an episode in the life of an Indian immigrant family.  The mother and father (Megha Gavaskar and Artchit Gavaskar) were born and married in India and then immigrated to the U.S where they had and have raised their two children (Arundhathi and Naveen) in the San Francisco Bay area.  We meet this family as the son  Naveen (the youngest of the two children) has met and is in a serious relationship with his boyfriend, Keshav.

On the day Naveen has planned to introduce Keshav to his parents his sister, who lives in New York, shows up unannounced and without her husband.  In this scene tensions mount in both hilarity and painful to watch misunderstanding and retrenchment.  Arundhathi, reveals that she has felt pressured into the marriage her parents arranged (as their marriage was arranged) and is resentful of how they now seem so accepting of her brothers not only choosing whom he will be with but that he is bringing home a boy.  the boyfriend is both more Indian than Indian and not what Archit and Megha expected.

As a comedy the rest of the play works out these tensions as characters wrestle with love, family acceptance and how to maintain ethnic identity and traditions.  Resolution comes as it becomes apparent that tradition and identity are more fluid, richer and more complex than we may at first perceive, especially when we feel that identity threatened by the unexpected.

A controlling trope through which the play works out these tensions is cooking.  Rasaka’s production of the play draws out how even the structure of the play progresses like a meal being cooked.  At the beginning of the play the members of this family are all very distinct and separate.  It was almost hard to see what their family life was like.  The distinct and sharp character traits of each individual character is up front, like the separate ingredients of a dish as one gather’s up all the ingredients for a meal or dish.  Over the course of the play the characters slowly blend and aspects of their characters that stood out against others blends with and heightens traits of other characters, like a well cooked dish where each ingredient is recognized but not as itself but in its interaction with other flavors and textures.

Cooking also is central to the story as both Achit and Keshav, love to cook.  Both are men, and slowly it is revealed that Megha doesn’t cook and hasn’t cooked for the entirety of their marriage except for the first week when she ruined every dish she cooked, and one night woke to her new husband cooking in the kitchen. She and her husband had a feast of food he cooked, and Megha hasn’t cooked since.  Archit though is very particular of following his mother and grandmothers recipes, yet when it came to the recipe of marriage and gender roles in marriage, Archit and Megha have already changed up the ingredients.

The play ends happily and with the family having become comfortable with the tensions and more aware of how one can play with the recipe and yet still have the same dish.  However, all isn’t resolved.  We leave them to live out their lives.  A Nice Indian Boy  leaves the audience savoring and ruminating upon the complexity and richness of ethnic identity and traditions.

David Bowie Is(n’t) Original

music-david-bowie-is-2At the top of the David Bowie Is exhibition the Yohji Yamomoto black record body suit presents the wild spectacle of David Bowie.  Then one moves to spend time in David Bowie’s early years, or really , the time before “David  Bowie”.  Here I got a sense of him as creative reclusive person, who through mime discovers his whole embodied self can be the basis of art as performance.  David Bowie emerges out of a varied set of influences and a traditional performance art.

(This isn’t a review of David Bowie Is exhibition, but a reflection on Bowie as an artist informed by the traveling exhibit, that had been at the Museum Contemporary Art, Chicago, and closed January 4, 2015.)

“David Bowie” in seeming contradiction to the spectacle isn’t about  authenticity, or originality.  David Bowie isn’t concerned about himself as the origin of his art.  From the start he rejects the Rocker”s refusal of stage make up.  The Rocker rejected make up as inauthentic.  David Bowie picks it up like the early rockers, but doesn’t attempt to make it “authentic” or representing an original author. Rather, make up becomes part of an abyssal persona without originality.  Make up is of course a key component to the Ziggy Stardust era along with wild costumes.  In Ziggy Stardust we, also find the various ways in which Bowie, as a performance artist, borrows from all sorts of sources and in collaboration. He collaborates with designers for the costumes , on  album art, and with studio musicians.  Originality, authenticity is questioned and turned upside down, even as “David Bowie” leaves behind very creative and odd artifacts .

(We should not forget that David Bowie is a staInside+David+Bowie+retrospective+features+rbPiViJ9bRTlge name and persona.  A friend once met David Bowie in a book shop and she approached him and asked are you David Bowie?  As he pulled down his shades, to reveal his eyes, he said to my friend, “Not today, love.”).

A portion of the David Bowie Is exhibit pauses in reflection upon Bowie’s 1979 appearance on Saturday Night Live.  Behind the displayed costumes from that performance, in large lettering, a question is emblazoned: “David Bowie Revolutionary or Plagiarist?”  That question raises the dilemma of our understanding of authenticity and originality. bowie-2   It also comes at a point in the exhibition after which Bowie’s originality is troubled by having seen how David Bowie is collaborative, and draws not only inspiration but whole tropes (conceptual and visual) form various works and art forms.  Originality and authenticity is also troubled by Bowie’s system for conjuring of lyrics.  The exhibition has already challenged notions of authorial originality and intention.  So, one is prepared to see the question as a false dilemma.  Yet I also think it articulates how we fail to grasp tradition and how it functions.

As wild as David Bowie is, my experience of him , as presented in David Bowie Is, was as a traditional artist and not avant guarde.  Granted there is much in his performance that challenged convention and the status quo, but he is overtly and intentionally working with what he has received, and what others have abandoned and bringing what has been handed him  into a place of freshness and newness.   Part of what he receives as his career progress is “David Bowie” as a tradition to be mined. His own body of work becomes that which he receives and passes on to himself.

David Bowie fits within a tradition of entertainment, performance, art, and music.  David Bowie is also his own Tradition.

It perhaps is strange to think of Bowie as an unoriginal , inauthentic, and traditional performance artist who has challenged the status quo and created a unique persona and set of personas.  This is strange because we think that challenging the status quo occurs out of a place of authenticity and originality. We see tradition as only a conservative and static impulse.  Yet, if we see tradition as a dynamic moment of receptivity and creativity, then we can begin to look at the self-contradictory aspect of originality and authenticity:

Can any of us claim to be our own origin? can any of us be ourselves without dependence upon or reference to anything nor anyone else?  Don’t we all receive ourselves from others? Authenticity as originating only in the self and through independence consumes itself in an impossibility.

Bowie refuses the obsession with authenticity, embracing artifice and persona.  In so doing he puts himself in a place to receive a tradition of performance art that he then uses to create an astounding body of work.  In the body of work of “David Bowie” one doesn’t find the true authentic artist of an original body of work.  Rather one finds a body of work in conversation with a tradition of music and performance art (mime, fashion, theater, film, music), and a body of work that becomes its own tradition that is received and passed on.

David Bowie’s artistic body of work is overwhelming, shocking, wild, and creative, but it isn’t original.  The career and body of work received under the name “David Bowie” is possibly one of the best illustration of Jesus’ aphorism from the Gospel of Matthew: “The Scribes of the Kingdom are like one who brings out from the treasury what is both old and new.”  Such is what it means to be in a tradition, to have received a treasure out of which one brings both the old and the new.  Such is the body of work of David Bowie.

Granted David Bowie’s tradition isn’t a religious tradition but of performance, art, and music, and of “David Bowie” himself.  In this body of work we find what is both new and old, revolution and plagiarism. What we don’t find is an authentic original author, David Bowie. Such a singular and authentic origin doesn’t exist.  Or rather the origin and authenticity of David Bowie is found in others from whom he received what makes up “David Bowie.”

 

Icon of the Epiphany

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Yesterday was the feast of the  Epiphany.  In the west this feast is the celebration of the arrival  of the Magi and their adoration of the infant Jesus of Nazareth presenting him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.  In the east the Epiphany is the feast of the baptism of Christ in the river Jordan, the above icon is the icon of the Epiphany or Theophany.

The icon is rich.  In the lower portions of the icon in the water are the depictions of spirit manifestations of water, the figure with the wings and wild hair and a beard represents the Jordan river.  on the other side is Leviathan, these are the spirits the personifications of water.  Christ’s hand of blessing is not raised as in of the icons but is in the water, blessing the water.

Jesus stands in a way reminiscent of the crucifixion

Processional cross, Egg Tempera and gold leaf
Processional cross, Egg Tempera and gold leaf

feet and legs together, dressed only in a loin  cloth.

John the Forerunner’s preaching is represented by an ax laying against a bush, “…the ax is at the root…”

It is also, not surprisingly, a Trinitarian icon.  At the top God the Father, un-circumscribed of whom we can’t make any image, unknown but by the Son and the Spirit, is represented by the semi circle of blues and black.  The Spirit represented as the Gospels describe descending on Jesus of Nazareth as it is revealed (epiphany) that this human is God the Son.

And Angels Attend, (indicating Jesus Christ’s temptation in the desert, after which the Gospels say he was attended by angels.).

I painted this icon as a medallion, in part to strengthen the sense that God in Jesus Christ comes for the whole earth and all of creation, represented by the river and its spirit manifestations in the painting.  The extent of the realty hear represented is particular and universal, cosmic.  Salvation, Reconciliation, Liberation, is in this material world, in (re)connecting matter the created world with its source, the very Life of the world.  A great estrangement took place and God the Son, as Jesus of Nazareth comes, and we can see God, and find our true life, the life of the whole cosmos.  God is now forever part of the matter in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.

This radical act of God, is the very thing that makes possible the painting of icons.  If God had not become flesh and a human in the Jew, Jesus of Nazareth, God would have remained beyond us.

The above icon of the Epiphany/Baptism of Our Lord is available in my Etsy shop, Prietly Goth Icons

Theophany – Baptism of Christ Icon

Stages of the Nearly completed Theophany icon.  If interested in this icon it will be available in my  Priestly Goth Icons Etsy shop in September.

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Painting Icons at the Glenwood Ave Arts Fest (Leaving our Marks)

This past weekend, August 16th and 17th, I was showing icons and doing some painting at the Glenwood Ave Arts Fest.  This is the second time I’ve done “live art” at a festival and been painting icons in public.  I’ve shown my icons at the Glenwood Ave. Fest for several years now.   Not surprisingly the public display of  art that is of a particular spiritual and religious tradition leads to conversation, allowing people to see the process also elicits conversation.

Not sure why, but this year I noticed a change in tenor and tone of those who approached me to talk to me about icons and why I paint them.  In the past the conversations tended to revolve around the juxtaposition of religious art (or the act of painting religious art) in a public and “secular” art space.   Most of these conversations centered on people’s troubled or antagonistic relationship with Christianity.  This year the conversations settled mostly around how each persons own spiritual journey connected up with an icon, or icons, or my presence at the festival painting icons. While I did speak with a number of Christians, the majority of those with whom I spoke weren’t identifying as Christian or identified as post-Christian in someway, as in past years. However, this year no one I talked with had stories of their struggle with Christianity or how Christians or the church had hurt them.  Also, no one seemed terribly taken back by “Priestly Goth”, well except that to some I had to explain what Goth was, which was new.  Not a single person asked how I could be a pastor and a goth.  Though, most did comment with surprise when it came out that I was a pastor.

Here’s a few pictures from the weekend:

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The Spirituality of Place and Physicality (Leaving Our Marks)

I recently talked with a low church evangelical who recently went on pilgrimage to Palestine/Israel.  He reported that it was amazing, but that before the trip he hadn’t given much credence to the possibility that space, architecture, and place could be imbued with Spirit.  Based on his experience at the  pilgrimage sites in Jerusalem, he was convinced that those places were Spiritual, whether other space and places could also be he remained agnostic.

I’m astounded by how often I run across  this attitude that all places and spaces are the same that the Spiritual and the holy don’t attach themselves to place or architecture or space.  This seems particularly strange to me among those whose very belief system claims that God became united with matter and a body in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, who as his name states was from a particular place and at a particular time, 1st century Palestine.

We perhaps get caught up in how this might be?  We can’t believe that a reality free of the constraints of physicality would allow itself to be  limited by the physical.  Yet this is exactly the claim of the incarnation.  As St John of Damascus says in his defense of icons in On Orthodoxy ” the uncircumscribable became circumscribed.”

In The Life of the World, Alexander Schmemann claims that our sense of the separation of the physical and Spiritual, mater and divinity isn’t the ultimate truth.  Rather God intended that all creation be the place of meeting between creature and creator.  The Sacraments work because in our unfallen state the whole world was Sacrament to us, God had always intended to meet us in and through the physical and material world.

I’m drawn to forms of Christianity that take seriously that space, architecture, place and physicality are Spiritual.  I’m also drawn to those forms of Christianity that then say what we do with the reality of the coincidence of the material and the Spiritual means certain things for the spaces we pray in, the images we look at, and the way we sing.  All of this isn’t necessarily as bounded (from my current point of view) as these Christians may assert.  I do believe that the tradition of the Church has a form, and not all Christian activity fits into that form.  I’m still questioning that form, I’m still seeking to think into that form.

My sense is that the Church has left its mark.  The Holy Spirit as the spirit of Christ comes to us through forms created and passed down (that is Tradition).  Place matters, the forms our buildings take matter.  These things have meaning.  I encourage us to take pay attention to the physicality of our spirituality, and to recognise it doesn’t necessarily mean all the same thing.  Difference in form is also difference in spirituality and faith.

Interior of the New Digs – The Community of the Holy Trinity

As The Rule of the Community of the Holy Trinity suggest community life is the sharing and holding in common spaces and the objects in that space.   We hold in common property, at the moment a rented apartment in a two flat in the Albany Park neighborhood of Chicago.  The community moved into this location in August of last year. We have called the new space the New Digs.

One of the challenges of living in community is keeping  common spaces common.  For a community like ours this challenge stems from that much of the  furniture and decor in common spaces members from items each brings into the community.    As new members move in decisions about what furniture the new member has will go into the common spaces.  This decision depends on what the new member brings, if she wishes to have an item used by all or if she wishes these items to only be in her room.  The decision also depends on the needs of the community and fit within the current arrangement of space. Thus, common space is a negotiated space and one that is re-negotiated upon receiving a new member.

This way of negotiating common space; what we use in the common spaces and how we decorate those spaces, can bring about tensions between members.  There have been times where some members have not felt at home in the spaces because they perceived that the items in the spaces as belonged to other members and was an expression of certain members aesthetic.

When holding things in common through bringing together our property and making it available to the community as a whole works, the common spaces and the items in them express the character of the community through the contributions of each member.  So that while one may be able to guess that a certain item of decor came from this or that member, the result of the combination is the expression of the community as a whole.  This is achieved both through a willingness to let go of the property one brings into the community and means truly receiving the gift of property that is offered by the other members and the community as a whole.

The other challenge of common space in an intentional community is maintaining the space so that all are comfortable in its use.  This is a balance between maintaining a clean and aesthetically pleasant space that is also lived in.

Lastly, this approach to common space lends itself to an eclectic aesthetic, a blending of various opinions and desires, as well as seeking the best way to make use of the space of the house or apartment.

This is the current iteration of these negotiations in the Community of the holy Trinity’s space the New Digs: