Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Management has Spoken

After last weeks reinforced concrete Marian apparition I was surprised to see myself in the church bulletin today:

The shrine had been cleared out, and honestly looks much more subdued and fall appropriate in the way I envisioned it. Still, the plastic flowers and one handed Mary showed someone else cared. (I checked, one handed Mary is safe and sound in the back.) It made me think of a piece I'd written about the shrine, musing about artistic intention and its collision with real life. Since as far as I know it was never used for the intended purpose no reason not to recycle it.

About a year ago I completed a religious commission, a blessed mother outside a church in New Jersey. I built a raw wood shrine housing a life size figure of Mary carved from a dead pine tree that stood on the spot. I’d approached it with a rustic, eco art influenced aesthetic.  It was my own parish, and I thought I understood the context pretty well.  Instead, the emergence of this outdoor shrine, outside the direct control of the priests, provided an outlet for traditions of devotion I am familiar with, but had never seen in my own home parish. I've been disconcerted to find this very intentionally earthy statue constantly festooned with various plastic debris. Metallic tinted Christmas bells, tinsel, plastic rosaries, fake flowers in various unearthly hues have all taken up residence. It would be hard to imagine something further from my original intention.  I’m still constantly adapting the piece, rearranging these offerings, (removing items only on rare occasions) adjusting landscaping (and battling with grounds people with weed whackers).  This works because I’m not an outside consultant, but someone with an ongoing relationship with the space. Maybe more importantly, though it is not my aesthetic, I have some understanding of this form of devotion, powerfully associated for me with childhood memories of Italy and cemetery visits with my grandparents to the graves of my great grandparents and uncle, faded plastic flowers and cracked marble crypts. Experience allows me to respect even what I would rather not have around.  I don’t think any generic virtue whether of talent or open mindedness can replace that kind of experience...

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