Stations of the Cross

5 March 2013

The Stations of the Cross at the Church of the Virgin, Vaux en Couhe 2009

Jacques Derrida wrote of a trajectory in the act of drawing, a performance, or theatre, Antonin Artaud names the Subjectile, which is perforce followed by a made choice or insinuates the subject in transition or retreat from itself. The following examples of works by Philippa Beale, where there is a confusion between a screen (the reproduction) and painted surface (the production), take advantage of mediations or movements between the breakdown of any relationship between presentation and representation. Beales work performs as subjectile in the movement from a scene where a work is to be located. The transposition of abstraction and materiality is conceptualised in the subjectile trajectory, through language vis-a-vis its objects, as a dynamic not of choice but of the betrayal of the sequential order of conceptual thinking (and places doubt) on the linguistic process of deconstruction, in the duplex of theory / practice, and practice / theory.

In 2006 Beale initiated a project in Vaux en Couhe, a small village near Poitiers, France. The purpose was to make a permanent installation of the fourteen images of the Stations of the Cross and to provide the 11th century church with a work that ought to, but would not both satisfy its devout, local, congregation and other more secularised universal or agnostic, atheistic and disinterested readers of the work. On producing the initial ideas the mayor and the priest of the town in charge of the work, agreed with the artist that a fragment of the commission should be placed in the church for a period of six months in order to garner the comments and contributions, and thereby be measure of success in their most direct emotional and spiritual responses of the village to the work. The main questions arose from one to do with method, How is it done?

An illustrated pamphlet explaining the process stage by stage was produced for the benefit of providing explanation, as far as that might configure a kind of belief in the coinciding of ethical and practical process of commissioning works in response to the sacred (within the historical continuum of such relationships between Church and artist), and in the communitarian sense of a universal belief in the mores of social participation, that showed itself true by laying down evidence of the Church engaged in practising egalitarian and humanitarian ideals. How did these negative reactions (lamentations, suspicions and anger) return to satisfy the conditions of our ingrained assumptions of arts incarnation of truth and its didactic role as a tool of iconoclasm of false belief; as the modern project persists in the assumed role of iconoclasm, that is to attack the institutions of an archaic social organisation and its task of breaking bourgeois stasis.

It sends back a message through the shock of these relations as re-presentations, of belief (faith) broken by the scandal of the (now no longer) New that return us not to sedimentary religion but to the belief in the tactility of the surface texture of the avant-garde; to question, what is subjectile between the assumption of speaking the truth in religion if proposed against the disenchanted speech of secularised meaning, i.e. to project, from the surface of religion what has been betrayed by its paradoxical texture, being there and not there, (that Modernism is dutiful, felt as a good enough, pragmatic replacement of religion), employed in the cruel, indifferent scene of the image.

The project was completed in 2009, the Archbishop of Poitiers came to bless the work, everyone was happy again. The visit of the Archbishop, and the Mayors speech, had sanctified the work; press articles encouraged visitors to the church and the village, i.e. certain processes seen to be validations occurred in protecting the work.

Now in 2012, many villagers are saying that this was not what they wanted. That the artist in fact had played a trick on them, had employed technology, to use their faces and produce something which might not last; that the images were too angry, too painful to view, too specific to personal identity and feeling.

A Walk in the Snow 1941 (In honour of Henri Bergson)

Thirty miles away in a large public exhibition space, the same artist made a projected image of A Walk in the Snow 1941, as an installation to commemorate the anniversary of the Transports of Jews from France to concentration camps in collaboration with the Germans. The same technology was used as for the Stations, but instead of printing onto a solid surface, the work remained ephemeral like a cinema/ TV screen, easy to switch off, to be broken up by someone walking by it; in fact this was of part the interaction of the work with its audience, housed where it was expected to be seen, so did not cause a stir, even if reminding of a brutal chapter in French history. Interestingly both this work and the Stations of the Cross both portray (and betray, precisely by the dualism of their portrayals) the same story of persecution and violence towards the same religious minority, subsisting as other to its same, as if ontologically different, by drawing limits between the violence of passage a lacte and the ethical dimension of lacte propre.

Jacques Derrida writes, 'Man calls himself man only by drawing limits excluding his other: the purity of nature, of animality, primitivism, childhood, madness, divinity.' Derrida refers to Artauds work as an attack of the subjectile, because it is impossible for the audience to distinguish between the subject of the representation and the way it is produced. Have, he writes, mysterious or magic forces have been at work here? Subjectile is an idea that posits that the interface between a surface, a subject and the material and medium inculcate a break in the repression of facticity in the viewer, defining, as Quentin Meillassoux speaks in Time Without Becoming (2008) as the absence of reason for any reality; in other words, the impossibility of providing an ultimate ground for the existence of any being.

This idea of a broken ground of meaning, instigated by Antonin Artaud and developed subsequently by Jacques Derrida, can be set to task, in how any reception or correlation of the two works in question operates. Both use paradoxical concepts, ambiguous surfaces that are contemporary in their method of deconstruction as the accepted means of any language based art practice, and suggest that these arcane iconic scenes that are not definable or explicitly available to interpretation by western rationalism as an object of study might yet be contemporised as the subjectile of a scene, without necessity in claims of Origin or Unity, but as facticities, since they resist reformulation and secularisation.

Jean-Jacques Rousseaus A Discourse on the Moral Effects of the Arts and Sciences(1750), more commonly known as Discourse on the Sciences and Arts (Discours sur les sciences et les arts), argued that the arts and sciences corrupt human morality, that civilised society should beware of the stagnating effect of its technological developments. These works by Beale are created by layering technologies, commencing with sculpture and painting, whose superimpositions through photography allay their progressive conversion into digital imagery by being redoubled in a further overlay of painting. The combination of different layers (by these cancelling / affirming technological processes) represent for the artist the different epochs from which the technology emerges as conditional to their temporal framing. Previous and inter-subjective layers are superimposed upon each other so that they project through historical time, as these subject-object layers are collapsed together and thus add a surplus sedimentation of significations to the work in its incomplete progression. The audience invited to participate at each stage of The Stations of Cross joins in the subterfuge, providing evidence of what Montaigne describes, that a story shared is only half way between the teller and the listener; when the subject of the work is always made up of stories, only half of it belongs to the maker and the rest to the viewer. Who is kidding or speaking, of an illusion to whom, and whose story is being told? Both parties become complicit in an act of revealing and concealing mysteries about the making of a story that is itself the recit about belief and stands by it as belief. Or again as belief, the fiction is paramount in upholding the suspension of disbelief. How much of this complicity is concealed or revealed depends upon the viewers themselves and also how the artist has been able or more significantly absented from her presence to engage with them during the making. As if a Renaissance painting, The Stations of the Cross is meant to resituate a sense of simulation, of an original permanence or aura, by its installation. Curiously the story (of which there exists in all cultures, a meaning through social acts of transmitting allegorical significance, is in Western culture, here signified as the story of the Subjectile.

If art is a mutual process and all members of a culture share a common language, one might imagine that there are agreed visual vocabularies, which in principle anyone can study and understand. That the images, objects and forms of making are the common denominators of this vocabulary and the betrayal by the artist herself, is one that cannot define the complex nature of shared understanding, of the will to community, when knowledge is revealed or more to the point, when the nature of it is disenchantment, and becomes endemic. It was proposed within those now arguably outmoded ideas of communication theory, often used in advertising and propaganda, that the artwork has been always a subterfuge and that artist, against belief, or its constitution as a replicated object, commodity fetish, was to announce an anti-fetishist or iconoclast gesture, who accepted a level of complicity in the desiring field, of betrayal and subterfuge of iconophilia, because art - in order to exist - is embedded within the contexts of visual culture, and hard pressed to critique its own appearances in the arena of images, as also part of iconic excess. Is the subterfuge therefore necessary to convince spectators that they share the knowledge to develop and actively employ their interpretive abilities as critical weapons, or to seek to alienate, by complicity, through the double inversion of alienation, and autonomy in subjecthood? A good alienation, or mediatised angst, that Hardt and Negri posit?

The Stations and The Walk provide a good subtext for all the cavalries of thinking the temporal subject through human history; In the case of these two works, firstly at an 11th century church where the sacred ideas and stories have been continually presented to a seated audience, and secondly, in a 21st century art centre where the blur of time produced of a continual human consumption of the temporary, unhinges all internal and historical or traditional perspective, at the very scene of a temporal collapse between them, as the sensual, subjectile. Robert Hughes wrote that there exists a tradition- one is tempted to say, the tradition- of a uniquely visual language which, as art, is neither conceptual nor critical but sensuous, the mark on paper the bur hole on a blank screen and that, as technology has become more sophisticated, the craft side of making art has become cruder and less sensuous (1968). Heaven and Hell in Western Art. In the interstice between cold rational distance and sensual pleasure, Beale exposes the lack as a transition from monument, in the depiction of shame, as sculpture to its super-ceding by media, as a bio-political presents itself at the precise site of subjectile collapse.

The lack or rupture has no bodily purpose. Being neutral, the technical transubstantiates man to machine or like Christ from idea to man to God and back again, to body to nobody. James Camerons film Terminator creates a god-like creature who looks human but is machine inside, an augmented man! Or a fake man? Or a messiah? Or both without contradiction, being fabricated and divine, the same born out of common time. Frederic Vigneron writes about the imagination of the artist, who invents the machinic assemblage, the cyber-man; the perfect natural machine for him is sculpture because it is a machine without purpose, yet sculpture as televisual presence is produced in real time, as the object of iconophilia, more powerful than critical facility and failure. Could it be said that The Stations of the Cross first makes use of, then destroys sculpture in its making, and The Walk in the Snow 1941, which is interactive, obeys the codes of simulacra? Sculpture as simulative machine? Their creation and exhibition runs the gauntlet of machine and human to insidiously revoke any distinction between natural and cultural. Although looking natural they each force a different kind of tension; the hardness of the surface in the Stations and the church stone itself are relation as ruptured. Agency however discomfited, is performed through the screen, depicting a much more recent horror. It is safe and can be switched on or off, and has no tragic dimension; belief can be easily cannibalised by knowledge and regain its power in the material image as fetish, unacknowledged.

The first Station called The Betrayal illustrates how the image on the wall despite being literally two dimensional has the appearance of three dimensions - the different types of technology collapse into making a work in which it is impossible to distinguish between the subject, its surface and technological flatness. The layers of the material, techniques and meaning start to represent the dialogue between the images of Christ, the accused and the managers of Jerusalem, his accusers creating another dialogical space between the viewer and the judgement of the work itself.

In the third Station He falls for the First Time and the fifth, Jesus is Helped by Simon of Cyrenie; depict Christ, who is unwillingly dragged from the crowd. According to the scriptures as he picks up the cross it becomes as light as a feather; purity is literally denied, leaving only the visceral, primitive animal that is man, the injuries and sufferings depicted are crafted from the stone image in which each layer is literally destroyed as skins, or simulations.

Jesus falls for the third time: 'Man calls himself man only by drawing limits (Derrida) and there are no limits in this story which operate at the same level of violence as the film Terminator, in fact the work with its fourteen images is like a storyboard for a film.

Christ Crucified Interred in the Tomb (below) Illustrates very clearly the ambiguity of surfaces, drawing lines between subject and object, preventing unequivocal questions about the artists capacity and intention while confining
the viewer to question how is it done leading to the loss of distinction between the idea and how it is manifested in the translation.

Philippa Beale, Peter Lewis November 2012