Thomas McKenzie
by grace alone
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see god


Today, I went with some people to see a show called “100 Artists See God.” The first piece you see, the piece displayed on the brochure about the exhibit, is a black/red/white sign/painting which says: “Beware of God.” It set the tone pretty well.

There was a painting of God as a urinal. A video of people being shot. A bumper sticker that said “God Less America.” A picture of a pebble, with a note that this is the artist’s new god. The most disturbing image was the face of a skinny, old man wearing make up. It was projected onto a floating white egg shaped sculpture. The image, who is apparently god, basically berates the listener.

There were a few images which conveyed a feeling of either neutrality or perhaps some small affection towards god. A painting of a beam of light. A blank canvas conveying the ineffability of God. Leonard Nimoy (yes, Mr. Spock) had a photograph of a woman who he apparently admires. Another video showed a woman with two babies. It seemed that the positive images of god were either a) god is transcendent or b) god is female.

Basically, I would like to rename the exhibit “92 Artists Hate God, and 8 Others Could Take Her or Leave Her.”

There were a couple of pieces I connected with. My favorite was a huge, well stocked, and locked medicine cabinet. I connect with that particular heresy.

God as an object, not a person. Not a thinking, loving being; but, rather, a thing. Impersonal, and therefore safe. Safe, but not satisfying.

God as medicine cabinet. Impersonally containing everything I need to make myself feel better. Filled with every drug, every bandage. When I get hurt, I can go to this god to alleviate my suffering, at least temporarily. This god has what I need in the here and now, in this moment. This god is reactive, in the since that most of us don’t take medicine preemptively. We take it reactively, when we are hurt, when we feel the need for it. So, I go to this god out of in-the-moment necessity.

God as a locked medicine cabinet. This is the ultimate feature: the lock. The god has everything I need, but how do I get it. What magical phrase, what good work, must I do in order to get what I need right now. Look at that vast array of medication! Who must I speak to in order to get a key?

This is my most despairing vision of God, and one that I fall in to. I wish I did not, but I do.

I am glad to have gone to this show. I am glad to be armed with this new metaphor. I am hopeful that it will guide me as I pray to have a completely different image of God.

P.S. The Observer (the London newspaper) reviewed the show while it was there two years ago. They ended with these observations, which I found echo my own feelings:

Obviously, I wish Cranston and Baldessari didn't admire the photographs of Star Trek's Leonard Nimoy (God as a nubile female nude, one veil away from David Hamilton soft porn). I wish the artists they liked, or knew, could have included just one or two more who had any manifest interest in belief, doubt, certainty, divinity. I wish they admired Mark Wallinger or Susan Hiller, for example, of the many to name only two.
But above all there is the bad faith of most of the submissions themselves, with their casual, 'will-this-do?' fatuity. For some reason, the curators pride themselves on having agreed to settle for whatever they got from the off. But the viewer, of course, doesn't have to.