Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Visual Theology

A few days ago, I was delighted to recieve my copies of Visual Theology: Forming and Transforming the Community through the Arts, which was edited by Robin Jensen and Kim Vrudny. Conceived as a festschrift for Wilson Yates on the occasion of his retirement as Dean of United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities, the book consists of a series of essays which look at contemporary art and artists through the eyes of faith. I am pleased and humbled that my chapter, "Wholly Porcelain: Mimesis and Meaning in the Sculpture of Ginger Geyer", is included.

Here is a short excerpt:

Geyer works in porcelain, which she calls the “Queen of Clay,” a notoriously difficult medium. In the tiny, efficient studio attached to her Austin home, she coaxes the clay into life-size, not-quite trompe l’oeil versions of children’s toys, kitchen utensils, household bedding, and other fragments of modern American life. This near-mimesis of the ordinary is a technical tour-de-force, attesting to the artist’s ability to force clay to do what it does not really want to do. Even when the desired form is precariously achieved, the accidents of production frequently add another layer of meaning to
those that were initially intended.

Recently, Geyer's work, "Birdbath for Hawks and Doves" was exhibited in the Dadian Gallery, as part of the Body of Christ exhibition. Of it she wrote:

When the inspiration arrived for a font, I resisted it. I scribbled a quick journal entry: “God, how did I get so orthodox? Baptism is the sacrament I don’t even like, except for the cute babies. Baptism starts something.” It seems that the church squabbles over baptism more than anything. Methodists do birdbath baptisms with sprinkles and dribbles, whereas the rival Baptists dunk ‘em like a donut. Where I was raised, both groups were suspicious of the Episcopalians who used the fancy name of “christening” and did it as an invitation-only affair. No wonder the style of baptism raises eyebrows; the Biblical passages about it are ambiguous. That’s good—let the ambiguity remain. But is baptism an exclusive rite of passage? Or merely a chance to coo at babies you don’t have to take home with you? It seems like the wetter they get you, the hotter the insurance from hell policy gets, and the more flamboyant is the call to conversion. It is that last one, the salvation-or-else theology, the washing away of original sin in a young innocent that tainted baptism for me.

Ginger's irreverent questioning of the traditions and customs of contemporary Christians springs from her deep yearning for authentic expressions of faith. Her sculptures, most with accompanying stories, poems, or essays, invite us to question our assumptions, investigate our prejudices, and come to terms with the messiness of incarnation. As reflections on divine grace and our fragile, earthen selves, they proclaim that the Word of God is much more than words. Visual theology, indeed.

You can view Ginger's work at her website, http://www.gingergeyer.com/. An online gallery of the complete Body of Christ exhibition may be seen by clicking here.

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