Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Boundaries and Borders

I continue to think about the boundaries between art, ritual, and ordinary life. When does ordinary walking turn into a procession? When does a friendly wave turn into a dance? What is the difference between my solitary breakfast, dinner with friends, and Holy Communion? Can art that seems to mock religion nonetheless be holy?

In the Temple of Confessions, performance artists Guillermo Gómez-Peña and Roberto Sifuentes turned an art gallery into a place where people confessed their darkest fears about race, ethnicity, identity, and gender. Using American flags, images and objects derived from popular culture, and symbols evoking both Catholic worship and shamanistic practice, they created a space that was at once sacred and profane. Within that space, they and their collaborators enacted rituals with over-the-top theatricality, using costumes and props that were meant to disturb and provoke unwary gallery-goers into thinking about such loaded subjects as immigration, bigotry, and exploitation.

In a scenario called “Eating the Last Immigrant,” Gómez-Peña and his collaborators invite gallery-goers to eat a life-sized effigy made of gelatin. In this parody of the communion rite, the effects of political borders on everything from economic prospects to family relationships and personal identity are brought into sharp relief. In the video documenting the event at the Corcoran Gallery, one can see people shaking their heads when offered a small dish of dessert, unsure whether eating the dessert implicates them further as clueless devourers of another culture’s goods, or brings them into communion with Gómez-Peña and his group of holy fools.

Exploring of the edges where art, ritual, and everyday life coincide raises questions for me about how changing our rituals might change our relationship with one another, with the world in which we live, even with God. What if we didn’t keep Communion safely within the boundaries of our churches, but brought it out into the wildness of our everyday lives? What if we began every meal with remembering what Jesus said to his friends as he broke bread and passed a cup of wine from hand to hand? What if every time we ate and drank, we did so in remembrance of the One who calls us to be the living Body of Christ on earth?

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