Reconstructing religion

On PhD Wednesday, over hot water, coffee and dark chocolate outside Feidan on Anfu Lu, I had a discussion with my Shanghai-based Italian artist friend Girolamo Marri about religion and art, its precarious relationship as part of contemporary art, even more so in contemporary Chinese art, and how contemporary artists today rarely delve deeply into two subjects – politics and religion – because if you state a claim as regards one of them you will have to stand by your decision and will always get defined by it. It sticks with you so you have to be firm in what you believe…but that’s with everything in life as you get older I reckon. We also discussed how religion was part of our childhoods…Catholicism versus Christianity…their differences and similarities…some things made us laugh so much, mostly communion wafer and religious attire stories. We questioned whether contemporary artists who state a religious claim were pigeonholing themselves as a “religious artist” and whether they would almost lose a sense of creative respect because of this. We came to the conclusion that it is a subject we would both never really use as a conceptual or aesthetic construct because of well, so many different reasons…largely the possibility to disrespect or offend, even if not intended it would no doubt happen.

So, today I came across this body of work by American artist Meg Hitchcock…labour-intensive word cuttings, “elaborate collage works”, that deconstruct and then reconstruct sentences, words and letters from religious texts and more recently from assorted books including the Bible, Koran and Salmon Rushdie’s ‘The Satanic Verses’. Meg sees her work as a form of meditation…part of her spiritual path and journey through life and a celebration of sacred experience. Although it fed my personal obsession with text, words, book arts, and ritualistic creations, I found it particularly intense and a little overwhelming…almost mantra chanting like…but in a visual rather than verbal way.

Throne: The Book of Revelation (detail); letters cut from the Koran, 44.5 x 30 inches (2012)

“In my text drawings I deconstruct the word of God by cutting letters from sacred writings and rearranging them to form a passage from another holy book. I may cut letters from the Bible and reassemble them as a passage from the Koran, or use letters cut from the Torah to recreate an ancient Tantric text. The individual letters are glued to the paper in a continuous line of type, without spaces or punctuation, in order to discourage a literal reading of the text. By bringing together the sacred writings of diverse traditions, I create a visual tapestry of inspired writings, all pointing beyond specifics to the universal need for connection with something greater than oneself.” – Meg Hitchcock

The Satanic Verses: “Repentance” from the Koran (detail). Letters cut from “The Satanic Verses” by Salman Rushdie, 21 x 19 inches (2012)

4 responses to “Reconstructing religion

  1. Thanks for this. I’m honored to be mentioned on your blog, but must point out that my spiritual path is not evangelical Christianity. While this may seem irrelevant to some readers, it is a crucial distinction for me, and indeed my “anti-evangelicalism” is the fuel that drives my creative work. Religious fundamentalism is fear-based and antithetical to the spirit of my creative work.

    warm regards,
    Meg

  2. have seen zero art in china inspired by deep spiritual or mystic revelations .. have you?

  3. I have seen Ms. Hitchcocks work and have heard her artist talks and one of the issues that most impressed me is her view on fundamentalism of any faith as a dangerous extreme and your representation of her as an evangelical christian is wrong. I see her work as a bridging the gap of religion and honoring the sacred in the nonreligious form of art.

  4. Meg – Apologies for my error, I have updated the post so it reads correctly. Thank you for your comment and it is interesting to read more about how you anti-evangelicalism fuels your creativity.

    Gregory – I pretty much agree with you…I don’t think anyone here has the confidence to jump into that territory…it comes hand in hand very much with the political perspectives and restrictions that China has to tackle on a daily basis.

    Kurt – I appreciate your comment and I have update my post accordingly…I did not intend to misinterpret Meg’s work…I agree with you actually in the respect of the works bridging capacity between religion and non-sacred forms of visual representation…I’d be interested to know if there is more work out there like hers as I feel it could be a dynamic research thread to go down…

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