Spiraling out of Control

Spiraling out of Control

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  1. That which we call the Passion, by any other name would…
    An Artist’s Statement on “Spiraling out of Control”

    In this piece I explore two areas: 1) the relationship between anti-Semitism and the Passion narratives in the Gospels, including all the levels of Galtungian peace and violence (source 1) that have been associated with interpretations of Passion narratives over the past two millennia; and 2) the power of the title of an artwork to affect the viewer’s interpretation (source 2), in other words to focus on several of Plate’s components of his field of vision (source 3), such as the image itself, which in this case includes the title.

    I began with this stark and jarring juxtaposition (SLIDE 2) of Jesus crucified, not upon not a traditional cross but rather upon a swastika. This image for me immediately brings to the fore all three levels of Galtung’s typology of violence – the obvious direct violence of the Roman execution, but of course also the structural violence that was built into the Roman and Jewish institutions of 1st-century Israel-Palestine and the cultural violence that likely existed back then to normalize and legitimize, and so make essentially largely invisible, the supervening structural and direct violence. But the presence of the contemporary swastika and its associations with Nazism also of course call up all the modern-day levels of violence that Jews have suffered since. Many of Plate’s components of his field of vision come into play here, including of course the obvious historical context of the image, viz, Nazism and the holocaust.

    Then (SLIDE 3), I wanted to add not one but two titles to offer different paths for viewers. The HITLER LED TO THIS JEW’S DEATH title rings true since Hitler is symbolic of Nazism, which led to the death of many Jews, for whom Jesus the Jew is symbolic (despite the inherent anachronism). The other title, THIS JEW’S DEATH LED TO HITLER, is, for those familiar with the likely causal relationship between anti-Semitism and the Passion narratives in the Gospels, intuitive and nonanachronistic. For those many people unfamiliar with this relationship, this is likely not only unintuitive, but likely seems foreign and perhaps bizarre, which illustrates how Plate’s 7th component of the field of vision – the identity and situatedness (background, perspective, opinions, assumptions, biases, beliefs) of those viewing the image – is so powerful.

    Next, to look directly at social change, I sent classmates these images (SLIDE 4): half of the class received the top one first (SLIDE 4), and half the bottom one first. I asked them to answer these questions (SLIDE 4). One wonders if in a larger population there would be a change in interpretation based on the tile. Classmate responses were rather widely varied and diverse.

    Finally, I wanted to work with the core image in a way that would expand the levels of meaning, so first I changed the image to be a vertical mirror image so that depending on how you held it (SLIDES 5-6), “upside-down” or “right-side-up,” the viewer would focus on a different title, emphasizing the perspective – or situatedness – of the viewer, as per Plate’s field of vision. Other ways to show that is this square of square images (SLIDE 7), in which both titles are emphasized right-side-up and both are de-emphasized upside-down, and this image (SLIDE 8), in which the circle-and-square arrangement both symbolizes the holy spaces between heaven and earth (as seen Kamal Boullata’s work in Palestinian Art (source 4)) and also shows the connectedness of the two interpretations, and finally in this final image (SLIDE 9), I added inner circles to give a spiral effect to show both how things spiral to a point of being invisible, how interpretations can spiral so far out of control that you can’t sometimes see where you started.

    Images (SLIDES 1-9) are provided at the following page: https://stevenclarkcunningham.net/religion/hesp-images/

    1. Johan Galtung, “Cultural Violence,” Journal of Peace Research, 27, no. 3. (1990):291-305.
    2. Three examples of work in this area are the following: Kouros Samanian, et al., “A survey on the influence of titles on the visitor’s interpretation and learning in art galleries: an Iranian context,” Australian Journal of Adult Learning 56 (2016): 29-51; Michel-Antoine Xhignesse, “Entitled Art: What Makes Titles Names?” Australasian Journal of Philosophy (2018): 1-14; Helmut Leder, et al, “Entitling art: Influence of title information on understanding and appreciation of paintings,” Acta Psychologica 121 (2006): 176-198.
    3. S. Brent Plate, Religion, Art, and Visual Culture: A Cross-Cultural Reader (London: Palgrave, 2002), 5.
    4. Gannit Ankori, Palestinian Art (London: Reaktion Books, 2006).

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