Rainbow in the Dark: On the Joy and Torment of Faith is an exhibition on art, religious rituals, mysticism, spirituality and faith that investigates how contemporary art challenges the out-dated opposition between religious and secular societies. The exhibition is set within the context of post-secularism and explores the ways that current art addresses the appeal of religion, mysticism and the irrational beyond the horizon of modernity.
Juan Pérez Agirregoikoa, Mirosław Bałka, Yael Bartana, Magnus Bärtås, Yane Calovski & Hristina Ivanoska, Köken Ergun, Carl Johan Erikson, Etcetera, Michael Kessus Gedalyovich, Tamar Guimarães & Kasper Akhøj, Nilbar Güreş, Michal Heiman, Jonathan Horowitz, Gülsün Karamustafa, Paweł Kwiek, Jumana Manna & Sille Storihle, Honorata Martin, Virgínia de Medeiros, Teresa Murak, Nira Pereg, Lene Adler, Petersen & Bjørn Nørgaard, Wael Shawky, Slavs and Tatars, Zbigniew Warpechowski, Nahúm B. Zenil, Artur Żmijewski
The terms post-secular society and postsecularism have been popularised through the sociological writings of the German philosopher Jürgen Habermas. They suggest the resurgence of religion in the context of European political consciousness trying to adapt to the increased visibility of immigrant communities and the heightened profile of faith in public debates. According to Habermas, Europe can be described in terms of a ‘post-secular society’ to the extent that at
present it still has to ‘adjust itself to the continued existence of religious communities in an increasingly secularised environment’.
The broad perception of global conflicts in terms of religious strife influences public consciousness, strengthening the general consensus of the mass media that the return of religion has emerged as the most important factor in global politics and culture today. Radical movements in Christianity, Judaism and Islam appear to penetrate ever-widening areas of social life, to the point where they threaten the traditional understanding of religion as a structure that organise community life.
Late modern and contemporary art are considered fortresses of secular values in society, and the twentieth century introduced the audience to new art media and forms that aligned themselves with progressive technology, rational secularity and radical subjectivity. The ideas that have fed into modern and contemporary art come from philosophy, liberal politics, psychology and popular culture rather than religion or theology. Yet the return of religious power, or the entry of religion from the marginal to the mainstream of cultural and political awareness, also applies to the visual arts.
Rainbow in the Dark: On the Joy and Torment of Faith attempts to challenge the indisputable opposition between religious and secular societies and at the same time to analyse the modernist perception of mysticism, faith and religious rituals through recent artworks. The exhibition is a sequel to the project first presented at SALT Galata in Istanbul, which was an outcome of a dialogue with the hosting institution and an attempt to look at the socio-political and religious context of Turkey.
For the project at Malmo Konstmuseum, a new constellation of works accentuates the context of Scandinavia’s secularised societies and their contemporary challenges related to religious and ethnic conflicts. The exhibition also pays tribute to the period of six months in 1945 when Malmo Konstmuseum served as a refugee camp and quarantine centre for former concentration camp prisoners. It is known that the refugees built an altar from exhibits found in the museum, an assemblage serving as a place of worship – a powerful example of a spiritual ‘reciprocal readymade’ – stressing the intricate relationship between a work of art and a sacred cult object.
The exhibition Rainbow in the Dark: On the Joy and Torment of Faith ties together works from different geographies, interweaving elements from mainly monotheistic mysticism, symbols and tradition. Trellis of My Mind (1998) by Gülsün Karamustafa is a frieze that includes illustrations copied from Islamic, Christian, and Jewish manuscripts. In her video installation Abraham Abraham / Sarah Sarah (2012), Nira Pereg follows the daily change of artefacts in the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, where a synagogue and a mosque are under the same roof, serving the Jewish
and Islamic communities. Slavs and Tatars’ Mother Tongues and Father Throats (2012) deals with linguistic issues and is dedicated to the vocal sound khhhhhhh, which is not present in many Western languages and therefore marks one of the dissimilarities of experience between Eastern and Western soundscapes. Michal Heiman shifts the context of the Christian visual tradition, juxtaposing it with scanned photographs from the Israeli daily newspapers. The performer and painter Honorata Martin is striving to overcome her childhood worries, merging the theories of evolution and creation in depicting the mighty creature of God the Ape.
The influence of religious norms on society is addressed by several artists in the show. Black Pope, Black Sheep (1987) by Mirosław Bałka was made during the time of anxiety and tension at the twilight of communism in Eastern Europe, and refers to the prophecies of Nostradamus. The famous political action by Lene Adler Petersen and Bj.rn N.rgaard at the Copenhagen Stock Exchange in 1969 referred to the Biblical tale of Christ driving out the merchants from the temple, critiquing anew the relationship between money and religion. The Goodness Regime (2013) by Jumana Manna and Sille Storihle is an experimental documentary that explores the myths and images that have enabled an understanding of Norway as a secular society in which tolerance and openness might be considered the nation’s religion.
Another group of works in the exhibition deals with standards of behaviour, gender regulations and aesthetic preferences that traditional religious communities conform to in daily life. Jonathan Horowitz’s Crucifix for Two (2010) subverts the religious symbolism of the cross by transforming the singular torment of the saviour into a sign of shared suffering. Teresa Murak devised an original language of spiritual land art that evokes the notion of landscape and its disputed relation to the female body, while simultaneously inscribing it into a network of associations linked to both pagan and Judeo-Christian spirituality. NahuÅLm B. Zenil’s paintings integrate a queer imagery into Christian iconography, challenging both gender norms and the belief in one god. VirgiÅLnia de Medeiros’s video installation Sérgio and Simone, (2007-14) ties gender transformation to religion fluidity. In the video she follows the life of Sergio, a transvestite who is an evangelical preacher and at the same time a CandombleÅL priest in Brazil. The installation To Desire without an Object (2015) by Hristina Ivanoska and Yane Calovski links fresco painting from the church of St. Gjorgi in Kurbinovo to such modern sources as the writings of Christian mystic and political activist Simone Weil, and to personal notes by the artist Paul Thek. Nilbar Güreş produces objects that challenge the stereotypes of women’s traditional social roles in the Middle East, as well as creating provocative counter images that address Western fears of Islamic symbols.
Other works in the exhibition share mystical and spiritual aspects, as well as accommodating similarities between the institutionalized ‘systems of faith’ of both religion and art. Paweł Kwiek’s body of work brings the unexpected alliance between the Roman Catholic Church and avant-garde artistic practice under Martial Law in 1980s Poland. In her work Pardes (2014), Yael Bartana documents the journey of the artist Michael Kessus Gedalyovich, who on the one hand sceptically rejects all organised religion and on the other is on a constant search for deeper understanding, investigating the Kabbalah as well as the cults of the Amazon. Amulet Survival Kit for Placebo Life Disorders (2014-15) is a display of magical talismans produced by Gedalyovich from objects that he collected during a spiritual journey. Carl Johan Erikson, who grew up as a member of the Pentecostal Church, has produced a number of photographs and drawings linked to the Jezreel Valley, commonly recognised by believers as the biblical Armageddon. The artistic investigation on the irrational and spirituality is also visible in works by Tamar Guimaraes and Kasper Akh.j, and by Magnus BaÅNrtaÅãs. Guimaraes and Akh.j recorded images of a healing session at the spiritual centre known as Luz da Verdade in Brazil, while BaÅNrtaÅãs’s new film The Miracle in Tensta is a depiction of how the Virgin Mary appeared in Tensta outside Stockholm in the summer of 2012, based on testimonies found on the Internet.
Consideration of religious rituals, which are either staged as secular performances or ‘strengthened’ by the use of artistic tools, are the focus of a number of artistic works. KoÅNken Ergun’s video installation Ashura (2012) documents in a complex way the preparations for the performances that commemorate the Islamic day of Ashura in a neighbourhood of Istanbul, Turkey. Juan PeÅLrez Agirregoikoa has made a film based on Pier Paolo Pasolini’s The Gospel According to St Matthew that shifts the focus toward some biblical verses that the Italian director had overlooked. Artur Żmijewski’s video The Mass (2011) involves a theatrical re-enactment of the liturgy of the Roman Catholic mass with professional actors. Zbigniew Warpechowski performs actions that evoke the crucifixion, in which he comments on modern idolatry. Wael Shawky recalls the history of the legendary Crusades rewritten according to Arabic chronicles, telling a story of remote events that could hardly be more topical today, namely religion, politics and the restaging of history. The art collective Etcetera presents an installation based on the Petition to Pope Francis for the Final Abolition of Hell (2014-15), a document asking the pope to abolish the inhuman place of endless torture and suffering.
This exhibition was made possible by generous loans from the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw, the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven, Studio Filmowe Indeks in ŁoÅLdź and Statens Museum for Kunst in Copenhagen, with additional support from the Polish Institute in Stockholm.
Co Curate: Sebastian Cichocki
Habermas, Jürgen. ‘Secularism’s Crisis of Faith: Notes on Post-Secular Society’. New Perspectives Quarterly. vol. 25 (2008) pp. 17-29.