The Curious Matter Holiday Installation, 2015-2016
“Religious symbols provide a cosmic guarantee not only for their ability to comprehend the world, but also, comprehending it, to give a precision to their feeling, a definition to their emotions which enable them, morosely or joyfully, grimly or cavalierly, to endure it.”—Clifford Geertz
The lure of nostalgia is heightened this time of year. However, it isn’t a mere wistfulness that motivates our holiday installations. We continue to be captivated by and find inspiration in the homemade, the mass-produced, the sometimes kitsch, and occasionally broken bits and pieces of Roman Catholic imagery that we’ve collected. Through these icons, we’re attempting to identify that which is common among us and most essentially human. This year Curious Matter reflects upon the Savior. We’re presenting every image of Jesus Christ found in our collection of household devotions — from the seasonally ubiquitous manger scene to episodes depicted from the life of Christ as a boy, a prophet, a teacher, and a martyr.
The New Testament idea of Jesus as Savior has to do with the recondite theology of the Spirit of God made flesh. Through Jesus Christ, God experienced birth, life and death, and through these experiences gained dominion over death. As such, humans could rise in spirit after dying and live for eternity with God in heaven. While this is the fundamental concept of the Christian faith, the phrase “Jesus as Savior” has another popular interpretation. With Every Personal Savior, Curious Matter explores the notion of the Savior as one to petition for strength, understanding, forgiveness and guidance; Jesus as a friend with an infinite capacity to love.
Jesus has proven to be a mutable character and therefore infinitely relatable. In appearance, he takes on the physiognomy of the people who depict him. Without any true likeness of the historical man, Jesus has been interpreted through time and cultures with various physical characteristics. To accept a savior, we like to have them familiar and recognizable. Our savior should also be accessible. The Prince of Heaven was born in a stable where the shepherds came to venerate him. He walked among the poor and needy, healing and listening. From these actions, the idea of Jesus as personal savior was born. Jesus was the intercessor anyone could appeal to, to have your requests listened to by God. He becomes our personal savior because we can turn to him to save us in time of distress, need or want. He will be our comfort, even if his answer is silence.
Jesus Christ may not be your personal savior. But, that’s the question we pose. What is it that each of us seek or call upon in our darkest moments, when we’re challenged by circumstance, or in our hopes and dreams? When world events make existence seem like a futile exercise, with what do we confront reality? For us, our personal connection to the Roman Catholic faith taught to us in childhood is distinct from our own idiosyncratic beliefs today. However, the catechism we learned as children remains the basis of how we are in the world. It’s the enduring cultural significance of the spiritual stories and images that remain. We return to them as we continue to ask ourselves: what are the symbolic resources each of us call upon to face the world we live in? What systems do we use to formulate our concept of reality? More specifically, as it relates to the challenge of these long, dark, melancholy nights of winter: how do we maintain a connection with our kith and kin, and how can we use those resources to extend welcome and understanding to everyone regardless of religious, filial or patriotic loyalties?
Whatever means you invoke on your journey, through it we wish you peace, comfort and joy. Happy holidays and every best wish in the year ahead.
Warmly, Raymond E. Mingst & Arthur Bruso
Quotation: Geertz, Clifford, “Religion as a Cultural System”, in The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays, Fontana Press, 1993.