In the lyrics of the song Beautiful City from the 1971 musical Godspell, the vocalists exclaim that they will build a city not out of conventional plaster and stone but instead out of love, dreams and the declaration of their beliefs. The location in which the protagonists share their enthusiasm for a new way forward is outside on the streets. The city is used as a metaphor for the construction of a new beginning, new ideas and new connections.
The musical reflected an at the time growing liberalisation of western religion, and a return to utopian ideals where essential questions about life were questioned and re-addressed. Non-denominational churches aimed to drastically reform organised religion, divesting it of rigid structure, authoritarianism, ritual, and dogma. The discussion and public expression of religious beliefs gained a wide reaching, hip association with the counter culture and youth generation.
Godspell used disenfranchised young people as the main protagonists. Through a new voice and theatricality, they expressed the beauty and innocence of the story as opposed to focusing on biblical truth. The multiplicity of the views voiced presented a break away from the conventions of religious representation and it became possible to see it instead as the story of youth culture opposed to the political establishment. Suddenly, an old story becomes contemporary; the establishment is turned inside out and goes back onto the street.
Once a week, during the exhibition period of skulptur projekte münster 07, different speakers will talk to the public in a tent in a park in the inner city of Münster. The speakers are religious and spiritual figures, academics and theological students from a wide range of religions. They will give talks that are a response to questions that I have presented to them beforehand. Broadly speaking, these questions are: how can one communicate one’s belief system to others in this present time? How can one create open interaction and public awareness with people of different views, and what is it that is so important to communicate? Where is the border between the necessity to share and the need to keep one’s view private? How can you use creative thinking to come to a way to understand each other’s differences in belief? What do you consider as belief? Are the existing formats vital anymore? How can one express tolerance in the midst of challenges from other beliefs? How can you integrate differences into society?
The viewer visiting skulptur projekte is most likely to see just one of the lectures but what they experience is one view expressed in the context of many others. However, by highlighting the differences between us and focusing on the fact that we are all still leaves from the same tree I do not mean to continue the endless search to match and confirm viewpoints. I wish to connect the notion of ‘inclusion’ to an attitude where people dare to show the differences and make room to encounter contrasting points of view.
The talks will take place every Sunday, inside a large white tent. Outside the tent a few young people set up camp waiting and hanging around for the next speaker to arrive. They have been asked to take on the role of believers (or sceptics), their constant presence literally creating an expectation of what is to come. Their ‘camp’ should look unplanned, changeable and organically grown. The borders between their area and the site of the park are unclear. The youngsters will maintain the site and perform certain tasks during the day that encourage the visitor to stay.
The work will be situated between the permanent public sculptures of George Brecht, Three void stones (Skulptur Projekte 1987), and herman de vries, Sanctuarium (Skulptur Projekte 1997). In these works, both artists deal with spirituality but from a very different viewpoint. I want to comment on the aesthetic implications of my projects central theme within the historical context of the sculpture project and its aim to comment on developments in contemporary sculpture.
By presenting religion within such a structure, I place together two fields of interest that when connected are not often seen together on an equal level in avant-garde production. I have always been interested in the relationship between art, religion and community, and how in contemporary art there remains the lingering idea that the old avant-garde as an extension of modernism is assumed to have a completely exclusive position separate to the developments in religion and spirituality. I feel that this view of modernism can no longer be seen as realistic and I seek to challenge this view in my practice.
On a more personal note, I would like to comment on what I see among my friends and among students as a shift in attitudes towards life choices and religious issues that can be seen as a return to the impulses of religious innocence and utopian ideals and the need for a shared experience as opposed to embracing neo-liberalism and fanaticism.
Maria Pask, February 2007.