Empathy Structure

Empathy Structure

We begin, standing together on shared ground. We ascend from a firm foundation, finding ourselves held in a structure that both orients and lulls. But the Buffalo Bayou’s watery tendrils are working into the fissures, coursing through the subsoil, saturating the limestone. The bedrock is whispering a warning, soon it will be full.

A reading taking place at 11 am, Friday 23rd June.

Goldsmiths Ben Pimlott Building Stairwell, Ground Floor.

God's Units

Hotglue website

An online repository for research images, writing in progress and video works, provisionally titled God's Units.

Still image from Untitled video (2017)

Still image from Untitled video (2017)

TIgersprung Symposium reading

'Roe v. Wade and the rise of the Christian Right' essay presented at TigerSprung - 1972

Fine Art Research Symposium, Laurie Grove Baths, Goldsmiths College

10th March 2017


Roe v. Wade and the rise of the Christian Right

 

‘You are in a vast room. It is familiar. Rows upon rows of bleachers form a curve towards you to welcome and fold you in. You are held in place by expectant geometries of grids and lines that coalesce around you, by the segments of chairs and rigging, the vertiginous steps and hand rails. The ceiling is studded with lights like the dome of the night sky. The room is filled with people, the stage is filled with people. Multiple screens multiply the faces. All the bodies know their place. They belong to each other, and belong to the room. This is your family, and the belonging is your inheritance. You thought you came here because you willed it, but now you know that it was meant to be. His eyes saw your unformed body; all the days ordained for you were written in His book before a single one of them began. Even the hairs on your head are all numbered.

 

The waiting bodies are now reaching out, faces upturned, eyes shut, arms straining, fingers splayed towards something high up and out of reach. At intervals, a body becomes a lightning rod for an unseen presence, the body writhes and jabbers or shakes and weeps. This presence in the room is materializing in desiring bodies. There is a laying on of hands. A healing work is taking place. A shout rises up in their mouths: ‘Thirsty! Thirsty! Thirsty! Hungry! Hungry! Hungry!’ Bodies fall in the spirit, crumpling under the saturating weight of His presence. The wave of falling bodies come closer up the stands. You can feel something drawing near in the prickling sensation in your skin, in the raised hairs and blood vessels dilating. Your heart beats quicken. You sweat, your pores producing glistening beads which reflect the auditorium from every angle, the screens and ceiling and banks of seating reflected in curved lines and pin pricks of light. Your head aches a little, you have become dehydrated. Your mouth is dry. You are thirsty. You feel a weight in your chest, you open your arms, you are ready. The anticipation has produced an excess of adrenaline, you move without thought, uninhibited, with the need to join in the writhing mass of bodies. Behind your eyelids you are tumbling through space.’

 

The perplexing aporia of embodiment within evangelicalism is both rooted within its’ traditions and timely. How the body is imbricated, oriented, enculturated and policed within Evangelical church communities is significant when considering that Evangelicals form almost 30 % of America’s population (1), and 81% of these voted for Trump (2), leading to a renewed attack on progressive policy concerning the body currently taking place under the influence of purportedly Christian morality. Evangelicalism, a trans-denominational movement within Protestantism, is characterized by salvation through faith, a literal interpretation of the Bible, the experience of being born again and the necessity of spreading the gospel message through Evangelism. From 1960 to 2000 Evangelicals grew globally at three times the growth rate of the world’s population and twice that of Islam (3), there are currently estimated to be at least 600 million Evangelicals worldwide and is continuing to spread (4). It is important to state that Evangelicalism is not synonymous with conservativism. The Christian right (formed of both Evangelicals and Roman Catholics) are in contradistinction to the abolitionist, civil rights, and feminist traditions of mainline Protestantism, and there are a small proportion of Evangelicals who are liberal, progressive and gravitate towards the Christian left. However, growing political pressure from the Evangelical right wing combined with republican soliciting of the evangelical vote from the 1970s onwards has part dissolved the traditional separation of church and state.

Pastor Joshua Nink prays for Donald Trump, January 2017

Pastor Joshua Nink prays for Donald Trump, January 2017

Just under three weeks ago, American Norma McCorvey, better known under the pseudonym ‘Jane Roe’ in the landmark Roe v. Wade case died at the age of 69. As a 21 year old, McCorvey, pregnant with her third child and unmarried, and wishing to terminate the pregnancy, began legal proceedings. The case, running from late 1971 and reargued in 1972, culminated in January 1973 in a historic 7-2 ruling by the US Supreme Court, establishing the constitutional right to abortion up to the third term of pregnancy. However, this relaxing of restrictions over abortion galvanized a conflict in social mores, activating grassroots movements on both sides, and highlighting a question over the role of religion and morality in the political sphere.

Norma McCorvey, 1985.

Norma McCorvey, 1985.

Pro-choice activists demonstrating in Washington, 1992

Pro-choice activists demonstrating in Washington, 1992

In the wake of Roe v. Wade, the foundation of several nonprofit political and issue-oriented Evangelical organizations including the Moral Majority, the Christian Coalition, Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council, aiming to influence policy with conservative moral reform, challenged the separatism of American Christian culture. At the same time, a focus on Evangelicalism in the media, with Newsweek declaring 1976 the “Year of the Evangelical”, was precipitated by the presidency of Southern Baptist Jimmy Carter. The increased attention on and activity of Evangelicalism contributed to the establishment of the first Mega Churches within buildings large enough to accommodate congregations of tens of thousands.

Rev. Jerry Falwell and a Moral Majority rally outside the State House in Trenton, 1980.

Rev. Jerry Falwell and a Moral Majority rally outside the State House in Trenton, 1980.

The Moral Majority was founded in 1979 after a series of “I Love America” rallies by Baptist minister Jerry Falwell as a direct response to what he considered to be a decay in the nation’s morality. The organization consisted of conservative Christian political action committees to campaign over certain issues, including the promotion of traditional family life, opposition to acceptance of homosexuality, and the prohibition of abortion, even in cases involving incest, rape or in pregnancies where the life of the mother is at stake. At its height, it claimed more than four million members and over two million donors.

Mike Pence prays with Donald Trump at the Pastors Leadership Conference at New Spirit Revival Center

Mike Pence prays with Donald Trump at the Pastors Leadership Conference at New Spirit Revival Center

Politicians, most notably Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, sought out the Christian Right as a significant voting bloc, running for their presidencies on platforms of social conservatism, gaining 78% (5) and 79% (6) of the Evangelical vote respectively. Debate within both the media and academia focused on the Religious Right as a powerful political and social force. Donald Trump’s running partner, the fundamentalist evangelical and staunch anti-abortionist Mike Pence, along with the appointment of an Evangelical Executive Advisory Board consisting of 25 right wing Christian leaders, garnered the support of Evangelical voters, aiding Trump’s presidential victory.

Donald Trump re-instating the ‘global gag rule’, 23rd January 2017

Donald Trump re-instating the ‘global gag rule’, 23rd January 2017

On Donald Trump’s first full day as president, he reinstated the 1984 executive order by Reagan, and later Bush, known as the ‘global gag rule’, to halt funding of any international NGO that provides, advises on or is any way associated with abortion, despite numerous studies providing evidence that to remove legal abortion fails to eliminate the practice, instead driving up the number of women engaging in potentially life threatening methods. According to the World Health Authority, the funding policy had previously spared an estimated 289,000 women from pregnancy and childbirth related deaths.

When McCorvey died of kidney failure in Texas earlier this month, shortly after the global gag rule was put back in place, it was after several decades dedicated to attempting to reverse the decision made in her name. McCorvey gave birth in 1972 whilst Roe Vs. Wade was in progress and the child was subsequently adopted, but McCorvey converted to evangelicalism in the 90s, becoming a vocal activist against abortion rights. Shortly before her death she exhorted Janet Morana, director of pro-life organization Priests for Life, to encourage fellow activists to continue the fight.

Norma McCorvey joins other anti-abortion demonstrators inside House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office on Capitol Hill in Washington, 2009.

Norma McCorvey joins other anti-abortion demonstrators inside House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office on Capitol Hill in Washington, 2009.

Comparative to other forms of Protestantism, Evangelicalism has successfully created a worldview which subsumes all doubt into a smooth and reassuring totality, through the in-folding of the believer into an all-consuming message and culture, one that has been honed to appear as an unassailable certainty. This in-folding particularly occurs in the appearance of a vast and affective homogeneity in the form of the Mega Church.

 Mega Church worship services are visually spectacular, amassing thousands of worshippers on banks of bleachers within stadium sized venues. Theatrical lighting and vast projection screens multiply the presence and forcefulness of charismatic preachers, cultivating faith through a message of certainty. This perception of both a visual and narrative totality is experienced as a bodily orientation.

Lakewood Church, Texas

Lakewood Church, Texas

This is produced, firstly, through a visual and spatial orientation within the embodied, collective, screen, and architectural space of the Mega Church, and secondly, through believers’ narration of their own lives within the meta narrative of evangelicalism. The orientation of faith, not just the message of certainty, but the sense that one’s life has now been arranged into a coherent story, one of God’s ongoing intervention and guiding direction, creates an embodied stability: both a firm footing and a safety net in disorienting times. This form of storytelling within a larger narrative structure calls out to an embodied need for grounding, and continues to exert a seemingly universal appeal, regardless of age, gender, level of education or historical context.

The relief of finding a means to navigate the world, comingled with a sense of belonging to something collective and far-reaching, also produces an affective excess during moments of worship, which may be felt in the body as an immanent oneness. The orientation of evangelicalism may allow a structured type of falling during these moments of spirit filled excess, where disorientation is a positive productive energy, analogous to the energy of the shamanic ritual or the rave. The paradox at the heart of evangelicalism is found these free falling moments of collective worship, materialized in ecstatic bodily experiences, at odds with the normative, boundaried and restrictive culture in which bodily excess, outside of the confines of a narrowly determined morality, is viewed as a threat.

Hillsongs Pentecostal MegaChurch, Belasco Theatre, Los Angeles

Hillsongs Pentecostal MegaChurch, Belasco Theatre, Los Angeles

1. (2008) How the Faithful Voted Pew Research Centre [Online] Available at: http://www.pewforum.org/2008/11/05/how-the-faithful-voted/ [Accessed 7.3.17]

2. Wead, D (2008) The History of the evangelical vote in presidential elections Doug Wead The Blog [Online] Available at: https://dougwead.wordpress.com/2008/09/11/the-history-of-the-evangelical-vote-in-presidential-elections/ [Accessed 7.3.17]

3. Johnstone, M (2015) Country Lists: United States of America, North America Operation World [Online] Available at: http://www.operationworld.org/country/unsa/owtext.html [Accessed 7.3.17]

4. Pulliam Bailey, S. White evangelicals voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump, exit polls show Washington Post [Online] Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2016/11/09/exit-polls-show-white-evangelicals-voted-overwhelmingly-for-donald-trump/?utm_term=.0d2a0eb26cdb [Accessed 7.3.17]

5. Milne, B. (2010) Know the Truth: A Handbook of Christian Belief. InterVarsity Press. p. 332

6. Evangelicalism Wikipedia [Online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evangelicalism [Accessed 7.3.17]

 

Bibliography

Applebome, P (2007) Jerry Falwell, Moral Majority Founder, Dies at 73 The New York Times [Online] Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/16/obituaries/16falwell.html Accessed [3.7.17]

BBC (2009) Pentecostalism BBC [Online] Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity/subdivisions/pentecostal_1.shtml Accessed [3.7.17]

Graves, L (2017) Trump once said women should be punished for abortion. Now, he's making it happen. The Guardian [Online] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jan/24/trump-once-said-women-should-be-punished-for-abortion-t Accessed [3.7.17]

Jenkins, J (2016) Meet Donald Trump’s New Evangelical Advisory Board Think Progress [Online] Available at: https://thinkprogress.org/meet-donald-trumps-new-evangelical-advisory-board-6a5bfc5460d7#.fzy9q0j4r Accessed [3.7.17]

Johnstone, M (2015) Country Lists: United States of America, North America Operation World [Online] Available at: http://www.operationworld.org/country/unsa/owtext.html [Accessed 7.3.17]

Lausanne Movement Website [Online] Available at: http://www.lausanne.org/about-lausanne Accessed [7.7.17]

Meacham, J (2006) The Editors Desk Newsweek [Online] Available at: http://europe.newsweek.com/editors-desk-106637?rm=eu Accessed [3.7.17]

Milne, B. (2010). Know the Truth: A Handbook of Christian Belief. InterVarsity Press,. p. 332 Operation World

Pew Research Centre (2008) How the Faithful Voted Pew Research Centre [Online] Available at: http://www.pewforum.org/2008/11/05/how-the-faithful-voted/ [Accessed 7.3.17]

The Pluralism Project (date unknown) Fundamentalism, Evangelicalism and Pentecostalism The Pluralism Project [Online] Available at: http://pluralism.org/religions/christianity/christianity-in-america/fundamentalism-evangelicalism-and-pentecostalism/ (Accessed 3.7.17)

Pulliam Bailey, S. (2016) White evangelicals voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump, exit polls show Washington Post [Online] Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2016/11/09/exit-polls-show-white-evangelicals-voted-overwhelmingly-for-donald-trump/?utm_term=.0d2a0eb26cdb [Accessed 7.3.17]

Redden, M (2017) Roe v Wade: plaintiff's death highlights weakening of abortion rights in US The Guardian [Online] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/feb/20/roe-v-wade-norma-mccorvey-death-abortion-rights Accessed [3.7.17]

Redden, M & Helmore, E (2017) Norma McCorvey, 'Roe' in Roe v Wade case legalizing abortion, dies aged 69 The Guardian [Online] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/feb/18/norma-mccorvey-roe-v-wade-abortion-case-supreme-court Accessed [3.7.17]

Theocracy Watch Website [Online] Available at: http://theocracywatch.org/introduction2.htm Accessed [3.7.17]

Wead, D (2008) The History of the evangelical vote in presidential elections Doug Wead The Blog [Online] Available at: https://dougwead.wordpress.com/2008/09/11/the-history-of-the-evangelical-vote-in-presidential-elections/ [Accessed 7.3.17]

Wikipedia (2017) Evangelicalism Wikipedia [Online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evangelicalism [Accessed 7.3.17]

PhD proposal

Practice based MPhil/ PhD proposal

Fine Art Research Department, Goldsmiths

December 2016


Site Writing the MegaChurch: Orientations and Assemblages

Kate Pickering

 

Lakewood Church, Texas

Lakewood Church, Texas

 

Abstract

Taking as its starting point an understanding of ‘faith’ as socially constructed, the research explores how faith is materially constructed through site and body, focussing on the phenomenon of the Evangelical MegaChurch in the UK and the US. MegaChurch worship services are visually spectacular, amassing thousands of worshippers on banks of bleachers within stadium sized venues. Theatrical lighting and vast projection screens multiply the presence and forcefulness of charismatic preachers, cultivating faith through a message of certainty: experienced as a bodily orientation. Yet, conversely, the very embodiment which is implicated in the call to faith is repressed within Church culture, which locates value in the transcendent, reinforcing binaries of mind over body, interior experience over exterior action, transcendent immateriality over immanent materiality. This paradox and its effects forms the focus of research.

Developing a method of non-linear site writing, a readerly experience of disorientation is utilized to research how an assemblage of body, architectural site and screen space orients religious faith. Practically, research will draw on literary and affect theory to create a new body of site writing works, both audio visual and printed, within the MegaChurch. Embodied faith will be explored through plot (the collapse of the building), non-linearity (screen based disorientation applied to writing) and participatory reader response. Theoretically, a thesis in three parts locates the practice within the field of site writing through ‘critical assemblages’: a spatial method of art writing, informed by Donna Haraway’s concept of ‘situated knowledge’ and Jane Bennett’s articulation of ‘subject-object assemblages’. This will be applied to three artworks that exemplify grounding (Maria Fusco’s Master Rock 2015), ungrounding (Katrina Palmer’s End Matter 2015) and regrounding (Bedwyr Williams’ The Starry Messenger 2013).

 

Introduction

Taking as its starting point an understanding of ‘faith’ as socially constructed, the research explores how faith is also materially constructed through site and body, focussing on the phenomenon of the Evangelical MegaChurch in the UK and the US. MegaChurch worship services are visually spectacular, amassing thousands of worshippers on banks of bleachers within stadium sized venues. Theatrical lighting and vast projection screens multiply the presence and forcefulness of charismatic preachers, cultivating faith through a message of certainty: experienced as a bodily orientation. Yet, conversely, the very embodiment which is implicated in the call to faith is repressed within Church culture, which locates value in the transcendent, reinforcing binaries of mind over body, interior experience over exterior action, transcendent immateriality over immanent materiality. This paradox and its effects forms the focus of research.

Developing a method of non-linear site writing alongside a spatial form of critical writing informed by Donna Haraway’s concept of ‘situated knowledge’ and Jane Bennett’s articulation of ‘subject-object assemblages’ entitled ‘critical assemblages’, I will evoke the embodied conditions of the MegaChurch, and examine its social and political dimensions. In doing so, I aim to cultivate a sense of dis/orientation in the reader that mimics the materialisation of faith as well as the embodied repercussion of its loss. In this way, a readerly experience of disorientation is utilized as a method to research how an assemblage of body, architectural site and screen space orients religious faith.

This project considers orientation within this context as embodied through believers’ adoption of a narrative of faith. Disorientation is a state of confusion brought on by the loss of a stable horizon against which a subject may correctly locate them-self in space. Hito Steyerl, describing the effects of falling, writes: ‘Pilots have even reported that free fall can trigger a feeling of confusion between the self and the aircraft. While falling, people may sense themselves as being things, while things may sense that they are people’ (2011: 1). The disorientation of falling may blur the perceived distinction between subjects and objects. Applying this to my art writing practice, I propose that: if linear narrative functions as a stable horizon, disorienting non-linear narrative creates the possibility of a perceived mergence with objects conjured by the narrative, allowing the reader to perceive themselves as both embodied and embedded within an agentic site and context, and recognize the materiality inherent in faith.

 

Research background and questions

Building on the idea that object based fictions provide conditions in which a future subject might emerge (O’Sullivan; Avanessian), the research asks how do fiction, reader and site relate through the following questions: how might narrative non-linearity combine with the immersive site-specific reading environment of the MegaChurch to disorient/ reorient the reader? How might disorientation disrupt the current verticality (in both its’ hierarchical social structure and its spatial construction of stadium worship) of the MegaChurch by introducing a horizontal/ flattened ontological plane through writing, which foregrounds site, screen, and embodied affects as central to belief?

 The research contributes to a context in which artists use experimental writing to explore the materiality of subject-object relations within the expanded field of contemporary art. New Materialism is a recent category of theories which refuse reductive dualisms and emphasise our embodied selves are part of a dynamic network of relations with matter. As a reaction to the linguistic and cultural turns of postmodernity, the revived transdisciplinary interest in materialism and realism and concurrent discourse around post-humanism has had a wide impact on contemporary art. Bringing Jane Rendell’s concept of site writing together with recent works by art writers Katrina Palmer, Maria Fusco and Bedwyr Williams, my research, informed by New Materialist and literary theories, extends art writing into a context that specifically resists recognition of embodied materiality. The project also utilises disorientation as a mode of embodied thought. Additionally, it brings religious materiality to the fore within the secular and sceptical worlds of contemporary art and academia, where religion continues to be viewed as an embarrassing irrelevance, an awkward hangover from an irrational past. Despite the global social and political significance of religious extremism, evidenced for example in the white Evangelical vote in the US, religious material culture lacks ‘ ..serious empirical, let alone theoretical interest..’ (Meyer & Houtman, 2012:1).

 My art writing practice, nationally and internationally exhibited and published, will be developed through the project. Previous writing has drawn on Evangelical Christianity to create affective narrative trajectories for the reader in exploring the materiality and agency of religious and corporate buildings. My arts project management experience in founding and running Peer Sessions, an Arts Council-funded critique group for professional artists, will be applied to the project. I have previous experience of facilitating participatory writing and discussion workshops, and am trained in the Visual Thinking Strategies method, which parallels the participatory methodologies to be adopted.

 The proposed research outcomes are:

·       A new body of site writing works, both audio visual and printed, which evoke disorientation within the MegaChurch as a method of exploring embodied faith, developed through firstly, reader response and secondly, interdisciplinary workshops focusing on New Materialism and fiction, held with theorists, creative writers and artists within Goldsmiths and CHASE institutions.

·       A thesis of scholarly writing which locates the practice within the field of site writing, applying ‘critical assemblages’: a spatial method of art writing, to three artworks that exemplify grounding, ungrounding and regrounding.

 

Research Methods

Through participating in the life of a UK MegaChurch, I will combine auto-ethnographic research methods and literary reader response through experimental participatory writing workshops on site. Ethical implications of research (recognising my own bias as a long term Evangelical Church member) will be considered. Site writing will draw on narratology (Bal; Genette) and adopt the visual language of the MegaChurch through immersive screen-based written narratives. Subject-object disorientation will be created and analysed through plot, non-linearity and reader response:

·       Plot: Writing in the second person, the reader is directly addressed and written into a narrative in which a disorienting collapse engenders a fusion of the screen space on which the reader reads, the MegaChurch projection screen (a significant actant in materializing faith), and a transformation of the MegaChurch, merging organic and inorganic, through the falling body of the reader and the collapsing body of the building.

·       Narrative non-linearity and affect: ruptures, layers or branching will occur at specific points both textually and visually through the sensory stimulation of audio and screen-based imagery. For example, can the de-spatialisation of screen based affects such as the zoom function on google maps, or layering of browser windows, be combined with or transposed into site writing? Non-linearity will be linked phenomenologically to affect (a bodily experience or reaction, both interior and immediate). I will consider how affect might impact on our relationship to objects and the formation of rational thinking and ideology (Massumi; Leys). This will be extended into a consideration of how the non-linearity of affect might enable a change in perception of objects conjured by the text (Connolly).

·       Reader response: I will convene groups of Evangelicals and post-Evangelicals to read/ write whilst immersed in the reading environment. Experiential (Rosenblatt; Bleich) and social strands (Fish) of literary Reader Response methodologies, whereby reading is always both subjective and objective, are applied to consider reader and text as part of an assemblage and evaluate the impact of disorientation.

 

Schedule of work

Year 1: Grounding

Beginning with Sara Ahmed’s ‘Orientations Matter’ (2010), ‘Grounding’ will consider how spatial orientation and context makes thinking bodies and bodies of thought. I will develop ‘critical assemblages’, a spatial method of writing, informed by feminist theorists Haraway’s ‘Situated Knowledges’ (1988) and Bennett’s concept of assemblages (2010) to write through the actants within Maria Fusco’s site-specific audio work Master Rock (2015). Bennett theorises assemblages as uneven but agentic groupings of elements which modify and are modified by each other (2010: 22). Critical assemblages will enable an analysis of how Fusco, working with site, body and voice, thinks through the vantage points of historical labouring bodies in relation to a resistant and agentic ground. This will extend into a consideration of MegaChurch vantage points: where the believer is situated within the verticality and hierarchy of worship. Haraway writes: ‘There is good reason to believe vision is better from below the brilliant space platforms of the powerful.’ (1988: 583)

Year 2: Ungrounding

‘Ungrounding’ will develop the concept of disorientation as a means to perceive becoming-with-context by applying ‘critical assemblages’ to the shifting ground of the Isle of Portland in Katrina Palmer’s End Matter (2015). Site, audio narrative and body coalesce in an assemblage that produces a violent subject-object mergence. These elements produce a means to think through the instability of a literal, historical and narrative ground. Within the MegaChurch context, research will consider potential strategies of uneven non-linear moments through the loss of authority in communicative buffering, stuttering and stalling to effect moments of disorientation.

Year 3: Regrounding

‘Regrounding’ will constitute a consideration of the socio-political potential of art writing in speculative ‘alter worlding’, how embedded and embodied thought: ‘…becomes a very material process, a performative process of the world, a form of worlding itself.’ (Asberg; Thiele; Van Der Tuin, 2015: 152) I will analyse how site, image and audio in Bedwyr William’s images of bodies merging with mosaic pieces and pebbles in the narrated video work The Starry Messenger (2013), assembles a non-anthropocentric image of body as contingent on matter. In anthropomorphising the MegaChurch building, my practice will point to the contingency of believers’ participation and complicity in its’ culture, specifically the problematic adoption of capitalist ideology through running for profit and propagation of the ‘prosperity gospel’ (Ellingson; Lee & Sinitiere). The research considers how the practice might reground the reader away from the seemingly coherent and inevitable systems and totalizing ideologies of growth at any cost within both Capitalism (Fisher, Toscano & Kinkle et al) and Evangelicalism, to differentiated and contingent bodies which retain collective potential.

This project contributes to site specific writing within contemporary art through adding disorienting fictions to the assemblage of the MegaChurch, and through ‘critical assemblages’: a spatial form of critique. A blurring of object/ subject boundaries seeks to reorient the believer from a spectacular verticality to a situated knowledge of how bodies and beliefs are produced within the mega populated and mediated church.

 

Selected bibliography

Alaimo, S ‘Thinking as the Stuff of the World’ O-Zone: A Journal of Object-Oriented Studies, Vol 1: 1 2014

Asberg, C, Thiele, K & Van Der Tuin, I ‘Speculative Before the Turn Reintroducing Feminist Materialist Performativity’ Cultural Studies Review Vol 21:2 2015

Avanessian, A ‘Speculative Poetics’ Realism Materialism Art 2015

Bal, M Narratology: Introduction to the Theory of Narrative 1985

Bennett, J Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things 2010

Bleich, D Readings and Feelings: An Introduction to Subjective Criticism 1975

Braidotti, R The Posthuman 2013

Coole, D & Frost, S (eds) New Materialisms: Ontology, Agency and Politics 2010

Crockett, C & Robbins, J Religion, Politics and the Earth: The New Materialism 2012

Dolphijn, R & Van Der Tuin, I New Materialism: Interviews and Cartographies 2012

Ellingson, S The Megachurch and the Mainline: Remaking Religious Tradition in the Twenty-First Century 2008

Fish, S Is There a Text in This Class? The Authority of Interpretive Communities 1981

Fisher, M Capitalist Realism 2009

Genette, G Narrative Discourse: An Essay in Method 1980

Haraway, D ‘Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial PerspectiveFeminist Studies, Vol. 14: 3 1988)

Houtman, D & Meyer, B (eds) Things: Religion & the Question of Materiality 2013

Kinkle, J & Toscano, A Cartographies of the Absolute 2015

Kreider, K Poetics and Place: The Architecture of Sign, Subjects and Site 2013

Lee, S & Phillip, S Holy Mavericks: Evangelical Innovators and the Spiritual Marketplace 2009

Leys, R ‘The Turn to Affect’ 2011 [Online] http://criticalinquiry.uchicago.edu/uploads/pdf/Leys,_Turn_to_Affect.pdf

Massumi, B ‘The Autonomy of Affect’ Cultural Critique No. 31 1995

O’Sullivan, S ‘Art Practice as Fictioning’ 2014 [Online] www.diakron.dk

Rendell, J Site Writing: The Architecture of Art Criticism 2010

Rieger, J & Waggoner, E (eds) Religious Experience and New Materialism 2016

Riley, D Impersonal Passion: Language as Affect 2005

Rosenblatt, L The reader, the text, the poem: The Transactional Theory of the Literary Work 1978

Steyerl, H ‘In Free Fall: A Thought Experiment on Vertical Perspective’ E-Flux 2014 [Online] http://www.e-flux.com/journal/in-free-fall-a-thought-experiment-on-vertical-perspective/

Calculus

Text presented for Speaking Through Stones

Fine Art Research Symposium, St. James Hatcham, Goldsmiths College

25th November 2016


Ballast

Presentation for Speaking through Stones 

Fine Art Research Symposium, St. James Hatcham, Goldsmiths College

25th November 2016 


Ballast
Kate Pickering

O Lord Direct Us (Domine Dirige Nos), is the motto of the ‘City of London’, the irregularly shaped heart at the proximal midpoint of the capital. The boundaries form arterial protrusions north over the Golden Lane Estate and east towards Shoreditch. Once the centre point of the world for business, and awarded top spot in the Worldwide Centres of Commerce in 2008, it forms a confluence of finance within one square mile. Within is the insurance industry, central to which is Lloyds of London, the world’s leading marketplace for specialist insurance. The huddled architecture of the area, having risen and fallen and risen, a stratified formation of tightly packed buildings and irregular narrow streets, has been part cleared into the geometries of civic plazas, shot through with vertiginous glass and steel paeans to finance, housing public galleries, sculptures and foliage.

 

you

position yourself over the grids and flesh tinted buildings between Fenchurch Avenue and Leadenhall Street and drop down twisting from real virtual into virtual real through concentric circles of Capital, City of London, insurance district and in through the central atrium of Lloyds as angles and lines warp and weft street view looms with a sudden surge 

STOP

lagging pixels catch up and the Underwriting Room crystallises around you. You compass a 360 degree rotation in a rush stop motion blurring partitions rectangles of glass and concrete studded with lights.… risk is being capitalised: costed and underwritten. Twelve stories of galleries look down upon an open space enclosed by glass which grids the sky, a vast conservatory resembling a net in the shape of an upturned

U

you are looking down on the carved rostrum housing the Lutine Bell…rung once for news of shipwrecked vessels when volatile weather conditions obscured the horizon, rendering instrumentation unreliable and navigation by the usual measures impossible

 

To be rooted is to be planted, to be stable, to have a certain future. To be solid, as solid as the foundation stone of a building. A building may be rooted in more than its foundations, and may be more than the sum of its bricks. Roots that reach back through the growth of a marketplace for the hedging of risk, birthed in a meeting in a coffee shop, through industrialisation and office blocks and world wars and globalisation to purpose built skyscrapers and financialised capitalism. Through a certain type of establishment, through the expectation that comes with history, reputation and class. Roots that speculate forward to the granulation of vast amounts of unstructured market data which will be anonymised, analysed, benchmarked, aggregated into value bearing units… projecting into the future through storytelling skills and insider expertise combined with Artificial Intelligence for maximum reliability, confidence and profit. Rooted now in the fabric of the building, rooted out into the hard drives, the flows of binary code, the algorithms which dance through superhighway worm holes meshing cities and continents, the vast arrays which self-regulate, which return bearing gifts.

Two moments in history, awkwardly rooted together in a jarring example of façadism: a Portland stone archway from the 1928 incarnation of the Lloyds building is situated in front of the postmodern loops and high tech polish of its current form. The Lloyds of now is also known as the ‘Inside Outside’ building, due to the decision, taken by the architect, to maximise space for market trading within The Underwriting Room, by placing all the services for the building, such as water, heating and ventilation ducts, lifts and toilet pods on the stainless steel clad exterior, leading it to be termed ‘a vast exercise in bowellism’ (1). The facade of Lloyds is not the typical seamless armour of a skyscraper, but has multiple surfaces and protrusions in a baroque and audacious display of its innards. Glass lifts chart a speedy course up and down vertical tracks, a series of loops reach up the height of the building, ducts, pipes, pillars and steel wires wrap the circumference, steel boxes are pock marked by porthole windows.

Inside the Portland stone archway on the west side of the building, is housed an inscribed foundation stone. The laying of a foundation, or cornerstone, is an event attended by ceremony, one which acknowledges the weight of a building’s significance. Historically, European and Asian religious ritual entailed a sacrifice of blood to ensure a building’s stability. Prior to animal sacrifice, where the animals blood flowed onto the foundation altar and the beast was buried underneath the stone, the practice of measuring a man’s shadow supplanted the immediate violence of literally immuring a person within the walls or beneath the foundation stone to ward against disaster and loss. A builder or shadow trader (traders who would provide architects with the shadows necessary for strengthening the building), would entice a man towards the foundation stone until his shadow fell upon it, measure the shadow and bury the measure. To bury the measure is to bury the shadow, is to bury the life and soul of the man, who, it is deemed, will die within the year (2). In creating place we displace, in rooting we uproot. Our foundation myths matter more than bodily matter, and so body, site and brick mingle.

1. Richards, J (1994) Facadism Routledge, London  p.60
2. Frazer, JG & Frazer, R (2006) The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion Oxford University Press p.106-107

Bowels of Steel

Research presentation

Fine Art Research Department, Goldsmiths College

29th September 2016


Bowels of Steel

Kate Pickering

Figs. 1 & 2: Pyura Chilensis; Fig. 3: Lloyds of London.

Figs. 1 & 2: Pyura Chilensis; Fig. 3: Lloyds of London.

In Tom McCarthy’s recent novel Satin Island (2015), the protanogist U becomes obsessed with parachutists who have had their cords cut. He muses:

‘That final spur, the one that carried skydivers across the threshold, out into the abyss, was faith: faith that it all- the system, in its boundless and unquantifiable entirety- worked, that they’d be gathered up and saved. For this man, though, the victim, that system, its whole fabric, had unravelled. That, and not his death, was the catastrophe that had befallen him. We’re all going to die: there’s nothing so disastrous about that, nothing in its ineluctability that undermines the structure of our being. But for the faith, the blind, absolute faith into whose arms he had entrusted his existence - for that to suddenly be plucked away: that must have been atrocious. He’d have looked around him, seen the sky, and earth, its land mass and horizon, all the vertical and horizontal axes that hold these together…this realm, with all its width and depth and volume, would have, in an instant, become emptied of its properties, its values. The vast font at which he prayed, and into which he sank, as though to re-baptise himself, time and again, would, in the blink of a dilated eye, have been voided of godhead, rendered meaningless…Negative world, negative sky, negative everything: that’s the territory this man had entered. Did that then mean he’d somehow fallen through into another world, another sky? A richer, fuller, more embracing one? I don’t think so.’ (1)

The question of what happens in the moment of disorientation upon the realisation that the cords have been cut underpins my research, conversely functioning as a stable ground from which to try out prototype falls into the void. Is this strategy a fundamentally melancholy proposition, or can it be constructive? Can it elaborate how a subject, in that moment of self realisation and dishabituation, might perceive him/herself as object, and in doing so reconfigure and reorient both subject and object?

In the essay In Free Fall: A Thought Experiment on Vertical Perspective, Hito Steyerl writes: ‘Pilots have even reported that free fall can trigger a feeling of confusion between the self and the aircraft. While falling, people may sense themselves as being things, while things may sense that they are people.’ (2) She proposes that the disorientation of falling may blur the perceived distinction between subjects and objects, an apparent porosity opening up between them.

These images show a bisected Pyura Chilensis, also known as ‘blood rock’, a hermaphroditic sea squirt or tunicate which resembles a mass of organs enclosed by a rock like carapace. It is a filter feeder that eats by sucking in seawater and filtering out microorganisms. Fishermen typically cut it into slices with a handsaw, then use their fingers to pull out the edible siphons (which they refer to as tetas, or "udders") from it’s tunic, which is discarded. Pyura chilensis has a high concentration of Vanadium, a metal used as a steel alloy, resulting in a significant increase in the strength of steel.

The third image shows the facade of Lloyds of London, located in the ‘Square Mile’, the City of London’s financial district. Lloyds of London, not to be confused with Lloyds bank, was established in the 17th Century and is considered the world’s leading insurer, formed of a society of specialist insurance syndicates, who price and underwrite risk. It’s efficiency depends on a single market place under one roof known as ‘The Room’, the underwriters relying on the contact gained from working in this one open space. The Grade 1 listed Lloyds building, also known as the ‘Inside Outside Building’, was designed by Richard Rogers, and is a leading example of Bowellism architecture, in which the services for the building, such as water, heating and ventilation ducts, lifts and toilet pods, are located on the steel clad exterior to maximise space for ‘The Room’. Rising the full twelve storey height of the building, the room is described by Kenneth Powell as ‘..a heroic space that creates the same sense of scalelessness as the open sky.’ (3) Peter Cook in Architectural Review wrote that the interior is ‘so designed that it becomes.. the visionary’s dream of symbiosis between animal and machine…’ (4)

The functional bowels of the building are exposed in the form of looping stainless steel stairwells and curling ducts that wrap themselves around the facade, the obverse of the concentrated Vanadium metallic mineral hidden within the bowel like interior of the Pyura Chilensis. Both building and creature begin to elicit an uneasy anthropomorphism within the viewer, where the separation between organic and inorganic breaks down.

My practice, bearing both objects in mind, aims for a form of over-writing where the reader is precipitated into the negative world, negative sky, negative everything of McCarthy’s U. Where a sink hole opens up beneath Lloyds of London, whose motto is Fidentia, Latin for “confidence”, and in the process of collapse a reversal of the facade occurs, where objects are turned inside out, or outside in, the reader propelled into a disorienting space where they merge with falling building, where the safety net of insurance fails and accelerates both a metaphorical and literal cutting of the cords.

 

1. McCarthy, T (2015) Satin Island Random House p.79-80
2. Steyerl, H (2011) 'In Free Fall: A Thought Experiment on Vertical Perspective' E-Flux [Online] Available from: http://www.e-flux.com/journal/in-free-fall-a-thought-experiment-on-vertical-perspective/ 
3. Powell, K (2004) Richard Rogers : Architecture of the future Birkhauser Verlag AG p.93
4. Cook, P Architectural Review October 1986 p.49