Holy, Honest Confluences and the value of multiplicity

REBEKAH PRYOR Sealess 2018 video still 2.png
Rebekah Pryor. Sealess (video still) 2018. © the Artist. Image courtesy of the artist.

It’s amazing what can happen when we get together! Better still if, when we get together, we come right out to our own edges to meet each other. Of course, this requires courage, boldness, and respect: all traits that we should not take for granted but that we can, of course, cultivate and practise together.

In my own exploration of the question – how can we be autonomous (or self-determining) and belong together? – the phrase ‘holy, honest confluences’ helps. A phrase of theologian Catherine Keller, it reminds us that recognition of our own limits is critical to our best being in the world and our being together. The world itself might even depend on it. Such a future will require (at least) more complex practices of relation in which bodies are understood in their ‘holy, honest confluences with the self, the neighbor, the stranger, the other: with these beings who matter, in relation to whose infinite need and newness my finitude is called to its capacity’.[i]

Who better to reflect with on matters of matter than artists? The eighteen artists in the exhibition Holy, Honest Confluences, currently on show at ACU Melbourne Gallery, respond to this question of autonomy and belonging in various ways.

Some works contemplate embodied, relational, and spiritual experiences (and their related specificities) of autonomy and belonging. Other artworks constitute actual and ritual remembrances of life and death, of other beings with whom we are or have been in relation. Some artists materially and conceptually focus on relationships with and between non-human others. Other artists examine singular human bodies in their consideration of the self-determining subject. Some artworks speak directly to the systems, conventions, and histories that limit and oppress autonomy and belonging. Still others, in their own languages, return us to the creative possibilities of all material natures.

Importantly, from the beginning, there was no mandate for artists to respond to the curatorial callout in any particular way or in accordance with any particular religious tradition. Artists (professional and established or emerging) working in any mode or medium, from any background, cultural, social or political context, and out of any religious tradition or none, were invited to draw from their own creative practice and experiences of autonomy and belonging, to reflect on the key exhibition questions and themes. This seemed to me the only way, if I were to take Keller’s imperative of confluence seriously. (Besides, however, is art about spirituality, faith, and/or religion to imaginatively invigorate new cultural and social (let alone theological) possibilities if we consistently demand more of the same?)

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Holy, Honest Confluences Exhibition (installation view), ACU Melbourne Gallery, Fitzroy, 2019. Photo: Rebekah Pryor.

As I emphasise in the catalogue essay, the value of multiplicity in Holy, Honest Confluences cannot be overstated. The many (sometimes congruent, at other times contradictory) perspectives gathered together in this exhibition sustain the creative collaboration as a confluence rather than an exercise in unity. And this is precisely the point. At a time when complex legal, ethical, and social questions concerning communities (for example, religious communities and their relations to power and ‘freedom of thought, conscience and religion’ more broadly, culturally, and linguistically diverse communities and their multiple histories, and ecological communities diminished by present and imminent climate change impacts) challenge and implicate us all, Holy, Honest Confluences returns us to our own bodies and relations in search for answers.

The artworks exhibited here lead us to alternate, multiple and sometimes-ambiguous visions of matter and corporeality by which ‘space and the bodies that constitute space might better be thought of as liquid’, as Whitney A. Bauman states: unfixed and flowing with or alongside (but never as or instead of) each other.[ii] This is a necessary turn if, following the lead of Keller and others, we seek to honestly and reflexively cultivate more ethical and sustainable futures for our selves, each other, and all matter.

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Holy, Honest Confluences is curated by Rebekah Pryor. The exhibition continues until 15 December at ACU Melbourne Gallery (26 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy). For more on the exhibition, including the full catalogue containing artist bios and statements, and essays by Rebekah Pryor and Mel Dixon, visit www.rebekahpryor.com/holyhonestconfluences.

Rebekah Pryor is a visual artist, curator, and academic living and working on Boon Wurrung and Wurundjeri country. Her artistic and research practice is interdisciplinary and currently explores the spatial and iconic potential of the body via a range of media and disciplines, including philosophy of religion, feminist theory, feminist theology, and architecture. Rebekah was a finalist in the 65th Blake Prize in 2018 and currently works in research and teaching in the Faculty of Arts, The University of Melbourne.

[i] Catherine Keller. ‘The Lost Fragrance: Protestantism and the Nature of What Matters’,  Journal of the American Academy of Religion 65, no. 2 (1997), 368.

[ii] Whitney A. Bauman, ‘Queer Values for a Queer Climate: Developing a Versatile Planetary Ethic’, in Meaningful Flesh: Reflections on Religion and Nature for a Queer Planet, ed. Whitney A. Bauman (Earth, Milky Way: Punctum Books, 2018), 115.

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