During a residency at GlogauAIR in Berlin, I have begun to add kinetic elements to my sculpture and installations, with a particular interest in “slow” sculpture. In these works, water drips slowly and mechanical devices gradually unwind to create sculpture whose slow movements create a sense of anticipation and apprehension in viewers while at the same time test their patience as “events” in the sculpture take hours if not days to occur. By adding the element of time to the art, I hope to explore a sense of urgency about climate change as well as the opposing complacency about global change which is felt so gradually it is difficult to perceive.
The End of the Book
Using ashes, gold leaf and discarded texts, the work in this exhibition transforms traditional Christian art and ritual by creating ceremonial vessels, reliquaries and icons which reflect a neo-liturgical approach to the disposal of aged and damaged sacred texts. Deeply meaningful elements such as gold, eggs, fire and beeswax, are used in ways that transform the book and along with it, our notions of the place of faith in society. This work pushes artistic technique and Christian ritual practice past their usual boundaries to create post-devotional, conceptual liturgical art. The art recalls religious acts of devotion yet, at the same time, points to the loss of what is held as sacred. Each creative work is also an act of destruction. Beauty embraces its shadow. Each sincere moment is betrayed by duplicity. This art draws attention to the absence of an authoritative ritualized tradition for the disposal of sacred text in Christianity and in creating new rituals it fills a liturgical void with uneasy possibility.
Flood and Fiction
Amid overlapping narratives of personal disaster, biblical apocalypse and scientific warnings of global climate change and rising sea levels, the artist becomes a character in his own fiction: Prophet, survivor, scientist, historian, and rescuer. Exploring an epic apocalyptophilia with layered nuance, Paul Roorda creates a story of the flood in art that incorporates a collection of vintage objects such as early 20th century disaster postcards, vacation photos, pages from Dante’s Inferno, water safety manuals, life jackets, weather damaged notices and scientific glassware holding water from the River Styx. This project looks at the way narratives are created, documented and memorialized in various forms of text and artifact. Images repeat and reflect, are magnified or suffer damage and distortion to expose and examine the undercurrents of the societal need to dwell on disaster and the accompanying fatigue and cynicism with our most recent warnings of catastrophe.
Take Notice/Sky Notice
Recent work has expanded beyond my studio and the formal gallery setting by creating site-specific installations of small mixed media works on paper. Noticed in their public location, nailed and wired to street-side posts throughout Kitchener-Waterloo, the art briefly captures observant viewers, pulling them out of the insulation of their thoughts, if only for a moment, to wonder and create meaning of what they are looking at. Retrieved and presented as a collection in the gallery, the full implication of each project is experienced as the work is re-contextualized and larger themes become apparent. Dealing broadly with themes of construction of knowledge as well as the ties between religious and environmental apocalyptic narratives, these projects use materials such as blood, coal dust, smoke, gold leaf, rusty staples, wire, and nails, Polaroid photos and vintage encyclopedia images to create works that gradually become weather damaged, lost or removed before they are retrieved for gallery presentation.
In Take Notice, hundreds of small paper cards frame images removed from vintage encyclopedias. What was once the post war optimism of a vintage encyclopedia is now re-contextualized as an anxiety over the consequences of the unsustainable progress we have a compulsion to pursue.
In Sky Notice Polaroid photos of clouds are used to create art that is both prophetic and poetic, full of both whimsy and catastrophe. The photos suffer colour distortion or overexposure and are scarred by rust and water damage reflecting the increasing anxiety with which we have come to view the sky: Global warming, intensifying storms, increasing UV warnings, and smog alerts have cast a shadow on our once bright and optimistic upward view.
Rise and Tempest explores similar themes using staples, rust and slightly pixellated graphs printed on vintage graph paper. Melting polar ice, atmospheric CO2, rising temperatures and changing sea levels are captured in graphic form but without identifying details. They hint at the underlying anxiety of a generation faced with uncertainty over the planet’s future.
Slate Requiem Series
Using slate tiles from the leaking roof of an historic church, I create art that echoes the reverence of sacred icons while examining the erosion of traditional beliefs. In each slate tile, there is a hole, either found or carved. Just as the roof has failed as a barrier to the rain, boundaries of faith have been penetrated. Using highly symbolic materials such as gold leaf, blood, ashes, and smoke, I explore the connections between age-old rituals and the re-evaluation of dearly held convictions. The work in this series exposes a sense of loss in a generation whose idea of certainty is dissolving.
Public Notice: Confessions
Confessions is an exploration of public and private rituals of guilt, confession, penance and absolution. In the black markings of candle smoke, fireplace soot, charred wood, burnt Bible pages, and coal dust, wrongdoing in general, and environment harm in particular, are acknowledged. Individual acts leading to global climate change result in a pervasive “eco-guilt”.
The individual pages of the installation are personal acts of confession made public by posting them on utility poles using wire and the rusted nails and staples of previous signs. Public in location, they remain private in the wordlessness of the pages torn from discarded Bibles and glued over the black markings of confession. Words are replaced by simple lines and shapes of red clay, rust, blood or scorched paper.
Exposed to the elements, the notices become weathered, stained, torn or lost. The nails and staples are then pried from the wooden posts and the notices collected, pressed and restored. Finally, marks of ink, blood and gold leaf are added to the pages: Each sheet a confession, a statement, a record, a promise.
Accompanying each confession is an act of penance - a self-inflicted act of reflection, deprivation or punishment. A private act of penance performed by the artist on behalf of all.
The Skeptic's Gospel
The Truth is elusive, camouflaged in dappled shadows, not the black and white reality I sometimes wish it was. I constantly see two truths at once, and often none at all where I thought one Truth was steady before my eyes. There is a transparency to what I thought was solid, a duplicity to what I thought was one, and layered meanings where I thought I had found understanding. It is a world where the results change each time I perform an identical action and yet I get the same result no matter what I try. And in this lovely, kaleidoscopic, paradoxically shifting world of mystery a gospel lies waiting to be unraveled from its tightly wound spool into a tangled, looping nest of truths where the lines aren’t straight and ends cannot be found. And that is the Skeptic’s Gospel.
First Aid Gospel
Juxtaposing illustrations from vintage first aid manuals and antique Bibles, this series is an exploration of faith, medicine and ritual. There is an uneasy nostalgia for a simple faith and ritualistic acts of devotion or hope in a time when ambivalence has eroded confidence in institutions that seemed to offer such bright solutions. Worldviews of faith and science collide in times of illness, injury and death and we are forced to weigh our decisions on the balance of our beliefs.
In compositions reminiscent of altar-pieces or shrines, the beeswax surfaces in this art are marked with gold, blood, crushed stone and rust to reveal a desperate longing for Truth where only contradictory truths can be found. By acts of devotion, one tries to revive faith, but faith can only be bound in bandages or placed carefully on a stretcher and medicine can only hope for a miraculous cure. They both disappoint us in spite of our belief and repeated rituals. There is a bittersweet realization that the divine is brought to the level of humanity in the same moment as humans seek to be elevated to the level of the gods.
This body of work is a deconstruction and transformation of the Bible. By combining and distilling childhood experiences of church, new examination of Biblical text, religious art, and observations of the influence of religion on contemporary society, I explore a personal and societal ambivalence towards the Christian tradition.
In A Miraculous Cure for the Deaf, Shock and Abomination, and Once Daily, pages of the Bible or hymnbooks are individually removed, folded and rolled into tiny scrolls that are then placed in medicinal capsules. Similarly, in Antidote, Bible pages are rolled into scrolls or individually burned before containing them in vaccine vials. And in Seven (Heavenly/Deadly) red dye from the covers of Gideon Bibles is extracted, fermented to make wine, and placed in antique glass syringes. Displayed in a two-sided frame, the work is labeled Heavenly on one side and Deadly on the other. In Truth Serum, 70 vintage syringes have been filled this wine and mounted in a row. This series of altered Bibles extends a recent exploration of the relationship between faith, ritual, healing and judgment.
Survival Kit for Uncertain Times is a Bible whose text has been removed and replaced with a wilderness survival handbook and various emergency supplies.
Congregation of the Ambivalent is an installation of seventy altered Bibles. For this project, a set of old and worn pew Bibles has been reclaimed: The pages of each book have been individually wrinkled then smoothed flat by volunteers with varying degrees of devotion and ambivalence towards the Christian church. In this exploration of religious ritual each page is damaged, instead of read, to create a Bible in which the pages force the cover open and yet, at the same time, press against each other so that the text cannot be read. Each Bible is transformed into a new object, one of beauty and contradiction. The sacred is challenged by the profane, and embraced by it. The Bibles have become art, yet are still sacred texts. Tradition persists, but only wrapped in ambivalence.
In The Weight of Paper, a large antique Bible has been wrinkled and smoothed to create a similar Open Bible, yellowed with age. And for Open Bible III (Ash Cross) each page has been marked with a cross of wet ash, its pages wrinkling as it dried. In this body of work, the aim is always to find the point of tension between the weight of tradition and allure of change, between the desire for preservation and the hope for transformation, and between the demand of faith and the appeal of the secular.
Linking all of the works is a sense of unease about the traditions of the Christian church and a process that explores the role of ritual in contemporary society.
This body of work is, in a sense, a re-illustration of the Bible. Starting with pages from an aged and deteriorating antique Bible I cut away the text to create a frame for a beeswax surface. The result is a surface resembling a diptych, an ancient wax writing tablet. Materials are embedded in the wax or pressed and rubbed into the scratched and distressed beeswax surface to create ritualistic and text-like markings and images. Natural materials are chosen to create strong symbolic resonance with the traditional Bible stories as well as contemporary uses and abuses of religion. Themes of violence and judgment are contrasted with elements of hope and reverence to explore the persistence of Christian tradition in the face of increasing secularism.
In other work, the lines of Biblical text are recreated by sprinkling ash, crushed flower petals, earth and other materials onto waxed sheets of paper to create pages where the words have been replaced by dust. The meaning of the text has been obscured, but the form of the page remains.
These encaustic drawings extend the themes and processes of my earlier mixed media work. Ideas of mourning, loss, aging, and memory are evoked in the distressed and worn surfaces.
Drawing on beeswax surfaces using natural materials, I explore themes of deterioration and regeneration. The disintegration of an object as it rusts or as it decomposes is contrasted with the re-creation of the object as a drawing. The image, material, and drawing implements all converge to represent the subject. For example, an image of rusty nails is made by distressing and scratching a beeswax surface using the nails, and coloured using the rust collected from those tarnished nails. The image is made with the deteriorating substance which it represents.
This work incorporates the ritual processes of my other art while reinterpreting religious figures so often portrayed in history of art. In choosing this subject matter, I am developing a statement about my own reevaluation of Christianity as it reflects a similar change in society. In my choice of process, I am exploring the rise of alternative rituals and meditative practices in the shift away from Christian traditions. And in my materials, I am considering the relationship of spirituality and the natural world. By choosing family members as models, I am telling a personal story while revisiting pivotal moments in a historical one.
Labyrinths & Games
The ancient labyrinth is reemerging as a tool for contemporary ritual practice. In my art I borrow from labyrinths found in cathedrals, on coins, and carved in rock to explore themes of deterioration and regeneration.
Work from my game series explores well known games such as Chess, Scrabble and Snakes and Ladders as metaphors for understanding religion, war, knowledge and morality. Linking the historical and contemporary associations of game playing with religious text and natural materials is an ongoing pursuit in my art.
I am interested in how pervasive ritual is in cultures throughout the world and in the way rituals become an essential part of life for people, even when they may be at a loss to describe in words the full meaning those rituals hold. My work also addresses the rejection of traditional religion, Christianity in particular, and questions how people deal with this loss. Do traditional rituals need to be replaced? If they do, what new rituals are being observed?
In my work, the materials are chosen to reflect the types of symbolic materials rituals are made of: Wine, gold, tea, smoke, beeswax, handmade paper, flowers, earth, stones, string, wheat, etc. Processes are chosen in a similar way, often involving repetitive actions such as folding paper, holding objects over fire, immersing objects in water, sealing with wax, tying string, or burying objects. The resulting artifacts allude to both contemporary and ancient traditions, but are something new. They reflect our ties to nature, religion and history and question our separation from them.