i Famous for its crazy cults, I America proved a rich
. source of images for
I photographer Carl de
l Keyzer. Miranda France
I On a recent TV programme. Times
I columnist Simon Jenkins described the i US as a country in search of an enemy. Communism had been a reliable and convenient bogeyman throughout the
f years of the Cold War and Saddam Hussein provided a temporary focus for Americans' collective fears and prejudices. Btit what now'.’ Baddies on the scale of the old-school communists are a diminishing resource.
But if Americans are adrift without an evil to fight. at least they have God. In the United States becoming a born- again Christian is as popular a past— time as getting divorced or having a nervous breakdown. Sometimes the expression of religious fervour can f reach crazy. even hysterical proportions ; — as the recent events in Waco testify.
Belgian photographer Carl de Keyzer
Actors dressed as‘angels for the annual Christmas pageant at the Ti Pbyterian Church De Bary, Florida, December 1990
considered 3.500 organisations and wrote to 600 in preparation for the year he spent documenting religious activity in the US. His objective was to explore the concept of faith as a commodity which can be sold and marketed as if it were soap powder. God is a lucrative business; in the decade ofevangelism. preachers, celebrities and PR men are milking faith for every dollar they can get.
De Keyzer's hard work and long joumey across the continent engendered a fascinating body of photographs as well as a diary, in which he describes those people who could not be captured on film — like the
. famously reserved Amish and, at the
opposite end of the scale. the Idaho neo-Nazi preacher who promises. ‘the Holocaust you can enjoy through books and ﬁlms only. But the end of the world you will experience yourself.‘
Between the two extremes is a gamut of variously madcap or astute denominations. De Keyzer visits the followers of Mother and Father Divine. whose church is founded on a belief in racial harmony (he was the only black ever to dare to claim to be the son of God). The pagan Rainbow People he finds rolling naked in the mud. In Utah. a traditional fire-and-brimstone preacher suggests that “religious renegades' be shot in the desert, like deserters.
In the country that invented the t-shirt. faith is emblazoned across chests and incorporated into daily life. A religious biker‘s shirt warns ‘I'm the Christian Satan warned you about‘ and in Salt Lake City a clever fast-food seller specialises in t-shins and ‘Mormon chicken‘.
In churches across the land, De Keyzer watches on as congregations write cheques. rustle notes and buy expensive mementoes. He sees evangelist Billy Graham sacrifice vanity to economy. asking his audience to applaud less — his air-time costs him $1000 a minute. Several times he escapes conversion by the skin of his teeth.
These powerful images rightly earned De Keyzer election to the prestigious Magnum photo agency. But their impact would be less without his telling and acerbic diary: De Keyzer obviously made a decision to point his camera away from the charisma of religious leaders. at the ordinary men and women who give their conviction and a lot of money to smiling businessmen masquerading as purveyers of salvation. It would be have been good to see these faces too - if only to feed our own ideas of what constitutes a baddie.
God Inc is at Stills Gallery. Edinburgh. until 3 Apr
_ . Fine lines
i You go to see Marcel O’Connor’s works with the assumption that they mean to f make a statement about his native
Northern lreland. The title of the show,
motif is flags. Time after time the
flag. For the first time, you become aware of the profusion of lines that make up the Union Jack - place it on top of something else and it obliterates the competition.
But, just as O’Connor’s works are multi-layered, so are their meanings. Certainly the notion of cultural imposition is there, but equally there is a suggestion that different cultures can live together harmonioust - in many of these works the two flags merge to form a new emblem, with the implication that there is hope for a new identity in Northern lreland, if mental and geographic boundaries can be put to one side.
If the notion of a boundary carries negative, exclusive overtones, seen from another perspective a boundary is a threshold onto something new, and possibly better. O’Connor uses the
after all, is ‘Boundaries’, the recurring I
Union Jack is shown engulfing an Irish 7
apparently lnapposite sensual colours :
Marcel O’Connor: Cage Set aside the political and the
of icon painting to explore his contentious theme. lie is fascinated dimension to the works in
by the philosophy behind icon 9 ‘Boundarles’: to an extent these are painting, which presents the picture’s I Mondrian-esque exercises in geometry frame as a symbolic doorway into a 3 and form. So the lines of the flags spiritual realm. The small-scale works, ; shrug off their demographic and some of them coated with wax and ' political implications and simply French gold, have a mesmeric effect. become shapes. (Miranda France) They also serve to remind that there is i a higher spiritual plane to be achieved ' beyond sectarian strife. I
spiritual, and there is a third, physical
Boundaries is at the City Art Centre, Edinburgh, until Sat 20 Mar.
IN THE FRAME .
Bill flare talks about the role of art in contemporary Scotland.
' HE “S
Ken Currie: Memory of Conflict, 1991 After the war, there was a general feeling that artists had to leave Scotland to get the right sort of stimulus and support. With rare exceptions, like Joan Eardley, there was little distinguished painting In Scotland - Bellany and Davie operated down south.
But, by the 1980s, Scottish art colleges had become exciting places to be, and the number of people going to them certainly outstripped any likely employment in the areas of art education. Students really had to think of art as a full-time vocation and quite a strong professionalism came in.
Where Scottish art had tended to respond to what other people thought it should be, artists were now producing something that was a genuine response to an experience taking place within Scotland. Artists might not think of themselves as particularly “Scottish’, nor were they making specific political points. But after the 1979 referendum there was a feeling of initial frustration in Scotland and then a sort of apathy and resignation to the fact that the political voice of Scotland just wasn’t going to be heard, or not for a long time.
Scots looked for ways in which to express themselves outwith the ballot box.
This need may have spurred a return
to figuration in the visual arts, because, if you want to talk about specific experience, it’s much more sensible to do it within a figurative tradition than an elusive, abstract
one, particularly in the area of urban subject matter, which had been conspicuous by its absence before the . 803
When you see the latest work by people Just leaving art colleges, nothing seems to be radically different to what has been going on over the last ten to fifteen years. There’s a sense of continuity very much tied up with the Scottish art colleges that creates a passing on of ideas. There’s still a strong emphasis on the figurative, on social issues and ‘ on ’palnterliness’ - paint speaking for j itself. The mark is very important in ; Scottish art. ;
Bill lfare is Assistant Curator at the Talbot Bice Gallery. His book, ; “Contemporary Painting in Scotland’
is published by Craftsman House on 29 I March, at £32. J
The List 12 -~--25 March l993 55