The transcendent, the ethereal, how we experience ‘being’ in the world and our deeply entangled relationship with material and matter are shifting and numinous notions. Wherever they exist, there you will find art also. This blog is an attempt to cultivate and nurture this most fertile of spaces. Through interviews with artists, curators, theologians and commentators from across the strata of contemporary art activity I will encourage reflection on what these notions might mean for individuals; to the processes they use, the artwork they create and how it is presented and received in society. While this site brings theological and philosophical concerns into the conversation, it does so not to constrain that conversation, nor to narrow it to the academic realm, but rather to throw it open, humbly, to all aspects of our lived experience, as explored through the contemporary art lens.
Despite a long and rich history of spiritually engaged art, a period throughout the 20th century saw contemporary art and theological concerns appear as an anathema to each other, there being, in art critic Rosalind Krauss’s words ‘an absolute rift’ between the two. The reality was not nearly so clear cut, as artists will do what artists will do. Nevertheless, what merited a space on gallery walls remained either largely secular or a carefully crafted ironical comment on a form of religiosity few of us would welcome. This could only ever tell us part of society’s story though. As the secular narrative refused to accelerate with quite the smooth trajectory anticipated, we now find ourselves in a richly diverse and multicultural society where a sense of the sacred is deeply intrinsic to the lives of many, and for others, increasingly assumed into a broader understanding of what it means to be fully human.
‘Re-enchantment’ as philosopher Charles Taylor described it in his 2007 work, ‘A Secular Age’, can be found in anthropology, sociology, psychology and environmental concerns, and to an extent, contributes not only to an appreciation of the fullness of the human experience, but to an increased awareness of the ‘liveliness’ of material and matter in all its forms. Prior to this, philosopher and theologian Paul Tillich encouraged a softening of the borders that had been allowed to solidify for some between philosophy, theology and art, describing an ‘Ultimate Concern’ that lay at the heart of all of these disciplines. Some may translate that as the divine while others prefer not to attempt to name it in this way, but from whatever context art evolves or is received, the conversation is richly complex and deserves to remain open.
Susan Francis is a multidisciplinary artist, curator and writer creating object, installation, and film which probes the subjective lived experience in a multifaceted analogue and digital world. Born in Belfast and now living and working in the South of England, Susan Francis has a history of international exhibitions and residencies including the Bemis Center for Contemporary Art in Nebraska, USA, the Polish International Sculpture Centre and Atelier Circulaire in Montreal, Canada. Work is held in public and private collections including the Arts Council of Northern Ireland. Susan Francis has written for a number of publications, most recently A+C magazine and Sluice magazine and curates part time for the NPO arts organisation, CAS. She has recently completed postgraduate studies in Theology, Imagination and Culture at Sarum College with an award from the Sarum St Michael Trust.