Monday, February 13, 2012

Mortal Coils Revisited

Chavez's phosphorescent choreography, however exciting, is also unsettling. Thinking about her work over the last week induced a slight case of vertigo.  Counter-balance was called for, reminding us of the humdrum holiness of the body as we experience it now.  Yes, the resurrected Christ walked through walls, but the Lutheran Ubiquitists - who argued that Christ's resurrected body was universally dispersed - may have gone too far.  He also ate fish, and iconophile theologians rightfully insisted on his body's circumscription after the tomb as well.  The Wheaton Art Department conveniently provided just this kind of complement with a lecture by Judith Raphael last week, whose paintings are still on display in Adams Hall.

Raphael is also inspired by Hubble Space telescope imagery, but she contrasts the amorphous starbursts with our ordinary frames - the anthropic principle in paint.  Raphael's work recalls neglected Eastern thinkers such as Gregory of Palamas who tirelessly emphasized embodiment both in theory and in the practice of prayer - the original Christian yogis.  "The hesychast," wrote John Climacus in contrast to Shirley MacLaine, "is one who seeks to circumscribe the incorporeal body."

Not to say that Chavez would deny this, or that Judith Raphael is necessarily bound by traditional Renaissance painting.  She described her "medieval eye" which - happily - can't submit to the laws of perspective.  (As Pavel Florensky points out in his brilliant work on the matter, the best Renaissance artists didn't either.)  Between Chavez's destabilizing of stereotyped bodies, and the everyday innocence of Raphael's skydiving adolescents, one has the makings of a nearly Signorellian theology of our resurrected bodies to come.

There's one more lecture in this series to go.