Friday, February 03, 2012

Ocular Rehab

Firmament's Blossom, 2011
In the mid-twelfth century, Abbot Suger gave us Gothic architecture.  He had these words inscribed on the door of the first Gothic structure, St. Denis:  "Bright is the noble work; but, being nobly bright, the work should brighten the minds, so that they may travel, through the true lights, to the True Light where Christ is the true door....  In seeing this light [the mind] is resurrected from its former submersion."

Those words, combining Christian light mysticism with thoughts of the resurrection, also fit a thrilling talk given at Wheaton College yesterday by Lia Chavez, who might be a contemporary Abbess Suger of sorts.  Her rebelliously non-digital photography (no photoshop!) plays with light as an expression of True Light, but also with dance, the body, and the resurrected body.

Our diseased visual culture catechizes well.  Horror movies display scattered body parts juxtaposed with whole bodies meant to seduce.  Chavez's work might be understood as an attempt to rehabilitate our troubled eyes.  Body parts are sufficiently disjointed to prevent objectification; and yet they are anything but gruesome, suggesting beauty and the possibilities of renewed forms yet to come: A tutorial in seeing the body anew with a wonder that is innocent.

Chavez's work is informed by the Apostle Paul's thoughts on the resurrection to come.  When speculating about that body, Origen - because of his Late Antique cosmology - surmised that we might be spheres.  Chavez - after brushing up on contemporary astrophysics - imagines those bodies to be closer to something like dance.  Such speculations are only dangerous if they cease to be speculative.  We will be more, not less human - but the details have yet to be announced. "It doth not yet appear what we shall be" (1 John 3:2).