Friday, September 04, 2020

a modern take on the church fresco

there's a little church on the island of fyn that has stirred up big controversy. a local businessman commissioned a contemporary danish artist named jim lyngvild to do a modern take on the church fresco. lyngvild is a costume designer and photographer and designs elaborate costumes and then does traditional, very painterly setups with real people that he photographs in hyperreal HD. they look like they'll step out of the frame and when you look, you can almost hear them.

lysets engel (angel of light) - based upon john 1:1-5

"in the beginning was the word, and the word was with god, and the word was god. the same was in the beginning with god. all things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. in him was life; and the life was the light of men. and the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not."

i might also mention that lyngvild lives not far from this church in a viking-style longhouse and practices the viking religion known as asa. you can definitely see the influence of that in these modern frescos. i want to call them paintings, because they are extremely painterly, but they are photographs. he is not a fan of photoshop, so all of the details are meticulously set up and staged and not just photoshopped in afterwards. i have no idea where he got the lions, but they look a bit like they might be in a museum of natural history somewhere. he's the kind of guy with connections to get him access to staging a photoshoot such a place.

grebet i ægteskabsbrud (the grip of adultery) - based on john 8:1-11

"they say unto him, master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?...woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? she said, no man, lord. and jesus said unto her, neither do i condemn thee: go, and sin no more."

my photos are just snapshots taken with my phone, but i think i found this particular of the photos to be the most powerful one. the woman holding an iPhone and filming is such a statement on modern stoning - or condemnation, or canceling, as it's come to be called. i also love the ambiguous and not-so-ambiguous genders in this photo. it's both an echo to the traditional fresco (which were also quite graphic in their way at times) and a very sharp look at today. that the woman jesus forgives is a lesbian makes it even better. the tattoos, the naked bodies, the clear viking influence make it even more powerful and thought-provoking. i stood in front of it a long time and even went back again for a second look.

opstandelsen (resurrection)- from john 20:1-18 

"...and they say unto her, woman, why weepest thou? she saith unto them, because they have taken away my lord, and i know not where they have laid him. ... jesus saith unto her, mary. she turned herself, and saith unto him, rabboni; which is to say, master."

more animals from that natural history museum. and i'd love to see the wings in person - lyngvild must have made them, as he designed and sewed all the costumes. for me, the animals signify an exoticism - they're not ordinary farm animals, but wild animals found in africa. 

nedtagelsen fra korset (removal from the cross) - from mark 15:37-40

"and Jesus cried with a loud voice, and gave up the ghost. and the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom. and when the centurion, which stood over against him, saw that he so cried out, and gave up the ghost, he said, truly this man was the son of god. there were also women looking on afar off: among whom was mary magdalene, and mary the mother of james the less and of joses, and salome."

one of the giant works contains the chairman of the local church counsel and we think it's this one, though we couldn't really find confirmation of that. we think it's the younger man on the right side of jesus. and it's kind of ironic, because this summer, the church counsel voted not to put the works back up after their upcoming renovation. apparently some of the older members of the congregation and the church counsel were a bit offended by the nudity and the rawness and were provoked by the works. but perhaps it's not that surprising, as church counsels are not often known for being modern and forward-thinking. it's a shame, because the frescoes were attracting 1000+ visitors per week to the church in what's otherwise a forgotten corner of denmark and a sleepy little town.

moses & loven (moses and the commandments) - from exodus 20:4-5

"thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for i the lord thy god am a jealous god, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me..."

this was the only one based on the old testament. i especially love the golden bull's head. in denmark, it's a clear symbol of a butcher shop and they must have borrowed it from one for the photo. it also made me think of the logo of a steak restaurant that's in tivoli. there was something playful about that - it felt like an inside joke. it also felt a bit like some of the commandments might be about to be violated within the picture - bare breasts, heaped fruit, extravagant gold fabrics and furs. it's the 7 deadly sins waiting to happen. 

bebudelse af jesu fødsel (tidings of jesus' birth)- from luke 1:26-38 

"and the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with god. and, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name jesus."

the richness of the dress in this photo exuded luxury. that's not how i had thought of mary before. it also seems medieval, rather than biblical. i like that twist. i found myself thinking about the location where it was photographed - trying to remember which danish castle might have had such a room. i couldn't help but think of kronborg castle in helsingør - it's the hamlet castle, but i suppose that any castle from the area has such bricks and arches. what that has to do with the virgin birth, i don't know, but maybe it's not really about that anyway.

jesus on the cross

and the last photo, a striking jesus on the cross. he set it up on a beach in south fyn. awaiting the wind being just right. though how he got that dove to sit there like that, i have no idea. it does make me think that his supposed loathing of photoshop is more myth than truth. i find this one especially painterly. and i find it also to be the one that most pays homage to the tradition of christ on the cross and the bloodiness of it all. 

this painting is clearly not one of jim lyngvild's, but i thought it was amusing to include it, because it's such an old-fashioned contrast to the others on the walls and it made me think of the small-minded, conservative church counsel that voted not to keep his amazing works. don't they look a dour group?


ART+Weise said...

tanks Julie

Anonymous said...

These are amazing. Thank you for sharing them here.
So thought-provoking.

Molly said...

And it's me, Molly - I must've been signed out of Google :-)

will said...

Allow me to take an entirely different view of the church photos.

First, you noted, the photographer lives his interpretation of a Viking lifestyle while also practicing a Viking religion.  Christians considered Vikings to be pagans and it was civilization and Christianity that did-in the Vikings.

Is it a religious irony he did these photos or is it something else? Is he, the neo-Viking, creating embellished Pictorialism-istic images, essentially making mockery of Christianity while also thumbing his nose at the church that hung his photos?  

I also find it curious, despite using modern models and being cute with inclusions of faddish tats and a cell phone, just as all western religions have re-written history and mirrored themselves into their illustrations of their-god images, his Jesus and the followers are all lily white - there’s not an olive or dark-skinned person in site. I know, a Nordic Jesus, that’s playing it safe, mirroring the viewers. Kitsch-Kumbaya art.

His one difference with the Pictorialism of the 1800s is, his images are perfectly sharp instead of the commonly used soft focus, dreamy style of the old days

Construction of the photos, as well as the style in which they are framed, smack of the worst sort of Pictorialism.  In many ways, the church photos carry on the tradition of Pictorialism’s view that photography’s main purpose should be to make photos appear as if they are paintings with the imprint of the artist’s style and beliefs.  
Pictorialism lasted decades (approx. 1880-1915) and there were thousands of saccharin images of people dressed in what they thought were the clothes/robes of early Greek, Roman and Christian myths & moments. And, there were endless - and horrid - photos featuring pretentious whites doing their adaptions of, “Ode to a Grecian Urn” or Pan running around in forests or sobbing people at the feet of Jesus. Google Julia Margaret Cameron or Adolph de Meyer for reference material.

Thank god, in the early 1900s and through to the 1930s, modern photography sprung to life. Group f/64 burst upon the scene and put an end to decades of photo tripe pretending to be paintings. Or, so we thought.

Currently, social media encourages photography and so-called art photography swamps throughout Facebook, et al. Snapshots are honest in what they are and they’re totally acceptable. However, most social media “art” photos are trite and/or derivative rehashes of someone else’s images. But the floodgates are open and bad art flows freely within the ether. Pictorialism’s worst has made a comeback.

On the other hand, there are fantastic contemporary artists, such as Kehinde Wiley and Richard T. Scott, painting in different styles, they’ve done an outstanding smack down on the excesses of 19th century portraiture.

As for the anti-Photoshop nonsense, dude, Mr. Viking, deal with it, post-production applications are simply part of the photographic flow. Good and great photographers have always manipulated images, whether it’s the type of camera, the lens, a filter, a smear of petroleum jelly, a piece of panty hose, rented props or chemicals in the darkroom, photographers manipulate the photographic process so they get the photos initially imagined.  As an example, look at how many versions Ansel Adams did of his best-loved, Moonrise, Hernandez New Mexico.  Ansel was a human Photoshop app.

Photoshop or Affinity are digital tools. If he wants to stay in the 19th and early 20th century - or simply pretend he's a Viking, that's fine - but don’t soapbox photo purity, there is no such thing.