[Adminstrator's Note: Dr. Lisa Lipinski has invited me to do an installation at Catholic University of America in Salve Regina Gallery. My installation will address the “Quinque Viae” of Thomas Aquinas and the relationship of language to ways of “knowing.” In Summa Theologica, Aquinas introduced “Five Ways” the existence of God could be proved. 20th Century scholars have refuted these “Proofs” with various arguments about Aquinas’s concepts. I plan to use both English translations of sections of Aquinas’ text of his “Five Proofs,” as well as text by detractors, to introduce ideas about God’s existence in the perfect site-specific location of CUA's Salve Regina Gallery. Lisa and I also will panel a discussion about the “Five Proofs” and to that end she invited Patrick Beldio, a Ph.D. Candidate in The School of Theology and Religious Studies at CUA, who holds an MFA in Sculpture, to join our panel. I am posting our initial correspondence because I believe it a suitable prelude to my installation and panel to come. Additionally, it is my hope that the topics may be of some interest to readers of TNOW.]
Dear Mr. Beldio,
Dr. Nora Heimann suggested that I contact you regarding an upcoming exhibition at Salve Regina. Attached is a short description of the exhibition a part of which is focused on the Five Proofs of God by Thomas Aquinas. We thought you would be interested in the exhibition, since it is philosophical and interactive, involving the participation of viewers to complete the texts.
Mark Cameron Boyd is a contemporary artist who teaches at the Corcoran College of Art and Design. All of his work is a meditation on truth, language, and meaning. One gallery is devoted to the Aquinas texts, and the other gallery will features a mini-retrospective of his work.
Nora thought you would be a good person to speak on a panel discussion we plan to hold in conjunction with the exhibition. Would you be interested in participating in a panel discussion with the artist and other faculty?
When is a good time to meet or speak on the phone?
Nora sends her warmest regards.
Adjunct Assistant Professor
Department of Art [Catholic University of America]
Thank you, Ms.Lipinski, for the invitation to attend the exhibition of Mr. Boyd's work and help panel a discussion related to the show. I would be honored to accept. I am not sure, however, if I would be a voice that would celebrate the kind of approach that this show intends. I look forward to seeing the work myself before I draw any conclusions. In general, though I feel I should admit my own bias: especially when it comes to the topic of Divinity, I find art that is used as a tool of philosophy ends up as limited art and limited philosophy. This begs many questions, I know, like are art and philosophy mutually exclusive, etc. and we could discuss this, but God and art are matters of the heart, for me, and not of the head, and so other faculties of knowing than the intellect are engaged in a primary way. You may know from Nora that I am a sculptor as well as a PhD candidate in Religion and Culture and my work deals in issues of devotion to God, so I feel I could contribute to this discussion from both an academic and artistic perspective. My academic work is based on the thought and legacy of Sri Aurobindo Ghose (1872-1950), an Indian who was a revolutionary, poet, thinker, yogi and teacher.
Knowing all this (and I am sorry to be so disorganized in my thoughts), if you still would like to have me on your panel, I would be delighted to contribute.
Thanks again for the email and give my very best to Nora.
May I forward your e-mail to the artist? I would like to get his feedback. I think a good panel discussion will present different viewpoints. Certainly we'll make sure that you see the show before we have the discussion, and you can talk to the artist. He plans to install the exhibition the week before Nov. 11 and to have students help in the creation of three of the pieces related to the Five Proofs.
Thank you for your timely and thoughtful response.
I am a bit sheepish as I don't know Mark Boyd nor his work, but yes, go ahead and forward.
You can see his work and read about it on his website.
I'm sorry I didn't include this information sooner.
Thank you for the website, Lisa. I have more of a sense of the complexity of the work. I also look forward to seeing the work in person and meeting Mr. Boyd. I think I could participate knowing that it would be an interesting and nuanced discussion. I look forward to being in touch with you. Let me know what you need from me if anything.
Thank you for agreeing to participate in our panel during the exhibition of my work at Salve Regina Hall. I am certain you will bring a lot to the panel. My interest in Aquinas dates from 1997 when I first learned of, then later taught, his theories about art.
I was struck by your thoughts on the limitations of an art that positions itself as a “tool of philosophy.” My plan for 5 Proofs was not so much to provide a tool with which to comprehend Aquinas’s theology but rather to understand that all ideas, philosophical, theoretical or theological, are conveyed in this fragile system of representation that we call language. My simple way of engaging viewers is to ask them to become involved in a physical deciphering of bisected sentences. Through that activation of the site the words and ideas become revealed, and this is may be a way of opening a discourse about such things as “art,” “meaning,” “knowledge” and “God.” As well, I agree that “other faculties of knowing” will be and should be engaged.
I look forward to meeting you in November.
Warm Greetings Mark,
Thank you for being in touch and for further addressing important ideas about your work, which is more nuanced than my initial fears gave credit. After I made those initial remarks to Lisa, I was glad to have a chance to spend some time with your website and now to hear from you.
I wonder if I may continue this conversation as I would like to test out some ideas with you. It would be helpful to know what you think since you have clearly given this a lot of thought and you have taught some impressive students (for instance: I am familiar with Melissa Ichiuji's work through a course I took with Martin Irvine last year). I am afraid this will be sketchy so I hope you don't mind following.
It seems to me that art, being what it is today--at least in the secular institutions across the US, serves very philosophical ends, and your work seems to be part of this tradition, which, as you say, seeks to understand ideas of all kinds and to understand them as fragile, unstable, provisional even (?). I would agree and see language this way, visual language included and this is why language and images are so exciting to me. This project, this turn to language, IS philosophical in nature, however. It questions itself, it questions the artist, destabilizing uncritical notions of these words. (If you know Arthur Danto's work on this, I agree with what he describes in the current artworld: art that is about art, which is a kind of post-art, post the Modernist manifestos of what art should/should not be). I gather from your site that you have a keen interest in Derrida, and I too share your appreciation. I first encountered him in grad school courses at the Claremont Graduate School (now University) in L.A. and later through the work of John Caputo. Exciting perspective that remains open to new and "dangerous" possibilities. So, in a word, your work lives in this world of ideas questioning themselves, which engages the mind, but does it engage other faculties, ones that a person for whom "God" is very personal, and for whom would never feel comfortable putting quotation marks around that word any more than one would put quotation marks around the name of their spouse when introducing them to another?
It seems that your work may provide opportunities for opening up Thomas in ways that will be creatively destabilizing for the Catholic U. community. This is a good thing! I find the theology crowd (of which I am NOT a member, I should admit--religious studies and culture are my focus) to be intelligent, interesting and interested, but I would also say that their exposure to modern and post modern art (and post-post!) is very limited. So the current and not so current debates about art are, well, not on the radar screen. I would not say that a turn to language is taken very seriously, though the turn to the subject is. The Catholic Church is still catching up to modernism, really. There are other pockets of Catholics who are interested in these things, but I would say you have to go to Georgetown or somewhere similar Jesuit place to find interested parties. This is not true, I would say, for the campus as a whole but for the theology department.
I will sign off for now and hope that these few thoughts are of interest. I know time is of the essence these days, that if we need to wait for the face to face in November, I completely understand! I wish you the best and look forward to meeting you in person.
Many thanks for your kind words about my site - I'm glad you visited & found out more about my work.
First, accept my apologies for the shortness of this reply - I teach Mondays & Wednesdays at the Corcoran College of Art + Design & my time is well-accounted for in the early portion of the week. I hesitate to say how much time I may have on Thursdays, Fridays & Saturdays, as well, given the short time that remains before actual work has to be delivered to Salve Regina Hall on Nov. 4!
In any case, you hit on some essential "bullets" that I can at least try to respond to in brief:
Like you, I have endless enthusiasm for the "visual language," which we art theorists, sometimes call visuality. Whether, paintings, sculpture, film or advertising, it is all part of our extreme codification in the spectacular world; Guy Debord was a good forty years ahead of the game when he foresaw that in "the future" (the future is now) our interaction one-to-another as humans would be mediated by image. Indeed, we define ourselves through image, as more than a few critical thinkers have taken note; it's the kind of cellphone we use, the clothes we wear, the "look" we wish to achieve.
But I digress...yes, it is a philosophical quest, I suppose, as much as any work in visuality deals with the ontological. My philosophy studies are lead by my interest in textual systems, language or langue (from Saussure, later Derrida) that I project visually but still wish people to read. I'm intrigued by differences, how meaning is established that way (red is red because it's not blue), why looking is different that reading. So there is a tension between these kinds of faculties.
I will close here because I've run out of time. One final point: I hesitated to put God in quotes in my last email - it occurred to me that it might be off-putting. My only intent was to propose that among the audience we hope to engage in my exhibit, as well at our panel, there will undoubtedly be atheists, agnostics and trembling theological virgins. I want to allow them the space to disbelieve, to read Aquinas's words (as well as a couple of nay-sayers) and decide for themselves what can be proven through language. It's interesting that when Martin Heidegger wrote of $100-words like Truth, Beauty and Love, it preferred to strike-through them so that we can agree to our uncertainty as to their "meaning." Derrida, of course, carried this to all words, and this was where my text-bisection was born, as a visual device with which to consider the fact of questioning all words, questioning the ability to convey anything more than just words. As Jacques, famously said, "There is nothing but the text."
I too am teaching these days, all day on Wednesdays. So, I am glad to get your response and have a chance to reply. It has me thinking more of the connections I see between Derrida, et al. and different understandings of the silence as experienced and addressed in mystical traditions. To deconstruct language is to expose it to that silence that is broken up by words and sounds--by noise. I have more experience in Christian, Sufi and Hindu worldviews of mysticism so I would approach it from these angles. That "there is nothing but the text" is not the experience of those in these traditions, but there is some overlap I think. The HIndu-based thinker I am writing my dissertation on is Sri Aurobindo Ghose (d. 1950), who has an interesting view of language. He knew Vedic and classical Sanskrit (among about ten other languages, both Western and Eastern) and saw an evolution of how language came into being from the nervous system of the human body such that the meaning and the word used for it were organically connected, where it was not arbitrary but a natural linkage, I suppose totally onomatopoetic. I have been studying Sanskrit myself and one can see there the way it preserves this kind of consciousness in its root words, which can actually feel like they sound and feel like they mean. Gradually (and this has been the case for most of recorded history in his view) language came to be abstracted such that ideas/meanings had nothing whatsoever to do with the word used and they were linked conventionally. I will leave our conversation for November but I liked very much how you made clear the connection between Heidegger and Derrida. That was not so conscious before for me.
I wish you the best of success as you continue to build your show.
A Modern Meditation on The Five Proofs of God: The Art of Mark Cameron Boyd; An exhibition at Salve Regina Gallery, Catholic University of America, November 11-December 17, 2010.