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A Form of Faith


Memorial altars in Los Angeles offer resistance to the digital

Anyone can be a curator online, arranging image-objects and images of objects as they please, even if they may never see these objects in person. In its relationship to digital imagery, the trend in curation subtly undermines awareness of the structures that deny true access both to material goods and space.

Altars resist this erasure. As installations, they are inherently site-specific. Sometimes, as with memorial altars, the reasoning behind the site is obvious, and other times it may seem more arbitrary. They very often incorporate photographic images, but they just as frequently rely on photography’s predecessor, the icon. They are adaptable and porous, fitting simultaneously with histories of folk religion and paganism as with narratives of postmodern hybridity. They are almost always recognizable in their form, but no two are alike. Each unit is an individual expression of its maker’s intention to remember something that cannot be seen, because it exists first and foremost in their own mind. In this way, the altarmaker employs visuality as a manifestation not only of their faith in what’s being represented, but in the personalized act of representation.

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Praying in The Closet


In gay priest Malcolm Boyd’s popular prayerbook Are You Running With Me, Jesus?, queer insight elevated Christian practice

When thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.
—Matthew 6:5-6

Straight Christian culture is often pretty queer.

This queerness is most obviously visible in the theatrical extremes of evangelical or Catholic culture: in the eyes of Tammy Faye, or in the red and reportedly Prada slippers of Pope Benedict XVI. Tammy Faye Bakker and the former Pope are hyper-stylized objects of camp iconography, ripe for queer appropriation. They also symbolize contrasting straight Christian attitudes toward queerness, with Tammy Faye celebrated as a gay-friendly diva and Benedict criticized as a remote and unyielding enforcer of traditional doctrine.

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Smash Images from Antiquity


Idolaters and iconoclasts share an unshatterable faith in the value of the image

A man stands in front of a half-destroyed statue. Its paws are almost the size of the man. The front side of its body is missing. It has no head. Like an art historian or a tour guide, the man is giving us information that the creature cannot give itself. The creature is only a stone sculpture; even when it still had eyes it couldn’t see.

“These ruins that are behind me are idols and statues that people in the past used to worship instead of Allah,” says the man. The camera pans across more sculptures. Some seem to have been recently damaged. The man continues, in voiceover: “The Assyrians, Akkadians, and others took for themselves gods of rain, of agriculture, and of war, and worshipped them along with Allah, and tried to appease them with all kinds of sacrifices.” It is unclear whether the ruined sculpture has recently lost its upper body or has looked that way for a long time. Archeological finds are always in different states of ruin; some forms of ruin are enacted by nature, some by men. Ruin is part of the aesthetic.

The man is some kind of spokesman for the Islamic State. He is standing at the Nergal gate, one of the gates on the northern side of the city of Nineveh, the oldest and most populous city of the long-gone Assyrian empire. The creature sculpted in stone is a Lamassu, a winged and bearded human-headed bull; it was meant to protect the city from destruction. It is almost 3000 years old, and though headless, still standing.

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Holy Land


Zionism excavates its secular justification from the Jerusalem dirt

Recent articles and analyses of Jerusalem’s ever-changing landscape have suggested that archaeological digs, sponsored by government agencies, are replacing state security apparatuses, substituting exhibits and visitors centers for walls, fences, and checkpoints. In the wake of the recent election that further solidifies Israel’s “same-same-but-different” policy—that is, the continuation of a legal state of exception for Jews and, for all intents and purposes, an apartheid system for Palestinians, African migrants, and other select minorities—it is necessary to consider how infrastructural and cultural mechanisms of control are shifting and deepening alongside such political retrenchment.

Archaeology as a face of settler-colonial projects, however, is not at all a new phenomenon—think of pith-helmeted British scientist-adventurers pillaging Egyptian tombs—and is hardly limited to making systems of population and territorial control in occupied Palestine look humanitarian and friendly. In exalting Jewish history above the city’s myriad layers of conquest and civilization, Jerusalem’s settler/archaeological organizations continue archaeology’s colonial legacy of shaping a history through faith in the “facts” legitimated by antiquities. The historical certainty embodied in antiquities is then projected in official state narratives, tourist sites and excursions, and, as is the case with projects like USA network’s popular mini-series Dig, to international audiences through media ventures. 

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Miracle on 214th Street


The instantaneous apparition of Polaroid images creates miraculous and apocalyptic visions

When the Polaroid SX-70 Land Camera debuted in 1972, it was the world’s first affordable and commercially available instant camera, and was hailed as a wonder. Ansel Adams called it, “an absolute miracle,” while a LIFE magazine cover devoted to inventor Edwin Land touted the SX-70 as a “Magic Camera.” The magic and miracle of the instant photograph was meant in an obviously secular sense: the dazzle of an innovative consumer product; an experience of a technology that the user does not understand.

But the instant camera also conjured a very different sort of miracle than the Polaroid Corporation intended. In a letter to the company, a devout Catholic wrote that he had taken a photograph during a vigil at a site where the Virgin Mary was believed to appear. The picture, which he enclosed, showed inexplicable streaks of light and blotches of color. The pilgrim believed he had captured a “miraculous Polaroid,” a divine message written in a code of distorted light. He asked the company whether it could provide a scientific explanation for the anomalous light patterns. Rather remarkably from the perspective of contemporary corporate communications, the camera’s inventor wrote back. Land said that he had no explanation for the image, adding, “So many things occur in our daily lives which have no explanation, and we wonder if this isn’t one of them.”

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