In the 1700s, Bernini’s sculpture “The Ecstasy of St. Theresa” stirred up controversy because the titular character appeared to be in the throes of sexual — possibly masturbatory — passion and not the cherubic consort suggested by the title.
Perhaps those 18th-century art critics were onto something with all that back-and-forth about beatification and boinking. Sex and religion, in fact, are an on-again, off-again couple as old as the hills.
One examination of the much-discussed relationship occurred last weekend, during the Institute of Sacred Music’s “Sex and Religion in Migration” conference. Professors, theologians and envelope-pushing artists lectured at and attended the three-day affair.
Albanian-born artist Adrian Paci’s exhibit “Home to Go” provided the cornerstone for the dialogue. The show, which kicked off with a reception for the artist last Friday, is a photographic exhibition and video installation.
Unfortunately, consulting Paci’s photographs for answers in the sex/religion debate is about as informative as consulting the latest issue of Cosmopolitan in search of philosophical enlightenment.
Consisting of a series of nine larger-than-life mounted photographs, the major obstacle of “Home to Go” is the gawky uncomfortableness of it all. The photographs, measuring about five feet diagonally, each feature Paci, clad in an odd hybrid between a loincloth and a Pampers.
In such a costume, Paci assumes postures similar to those in that ubiquitous diagram of the evolution of species from Neanderthal to man. Similarly hairy, the artist/model bears an upturned, shingled roof plate on his back, held in place by a sturdy rope.
In other photos in the series, Paci perches atop a random roof, crotch skyward, gazing steadfastly at the camera with a vaguely startled expression.
The creator alleges the found objects he includes in his tableaux possess religious significance, and catchphrases such as “altar of sacrifice” and “crucifix-like rooftop” were being bandied about at last Friday’s reception.
“When you remove the roof from its original position, the meaning moves as well,” Paci said. “It becomes wings or a cross.”
But though Paci’s photos are certainly arresting, the exhibit runs the risk of bypassing striking imagery and cruising straight into hackneyed territory. The artist’s befuddled, pseudo-soulful expressions in the photographs are all but guffaw fodder; the clumsiness of the poses are causes for mere solemn nods of disdain.
In the video that accompanies the exhibit, entitled “Vajtojca” (“weeper” in Albanian), a black-clad woman intones traditional songs and prayers of mourning over a prostrate Paci. The video lasts several minutes and features minimalist directing, low lighting and none of the distractions provided by flashy costumes or showy set design. “Vajtojca,” stripped as it is of bells and whistles, is the kind of film one might encounter at a tremendously inclusive experimental film festival. Paci handles the task of playing dead with great aplomb, barely moving during the entire performance.
To be sure, the motivations behind Paci’s photographic series and mourning video are impressively creative. It is in the cocksure execution, though, that the project loses focus, becomes bloated and makes a one-way trip to ludicrous.
When questioned about his beliefs on the relationship between sex and religion, Paci appeared confused and failed to supply an explanation for his art’s role in the debate.
Admittedly, Paci wears few clothes in the “Home to Go” series. And, if certain verbal liberties were taken, the artist’s mock-intense gazes into the camera could perhaps be labeled “bedroom eyes.”
Short of that, links between the exhibit and purported theme seem lacking. Paci’s images may be memorable or even provocative, but unlike red lipstick or crosses, his works fail to evoke substantial thoughts regarding either sex or religion.
While not wholly impotent, they are devoid of holy merit.