Michael Bishop on Chris Christion’s “The Right of Chastisement: Punish the Body and Correct the Soul” (2014).
At the exhibit “Biomythography: Secret Poetry and Hidden Angers” at Claremont Graduate University, many of the installation pieces gesture towards identity influenced by many forces such as culture, religion, language, and media. These influences make sense because the genre of biomythography is fraught with tensions of identity. Some of the tensions are easily identifiable in some of the installation pieces.
In Chris Christion’s “The Right of Chastisement: Punish the Body and Correct the Soul” (2014), he uses mixed media, along with a replica of a pew with a window to represent the Catholic confessional scene. This scene would be familiar to any Catholic. Using the confessional scene as a formative aspect of identity connects back to the work’s title. The title, perhaps, also alludes to Michel Foucault’s seminal work Discipline and Punish. This allusion and obvious reference to Catholic chastisement would make sense since one of the formative aspects of Catholicism is the confessional process that not only disciplines the body through kneeling during the confession but the soul through an act of expiation. But this process is all done anonymously behind a window in front of a caged box in a church, where all is confessed and absolved, hopefully, for the soul. What I found interesting is Christion’s use of media and replication of the confessional scene. Here is a cross-section of the confessional box but with a double sided pew, one on each side. None of this is hidden from view. In this confessional scene, a video behind the caged window is playing the biographical film by Ed Harris about Jackson Pollock; on the other side, another video screen is playing something different; it’s a negative exposure of a film but what it is of is not clear. It appears that someone is punishing someone else. On each screen is a large swath of red that evokes the marking of censorship.
Christion’s use of media to represent the psychic apparatus is central to his concept of discipline and punish here. Both videos with their large, wide strips of red suggest censorship is part of the chastisement process, and this corrective is inscribed on both the biographical film as reality and the negative video as the unconscious. As such, this piece has a menacing quality to it because both videos replay the same clip over and over; perhaps these clips correspond to the critical moments that fused conscious life with the unconscious. If we view these videos as extensions of the psychic apparatus, then a metaphysical presence of religion and identity, past and present, emerges with the medium of video as if these videos are part and parcel of the message. This replication of life through an installation piece has an aura that is both timeless and timely. This could very well be an instance of art redeeming a truth of the past, a piece of the past in order to reactivate older potentials of perception—of memory as trauma—that would enable the viewer to engage productively, at a sensorial and collective level, with forms of self-alienation and the impossibility of being individual.