Paul Koudounaris’ Photos Of Human Skeletal Remains Adorned With Opulent Costumes, Precious Jewels

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The photographer Paul Koudounaris has made a name for himself by photographing the mysterious dead: mummies, skeletons, ossuaries.The enchanting subject of his recent project Heavenly Bodies are the never-before photographed relics of Europe’s Catholic churches, said to be the bones of Christian martyrs. At their discovery in 1578, these remains were taken from underground tombs and enthroned as objects of worship in place of earlier saintly relics ravaged by the Protestant Reformation.

The opulent adornments that surround the remains (i.e. wigs, gemstones, gold lace) reflect the decadence of the late Middle Ages, when churches ornamentation became more elaborate and extravagant. Dressed like royals, these saints suggest an afterlife filled with heavenly pleasures. Against rich, dark fabrics, the precious metals shine brilliantly; within a tight frame, Koudounaris shoots from below, simultaneously capturing the splendor up-close and elevating the sacred remains to a slightly higher plane.

Although he exalts his subjects in this way, Koudounaris’s images remain touchingly human; while some images capture gigantic, enthroned figures with the utmost deference, others focus on small, humble details. A gap where a tooth once sat or a clenched skeletal hand serves as a poignant memento mori, reminding viewers of the human deaths that happened long ago. The mysterious remains, of whom no one knows the full story, are seen ambiguously, both as a suggestion of an enraptured afterlife and a morbid recognition of mortality and decay. Take a look at the mesmerizing images below. Heavenly Bodies is available in print here. (via Colossal and Hyperallergic)

Banned Photographs Of Gay Couples Kissing In Catholic Churches

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For the series “Trialogo,” the Catholic photographer Gonzalo Orquin captured images of homosexual couples kissing in centuries-old Italian churches; beneath the ornate ceilings, the lovers’ embrace harmonizes with the architecture, elevating gay love to the religious beauty and devotion normally associated only with heterosexual marriages. By locating each shot within a religious and cultural context that has opposed marriage equality, Orquin courageously asserts the sacred validity of same-sex love.

The artist deliberately positions each pair at the church alter or in the center of the frame, visually uniting them under gilded crosses, vivid paintings of the crucifixion, and engravings of biblical passages. Like the churches themselves, architecturally built around the sacred concept of symmetry, the lovers are powerfully balanced, each assigned equal visual weight. Where one leans in for the kiss, the other braces to accommodate the movement. Heightening this notion of harmony and equilibrium, each couple is linked by similar clothing choices: two leather jackets, two dark suits, two soft cardigans.

Orquin’s lovers are seen as fully realized unit, unified under the Christian ideas of balance and wholeness. They complement and nurture one another as they bask in a golden glow, lit by radiant daylight steaming into the sacred spaces. Upon seeing these moving images, viewers might recognize the virtue and spiritual value that romantic love affords humanity, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.

Sadly, an exhibit of Orquin’s images, set to open last fall at the Galleria L’Opera, was legally threatened and ultimately shut down by the Vatican on the grounds that it was unconstitutional. In the eyes of the Catholic church, the photographs would “offend and infringe upon the advancement of man in the particular place for the expression of faith.” Orquin has articulated his outrage against the decision, and the work continues to spark passionate debate. What do you think? (via HuffPost)

Orquin’s beautiful photographs will be on display in New York’s at the Leslie+Lohman Museum this May.

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Gorgeously Creepy Chapel Made Of Thousands Of Human Bones

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human bones church

human bones church

human bones church

Though it might look like any other Polish chapel from the outside, the Kaplica Czaszek chapel sets itself apart: behind a humble pair of wooden doors, it contains the bones of thousands. After visiting shallow grave sites commemorating the fallen soldiers and civilians killed in the Silesian Wars, the Thirty Years’ War, plagues, and cholera, a local priest named Vaclav Tomasek collected and cleaned skeletal remains, embedding them in the chapel walls.

Constructed between 1776 and 1804, the building’s architecture stunningly deconstructs the human skeleton; skulls and leg bones are meticulously arranged over the ceilings and walls, while other bones are hidden behind a trapdoor and kept in a crypt. The repetitive patterns that emerge from a single human bone laid out a thousand times over serves to remind us of our connectedness; while each individual femur or cranium stands in for a deceased individual, it takes on a deeper, more universal meaning as part of this expertly-constructed whole.

Within this celebration of oneness, Tomasek set apart strange and unusual bones, placing them on the church altar. Alongside the skull of a mayor and the chapel founder, sits a skull morphed by syphilis, one of a rumored giant, and a few penetrated by bullets. In this way, the structure daringly elevates the macabre—and those who suffered from uncommon maladies—to the spiritual level of relics left behind by local religious and political leaders.

Within the context of the church and its representations of the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ, the remains offer a potent juxtaposition between the spiritual and the corporeal. Visitors cannot escape this powerful reminder of mortality, but if they so wish, they are poignantly invited to consider the possibility of salvation and eternal life. (via Lost at E Minor and Smithsonian Magazine)

Kirsten Stingle’s Gleefully Macabre Miniature Sculptures Will Leave You Breathless

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For her series of ceramic sculptures titled Shadow Circus, Kirsten Stingle draws upon her extensive training in the theater to create subtle narrative pieces. Incorporating found objects with her considerable technical ability, the artist summons dreamy stories through her command over gesture and shape; the blend of rusted objects and newly formed faces stands in for any physical movement normally employed to convey the passage of time.

Shadow Circus is evocative of miniature puppetry works like Alexander Calder’s legendary circus, where only the slightest details make the inanimate appear human. The narrative power of the circus lies of course in motion, which Calder once evoked with his pulleys and threads; Stingle impressively avoids the performative, and her painfully still works appear as if frozen, on the verge of animation.

In this way, each figure reveals itself like a funerary figure, meant to accompany not Cleopatra but the modern woman into her tomb, bringing with her objects useful in some imagined underworld: a machine-horse hybrid motorbike, a foreboding rowboat with wheels. The work’s religious iconography further realizes this thrust toward an otherworldly eternity; a Catholic-style papal mitre makes an appearance, surrounded by delicate symbols of the cross.

The artist also seems to pull from the work of women artists like Georgia O’Keeffe, combining fatalistic bleach white bone with the seductive prettiness of a pink rose, red lipstick, or a baby doll wearing pale bunny ears. Placed firmly within this feminine aesthetic, Shadow Circus is simultaneously blossoming and fertile and eerily disquieting; Stingle’s nuanced work appeals both to a fear of death and a hope for rebirth. Each piece, with its antique aesthetic and meticulously fashioned visage, is poignantly left eternally waiting for the movement and life that feels so inherent within her. (via Hi-Fructose)

Scott Dalton Photographs Of Mexican Faith Healers

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Scott Dalton

Scott Dalton, an award-winning photographer and filmmaker based in Houston, Texas documents the pilgrimage devoted to Mexican faith healer, Niño Fidencio, in Espinazo, Mexico.

Through the years in Mexican cultural history, Curanderos (Faith Healers) have served an important role in peoples’ medical and spiritual lives. In fact, many of these healers become celebrities, as their miraculous healing creates huge followings. In the early 20th century, El Niño Fidencio became one of the country’s most celebrated healers; today he is regarded as a folk saint by thousands of his devotees, or, as they call them, fidencistas.

In 2009, Dalton traveled to Espinazo to document the festivities devoted to El Niño Fidencio.

“What interested me in the project was just the idea of faith, and how it takes a variety of forms in peoples’ lives. This project just looks at one part of that, but I think it serves a reminder of how important faith is for so many people throughout the world, and how we all come to terms with our own belief system within the context of our own society and environment.”

Fidencistas believe that modern-day curanderos can channel the spirit of Fidencio; these photographs show many of the rituals provided by these modern day healers. To us this looks unusual, cinematic and surreal, but to them these ritualistic activities only mean their salvation. Dalton said he witnessed transformations, in which the eyes of curanderos would roll back and they’d assume a high-pitched voice- taking Fidencio’s spirit in order to heal. (via Slate)

Oil Paintings That Confront Playful Vapidness In The Wake Of Communism

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Teodora Axente is associated with the Cluj School, a group of Romanian artists making work after the 1989 Revolution, which ended Nicolae Ceausescu’s communist regime.

There is a dark sense of carousing in her work which examines the question of boredom in a secular world. Left to his or her own devices, Axente’s adult figures conjure up spirits or flights of whimsy in seemingly childlike ways, often seeking solace in shiny and tactile objects such as tinfoil, plastic wrap, or furs. However, translated to a non-secular world, each stroke Axente makes seem satirical or political, consciously examining religion or capitalism.

According to the artist, this dichotomy is the exact intention: “One of my concepts is to transform a real fact into a game . . . It is all about play from my perspective, the playfulness is more than a world of novelty in which everything happens and is reconstituted because of the freedom to act, to think.”

Houses of Worship Built With Weapons And Ammunition

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The stark sculptures of Al Farrow are jolting in their simplicity.  His Reliquaries series of sculptures are houses of worship and reliquaries (a container for holy relics) built from weapons and ammunition.  Stacks of bullets form walls, barrels form steeples, and muzzles form minarets.  Farrow’s artistic commentary on violence in connection with religion is a powerful one.  Using a provocative medium to create loaded imagery (seriously, pun not intended), Farrow’s work easily elicits strong responses from viewers.

Gilbert & George

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The work of Gilbert & George is as intricate as it is bizarre. Never holding back their views on politics, religion, or homosexuality, this work always manages to offend, or at least shock, someone.

 

Gilbert and George beautifully contradict their visual and conceptual visions. This combination of a style that mimics stain-glass windows found in churches collides with negative connotations about religion and conformity to create an image that gets you thinking.