A new body of work began with a conversation about what to do with an unwanted Bible. Objects such as the Torah or American Flag are both ritually burned when they are retired. But there is no such prescribed ritual in the Christian tradition for a Bible. At the time of the conversation, several people gifted me with Bibles that were either undesirable translations, or perhaps belonged to a family member now departed with the understanding that I would respectfully create something out of them. The Bibles sat on a shelf for several years as I thought about how I might work with them. During that time, I worked through some of my internal resistance to taking one apart.
Growing up, books were not to be desecrated, period. The content was irrelevant, though some leeway was given for paperbacks as they were less durable. Even so, my early relationship with books made me hesitant. Bibles are different. Culturally there a tendency to treat them with a more respect. For example, some folk I know were taught that if you had a stack of books the Bible had to be on top. Even some of my atheist and agnostic friends have admitted that the idea of just throwing or recycling the book gives them pause, despite having no affiliation with the faith. Some of the resistance may have more to do with the relationships connected to that specific Bible.
Separating the relationship with the individual physical object the content and the relationship with the content is important. I do not worship the physical object that is a Bible. To do so would make it into an idol. The Bible is not the body of Christ. Injury to the book will not hurt or impact God. My relationship with the content is what matters. For me that relationship is complicated and perhaps that is part of why I am compelled to do this work. It is not about rejection or defiance of the text but an honest respectful engagement.
One question that I have encountered from folk of faith is why would you get rid of a Bible? Here in my studio, there are twenty-two. Ten are King James, New Revised Standard comes in second with six volumes. Keeping one of each translation, and of the special illustrated editions, and the ones with sentimental value makes sense but what about the rest of them? I have come to the conclusion that to deconstruct, recycle or transform them is an honorable option.
A Question of Interpretation was an experiment not only in technique but in thinking deeply about my relationship to the physical object that is a Bible. Any action taken in creating the work could potentially be read as a metaphor for that relationship. For example, early in the process, the large rounded form was not stable enough to hold its shape. I considered creating buttresses to prop up it up from the inside, but then wondered what it meant to be propping up the ideas in the Bible. As the piece progressed this internal dialogue was a key part of the development of the piece.
Because this particular Bible originally belonged to a New Testament scholar I began the process with Paul and worked through the New Testament (visible on the interior) and continued to the prophets. The remainder of the Bible makes up the base with the exception of the Psalms which fan out in curving latices.
As a work of art, this particular piece is not one of my favorites. It is however important to share as an important step in the development of the work that follows.