The Return of Religion
and Other Myths:
A Critical Reader in Contemporary Art

BAK (basis voor actuele kunst)
Utrecht, Netherlands

For this FSA Inspiration, we feature The Return of Religion and Other Myths: A Critical Reader in Contemporary Art (2009), a collection of anthologized writings compiled from the symposium On Post-Secularism (2009), and the exhibition The Art of Iconoclasm, curated by Sven Lütticken. These initiatives jointly explore “..the popular assumption of the return of religion to the field of contemporary art, the public sphere, present day politics, and the media in the West as a constitutive ‘myth’ of our current condition.”

 

We are drawn to the collection of essays in this book because it sources differing ideas from varying significant artists and critics of our times (Jan Assmann; Christina von Braun; Paul Chan; Boris Groys; Arnoud Holleman; Marc de Kesel; Kenan Malik; Maria Pask; Dieter Roelstraete; Jorinde Seijdel) around the subject of religion without arriving at any unified conclusion. We find the essay “In the Absence of a Horizon” particularly noteworthy: a transcribed conversation between art critic Boris Groys (The Total Art of Stalinism: Avant-Garde, Aesthetic Dictatorship and Beyond, 1988; On the New: An Attempt at Cultural Economy, 1992) and Maria Hlavajova, artist historian and director of BAK (basis voor actuele kunst, Utrecht).

We are drawn to the collection of essays in this book because it sources differing ideas from varying significant artists and critics of our times (Jan Assmann; Christina von Braun; Paul Chan; Boris Groys; Arnoud Holleman; Marc de Kesel; Kenan Malik; Maria Pask; Dieter Roelstraete; Jorinde Seijdel) around the subject of religion without arriving at any unified conclusion. We find the essay “In the Absence of a Horizon” particularly noteworthy: a transcribed conversation between art critic Boris Groys (The Total Art of Stalinism: Avant-Garde, Aesthetic Dictatorship and Beyond, 1988; On the New: An Attempt at Cultural Economy, 1992) and Maria Hlavajova, artist historian and director of BAK (basis voor actuele kunst, Utrecht).

In this exchange, Groys comments on the seismic economic shifts from 1989 onwards in how East and West were configured into economics, politics, and culture (i.e., communism and capitalism), and their subsequent impacts on global religion. He relates that major philosophical and socio-economic ideals conceived in the 1800s (such as liberalism; facism; communism) were realized, implemented, and abandoned by the twenty-first century. Positing two main arguments, Groys first asserts that the twenty-first century is in many ways a repetition of the 19th century without the grand narratives; second, he claims that this secular mode of organization has led society to lack orientation and perspective. This environment has fostered the possibility for religious fundamentalism, while concurrently opening up space to the possibility of practically anything – there is no horizon. Consequently, Groys sees the return of religion as sincere and real, not necessarily one of faith and belief, but rather the practice of something other than consumption. Art, he suggests, can be such a practice.

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