Art, religion and shock

Paul Fryer’s Peita, installed in a cathedral in the French town of Gap has been raising a few eyebrows among church goers. It  shows Christ Electocuted, arms semaphored, looking much like a victim of Abu Ghraib. Parishoners have protested, say repoorts. The statue has been robustly defended by the Cathedral’s Bishop Jean-Michel di Falco;

“The scandal is not where one believes it to be. I wanted the provoked shock to make us once again conscious of the scandal of someone being nailed to a cross. “Usually, one does not feel any real emotions in front of something really scandalous: the Crucifixion. If Jesus had been sentenced today, he would have to reckon with the electric chair or other barbaric methods of execution. Scandalous is therefore not Jesus in the electric chair, but the indifference to his crucifixion.”

Enterprisingly, Paul Fryer’s local paper the Waltham Forest Guardian jumped at the chance of a local angle: “LEYTON: Christ Sculpture Provokes Fury”. But to be fair, it also snagged an interview with the artist in which he expresses gratitude for di Falco’s defense.

Mr Fryer said he was pleased to have the support of the bishop, because his intention behind the piece, which is no larger than a small child and is made of waxwork and human hair, was to evoke pity for someone being persecuted by another.

Mr Fryer said: “The meaning is open to interpretation. But the original meaning of the Latin word Pieta is pity. To take pity is a crucial part of living, human beings taken pity others.

“Today people might be electrocuted or given the lethal injection, but it is all the same thing, someone ending another person’s life.

Art 21 | Blog ran a thread recently called What’s So Shocking About Contemporary Art which wondered if art could shock any more. Clearly it can, but I doubt if it did in this case, whatever the papers say. This isn’t exactly Piss Christ; it’s a work that blurs the line between the historically sacred and the contemporaneously secular, and doesn’t contain much that could possibly shock the modern European’s sense of religion, however devout. The shocking part, as the Bishop points out, is that the electric chair is still at use in the modern world. I wonder if any of the good citzens of Gap were actually shocked by Paul Fryer’s work. I somehow doubt it. This looks much like a French slow news day story.

Photo by Sjoren ten Kate

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