Dialling up the “wow” factor, that’s the aim.
A great wave is washing over the art world across the globe, a wave that submerges everything, a wave of immersive installations.
From the Japanese Team Lab collective to veteran Japanese Pop artist Yayoi Kusama and her “Infinity Mirror Room”, the use of lights, colours, reflections and moving images is all designed to encourage viewers to empty their minds and emit blissful ‘oh!’s and ‘ah!’s. This makes it impossible to decide whether the artistic offerings are really of any relevance: the brain is busy elsewhere, submerged.
Victorian time machine
Fortunately there is another kind of immersive art, one that is subtle, sensitive and indeed relevant.
In London you can currently visit an exceptional example of this type.
This total work of art, designed to run for six months up until 31 March, is called “The Oscar Wilde Temple” and occupies the entirety of the Studio Voltaire in Clapham.
It is the brainchild of artists McDermott & McGough.
David McDermott (born in 1952) and Peter McGough (born in 1958) have been working collaboratively since 1980. The creative principle of these New Yorkers consists of constructing a time machine to take us back to the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. They say they are fabricating their own queer vision of the past, using homoerotic Victorian imagery.
New stations of the cross
Studio Voltaire belongs to a non-profit organization that displays contemporary art.
The irony is that it is located in a former Victorian chapel. So it is here, after New York, that McDermott & McGough decided to set up their new religion in honour of the LGBT community.
In a charming setting with very Liberty-esque floral wallpaper in shades of blue-green, they have installed 50 artworks in the heart of the temple, where anyone can organize their own ceremony.
These works feature martyrs to the homosexual cause and “those lost to the AIDS crisis”. It has all been designed for a ritual surrounding Oscar Wilde, the man who once said himself that “the only duty we owe history is to rewrite it”.
This is a rewriting of the Catholic religion.
There are, for example, thirteen reimagined stations of the cross, illustrated on thirteen canvases and inspired by “The Ballad of Reading Gaol”, written by Oscar Wilde in 1897.
A beautiful bell is used for celebrations.
As Peter McGough explains: “I’ve studied many religions and none of them accept the LGBT community.
So I decided I would go and start a religion for people who had been exiled from other religions. I wanted to recall the memories of these people who had died for being themselves.
And who else to choose to be god but Oscar Wilde? I created this place so that people would feel safe. They can get married here, for instance, right under the statue of Oscar Wilde.”
Watch Peter McGough take a tour of this new place of worship:
God and Oscar
Alison Gingeras is the curator of the exhibition. While McDermott & McGough’s work consists of taking us on a journey through time, according to her “we know full well that their message is also political”.
She comments on the different artworks presented in the exhibition, like the canvas made up of words and exhibited at the Whitney Biennial in 1987, which uses a code invented before the war designed to enable gay men to find one another.
“It’s very moving to have conceived this project in London, where Oscar Wilde was killed.”
McDermott & McGough’s deity wrote a perfect phrase to conclude a sanctified subject at The Oscar Wilde Temple:
“One half of the world does not believe in God and the other half does not believe in me.”
Until 31 March. www.oscarwildetemple.org
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