To explore religion is to explore the consciousness of our fragile humanity and our enduring desire to create meaning out of meaninglessness. E. Hoffman suggests “the structure of belief, no matter what its content, provides a sort of psychic containment for the unruliness of emotional life”. I am interested in ritual as the manifestation of this structure, as the threshold between internal-external, sacred-secular, and have been exploring the idea of its practice as performative social behaviour. Faith’s Repertoire documents worshippers’ enactments of prayer rituals, through several related sequences straddling the borders of photography and performance.
In breaking down what is normally seen as one fluid gesture, the sequences echo Muybridge’s ‘Motion Studies’. However, where Muybridge used photography to resolve meaning, this work alludes to the unsettled nature of meaning in both the ritual act and its photographic representation. The cross is a symbol so familiar, so embedded in our minds it becomes detached from the figure performing it. Yet through deconstruction, the ritual becomes momentarily unfamiliar, relying on the viewer’s gaze for re-animation. In this process, our relation to it shifts, and the gesture is returned to the individual embodying it. In sequence #1, the woman’s growing distress becomes an inexplicable narrative defining her performance. We don’t know its source, yet our interpretation is informed by conventions of understanding. She is both individual and mythical ‘Mourning Mother’, an embodiment of loss made familiar through echoes of other mourning mothers in recent history, and the original mourning mother of this ritual’s genesis.
The sequences suggest the transformative effects of ritual, but situate catharsis and anxiety on an equal axis of possibility. Meaning remains elusive, so we dig for shards amongst the proffered clues of vision and interpretation.