Friday 3 November 2017

Beginning with 'The End': Representations of Apocalypse and the Inauguration of 'Catholicism and the Arts'

Last night, we began with 'The End.'

Samuel Beckett's stage set for Endgame 

Charles Sim's A Crowd of Small Souls in Flame

Speakers Tom Bromwell (University of York, History of Art) and Erik Tonning (Norwegian Study Centre), it could be said, have quite literally 'set the stage' for subsequent Catholicism and the Arts York seminars! To the question, 'How to represent "The End"?', the presenters each brought forward examples different not only in material and nature but in historical origin; and yet, together they spoke with extraordinary resonance on the complex issue of 'ends' that artist Charles Sims and playwright Samuel Beckett respectively confronted with the intertwined language of art and religion.  Bromwell explained that, for Sims, his later freshly abstracted work was a dramatic break with his previous, sublimely fantastical work on fairies; only shortly before his own suicide, it represented his coming-to-terms with the Catholic faith he had converted to during the Great War and his consequent ideas of life beyond life - a fragmentation of the conventional 'academic' representation he had pursued earlier in his career.  Tonning recounted the drama of Beckett's Endgame, exemplary not only for its use of the theological language the playwright deployed in other plays, but for the 'eschatological ambiguity' that made direct references to the Apocalypse in its (failed) attempts to create an ultimate ending for the world.  Ultimately, the presentations, so vastly different, underlined this sense of the "not yet" that Tonning spoke of in Beckett's continuously unfinished game of endings; that, in Sim's work, was reflected in the stark abstraction contrasting his earlier career, that violently opened the way for a purgatorial Last Judgement that is at once glimpsed and shrouded behind the fragmented forms of the body and flames of highly material, and yet highly incomprehensible, colour. 

I believe this "not yet" poses yet more questions: questions that grow larger and wind deeper into the very heart of our world and our faith; stimulating explorations, representations and yet more questions as the cultural arts continually intersect with the lived religion of Catholicism through and over ages.  This "not yet" will therefore be only the beginning of the questions we seek to pose and - if not to directly answer - to complicate and ponder over the course of this seminar series.  We hope to see you, to hear your own questions and contributions, soon in the next panel discussion. Watch this space for updates!

-Katherine Hinzman

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