The New Temple

Ideas surrounding this work are the impact of consumerism on the planet and the nexus of affluence, waste and environmental degradation. Joined with these are references to the loss of the spiritual due to the ascendancy of the material; and with the new search for some form of spirituality in both recent society, with the resurgence of Paganism, evangelical Christianity, and Occultism (amongst others), and in some contemporary scientific thought.

Symbols of mediaeval Christianity and contemporary technology were used to represent beliefs. This was to relate ideas around the millennium to history, to connect a hegemonic belief system like mediaeval Christianity with modern beliefs and values such as rationalism, our faith in science and technology, capitalism, materialism, and consumerism. The reference to history suggesting the transience and mutability of beliefs/values.

This was also a reference to millenarian scenarios repeating in different contexts. The expected Apocalypse of the tenth century set against the anxieties of the late twentieth century, the threat of nuclear Armageddon and ecological catastrophe.

The New Temple is a series of assemblages constructed of found plastic objects and plastic refuse attached to the skeletal steel remains of old inner-spring mattresses, these being stuffed with white plastic shopping bags. They consciously echo the structural format of traditional easel paintings – specifically acrylic paintings – and, in so doing, subtly parody the often wasteful and ecologically insensitive aspects of that cultural convention. When I began to make this work, it was with the idea that plastic waste and acrylic paint are essentially the same substance, being both products of the petrochemical industry. I therefore decided to use discarded plastic objects and fragments as the ‘paint’, to both reduce the need for the production of more plastic in the form of acrylic paint, and as a way of recycling some of my own plastic waste. The steel remains of the innerspring mattresses represent the traditional painting ‘support’, while the white plastic shopping bags represent the white ‘ground’, associated with the tradition of painting.

Another layer of meaning was implied in these works however, since when backlit with fluorescent lights they also represent the stained-glass windows of churches.

Theoretically The New Temple connected with the ideas of Umberto Eco, comparing aspects of the mediaeval with the postmodern, and Jean Baudrillard’s and others’ critiques of both consumption and the millennium. The ideas of David Bohm and Brian Swimme and their concerns with the ethical and spiritual requirements for a new science being relevant; as was the implicit theology of social and ecological responsibility in the writings of Paul Collins and Thomas Berry.

This work, about the relationship between humanity and the other parts of the natural world, was also about researching ecologically sustainable artmaking practices. In it I was proposing alternatives to ecologically insensitive art practices and materials.

The first was to use waste as a basic material. This having the effect of lessening the need for the production of often-toxic art materials and highlighting the vast quantities of waste we all produce all the time. This involved using plastic ‘waste’ as a resource, since only a small proportion of plastic is actually recycled.

The second part of a solution was a simple one that involved the collection or removal of plastic litter from the environment and so reduce waste to landfills.

The joining of the material with the sacred was to suggest that material gratification has become sacred, it is contemporary society’s orthodoxy — poverty is heresy. In this work I was interested in using the material, and the materialism of consumer culture as a way of suggesting the immaterial, or as a means of reaching something deeper, not religion, possibly spirituality, certainly a sense of connection with other creatures and with the Earth itself.

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