Interfaith Center 2006
In his latest installation of sculptures, drawings and video, Eric Heist continues his exploration concerning the impact of institutions upon individuals. Utilizing crude approximations of stained glass panels, pews, and a pulpit, “Interfaith Center” presents altered paraphernalia of a place of worship to make specific, personal observations on the nature of belief.
The windows are constructed of colored paper and felt, bearing a resemblance to inexpensive instructional bulletin boards from elementary school. Tacked upon them are a large number of quotations concerning religious thought. Divided into three arched windows and one round rose window, the quotes are arranged into categories of “critics”, “believers”, “extremists”, and “unifiers”. Contributors include Marx, Lenin, Bakunin, members of a fundamentalist church, members of Al Qaeda, members and leaders of cults in the US, Christ, Martin Luther King Jr, and many others. Each panel represents a body of thought concerning the question of faith, the windows/bulletin boards functioning as organizing icons for the mass of conflicting proclamations.
The benches are shortened versions of church pews, allowing a single occupant. Providing counterpoint to the windows that they face, these provide a more introspective, personal space for meditation. As a spectator, however, the viewer overlooks the diorama that is displayed beneath them. Three fluorescent-lit miniature landscapes display materials of particular significance- a pile of veneered particleboard, a pile of broken cinder blocks, and a crushed mirrored ball. These refer to quotes of Christ that are included in the rose window panel- “I am the light before all things. Split a piece of wood and I am there; lift up a stone and you will find me” and “The kingdom is spread out upon the earth and people do not see it. It is within you”. These suggest a radical message even today- that we do not need the very institutions that claim to act in his name. The choice of construction materials suggests that in the contemporary world the presence of God is both constant and inescapable.
The centerpiece of Interfaith Center is a double-tiered pulpit that looks down upon the viewer. First appearing empty, as the viewer looks behind the base he/she discovers a figure huddled in a blanket. Titled “Artist Talk” the piece comments upon the artists’ unwillingness to articulate contemporary issues directly in their work while often treating art practice as a kind of substitute religion.
Also included is a video titled “Interfaith Center: Q&A Forum”. Combining excerpts of sermons by TV evangelists including John Hagee, Neil Ellis, Ron Carpenter, Benny Hinn, Joyce Meyer and others, the piece begins with a number of questions relating to correct behavior (“How can we tell the difference between what is good and what is bad? Is alcohol good or bad?). These questions become more specific, related to personal wealth and health issues, combined with forceful exclamations, commanding the audience to “Choose Life!”, “I command your body to function normally!” for instance, and offers rewards such as “financial freedom” and miraculous cures based on faith and good behavior. Images of individuals and massive audiences in mega-churches draw attention to the power of these charismatic speakers upon us as both individuals and in groups.
A set of delicate drawings in pencil on paper depict collapsed churches, ruins, and churches under construction, suggestive of a less dogmatic, more flexible approach to faith. Gouaches on paper depict mega-church interiors and the Crystal Cathedral in Orange, California. More forcefully rendered with hard-edged lines and vivid color, these present a more rigid, institutionalized approach to faith, one that commands and is intolerant of questioning.