Whenever I meet people who are begging for scraps, I tend to see them as the mendicant monks (monks living on alms) of our time - maybe we should start asking them to pray for us after we have given them some coins for beer or dope or a place to sleep. These men and women know what it is to endure hardship, to suffer. Not all, but some of them do it because they see no other way. A so called 'normal live' does not fit into their believe system. And to them their believe system is the most important thing they have. I think it is about time we start to acknowledge that they are trying to become holy men and women. I think it would be fitting.
Most of the times those people are living that kind of live against their will. But there are also people who choose to step outside of the grandeur the western world has to offer, and they try to create their own place of refuge with their own rules. And not always by begging for scraps either.
I see this as a part of a long standing european tradition that I have labeled ‘Standing outside looking in,’ shared by diverse groups like mysticists, the romantic poets and punks. Among others. These people are searching for a better world and experiment with it by trying to bring a new way of life into praxis. Sometimes these experiments are seen as a positive change and will result in broad acceptance -like the work of the fighters for freedom of religion, gay-rights and women's-liberation. These rights are then incorporated in our set of basic human rights and we are willing to defend those rights against the people who live outside, on the other side of our boundaries. And the people we deem fit to start living inside the European boundaries coming from outside, have to accept those rules.
When we look at these experimenters like this, they might be called the prophets of what the western world is to become. Sometimes these people are honored for it - some during their lives and for a few this recognition comes long after they have died a violent death for what they believed in. We celebrate their way of thinking, their mindset, in movies, statues, political pamphlets and children’s books.
Europe has a rather difficult relation with these people - some are seen as great artists or thinkers, that is true, but only if they are seen as successful. A small group will be marked ‘memorable but insane’ - and might be considered the failed experiments, but not always, time will tell. But most of them you will never see or hear about, and they will be forgotten.
People outside of the norm have been a strong driving force towards the improvement of our society - if not in every society. But at first they are very often spit upon, beat up and sometimes killed. And then -after a while- we slowly accept it. And then we say: 'Yes of course it is OK to be (x), yes of course there should be equal rights for all, why not be friendly to people for a change, lets build those people a monument because we have treated them so bad in the past.'
But still this live of experimentation -‘Aussteiger’ as the Germans call it- is not seen as a live of devotion, what it is in my eyes. At most it will be accepted as a right of passage from youth to adulthood, but as you grow older you are expected to grow out of it. True it can be worse and it has been way worse in the past.
In my opinion people who try to point us in another direction should be rewarded for their efforts. However, in our modern society we no longer honor our outcasts as the saints they used to be in earlier times, as described in anthropological works like 'The Golden Bough' by sir J.G. Frazer. Our society has changed. What used to live in churches /temples can now also be experienced while dancing to a thumping beat. Too bad being an outcast is just seen as a live-style that is at its best an inspiration for our latest fashion choices.
My works are in part dedicated to the people who dare to think ahead. The reason why I decided to use a religious theme for that is that most slogans coming from previous generations trying to make the world a better place, have been turned into marking slogans ('Be yourself today, buy brand X'). Everything marketing touches, is transformed into something meaningless. See Bill Hicks on Marketing for the way that works.
The religious sphere is is probably the only aspect of our lives that has not been tainted by marketing. Therefor I create religious themed art. There is nothing else left to do but that. But don't be fooled: I have never prayed in real live, and when I visit a church it is to admire the beauty of it.
For a while I was obsessed with a story coming from the research done by J.G. Frazer (one of the of the founding fathers of the study of anthropology) that can be found in a book called 'The Golden Bough':
“A register of al the incarnate gods in the Chinese Empire is kept in the Li Fan Yüan or Colonial Office at Peking. The number of gods who have thus taken out a license is one hundred and sixty. Tibet is blessed with thirty of them, Northern Mongolia rejoices in nineteen and Southern Mongolia basks in the sunshine of no less than fifty-seven. The Chinese government with a paternal solicitude for the welfare of its subjects, forbids the gods on the register to be reborn anywhere but in Tibet.”
Based on the time of publication of the book this must have existed around the end of the 19th century. But even then: how on earth did humans do that? Why oh why do you create a bureaucracy for gods who are supposedly living in our midst? It beats me. Even Kafka - or even Terry Gilliam for that matter - could not have envisioned something that. Live truly is stranger than fiction.
I have been raised an atheist – my family was atheist for at least 3 generations. Maybe that is why it is so hard for me to grasp this.