A Fractious Embrace: Rethinking Ecclesiastical Encounters with Contemporary Art

Koestle-Cate, Jonathan. 2011. A Fractious Embrace: Rethinking Ecclesiastical Encounters with Contemporary Art. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

This thesis claims that in recent years a vibrant critical exchange between contemporary art and Christianity has been increasingly prompted through an accelerating programme of art installations and commissions for ecclesiastical spaces. Crucially, rather than a ‘religious art’ reflecting Christian ideology, as in an earlier age might have been expected, current practices frequently initiate interventions that question the values and traditions of the host space, or present objects and events that challenge its visual conventions. I will argue that this exchange offers potential for the mutual enrichment of both art and its sacred contexts, extending the limits of art and its value for the church. Inversely, I will allege that it has the negative potential to create new visual orthodoxies. In the light of these developments, the thesis asks, what are the conditions of possibility for art in ecclesiastical spaces, and how can these conditions be addressed? What viable language or strategies can be formulated to understand and enhance its role within the church? Focusing on concepts drawn from anthropology, comparative religion, art theory and twentieth-century philosophy, what this research attempts to formulate is a series of categories that develop an effective vocabulary with which to address the conditions for art projects now, and prospects for the future. The categories proposed are necessarily contingent, introduced as modes for thought rather than fixed conditions of experience, but with an aim to expand, as well as attempt to understand, the effective place for and experience of contemporary art in churches. The overarching theme is that of an encounter between contemporary artistic practices and media and ecclesiastical spaces, within a context in which art’s legitimacy continues to be contested at the same time that it is increasingly invited to take part in the life of the church.

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Thesis (Doctoral)

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Certain images in this thesis have been redacted due to copyright restrictions


Contemporary art; Christianity; Church of England; ecclesiastical; sacred; encounter; categories: conditions of possibility

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29 September 2011

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Date Deposited:

12 Mar 2012 16:42

Last Modified:

08 Sep 2022 08:30



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