The Body of Christ –– Religion and Performance

Written in September 2015. PERFORMANCE ART.

The body is a machine that needs constant maintenance to function. It is fragile; it declines as one ages. Death can happen anytime, even at your prime. This is why it is inevitable that some people seek transcendence and emancipation from the body through religion.

In religion the body is mainly seen as a vessel for spiritual power. Christianity’s ultimate symbol is the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, who is never seen with exposed genitalia, as it is always covered by clothing. His emaciated body, hanging on the cross with his hands and feet pierced by nails, does not suggest bodily vitality. In religion a vigorous body is not important. Instead, the body is only a station that its spirit will eventually depart. Thus it would be unorthodox for an artist to depict him with visible genital, which symbolizes vital energy and brings to mind sex, aggression and earthly functions.

Eucharist, a ritual derived from the Passion of Christ, denotes bread as Jesus’s body and wine as his blood. Jesus also talked about his body as a temple before he was crucified. These two ways used to describe his body indicate that in Christianity an ideal body is a container for the holy spirit, which could be passed down as bread to his disciples, or worshipped as a temple.

To illuminate this point, Corpus, a bronze statue of the Crucifixion by Gian Lorenzo Bernini in AGO, is a good example. “Corpus” means body. In this work the absence of a cross behind Jesus Christ causes the viewer to focus more on his body, which therefore also symbolizes the human body. The internal image of this body mirrors the spiritual passage one must take to achieve eternal life. What a Christian or viewer sees through this body is not living organs but a high being that rises above physical limitations and suffering. The external image of this body is on the verge of disappearance, with a starving-thin figure and hollowed ribcage, suggesting a bearing of outside aggression. It is immobile and a mere container of the saint, hence it becomes immortal. The body will wither away in the end; however, the spirit will transcend.

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