Now I Gotta Religion: Steven Ounanian

Jessica Lack

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How is Christianity evolving in the twenty-first Century? Over the past few weeks, artist Steven Ounanian has been talking to the public and religious organisations about the role of Christianity in an increasingly secular and technologically sophisticated society. Can it adapt or is it time to design a new religion for the not so distant future? Below Ounanian outlines six thoughts on the state of human wisdom and despair, and the possibilities for a new way of being. Ounanian’s project will culminate with a blessing in the gallery space on Thursday 22 November between 2-3pm by the Eastern Orthodox Priest Alexander Tefft.

1. Labour as way of self-understanding vs. an aid to consuming

Behind the creation of a hand-made object is a need for catharsis. It is a desire for knowledge by doing, making, and participating in something. This activity is at odds with advancements in technology that seem to disconnect humans from the form and content, from what they are (as incarnate human beings) and what they make.

2. Consuming as a distraction from the turmoil of our inner state

When we are disconnected and discontent we notice that design and art tend to focus on entertainment, consumption, and distraction, rather than problem solving, beauty and joy. Transformation and change causes nothing but anxiety in a social system that doesn’t facilitate it.

3. The design of an inner life (the idea of an ‘inner life’ pre-supposes there is a soul) as the subject of religion

Religious people can be irritating, patriarchal bigots, who are incapable of creative output beyond their own community. Some are simply religious because it provides a moral structure to their lives, without them having to invest too much thought in the process. They will fight anything that causes them cognitive-disorder.

On the other hand, I’ve been to Mount Athos and met monks who use their religion as a way of keeping the spirit of discontent alive. I have met priests who never lost the revolutionary verve of 1968 and joined a religious order so that their protests could not be consumed by the culture machine, which turns protest into saleable commodities, entertainment, or an advertising aesthetic.

Here in England you can visit the Monastery of Saint John the Baptist in Essex where a thriving cooperative exists completely self-sufficiently using modern farming techniques. It is important to study these examples when embarking on a utopian community experiment.

4. Technological research as a type of theology

Let’s look at our tools in another way, perhaps microchip manufacture, biotechnology, cabinetmaking, and even cobbling, can be seen as research into the nature of this world, it is the study of ultimate reality, and thus it is theology. This text is taken from a film I made (Ritual Ride: a 1000 mile Bicycle Pilgrimage) which included an interview with the artist Pim Conradi, who lives in Peckham in a series of ‘orbidesic domes’ (similar to Fuller’s geodesic dome, but of his own design) installed within themselves like a Russian doll. Pim is over 60 years old and seems to be living out his design proposals.

5. The Soul as the Source of Art:

‘“The heart is deep,” said St. Isaac the Syrian. The soul is inexhaustible because the human being is created in the image and likeness of God. We know from experience however, that the soul is the part of us that thinks, feels, imagines, and moves the body. It is invisible and thus not limited to the senses. It survives the death of the body, but the soul is not the spirit, or nous, which is the part of us that communicates with God. Thus, the soul is the source of art, not faith. They meet in the soul but originate separately.’ Father Alexander Tefft.

6. An important non sequitur: the not too distant future

A future with less religion will generate a people who see technology as the solution to the problems of an inner emotional life. If this happens we can imagine a series of hybrid futures.

For instance, it might be logical to imagine Christ will come back as some kind of technology rather than in human form. The body is losing its importance as a tool for labour and understanding. Why would Christ choose an outdated and slow moving vessel of communication when he could come back as an industrial glass manufacturing plant, or as the Internet? This idea is not new, it is a variation of what Ray Kurzweil outlined in his book ‘Spiritual Machines’.

‘Moors Law’ below, explains the exponential advancement of computing power in the fifth paradigm of microprocessors, the sixth paradigm (molecular machines) is predicted to provide the computational solutions for greed and despair.