Submission No. 9

Floating Church, Mel Day

Floating Church, by Mel Day. Photo by Jeffrey Cross, 2010.

Floating Church.

What strikes me as funny here is that the Church is what is heavy, what is irredeemably earth-bound.

Churches do many things. They don’t float.

The Church is what is laden with gold leaf and marble and stained wood and red velvet. It is what is ordered and non-natural, full of centuries of portent and planing (the Corinthian columns, the arches, the angels, the black ironwork gate that says “Keep out! You have not been called to this calling as we have!).

The painting (or is it a fresco?) of the supercilious Jesus of the Last Supper, feasting and fretting and offering casually cruel predictions about his friends; the candleholders; the stunning green and coppery, inlaid, floral pattern at center — everything speaks to money, bargaining, betrayal, transactions, tradition, privilege.

It’s all anything but aloft.

In fact it is so heavy one wonders how anybody bears the stifling atmosphere. How do people congregate here at all? (Though, surely, depressingly, they do.)

But then… floating, a girl. A woman? She looks ready for combat, in black boots, black leggings, black hair concealing her face. She wears an insanely yellow raincoat. Her hands are strong, with pronounced bones, and a few rings on her fingers. She is concealing her face as if to deny us access. She is available and not available. Hanging in space. Floating halfway known, halfway strange.

She is not floating in terms of the physical description of her state: of course she is staining to hold herself up. We can even imagine the muscles of her stomach burning. Her arms beginning to shake. The blood rushing to her face, her cheeks, behind her eyes. But she is floating nevertheless, in the space in between us trying to understand her presence in this photograph — and failing to do so.

Is she complicit with the church surrounding her? Is she breaking it apart, pressing the two sides with the soles of her boots and the palms of her hands? Is she surrendering to it? Or, to the contrary, is she attempting to defy gravity, defy all ordinary, tradition-bound regulations and expectations? We cannot know.

What begins to draw our eyes, however, is the shadow beneath her. It is misshapen: a grotesquerie of a person’s form. Stick legs in a V shape protrude from the torso, which bulges out horrifically. Is it pregnant? Is it sick? Is it obese and torpid, a living product of deadly Biblical sins like sloth and avarice and lasciviousness? Why are its arms so short?

This shadow is looking back at our yellow floating woman, like an evil doppelgänger, like a demon, like a counterpart.  It belongs in a church, just as surely as she doesn’t.

If you draw back you will see that the entire photograph contains the face of a God-like apparition, mocking this yellow raincoated woman with His two small dark eyes. He smiles faintly with His shadow mouth. He is focussed entirely on her, this vulnerable, faintly ridiculous human being, pretending to float, making art when nobody else is around.

Adding anything at all unexpected to the atmosphere of a church improves it. This is a fine addition.

We may imagine that Jesus would have told her she was wasting His time as He walked around dispensing allegorical wisdom to the unthinking masses. We may imagine her saying in response: “I’m not hearing you, young man in the sandals with the maniacal glint in your eye. I am floating. You can’t catch me now, and you never will.”

“But to enter the Kingdom of Heaven…” He continues.

“Talk to my shadow. The two of you will have a grand time. I have already gone.”

About Tom Clyde

The best place to learn about me is to read my riffs. What could be more revealing? Cheeky, maybe, but true enough.

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