In the United States, Texas ranks second in number of churches and has two of the largest megachurches in the world. The state has a long history with Christianity, and so upon Carlos Castro Arias’ arrival to Texas, he visited the Missions in San Antonio, the painted churches in Schulenburg, and Lakewood Church, a Houston megachurch.
Castro has always been interested in churches and religion, and both have taken various forms in his work. His project at Artpace “I came to set the world on fire, and I wish it were already kindled”—Luke 12:49 is in response to the sheer number of churches (mega and otherwise) in Texas, and also the increase in attacks on churches across the state in the past ten years. During his residency and first time in Texas, the artist wanted to explore these concepts and contradictions.
In the Christian tradition, fire is viewed as a metaphor for pain, but also purification, a material that is considered simultaneously generative and destructive. Fire can also be seen as an allegory for emotional and psychological pain, for racing thoughts and recurring memories that exist within and consume the body and mind, but also have the potential to strengthen a person. Fire as a medium, as well as a referent, is the common denominator among almost all of the works in this exhibition. Whether it is the large wall drawing done in soot or the bullet-riddled rose window, fire is both ever-present and an invisible but powerful force. Dark, perforated images of sky and gothic church interiors, blown glass text containing human ashes, and a black figure viewing an image of a burning church are combined with a video featuring the reverberating voice of Houston pastor Joel Osteen. The exhibition does not perpetuate one agenda or another but impresses upon the viewer numerous conundrums: heaven or hell, annihilation or creation, local or global, corporeal versus spiritual revealing the existing tensions between religious fervor and intolerance.
Image credit: Charlie Kitchen