I first studied reliquaries from the standpoint of Art History, and since then the concept consistently pops up in my artwork. They are fascinating vessels, elaborately decorated with gold and gemstones to house objects of supposed religious significance (like the remains of saints, cloth from the robe of Mary, etc.). The whole concept of "relic" is vexing and intoxicating to me--the construction of a garish house for something as simple and as lovely as a piece of bone seems like such a very human activity. We like to take humble things and cover them in wealth.
Previous Reliquary Efforts
The idea of relics and holy objects became even more puzzling after visiting churches throughout Palestine and Israel. At the entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Stone of Anointing (where, since the crusades, tradition states that the body of Jesus was laid out to be prepared for burial) is surrounded by visitors. Amid the crowd of people crouching down to touch and snap selfies with the stone, two people stand out: a woman kneeling at the edge of the rock, stretching her body out across the surface of the stone, and sobbing; directly next to her, a man pulling dozens of tourist-shop candles from a bag, hurriedly touching each one to the rock, and rushing off to the next relic.
I haven't worked my way mentally through that bit of observation yet, and it still knits my eyebrows. These relics, these objects, have such enormous power over people. Each object has a spiritual significance to a vast sea of humanity, but it means something different to each person. The reaction to such objects is as individual and varied as the spirituality of every human being.
The tactile relationship between the viewer and the sacred object comes into play often, and it is designed into the casing for each one. Visitors are invited to reach into a gilded void to touch the ground where Jesus was born; worshipers may crawl beneath a stone table to feel the stone which held the cross; pilgrims walking the way of the cross can lay their palm on the stone where Jesus placed his hand as he staggered under the weight of the cross (the stone is deeply indented in the shape of a hand from the wear of touches from millions of people).
While these gorgeous and elaborate homes for relics are designed and presented for all of human kind, it is a strange juxtaposition to witness the highest beauty man can muster fixed as house for an object that holds the unmatched beauty and sacredness of nature itself.
In my works, I use natural objects of personal spiritual significance as "relic". These three new pieces feature deer bones, a stone, and a large wasp, each encased in beeswax. The vessels are left open for touch. As the hands of viewers explore the works, the objects will change--the bones will become cleaner and may eventually yellow from the oils; the stone will become smooth and develop shine; the wasp will crackle and break, leaving only the parts encased in beeswax untouched by the viewer. The beeswax will also change through touch and erode, eventually releasing each object from the piece.
My initial experiments with reliquary works (from the Siostra Adelphos series) use heavy texture, metallics, and rich colors to present the "relics."