Cerith Wyn Evans
Gilbert & George
Ana Maria Pacheco
Joel Peter Witkin
A Splendid Readiness For Death. Sebastian: patron saint of soldiers, homosexuals and of people suffering from the plague or from AIDS. Sebastian: sado masochistic icon, androgynous dandy enarmoured with death, embodiment of the artist who suffers for others. In the exhibition, the myth of Saint Sebastian is illuminated from the point of view of contemporary artists.
A Splendid Readiness For Death
Sebastian: patron saint of soldiers, homosexuals and of people suffering from the plague or from AIDS. Sebastian: sado masochistic icon, androgynous dandy enarmoured with death, embodiment of the artist who suffers for others. Scandalous Sebastian: his exciting and sensuous image as created by Fra Bartolomeo was pulled down from the wall by monks, because it was the source of sinful thoughts during women s confessions. The first performance of the opera Le Martyre de Saint Sbastien by Gabriele D Annunzio and Claude Debussy was also a provocation in Paris in 1911, because the Christian saint was played by a Jewish woman, Ida Rubinstein. The archbishop threatened excommunication. In this way the struggle for power, rebellion, censorship and faith that underlies the myth of Saint Sebastian winds its way into the 20th century and describes a drama that crosses the line between the secularisation of the sacred and the elevation of the profane into the sacred (Joachim Heusinger von Waldegg). In the exhibition, the myth of Saint Sebastian is illuminated from the point of view of contemporary artists. The focus is particularly on historical high points, such as the first performance of the Martyrdom of St. Sebastian in 1911 and the Sebastian painter of painters: Guido Reni. This artist painted his hero in a highly ambivalent manner: at first sight, we see an anaemic young man, lethargically yielding to suffering. But behind that image the contours of a hedonist in the full flesh of his masochistic joy in life become visible. The motif of Sebastian gazing upward, enjoying his pain ecstatically and as if entranced, is reflected in works by Luigi Ontani, Kishin Shinoyama, the film maker Bavo Defurne and the photographer Eikoh Hosoe, who presents the Japanese writer and super aesthete Yukio Mishima as Sebastian in his series Barakei (Ordeal By Roses). Paul Schrader (Mishima) and David Wojnarowicz also refer to Mishima, who experienced his coming out before Reni s Sebastian, and who committed Seppuku when his fantastic dreams came to nothing, in order to follow his idol to the last. The artist who suffers for others (an idea of Susan Sontag) is presented by Chris Burden, for example in his performances Doorway to Heaven and Shoot. There the artist lets himself be fired at. The pleasure in pain and the pleasure in causing pain is shown by Kirby Dick s documentary film Sick. The Life and Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist, where the life of Bob Flanagan and his partner and torturer Sheree Rose is described in a vital way. Sadomasochistic traits with direct reference to Sebastian are also evident in the works of Ron Athey and Joel Peter Witkin s Queer Saint: Witkin s Sebastian is a fragmented figure, skeletal and robbed of his fleshly quality. He startles us as a monumental martyr and counters the aesthetic representations of homosexual fantasies.
The variety of gender attributions to Saint Sebastian, which are also discussed in Gender Studies, range from the female Sebastian, exemplified in the Sainte Sebastinne works of Louise Bourgeois, various prints and a sculpture from 2002, which has never been exhibited, through androgynous embodiments (Francesco Clemente) to the beautiful youth and dandy (Luigi Ontani). The various views of Sebastian are the reason for his various subcultural assimilations. Social groups like homosexuals and the AIDS scene of the 1980s identified themselves with Saint Sebastian again and again: as the former Saint of the Black Death he drew suffering onto himself for the salvation of others (David Wojnarowicz). In Derek Jarman s film Sebastiane Sebastian is an object of desire for the soldiers. Even the leader of the riflemen, Severus, falls in love with him. But when Sebastian rejects him, he orders him to be executed. In this way Sebastian crosses the world s polarity: he exists between desire and abstinence, between suffering and salvation, between pain and ecstasy, between death and life, between male and female identification. The exhibition Saint Sebastian. A Splendid Readiness for Death makes visible not only the way the Sebastian myth has been imitated and re worked in art and film, but also the interest of contemporary artists in the chameleon like nature of this saint, whose fascination holds artists in its grip to this very day.
Participating artists: Ron Athey, Stephan Balkenhol, Louise Bourgeois, Chris Burden, Francesco Clemente, Bavo Defurne, Kirby Dick/Bob Flanagan, Cerith Wyn Evans, Gilbert & George, Eikoh Hosoe, Derek Jarman, Adi Nes, Luigi Ontani, Ana Maria Pacheco, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Paul Schrader, Kishin Shinoyama, Wolfgang Tillmans, Robert Wilson, Joel Peter Witkin, David Wojnarowicz, Rona Yefman
Curators: Wolfgang Fetz, Gerald Matt Exhibition catalogue: Heiliger Sebastian.
A Splendid Readiness For Death. Ed. Kunsthalle Wien, Wolfgang Fetz, Gerald Matt; with artists statements and essays by Germaine Greer, Richard A. Kaye, Gerald Matt and Carlo Santoli; published by Kerber Verlag, Bielefeld; approx. 152 pages, German and English versions, numerous illustrations; hardback trade edition (ISBN 3 936646 45 7; 28.00)
Image: Chris Burden, Doorway to heaven, 1973
Press conference: Thursday, 13 November 2003, 10 a.m.
Opening: Thursday, 13 November 2003, 7 p.m.
KUNSTHALLE wien Museumsplatz 1, A 1070 Vienna
daily 10 a.m. 7 p.m., thursday 10 a.m. 10 p.m.
Infoline: +43 1 52189 33