Images of Christ are abundant in residences worldwide, with various styles and portraits to choose from. But how much do we really think about the inspiration for such images? Because Christian imagery has become standard, viewers seldom think of the contemporary ‘industry’ of religious art.
In the documentary film Casting Jesus, German multimedia artist Christian Janwoski tackles the controversial and universally known figure of Christ. In 2011, Jankowski obtained a residency in Rome. Casting Jesus was filmed inside the Complesso Monumentale Santo Spirito in Saxia, Rome, a venue that Jankowski describes as a multi-functional performance art site. The documentary gives us a view into an unknown, yet fascinating world-as numerous actors are filmed auditioning for the role of Christ. In this American Idol-style process, a panel of religious experts from the Vatican critique the actors on their accuracy in portraying the beloved subject. The experts coach the actors on the appropriate gestures and emotions to convey-suggesting recreations of Christ’s famous miracles.
As with much of Jankowski’s work, Casting Jesus invites viewers to question standard cultural, social and religious tropes. As a multimedia artist, Jankowski often uses video, photography, instillation and performance to channel his conceptual visions.
His work analyzes power structures. This is often both literal and emblematic On one hand, the documentary offers fascinating insight into the minds of Vatican ‘scholars’. More provocative however, is the documentary’s subversive artistic commentary. With Casting Jesus, Jankowski manages to appear impartial. In a careful avoidance of outright satire, his filmmaking evokes mere spectatorship. Adding to the impartial nature of the project, Jankowski live-streamed the performance to an audience of 300 viewers. Casting Jesus explores how artistic representation shapes the vernacular of the media, scholastics and popular culture at large.
Before the show wraps up on July 28, the UMOCA will be hosting a public panel to commemorate the show. On Thursday, July 19, 2012 at 7 pm, the panel will discuss, “the issues that are presented in the local community by portrayals of Jesus Christ. Anticipated panelists include: Rita Write, Chief Curator, LDS Church History Museum, Ben McPherson, Artist, Sheila Muller, Professor Emerita Art History, University of Utah.
Scotti Hill received her Juris Doctorate from the S.J. Quinney College of Law in 2018, with a certificate in intellectual property law. She previously received a Master’s and a Bachelor’s Degree in Art History and taught art history courses at Westminster College and the University of Utah. She continues to write for 15 Bytes and the Deseret News.