Places of Worship
In thinking about the sacred, I thought firstly of a favourite scene from Woody Allen's film Hannah and Her Sisters. After a night of bored channel surfing, an alienated, aging artist character, played by Max von Sydow, declaims the TV evangelists he has just been watching. He says: "worst are the fundamentalist preachers ... third-rate con men, telling the poor suckers they speak for Jesus ... and to please send in money. If Jesus came back, and saw what's going on in his name, he'd never stop throwing up".
Places of worship – the sites where people 'tune into' prayer – are diverse and the ways in which people around the world express their devotion varies remarkably. What is common to all forms of worship though is the integration of spirituality into everyday life.
In Australia we have a vernacular language permeated with pseudo-religious meaning, we are 'sunworshippers' and 'football fanatics', we are responsible for huge sales of Nigela Lawson's books; the self-proclaimed domestic goddess.
In 'Places of Worship', Claudia Terstappen captures how, when considered through a spiritual dimension, the mundane is transformed into the mystical. While the exhibition includes photographs of natural altars – the ocean, mountains, the bush – each captured on film from a distance and with great reverence, there is also the superstitious and the kitsch, the synthetic altars that are just as likely to spring up inside churches as on street corners or around car revision mirrors.
Dangling from a series of actual revision mirrors installed in the gallery space, a mini-Elvis figurine is revealed to be part of a legitimate belief system, as is a set of coloured prayer beads from Dubai, a North-American dream-catcher or an image of Jesus framed in sparkling Japanese plastic. They come from the artist's massive collection of spiritual paraphernalia accumulated from various trips all over the globe and over many years. Each object is part of someone's program of adoration, of asking a higher being for hope, good fortune or good luck. The works show how desire, faith and cultural memory become enmeshed. Photography has long operated as a portal to other worlds through its performative qualities and its incitement to reverie. We know that photographs freeze things direct from the world, but they rely on us to add meaning. Claudia Terstappen is, she claims, a non-photographer, someone who uses the medium as a tool for completing art-making tasks. The camera is a device of choice for an artist always on the move, and, depending on how it is used, photography can be mirror and or window onto places of worship. In light of this, the photographs here may reveal to us named and dated locations but they cannot tell us about them. In some ways the images must always fall short of the artist's inquiry into the spirituality associated with places of worship, as if the scale of the spiritual is too great to be captured with a camera.