Friday, April 25, 2008

Miao Xiaochun: The Last Judgment in Cyberspace

by Kara Lybarger

"Miao Xiaochun: The Last Judgment in Cyberspace"
February 3-May 18, 2008
Museum of Contemporary Religious Art, St. Louis, MO

Miao Xiaochun. The Last Judgment in Cyberspace: The Front View.
2006, Digital C-print. 100" x 93". Image courtesy of Walsh Gallery, Chicago.

Miao Xiaochun’s work for this exhibit is definitely among the most unique I have ever encountered. His innovative approach to a reinterpretation of Michelangelo’s classic is one I won’t forget.

The artist invites viewers to revisit concepts of humanity’s ultimate fate with a contemporary stylistic edge. His strictly black and white scale presentation of the scene with a crisp, sharp contemporary style made this version of The Last Judgment seem less complex with less attention paid to the kind of detail that makes Michelangelo’s piece a bit much for the viewer to perceive all at once. Miao’s contemporary cyberspace is something with which many viewers may associate a sense of familiarity, considering the technologically focused and advanced culture in which we live. His work is inviting and engaging to the point that I felt as though I was a participant in each piece, existing right there amongst the figures and experiencing the Last Judgment through their eyes--whether damned, saved, or lingering in between.

The very first part of this show that caught my attention was the video playing at the back of the room. When I stood there watching vulnerable looking human figures fall helplessly through the sky, my stomach dropped as if I was falling beside them. In addition to the images of falling figures in the video, Miao also included more still shots of figures in positions of serious contemplation. Their subtle, yet powerful facial expressions suggest a state of deep reflection, most likely upon their earthly lives and how their souls came to rest in this state of final damnation.

Miao Xiaochun. The Last Judgment in Cyberspace: The Vertical View.
2006, Digital C-print, 99.5" x 236". Image courtesy of Walsh Gallery, Chicago.

In Below View, the hands of the damned souls appear to be reaching out in a state of agony, attempting to clench onto anything that is life. The facial expressions seen on the damned figures in this painting are quite moving, evoking a sense of great loss and weariness. In Vertical View, Miao gives the viewer an up close and personal view of the facial expressions of the saved. These faces express complete peace, contentment with exactly who they are and where they are now, and some of their eyes are drawn down to the damned in pity.

Miao’s Rear View depicts damned figures reaching out to and drawn to the heavenly light, but at the same time, trying to keep it from their eyes because it is intense and bright. The artist not only emphasizes the eternal physical darkness experienced by damned souls, but also the eternal spiritual/mental darkness of a Godless hell. The scene is even more dramatic as many of the figures look up at the perfect happiness of those now living in the light that they will never again have the opportunity to attain. Miao’s use of stark black and white shading to distinguish the realm of the heavenly from that of the damned dramatizes the scene in a way Michelangelo’s approach does not.

Miao Xiaochun. The Last Judgment in Cyberspace: The Side View.
2006, Digital C-print, 99.75" x 50". Image courtesy of Walsh Gallery, Chicago.

Side View depicts an interesting image of a boat floating on water amongst the damned. The boat design seems reminiscent of the bone structure of a human ribcage, as if a large fossil symbolic of the transition from life to eternal death. On a more positive note, however, Miao makes the focal point in this image incredibly powerful. At the center is St. Sebastian positioned in strong, distinct body language that speaks of the ultimate triumph of God over humanity and life over death, his eyes piercing directly into the viewer’s. I couldn’t help but make eye contact with this figure for several seconds.

Miao Xiaochun’s ability to break down Michelangelo’s original masterpiece into more digestible contemporary style segments from a variety of new perspectives is very clever and refreshing. Don’t miss this exhibit!

MOCRA (Museum of Contemporary Religious Art) is located on the campus of Saint Louis University is located on the campus of Saint Louis University at 3700 W. Pine Blvd., which is a pedestrian mall. 314/977-7170.

Kara Lybarger is a recent graduate of Murray State University, where she received a BA in Liberal Arts studying Art History and English. Kara is currently serving internships at Art Saint Louis and the Missouri Humanities Council. In Fall 2008, she will begin graduate school at the University of South Carolina-Columbia working towards an MA in Art History and possibly a Ph.D.

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