When you walk through an art gallery and see a film installation it is easy to spend a few minutes watching and then move on to the next exhibit without necessarily recognising the power that the film has both it ‘showing’ one something but also in forcing one to actively engage with the content. Mark Cauchi’s paper Faith in Film: On Isabel Rocamora’s Faith examined the films shown in Isabel Rocamora’s exhibit Imaging Faith at Summerhall in Edinburgh. I felt it was to my benefit that unlike many of the films being discussed which I had not seen I had seen the exhibition further after the paper I was able to return with greater insight and thus gain more from viewing the exhibition than I had previously.
Faith is a triptych of films shown on screens next to one another each of which displayed a member of an Abrahamic religion, a Jew, a Christian and a Muslim, praying in the Judean desert. Cauchi began by pointing out that it would be short-sighted to view the films simply as displaying the commonality of the three monotheistic religious practitioners, but that it was equally important to recognise the heterogeneity of the three religions. At face value there was clear commonality with similar clothing, colouring, and the use of religious accoutrements and of course the shared landscape. Rocamora’s brilliance is shown (as Cauchi discusses) in the unifying horizon. The horizon line being at the same level in all three films draws the viewers eyes to the vastness of the desert and as potentially allows the viewer to question how tied the individual is to the landscape. A common theme in religious art is the use of horizon to define the boundary between our world and the next, a higher being or potentially between the sacred and the profane.
One of the most interesting points made was about the use of the audio track. As filmgoers one is aware of the power of music to move the story and enhance the emotion and engagement, equally the use of language can be transformative. This is definitely so in this piece. Throughout the duration you hear all three men praying in their own unique language. At times one is heard in the foreground and the others fade into the background. At the penultimate stage all of a sudden the voices are all bought into the fore and it is difficult to differentiate one from the other. Cauchi’ likens this to the bible story of the tower of babel in which g-d punishes the people for a wrongdoing. Up until this point the people spoke the same language now but as punishment they are divided and are only able to talk and understand one un-shared language. Perhaps the film maker is alluding to the fact that due to their differences both culturally and historically and seemingly very similar prayer style there will never be a shared commonality.
The paper delved into such a wide array of topics, from the way from the power of the mise en scence and cinematography to lead one to have many questions about faith and transcendence and an enlightening discussion on the way that Heidegger and Derrida discuss the use of Horizon in art. However the idea of commonality and difference were the two points that most stood out to me. The insight gained listening to this paper and the Q&A meant that on my return to the exhibition I was more cognizant of the way that the director is able to manipulate our view. Discovering the small decisions that directors and artists making in putting together films that have such an impact on the individual has been really eye opening for me.
One thought on “Faith on Film: Imaging Faith”
This sounds like it was a really interesting exhibit and it is great that you were able to hear a paper presented on it. I think that so much of what you discuss has to do with the ideas of film as art. One of the benefits of film is that it is able to access our senses and, if conveyed effectively, are able to envelope us in the events on screen. When we incorporate film into art galleries, it seems to help provide additional sensory inputs that convey messages even further.