The Extra Light Project addressed the discourse of art and religion, similarities and differences in their usage of language, imagery and technologies in maintaining their social positions - the production of language was juxtaposed to the creation of visual content. The project was made in different stages during which, inversely to a classical set up, language preceded and mediated the visual elements of the work. The project consisted of a series of interviews with the Protestant theologian and writer Jean-Jacques Suurmond, group discussions about the upcoming smoke and light installation, video installation and the smoke and light installation at the Noorderkerk in Amsterdam.
Discussions with Jean-Jacques Suurmond
In 2008, I started a series of interviews with Jean-Jacques Suurmond that gradually turned into discussions concerning art and religion, their social and political function and technologies they both apply in mediating their social effects. The discussions were recorded and, once transcribed, they started to take the form a book. The book ‘Becoming Christian’, that was published on the occasion of the smoke and light installation in December 2009, contained the chapters: ‘On madness and miracles’, ‘ On society and religion’, ‘On contemporary art and religion’, ‘On religion and culture’, ‘On being good’ and ‘On personal experience of religion’.
The group discussions focused on the upcoming smoke and light installation and happened two months before the installation was executed. The idea was that the created discourse and interpretations would precede the physical experience of the installation, that they would ‘say the work’ before it actually happens.
For this purpose, we created two discussion groups: one consisting of artists, art theoreticians and writers (moderated by Steven ten Thije and Chris Kuelemans) and second consisting of pastors and theologians (moderated by Jean-Jacques Suurmond). Two groups first met independently and then were brought together to compare their findings and interpretations. Before the meetings took place, each of the participants received a questionnaire and the basic information concerning the upcoming installation, the preparatory material for discussions. The attempt to predict the social and aesthetic implications of the upcoming installation was a starting point for a wider discussion about position of art and religion in society, technologies used by art and religion, relation between language and experience and many other issues. These lengthy discussions (each took around 3,5 hours), were recorded and edited in three videos.
The three videos made during discussions were shown as the video installation The Extra Light Project: Predictions at the Lloyd Hotel Cultural Embassy in Amsterdam. The video installation opened on the 2nd of December 2009, a week before the smoke and light installation at the Noorderkerk. The audience was invited to visit the video installation before the one-night installation at the church. The installation occupied three rooms at the Lloyd Hotel; the opening was moderated by Chris Kuelemans and included lectures by Jean-Jacques Suurmond and the Dutch writer Désanne van Brederode. The book ‘Becoming Christian’ was also presented during the opening.
Smoke and light installation
The smoke and light installation took place at the Noorderkerk in Amsterdam on the 10th of December 2009 between 19.00 and 23.00. Visual elements that appear in both art and religion as reoccurring symbols but also as visual effects were used in the installation: four strong lamps were placed outside of the church lighting the inside through the windows while four smoke machines filled the church with a thick haze, a fog-like smoke.
The participants of the discussion groups were present in the church comparing their interpretations with their physical experience and discussing it further with the audience. The audience had a chance to interpret further the interpretations of the participants, especially those who also visited the video installation at the Lloyd Hotel, and infused the project with another round of language production.
The Extra Light Project, as Steven ten Thije puts it in his text published on the occasion of the project, ‘referred as much to the ‘surplus’ of linguistic production within the project as to the amount of light produced on December 10th’. The language was constantly staged and produced not only as a vehicle for comprehension, but also as being a theatrical moment itself that manifests as a form. On the social level, the project united two different discourses and staged the encounter between art and religion as a constant movement from language to experience and back again.
Joint meeting of two working groups at Van Limmikhof, Amsterdam | Octobar 2009