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Sunday, March 30, 2008

Good riddance

It appears that Vancouverites will soon see the last of perhaps the ugliest and most offensive piece of public art ever foisted on the city, a malacious eyesore called "Device to Root Out Evil." Here's the latest news on this glorified piece of junk.

450pxdevice_to_root_out_evil1_4 I objected to the piece on these grounds:

1. It was clearly a work of propaganda, meant to push a political point of view and, as such, had little artistic merit.

2. It offended my Christian beliefs (notice how the implied cross atop the steeple is buried).

3. It blocked views.

4. I found it uncomfortably disorienting.

I'll be glad to see it go.

Posted by Terry O'Neill on March 30, 2008 in Current Affairs | Permalink


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Wow! I've often complained about how surprised I am that so many Canadian voices commenting here are self-professed Atheists.

This example of "public art" (e.g. no one would pay for it with his own money) removes my previous doubt that Western Standard commenters were probably unrepresentative of Canada as a whole.

Posted by: Conrad-USA | 2008-03-30 9:14:55 PM

So, Terry, what I'm hearing you say is, "I don't know much about art, but I know what I hate." BTW, does the fact that most of art throughout history was religious propaganda mean that it had little artistic merit.

Posted by: truewest | 2008-03-30 9:45:52 PM

The Western Standard is as representative of "Canada as a whole" as you sir are representative of Americans.
You truly are one of my favorite blogers here. Thanks!
Gilbert Rozon should hire you next summer.

Posted by: Marc | 2008-03-30 9:46:53 PM

Apparently, you're not only dishonest and unbalanced, but illiterate too.

Terry suggested that the presence of political themes meant that a work had not artistic merit; I was merely asking if he extended that theory to religious themes. I don't take that view.
Artistic merit exists independent of subject matter and while I'm not a religious person, I am moved by great religious art and by great political art as well.

Posted by: truewest | 2008-03-30 10:54:35 PM

I'm hardly blowing my fuse. I'm quite calmly calling you a liar, a fraud and a menace. Have a lovely evening. Perhaps you and Shane can curl up and share details of each others personality disorders.

Posted by: truewest | 2008-03-31 12:47:47 AM

As an atheist, and not an art critic, if I may nevertheless venture an opinion it would be this:

The most devastating criticism of this type of "art" is not that it is political, or that it offends some religious sensibilities, or that it has no aesthetic appeal, or that it costs taxpayer money. The most devastating criticism is that it is boring, boring, BORING! It fails on its own terms and deserves to be ignored. Every sophmore art student these days could -- and most do -- produce artifacts with similarly obvious, blunt, and uninteresting "messages".

Posted by: Grant Brown | 2008-03-31 1:38:42 AM

I'm trying to imagine what would have happened if a replica of a mosque had been upended and displayed as "a work of art."

That picture would probably have a few hundred enraged Muslims burning flags, pulling down the installation, and calling out "Allah Akbar!" with a gaggle of police wo/men standing by, looking on helplessly: They certainly wouldn't want to be hauled up before a Human Rights Commission tribunal for a hate crime when they arrested the more roudy demonstrators.

'Notice, in this photo, no Christians going berzerk, no fires, no shouts of "down with the enemy."

Which is the "religion of peace," again?

Posted by: batb | 2008-03-31 5:39:10 AM

As a piece of art, my opinion on that sculpture is that it is purposefully trying to offend a religious sensibility. Either that's allowed or not - I would be curious to hear opinions on this sculpture from those who say the WS should not have published the cartoons.

On a slightly different note, I find it interesting that the first thing I (and others apparently) think of when seeing this sculpture is what would happen if a similar sculpture about Islam were constructed in its place? We all know the answer, but its interesting how the inadvertent result of this sculpture is a method of highlighting the inherent violence and intolerance in a completely separate religion.

Posted by: daryl | 2008-03-31 7:57:23 AM

So, from where is it rooting out evil? Does it represent some sort of attempt to rid the church of evil by turning it over an spilling the evil? I can't imagine any theme the "artist" envisioned that isn't offensive to Christians. But there you go, it's a free country.

Posted by: dp | 2008-03-31 8:18:08 AM

The artist's website describes this piece as:
A country church is seen balancing on its steeple, as if it had been lifted by a terrific force and brought to the site as a device or method of rooting out evil forces. An interview with Dennis Oppenheim said "The artist maintains that his interest is in exploring the dialogue between architecture and sculpture. Device to Root Out Evil "withdraws functionality from architecture." To those reading religion into the work, he answers that "Turning the church upside down makes it more aggressive, but not blasphemous."

So it doesn't seem like his intention was to critique Christianity, but I can't explain what he means by "makes it more aggressive".

Posted by: Michelle | 2008-03-31 9:10:08 AM

It's NOT a free country. Which one of you agreed to pay for this "art" or ANY other "art" (perhaps some which you found to be delightful - but "forced" upon you nonetheless)?

Grant is my greatest concern.

He has no problem with something which is "publicly funded" (I love the government word "funding" it almost takes the confiscatory tax aspect right out of the discussion), and yet is also repulsive to religious sensibilities (of citizens? - i.e. "the public"), that it is political and thus a violation of liberty, foisting a particular narrow political view upon all but using taxpayer money, that it has no aesthetic appeal (i.e. is an utter waste or misallocation of money-resources), but instead his concern is that it is "boring."

This is the clear result of an Atheistic materialist view of "life" or self-animation (I guess that is really what the Atheistic Communist "belief" is all about).

Most women are materialistic and thus the search for Truth is removed from the major fuction of their minds (and thus can be easily fooled and manipulated into say killing their own babies and destroying thier own families as good Feminists), but it is the Atheistic philosophy which then infects men's minds with the shallow materialism that makes all decisions focus mainly or primarialy upon one's self.

And thus society or culture or family or even life, becomes meaningless and "boring."

Grant, in your studies and efforts to examine important issues rationally and productively, search for Truth as the goal, that is what separates us from the animals and trees, the ability to think beyond our own immediate selves.

And Marc, we are all and each "typical." The very least among us is wonderful and fine, while the best among us is really only slightly different or better. That is the real American view, that we actually are each potentially great and wonderful and fine, and no one is just "average" or lousey. At their core, those are basically "religious" ideas, and they uplift and they progress and they carry us all forward, even as we stumble.

Posted by: Conrad-USA | 2008-03-31 9:11:26 AM

Thank you Michelle. It seems that sarcasm is the theme of the piece. If that's true, it's still offensive to most Christians.

Posted by: dp | 2008-03-31 9:20:42 AM

There is nothing more subjective than art. It should not be subsidized by the State at any level. If communities feel that they must display public art, then it should fall on voters to approve from the widest group of alternatives practical, likely yielding bland, minimally offensive, examples. Leaving choices to elitists or politicians will yield examples as above.

I find most modern art to be a sad joke on those stupid enough to choose to pay for it. That is worsened significantly when I am an involuntary victim of that sense of humour.

Posted by: John Chittick | 2008-03-31 10:53:38 AM

One. It is NOT art. It is a political statement. If this is art then so are the Mohammed Cartoons. No, it is a political statement

Two. The state has no business promoting religion and thereby no business commenting negatively on a religion as well

Three. The state should not be in the business as acting as benefactor for artists, regardless of the intent to be offensive. If this was on private property then the argument would be a different one altogether.

BTW, being an aetheist ideologue does not give you the right to permit the state to use taxpayer money to offend other belief systems. What if the state had a sculpture of a group of aetheists burning in hell?

Posted by: Faramir | 2008-03-31 11:11:23 AM

Faramir - are you saying that Art can never be used to make a political statement? That some is EITHER art OR political? Why does that line have to be drawn? Keep in mind, I'm not necessarily talking about this particular piece - I just find it extremely strange to say that something ceases to be art when it tries to convey a political message.

Also, just to attempt to stem any further discussions of using "taxpayer money" to fund the arts - from what I've read this piece was purchased by a private foundation and then donated to this city for use in the sculpture festival.

Posted by: Michelle | 2008-03-31 11:23:13 AM

As a red-letter Christian, I actually find it kind of cute. It challenges us to explore whether or not Christians are here to combat evil, or proclaim Christ. And if we're here to proclaim Christ then why should anything even unintentionally insulting be seen as a bad thing when that same Jesus said we're blessed when people persecute us? We're given the opportunity to turn the other cheek when stricken. On the other hand, if we've decided we're here to root out evil, then yeah I guess we've turned the concept of the Church upside down so why not depict it so?

It's almost as useful as one of those really challenging, "And what are you doing about what's written here in the Bible?" sermons.

But yeah, if it's blocking someone's view, then that stank. A poster might have worked just as well.

Posted by: Pattern Recognition | 2008-03-31 11:24:56 AM

Karol, assuming you're a Christian, I have to ask how on earth you could worry that anything could ever "destroy Christianity"?

Marginalize, mock, bankrupt, corner and demoralize Christianity maybe, but destroy it? If the Bible's accurate, that'd be as hard as dividing by zero.

Posted by: Pattern Recognition | 2008-03-31 12:01:18 PM

From Michelle's post @ 31-Mar-08 9:10:08 AM:

"'The artist maintains that his interest is in exploring the dialogue between architecture and sculpture. Device to Root Out Evil 'withdraws functionality from architecture.' To those reading religion into the work, [the artist] answers that 'Turning the church upside down makes it more aggressive, but not blasphemous.'

"So it doesn't seem like his intention was to critique Christianity, but I can't explain what he means by 'makes it more aggressive'".

When you upend a church as part of an "artistic installation" you definitely are critiquing Christianity, no matter what the artist's protestations to the contrary.

It's lousy art, for a start, and it's an offensive image to Christians. Ironically--either known by the artist or unknown by him--in Satanism, everything Christian is upended. Satanist worshippers take all things Christian and upend them/do the opposite of what Christians do.

So, an upside down church, by definition (could the artist not know this?), bespeaks of Satanism, the opposite of Christianity.

And Christians aren't supposed to be offended?

On the other hand, freedom of expression gives this lousy artist a pulpit from which to preach (or not preach) and I defend his right to his opinion.

Just don't expect me to believe that he's not critiquing Christianity.

Posted by: batb | 2008-03-31 4:18:02 PM

"So, an upside down church, by definition (could the artist not know this?), bespeaks of Satanism, the opposite of Christianity."

Actually an upside down church would just be an upside down church. And really, it's not even a church, it's just a church building. Now if you got us all in one of those salt & pepper rides from a 1970's fairground, you might have an upside down church for a few seconds. Even then, it's just a bunch of believers on their heads.

Technically there's no 'opposite' of Christianity. It's not math. According to the Bible, Satan's an opponent, but not an opposite of Christ (a yin to a yang so to speak). He's just an ex-employee who's tried to form an opposition party. Satanism is just one of a stack of ideologies and practices that oppose the spread of the Christian message. None of them are that big of a deal to a Christian who reads that they're supposed to see opposition here. And of course there's a whack of alternatives to Christianity, but again, no big deal if you really believe Jesus is the Way and the Truth.

In the end, this is a sculpture. Maybe an ugly sculpture, but it's just a sculpture. It only has as much power as we let it have, and even then that power exists only in our imagination, because it's just a sculpture. The very worst thing it could do is to fall on you.

Posted by: Pattern Recognition | 2008-03-31 4:35:20 PM

PR- You seem to be over-complicating and over-simplifying at the same time. An upside down church is the same as an upside down cross, or an upside down flag. All symbols of opposition.

I don't care much one way or the other. I can understand why a Christian would be offended. You have to admit, the artist got his point across.

Posted by: dp | 2008-03-31 5:39:57 PM

Yeah, the artist got it down.

Posted by: batb | 2008-03-31 7:26:27 PM

I have no sympathy for offended religious people. Neither have I sympathy for offended atheists, agnostics, whites, blacks, Jews, Muslims, or people of any race or point of view.

People who whine about how offended they are because somebody said something or painted or built or wrote something they don't like sicken me.

Man up and get on with it. Otherwise, simply acknowledge your complete lack of spine and go file a complaint with the CHRC.

Posted by: Darrell | 2008-03-31 9:38:43 PM

Having said that, I would feel safer in the presence of an offended Christian or atheist than in that of an offended Muslim.

Posted by: Darrell | 2008-03-31 9:43:01 PM

Anything that offends the Christo-facsists is OK in my book. Besides, it's kinda cute.

Posted by: Boko999 | 2008-03-31 11:09:25 PM

I'm sooooo tired of Christians and their property value. What about me? I can't afford anything in this city as a teacher and I loved the sculpture. Why should Christians run this city, isn't my opinion just as valid.

Posted by: Rob | 2008-04-01 9:55:58 AM

Such sympathetic ears!

Surely, individuals will be offended by certain things: That's called discernment. In fact, a society where no one is offended by anything is likely to end up being a cesspool.

So, I am offended by the upside-down church--and freedom of expression and religion in Canada permit my offended feelings. My humanity permits my offended feelings.

What I have no sympathy for is someone being offended by another's actions or words and then deciding to take them to a Human Rights Commission.

That's being a wimp of the first degree. Merely being offended is simply to be human.

Posted by: batb | 2008-04-01 3:21:44 PM


"Christians" don't run this city. The collective intellect of rate payers embodied in your elected officials run the city. If Christians ran it, there might be a sculpted Virgin Mary there instead of an upside down chapel. As a "teacher" you could ask that it be re-positioned on your property or more likely you might have to settle for an 8x10 glossy of it or you could whine to your union or anything else that "teachers" do. The most you can hope for with public art is something that offends the least, you will never make everyone happy.

Posted by: John Chittick | 2008-04-01 3:36:08 PM

I think it's a statement about "Global Warming" secretly commisioned by the Gorical(who then pocketed the grant) to represent what will happen when tornadoes and hurricanes start blowing into Vancouver.

Posted by: Bocanut | 2008-04-01 4:42:02 PM

The other wimp factor is that this "art" installation received a government grant.


You can be darned sure that if this "public art" piece had been a mosque upended and sticking in the ground no goverment agency would have touched it with a ten-foot pole nor even considered taxpayers' contributing a penny towards it.

You got it right Darrell: "...I would feel safer in the presence of an offended Christian or atheist than in that of an offended Muslim."

Posted by: batb | 2008-04-01 5:14:43 PM

I suppose I would interpret this article using a metaphoric equivalent. If you don't like the painting, don't hang it on your wall. It appears that there was enough of an outcry to have this piece removed. A piece like this may be better suited in an enclosed gallery, allowing the public to make individual choices whether or not to attend the exhibit for viewing.

I suppose another angle of such an art matter may be demonstrated by one such news story where a Ten Commandments sculpture was being displayed in a public court house in the US. This was found offensive to the US constitution and had to be removed. To be fair, these matters can be viewed from both angles.

Putting theme based art in an enclosed gallery, or a private location, provides a level of protection to those who may be offended by, or discriminated by, such a piece. There is certainly nothing wrong about the piece being art. It was not necessarily a bad piece. It was just a matter of it being in the wrong place.

One could compare, for example, religious theme stained glass windows in a place of worship. If such windows were placed in your local grocery store, you would see outrage over it. However, those who don't subscribe to the religious views will not be subject to the windows in the place of worship because they likely won't be attending. These same people may be more likely offended seeing the same windows at their local grocery store. Likewise, if the place of worship had meat ads all over their windows, the worshippers may be offended by that as well, unless of coarse their religion practices the worship of commercial meat products.

Posted by: Will Davis | 2008-04-08 8:25:19 PM

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