-from the Paris Gibson Museum of Art catalog essay 

by Bob Durden, Curator

Aug- Oct., 2009

The Body Psalms Project: Re-evaluating the Body in a Capitalist World.

The title reveals the political issues that are at stake in Tim Holmes’ work and life. Best known as a sculptor and drawer, Tim Holmes also possesses a background in theater and performance from his student days at Rocky Mountain College in Billings, Montana, where he earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Art and through involvement in the performance/political group, The Montana Logging and Ballet Company. He is the first American artist ever honored with a solo exhibition in the Hermitage museum in Saint Petersburg, Russia, where his work remains on permanent display.

This exhibition is a presentation of archival objects, preparatory drawings and film footage from a ten-year-long and continuing project that in the artist’s own words is: “… a celebration of the meaning of the body through filmed rituals involving dancers and diverse ordinary people unfolding passages of mystical texts painted on their skin to create moving sculptural poetry. Words take on new dimensions of expression that appear in no other medium. Words become moving sculpture as they unfold on the skin, recombining and morphing into other words and images.” Again, the gallery space is intimate and belies the volumes of material that represent these ambitious projects. In the gallery, films are looped and viewed on video monitors and projected on a scrim hung in the center of the gallery. Photographic stills, and drawings (focusing primarily on choreography design for his performance and film, The 23rd Psalm) surround the room.

The convergence of body images/issues/politics with liturgical or Biblical sources can be disarming in the context of an exhibition gallery. The viewer cannot appreciate the original context of an actual performance or the space in which it is performed, making this presentation a model of Postmodernism that is not intended in the artist’s actual work. The decision to organize an exhibition was fraught with the usual curatorial questions over content, but was complicated by this marriage of liturgical and secular ideas. The main question was: is the setting appropriate?

For the artist, the answer was only too apparent— yes (the curator, dragging his feet and weighing the cultural, spiritual and intellectual ramifications of such a presentation, eventually agreed). The viewer will ultimately judge the content in reference to the setting, devoid of an actual performance or traditional film screening—not an uncommon experience in contemporary art museums over the past 40 plus years.
This particular presentation, in a sense, becomes the contextual anchor for The Square’s current series of exhibitions. Through his Body Psalms projects, Tim Holmes asks many provocative questions about the legitimacy of the nude in a public forum and the evolution of cultural attitudes toward the human form in general. What is unique in this artist’s approach is the marriage of scripture with contemporary movement and music presented in both public and sacred places. Like good performance/ art, meanings do shift in reference to place and audience expectations. In his artistic production, Holmes also questions why disdain for religiosity in the public realm has seemingly been displaced from open public dialogues about faith-based systems and the values that they represent. Though he mines personal beliefs, he poses larger questions about the sanctity and/or (perhaps more secularly) the preciousness and beauty of the human body.

Tim Holmes’ work is pointed in its questions over the paradox between the mass media/advertising/consumerization of the human body and our inability to come to grips with our own “nakedness”—not a novel concern in human history, as the body has been exploited by provocateurs and greed mongers for centuries. However, the artist embraces the body/body image as beautiful in all of its forms, despite current hyped-up, exploitative notions about beauty. For him, scripture is a sensible place from which to explore the body as “a temple”— full of grace, beauty and potential. The artist’s films illustrate his attitude clearly through the use, in many cases, of willing but untrained performers of all shapes and sizes—not simply the beautiful airbrushed bodies that are manufactured by print advertisers, Hollywood or our own imaginations. In the film 23rd Psalm, the video-graphic montage of Holmes’ orchestrated movements, heightened by text brushed on to the performers, congeal at the film’s end with the reverse transformation of the adult nude (representing “us”) into the innocent state of nakedness at birth—represented by a young, unclad toddler. In this moment, Holmes reaches his surprising conclusion brilliantly.

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