This installation investigates U.S. spiritual movements of the 70’s through to the 90’s and aims to reflect the paradoxical search for spiritual collectivism as an ironic yet sincere testimonial of human failure. Via the context of contemporary sculpture, I investigate the visual culture associated with these movements looking at the continuing role of the guru and the devotee. The work acts as a playful platform to examine how American West Coast counterculture and its utopian aspirations relate to the contemporary life. Appropriating yoga equipment, through my Bikram Yoga practice, I adopt tropes from contemporary self care movments as a basis for my sculpture.
Jim Jones was an archetypal charismatic guru who facilitated the voluntary mass suicide of his 900 followers of the Peoples Temple in Guyana in1978. Jim Jones fostered the acceptability of ‘revolutionary suicide, using this act as a devotional tool to coerce and persuade his followers to sacrifice and rescue human identity from a dehumanised capitalist, racist and fascist oppression in America. During ‘white nights’ of emergency mobilisation, Jone’s conducted rituals of proclaimed mass suicide, giving poison to all members and saying they would die within an hour. This was a loyalty test, ending in the ultimate spectacle.
Tammy Faye Bakker was the diminutive and elaborately coiffed gospel singer who, with her first husband, Jim Bakker, built a commercial empire around television evangelism only to see it collapse in sex and money scandals. The Bakkers built Heritage USA, a spiritual theme park, a pastiche of iconic America, offering visitors a specific brand of Christian devotion and spectacle. Often derided as “health and wealth” theology, prosperity gospel ran through the Bakkers’ ministry, from their promises of divine healing to their own conspicuous consumption and flashy lifestyles. Tammy, who stood 4 feet 11 inches, was known for appearing on camera in overstated outfits and heavy makeup. She was openly emotional, whether praying for the health of an ailing viewer or for generous financial contributions. When she broke down on camera her tears and mascara both ran copiously, leaving long black streaks on her face.