By Sander Vloebergs
The interface between academic discourse and artistic imagination
In this series of blog posts I will propose an ongoing project about art and mysticism (religious experience and theology). I study mystical source texts from an insider perspective trying to bring them into relation with the artistic process. This reflection will be performed in an artistic and academic way. This current project, called Christina, is the next step in my search for similarities between the process of art making and the mystical experience, which started with a dialogue between the Visions of the mystic Hadewijch and my own experience as a theologian and artist.
The current project Christina, named after the Flemish medieval saint Christina Mirabilis of Sint-Truiden focuses on the holy lives (Vitae) of the Mulieres Religiosae, the religious women (nuns, beguines and lay women) who lived in the thirteenth-century Archdiocese of Liège. These mystical women challenged the minds of artists and theologians alike, in the past but also in the present day. Touched by the divine, these women expressed their experiences using dance, song and poetry. Visions and art were the means of communicating divine inspiration.
A Network of Women
These local saints received international praise and appreciation by contemporaries like Francis of Assisi. The thirteenth century was a great era for women in the Church, because these women were often authority figures and leaders of communities. Even today, these Belgian women receive scholarly attention from all around the world. Nevertheless, this attention is almost exclusively academic. The Vitae are not very known in the artistic world, to use an understatement.
An Artistic Interdisciplinary Network
This academic art project proposes a collaboration between different artists from different disciplines using academic language to communicate ideas, to explore these unknown sources (the Vitae), to reflect on the artistic process and finally, to evaluate the end product (an artistic dance video and a network of other related art pieces). These reflections will be posted in the upcoming blogs. I believe this academic research will enrich the artistic network which – for a long time – was hostile towards religion.
The Lens of the Artist
This project aims to offer a creative perspective on the process of mystical divine inspiration by comparing this phenomenon to the artistic process and by reading the sources through the lens of the artist. I believe this artistic interpretation of the sources will enrich academic research in the fields of both literature and theology. The artist reads the text through his medium (be it paint, video, or the body) and will discover new insights, which are hidden from the academic who is trained to approach texts from an academic distance (although these spiritual texts invite us to engage in its dynamics). This project wants to offer a dialogue between theology, mysticism, and diverse art forms in order to grasp the full reality of the female mystical experience, as described in the texts.
Christina – Project
The first women, the first text we will explore is the famous or notorious Christina Mirabilis, (the Astonishing), or just simply Christiana of Sint-Truiden (1150-1224). This mythical figure blurs the lines between reality and fiction. Trapped between heaven and earth, this saint danced across the Flemish landscape and sung with her extraordinary heavenly voice. This saintly artist was believed to be capable of flying, a hybrid creature stuck between heaven and earth. Based on her holy life, the dance starts, a dance without music. This dance will be shared with other artists, who will respond with their own interpretation using their own artistic medium. This will be supported by a process of academic reflection. At a later stage, the three artists will collaborate and finalize the artistic process with a dance video – a video that will be the point of reference for other artists (from other disciplines) to submit their work and create a dialogue between the different arts internally and between the arts and (mystical) theology.