Doubting Thomas, Installation view, The National Gallery, Saints Alive by Michael Landy

Michael Landy

Doubting Thomas, Installation view, The National Gallery, Saints Alive, 2013, Mixed media, 205 x 186 x 80 cm, British Council, P8458, © Michael Landy. Image courtesy the artist and Thomas Dane Gallery and The National Gallery

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‘Thrust it into My Side’

Individual Commentary
Commentary by
Pablo Perez d'Ors

During a residency at the National Gallery, London, Michael Landy (b. 1963) was invited to create contemporary works in response to the gallery’s collection of Old Master paintings. The resulting pieces were featured in the exhibition titled ‘Saints Alive’ (23 May–24 November 2013).

Inspired by the kinetic sculptures of Jean Tinguely (1925–1991), Doubting Thomas combined found objects and scrap materials (cogs, springs, and pipes) with tridimensional renderings of Christ’s torso and Thomas’s hand as represented in Giovanni Batista Cima’s The Incredulity of Saint Thomas (c.1502–4). Visitors were invited to press a foot pedal, which activated a mechanism causing the finger to poke the wound. A piece of metal attached to the finger eventually bored a large hole on the torso, which had to be replaced several times throughout the exhibition. The marks left by the finger create a record of previous visitors’ experiences (and actions).

Thomas is often depicted engaged in, or collecting himself before, the act of touching Christ’s wounds. Interestingly, however, the Gospel reports Jesus’s words followed by Thomas’s reply, but is silent as to whether Thomas actually put his finger in the wound or not. A close reading of Jesus’s words (‘because thou hast seen me’ (v.29 KJV), rather than ‘touched me’) could in fact suggest that Thomas was satisfied with seeing only.

Michael Landy’s work can be seen as related to an artistic tradition that picks on the cringe-inducing element of Jesus’s request, and Thomas’s reluctance to follow it through: the actions of putting a finger into Christ’s nail wounds and thrusting a hand into his side are equal to a re-enactment of some of the violence that started with the Flagellation and climaxed at the Crucifixion. Besides encouraging visitors to adopt Thomas’s perspective, Landy raises questions as to the painful implications of Thomas’s doubt.

 

References

Mâle, Émile.1932. L'Art religieux après le Concile de Trente, étude sur l'iconographie de la fin du XVIe, du XVIIe et du XVIIIe siècles en Italie, en France, en Espagne et en Flandre (Paris: Librairie Armand Colin)

Most, Glenn W. 2009. Doubting Thomas (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press)