1 John 3 characterizes sin as lawlessness. We can find a profound metaphor for such troubling and chaotic disorder in Paul Chan’s (b.1973) series of video projections called The 7 Lights.
Known for his complex, large-scale video work, Paul Chan regularly blurs the line between art and activism. In the course of his ongoing experiments with video art, he took up the challenge of presenting shadows (hence his title, implying the pictorial representation of light’s negation).
Inspired by observing the play of light on the floor of his apartment, Chan created a set of digital animations depicting an inversion of the seven days of creation, a kind of ‘un-creation’ narrative. These videos are projected on the gallery floor. As the artificial daylight of these videos rises and changes over time, ominous shadows appear and move across the picture plane.
The work opens with familiar shadows of telephone poles, streetlights, trees, or birds—all animations digitally drawn by the artist. As the videos progress, objects begin to float upward slowly and tear apart in mid-air. Many are quite small (eyeglasses, cell phones, or an iPod) and others are much larger (pets, city-dwelling animals, a bicycle, a police car, or a city train).
Suddenly shadows of human bodies drop through the picture plane. Only a few bodies fall at first; mostly one at a time, but sometimes in pairs or groups. They descend—presumably to their deaths—with a speed and force that recalls the haunting news footage of those leaping from the burning towers of the World Trade Center on 11 September 2001. The initially quaint, absurd scenes are thus rendered chaotic disasters. Chan’s windowpanes continue to fill until objects overcrowd the view and all is shadow. Beginning with the warm hues of dawn and closing with cooler night-time blues and greys, each day unfolds in 14-minute sequences that loop endlessly.
The 5th Light (shown here) stands out for its startling inclusion of assault rifles. Humans have a share in the world’s de-creation in the wars we start, the oppression we inflict, and the inequalities we allow.
Likewise, when 1 John states that ‘no murderer has eternal life abiding in him’ (v.15), it recalls Cain, whose murder of his brother was the first homicide. Chan’s apocalyptic fantasy not only dazzles and disturbs, but in its unveiling of the powers and principalities of this world, it also judges our lawlessness.
Chan, Paul, and Martha Rosler. 2006. Paul Chan, Martha Rosler: Between Artists. (New York: A.R.T. Press)
Chan, Paul, et al. 2007. Paul Chan: The 7 Lights. (London: Serpentine Gallery)
3See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2Beloved, we are God’s children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. 3And every one who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.
4 Every one who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. 5You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. 6No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him. 7Little children, let no one deceive you. He who does right is righteous, as he is righteous. 8He who commits sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. 9No one born of God commits sin; for God’s nature abides in him, and he cannot sin because he is born of God. 10By this it may be seen who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not do right is not of God, nor he who does not love his brother.
11 For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another, 12and not be like Cain who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. 13Do not wonder, brethren, that the world hates you. 14We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death. 15Any one who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. 16By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.