Australian artist Warren Breninger has long been concerned with the gestures of the human figure. The human form in his work, carries the mundane and earthed experience of flesh while also expressing a connection to what is holy and divine. This is forcefully presented in this work, made up of multiple panels, giving the viewer a close-up view of the mouth and its wildly expressive tongue that spells out a range of emotions from ecstasy to horror, and every possible state in between. It is as if the tongue is aflame, ‘set on fire’ (James 3:6).
Like up a filmic close-up, these works draw us in to the intimate space of the mouth, the place where humans spit their insults and express their deepest intimacy. These are the gates of prayer where every human person expresses their frustration, pain, delight, and hope. The artist turns off the sound in this moment and invites us to contemplate the tipping of the tongue, at times in power and at other times lost in blubbering gibberish. We are invited to look into this space that is a site both for the sacred and a place for resounding curses and declarations of violence.
Prayer when uttered out loud lets loose the primal desires, hopes, and frustrations of the human body. It creates stuttering in the finest speeches and interrupts the best prepared intercessions. Prayer is grief, fear, desire, and love, as it tumbles out ecstatically through human lips. The instability of this moment is heightened through Breninger’s process of working somewhere between photography and drawing, emphasizing certain gestures or in turn erasing, scraping back the glossy surface of the paper. The image seems wet, dissolving, still in a state of change. The apprehension of this unstable space causes anxiety for the viewer who would prefer a commanding moment that establishes control.
Rather than being pushed to the edges of the frame, such anxiety might serve as an instructive place from which to speak or pray. Through such limping speech it might be possible to recover our deepest humanity with respect and tenderness. Despite its sometimes appalling nature, our fleshly speech might be the place where we hear the simple syllables that spell out the meaning of love. Love is always a better flame.
Artist website: www.warrenbreninger.com.au
3Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, for you know that we who teach shall be judged with greater strictness. 2For we all make many mistakes, and if any one makes no mistakes in what he says he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body also. 3If we put bits into the mouths of horses that they may obey us, we guide their whole bodies. 4Look at the ships also; though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5So the tongue is a little member and boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire!
6 And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is an unrighteous world among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the cycle of nature, and set on fire by hell. 7For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by humankind, 8but no human being can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who are made in the likeness of God. 10From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brethren, this ought not to be so. 11Does a spring pour forth from the same opening fresh water and brackish? 12Can a fig tree, my brethren, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.