Close Close
Zoom in Zoom in
Zoom out Zoom out
Reset image Reset image
Close Close
Zoom in Zoom in
Zoom out Zoom out
Reset image Reset image
Close Close
Zoom in Zoom in
Zoom out Zoom out
Reset image Reset image
Rage, Flower Thrower by Banksy
The miraculously floating axe-head: followers of Elisha cut trees near the river Jordan from Guiard des Moulins, Grande Bible Historiale Complétée by Jan Boudolf
100 Billion Suns by Katie Paterson

Banksy

Rage, Flower Thrower, 2005, Mural, Beit Sahour, Palestinian Territories, Eddie Gerald / Alamy Stock Photo

Jan Boudolf

The miraculously floating axe-head: followers of Elisha cut trees near the river Jordan from Guiard des Moulins, Grande Bible Historiale Complétée, 1372, Illuminated manuscript, Museum Meermanno, Huis van het boek, The Hague, MMW, 10 B 23, MMW, 10 B 23

Katie Paterson

100 Billion Suns, 2011, Confetti cannon, 3216 pieces of paper, © Katie Paterson, Photo courtesy of Storm King Art Center

‘Lord, that I may receive my sight’

Comparative Commentary by

All of the episodes in this passage are variations on the theme of redemption. In the first vignette, the ‘son of the prophet’ is redeemed from debt slavery, into which he would probably have fallen as a result of losing the iron head from a borrowed axe (Leithart 2006: 199–200). In the second, the prophet Elisha, his servant, and the city are redeemed from destruction at Aram’s hands. Finally, through the prophet’s mediation, Aram’s army is rescued from a vengeful act of retaliation from the King of Israel.

Of the three works chosen for this exhibition, only the manuscript illumination by Jan Boudolf is explicitly based on the biblical text. The other two, while not directly connected to the passage, illumine and visually expound three other key themes: mediation, vision, and reversal.

The manuscript illumination pulls the viewer in through its decorated quatrefoil frame toward the deeper meaning of the text. What at first blush may appear merely illustrative and aesthetically pleasing, turns out to be a form of theological commentary. Through subtle visual cues, the illumination signals the presence of the supernatural and foreshadows the miraculous dénouement to this simple story. It does this through the trinity of angels that hovers over Elisha and the two ‘sons of the prophets’, and through the orientation of the prophet’s hands. As in images of Christ at the Last Judgement, his left hand points upwards, towards the celestial realm of God and angels, the place from where deliverance is expected. His right hand points downwards, to the sphere of the mundane. It also anticipates the iron’s sinking into the water.

The prophet is portrayed as a teacher instructing his disciples, as mediator, and conduit of divine power. These are roles he plays in the subsequent scenes of the narrative. He prayerfully intercedes for his servant to receive spiritual vision on a threatening situation (2 Kings 6:17), on the one hand, and for God to take, and later restore, the natural vision of the Arameans, on the other (vv.18, 20). He acts as a mediator for the Syrians, instructing the King of Israel to spare their lives and treat them to a royal banquet rather than kill them, and through this, he acts as a broker of peace and channel of divine hospitality (v.22).

Viewed alongside the passage, the works in this exhibition enable a seeing of reality in its spiritual, even eschatological depth. By depicting angelic creatures, thought to be elusive and hidden from plain sight, the manuscript illumination concretizes the spiritual, and impresses upon the viewer the reality and potency, if also the hiddenness, of God and of heavenly beings. The illumination is also an invitation to the reader to see ordinary scenes and endeavours as spiritually charged sites where angels tread and redemptive reversals are imminent. There is an important resonance here with Katie Patterson’s art, which facilitates encounters with vast, if unseeable, cosmic forces and events. 100 Billion Suns is an invitation to acknowledge and acquaint ourselves with the hidden, but no less real and potent, energies at play in the universe.

The stories of the floating axe and the sparing of the Syrian army are both underpinned by a logic of reversal. In the first story, the laws of gravity are miraculously reversed. The sunken axe head is made to float. In the final scene of the passage, the laws of death and violence are reversed. A feast is spread before a humiliated enemy. Banksy’s Rage, Flower Thrower captures this logic of reversal with arresting poignancy. Instead of a grenade or a homemade petrol bomb, the protestor is about to hurl into enemy territory a vividly coloured bouquet.

Theologically construed, the mural hints at the eschatological terminus of violence. It is simultaneously a negation of what theologian John Milbank calls an ‘ontology of violence’ (2006: 4) and a powerful nod to peace as the world’s ‘ultimate ontological reality’ (2003: 42). But for the times ‘in-between’, before the promised Kingdom of Peace is fully established, Banksy’s ‘flower thrower’ is also, perhaps, a call to subversive enemy love and hospitality.

 

References

Barkham, Patrick. 2019. ‘“I've breathed in some crazy things from outer space”—Katie Paterson's 
Cosmic Art, 28 January 2019’, www.theguardian.com, [accessed 21 July 2020]

Leithart, Peter. 2006. 1–2 Kings, Brazos Theological Commentary (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press)

Milbank, John. 2003. Being Reconciled: Ontology and Pardon (London: Routledge)

———.2006. Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason, 2nd edn. (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing)

Patterson, Katie. 2011. ‘100 Billion Suns’, www.katiepaterson.org, [accessed 21 July 2020]