This week on The Arts Show Alex McCulloch chats with artist Vivian Cooper Smith.
Vivian Cooper Smith
30 April – 25 May 2019
In the bible Luke tells the story of the two followers of Jesus who are travelling to Emmaus when they meet a stranger whom they invite to dinner. The stranger is in fact Jesus who they fail to recognise. During dinner Jesus reveals his true identity and vanishes leaving the astonished men to celebrate his resurrection.
This story is represented by Caravaggio in two paintings entitled ‘Supper at Emmaus’ and finished in 1601 and 1606. In each version he shows a naturalistic and relatively mundane domestic scene at the moment of transformation. In this singular instant the stranger is identified as someone the apostles already know.
Putting the supernatural aspects aside this story highlights key questions around subjectivity, truth and the act of knowing. By making himself identifiable, Jesus eliminates all other possibilities and is limited to the Jesus they already knew. According to the biblical story Jesus was not simply a man but also the Son of God. In this context to ‘see’ the truth of the stranger is to disregard the contrasting truth of his omniscience and omnipresence. The process of seeing determined the identity of Jesus as a man however perhaps the true identity of Jesus was as a stranger – one who cannot be identified – because to do so is to limit and contain into a human form. Put in a secular context, the process by which a stranger become recognised or known is an active one of limitation and containment. The possibilities (including threat of harm) that the stranger embodies are reduced to an established framework or identity ‘that is already known’. As feminist scientist Karen Barad has shown, the apparatus by which we study and know the world actively determine the kinds of knowledge we gain. It’s a creative process.