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205 Religion is still present in the life of contemporary Western societies in a variety of ways: as a mindset for some, an authority that shapes ways of living and the everyday, as a political factor, and also, given that it was an integral part of the past, as an object of critical reflection and study. Our secular condition itself is to an extent the outcome of the transformation of religious institutions and their structural role in public life. In this sense, there is a continuity that cannot be disrupted, and the return of religion as a topic within contemporary art is a part of this story. Numerous exhibitions dealing with the relationship between religion and art have been organized in the past two decades. They have demonstrated the power of religious images to live on in a present-day context and the variety of questions such images can pose—pertaining to the human condition, to political issues, and to art and the very practice of image-making. Religious images still haunt our imagination and influence contemporary artists. When they take to reusing religious motifs, in many cases they do so as a means to reflect on our desire to believe in images, on the history of seeing them, and on their double power—iconic and political. The Conclusion 206 Conclusion group of images, objects, and practices that we call art in the contemporary sense of the word is a relatively recent phenomenon compared to the very long history of the production and circulation of religious images, which only later became religious art. This development was followed by a period of the gradual waning of religious art, and then of the waning of religious images within art. The twentieth century saw the development of artistic expressions of spirituality unrelated to organized religion. Religious iconography did not disappear, but its role within art changed. Wellrespected artists gradually began to reuse religious images, but in a very different way from those who created art for religious purposes or with a religious function. This reinscription of religious images and themes within art as a field of practice is related to a double moment observed and defined by Aby Warburg. Images survive through time, but their meanings become transformed. They are a means to claim an identity belonging to a tradition, but also a means to claim discontinuity and difference from it. The continued life of religious images and their modification by contemporary artists has had at least two important effects. The recycled religious motif refers to the long tradition of religious art and indicates connection with that tradition. Yet the very same motif is used as a tool to claim discontinuity, a break with that tradition, insofar as it is invested with a new meaning and is not used as a religious image. The image divested of its previous meaning and power becomes a tool to address issues that are central to the infrastructure of the present-day regime of representation: the rules that regulate the status of images and their public significance; the conditions of their production and authorship; and their connection to an origin or tradition, to a creator or context that guarantees their value. Artists have always produced images, at times elevating them as “true” images of divine origin and erasing their authorship, and at times claiming their own sovereignty as creators. These are the two sides of the theme of the image-origin. This is a fiction that claims to be true and has had the capacity to survive throughout the history of Western art. Examples include the legendary acheiropoietic images, said to be not made by the hand of an artist; photographic images that claim proximity to that older “handless” image; and modernist images for which a claim of absolute novelty is made, postulating the sovereign creativity of the artist as their sole reference point. But all images are the result of human making. They are fictions. The way the conditions of these fictions are negotiated, or the way the role of the maker is concealed or is brought to visibility, are defining features of the specific era or regime of the image. Authorship always involves two sides: on the one hand, the artist is never fully the origin of his Conclusion 207 or her creation, which always refers to, or is contaminated by, other images or texts; on the other hand, the role of the artist can never be...


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MARC Record
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