Controversy Around a Photo "Piss Christ"

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Controversy Around a Photo “Piss Christ”

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Piss Christ – a photograph that has attracted controversy for more than two decades – has gone on display in New York, at an exhibition which surveys 25 years of the artist Andres Serrano's work.

In 1989, red and yellow photograph of a crucifix plunged into a vat of Serrano's urine ignited a congressional debate on US public arts funding. It was physically attacked. Small group of Catholics opposed to the work gathered outside the Edward Tyler Nahem gallery, where the exhibition opened. "At the time I made Piss Christ, I wasn't trying to get anything across," Serrano told the Guardian. "In hindsight, I'd say Piss Christ is a reflection of my work, not only as an artist, but as a Christian." Some Christians find the work deeply offensive. Anger towards the photograph hit a pinnacle on Palm Sunday 2011 when French Catholic fundamentalists attacked and destroyed the photograph with hammers. Serrano's photograph of a meditating nun was also damaged in the attack. "The thing about the crucifix itself is that we treat it almost like a fashion accessory. When you see it, you're not horrified by it at all, but what it represents is the crucifixion of a man," Serrano told the Guardian. "So, if Piss Christ upsets you, maybe it's a good thing to think about what happened on the cross."

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First observing the work Piss Christ, without knowing anything about the photograph, all which can be understood is the figure of Jesus Christ hanging on a wooden cross and the warm yellow light glowing from and around the crucifix. It is covered in an orange glow which fades to a dark background speckled with groups of small yellow bubble. Almost giving it the appearance of a painting of Jesus on the cross. Then when the name is incorporated into one’s knowledge about the piece, the viewer understands that it is in fact a photograph of a crucifix that has been flooded into some sort of clear container filled with urine.

Later interviews prove that it is actually the artist’s own urine that was used to create that glowing yellow color and the dots seen scattered around Christ’s body are really bubbles suspended in the liquid. After observing Serrano’s other works it’s obvious that he is not just a photographer but instead an artist who uses his camera as a tool by which he achieves a greater outcome. This is noticed especially in his “Immersions” collection, where he uses bodily fluids such as blood, milk, semen and urine very prominently. As seen in “Piss Christ”, Serrano has been experiential in combining painting and sculpture with photography in a variety of ways but in order to not be associated with the photography dominion solely, he makes his work larger than the normally smallish size of a photograph.

These methods and his extremely controversial pieces of art have successfully deemed him one of the most distinguished contemporary artists of today. Piss Christ has very quickly created quite a noise with its easily interpreted disregard for the Christian religion, because of the subject matter being a crucifix and urine one can easily jump to the conclusion the Serrano meant to bash the religion but he states later that he meant no offence and instead wanted to express how he views his own personal beliefs and how he feels those concepts relate to the way Catholics view the bodily fluids of Jesus Christ. Serrano himself comes from a Catholic background and saw no harm in using the symbols associated with Catholicism in his art due to his understanding of those symbols meanings. He also wanted his audience to reconsider what they think is offensive if they have come to a conclusion that Piss Christ is insulting to them. For example, the act of urinating on an object or person is found by many to be extremely degrading and utterly disrespectful.

However, urinating is something every human must do while they remain alive. It can be understood from the Bible that Jesus Christ bled to death on the cross. While, suffering agonizing pain or already unconscious, he probably didn’t have the best control over his body and could have easily urinated or defecated on himself. Because he was only human, there would have been no way to stop such purely human naturally bodily functions. Many believers today do not see, or choose not to see, that side of Christ. They want his image to remain untarnished in their mind and jump to the offended side if ever they see something that could be considered a desecration of their religious views. Serrano is addressing them and hoping to spark something more than immediate disapproval with Piss Christ.

Unfortunately, his efforts are met with hate and even brutality for more reasons than this alone. Serrano received numerous threats and hate mail from the public not only because his work Piss Christ tempts the viewer to see how it can be initially disrespecting Christian religious symbols but also because, at the time he released Piss Christ as part of his collection Immersions, he was receiving funding from the government for his works. His religious audiences were immediately angered that their tax money was going towards art that was so disrespectful, in their opinions, shaming their beliefs. Violent acts such as the one in France have reoccurred in other exhibits of Serrano’s and may keep happening but hopefully by now it has come to the public’s attention that a certain level of unacceptability has become deeply established in Serrano’s work. He challenges that balance between right and wrong in his pieces and desires an audience that will question his concepts behind works such as Piss Christ without simply accusing him to be blasphemous right away.

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