‘After art school, I realised I couldn’t paint or sculpt the way I wanted. I lived with a girl who who owned a camera so I started taking pictures with her camera seeing myself as an artist rather than a photographer.’
THIRTY YEARS OF PISS CHRIST
Thirty years since ‘Piss Christ’ set the art world ablaze, Andres Serrano’s graphic imagery continues to ignite relentless intrigue. The New York based photographer’s signature use of controversial subject matter is immediately provocative, never shying away from asking the uncomfortable questions.
When ‘Piss Christ’, a photograph of a crucifix submerged in urine, was revealed in 1997, Serrano, a relatively unknown artist at the time, was thrust into a frenzied limelight of public debate, with senator Jesse Helms declaring the image ‘filth’. Serrano was using bodily fluids long before ‘Piss Christ’, in works such as ‘Milk Blood’ (1985); it was only when this was combined with religious imagery things got complicated. Time and again the body and soul are separated in religious discourse, the body earthly and decaying, the soul heavenly and transient. Like Hans Holbein the Younger, Serrano references the body of Christ in all it’s ephemeral, abject reality. More often than not, reality is hard to swallow. The photographer’s lens scrutinises the viewer, we’re exhorted to think about the bodily processes associated with crucifixion and, in the process, our own mortality.
Serrano’s uninhibited artistic direction interrogates both concept and corporeality. Take his 1990 series ‘Klansmen’, where Serrano photographed contemporary Ku Klux Klan members in their haunting hooded white uniforms. In the eyes peering back at us, we are confronted with the fading remnants of a dangerous ideology.
Racism is given human form, the banality of evil is embodied. In ‘The Morgue’ (1992), poignant photographs of the deceased bring the incomprehensible to our doorstep, and with titles ascertaining how each person met their end, we are reminded of the fragile versatility of life and, equally, just how many ways there are to die. ‘America’ (2001- 04) saw Serrano deconstructed the idea of nationalism through kitsch iconic portraiture ranging from businessmen to child beauty queens, fashion models to migrant workers.
Accounting the anniversary of ‘Piss Christ’, Andres Serrano speaks exclusively with After Nyne on the reception of this infamous work, photography as art form, and future plans.