Gordon Monro — Notes

Note on Veronica: Contact of Worldlines

Gordon Monro, March 2019

This is an additional note on the installation Veronica: Contact of Worldlines.

Click to reveal textIntroduction

For a number of years the Rev Douglas Purnell, artist and theologian, has put together an exhibition on the Stations of the Cross, inviting different artists to participate. Douglas has welcomed artists from diverse backgrounds, including those outside religious traditions. In my case Douglas knew I wasn't a Christian when he invited me.

Traditionally there are 14 Stations of the Cross, beginning with Jesus being condemned to death, following Jesus as he carries his cross to the place of execution, continuing with Jesus's crucifixion and death, and ending with the placing of his body in a tomb. Douglas has added two more, the resurrection of Jesus, and a contemporary re-presentation of the resurrected Jesus's appearance to some of his disciples on the road to Emmaus, set in the remote Aboriginal community of Warmun.

The Stations were assigned to the artists at random, and I was assigned Station no. 6, Veronica wipes Jesus's face.

Click to reveal textVeronica

This story of Veronica is not in the Bible; it first appears in the 4th century AD. At that time the person was named as Berenike (other forms being Berenice or Bernice), a Greek name meaning "bearer of victory"; this name was borne by, among others, wives and daughters of Pharaohs in Egypt, 3rd century BC on.

In the legend, Berenike (or Veronica) came out of the crowd and saw Jesus struggling; she took off her veil (a brave act) and gave it to Jesus to wipe his face with. He did so, and gave her back her veil, which now had an image of Jesus's face miraculously impressed on it. The image-bearing cloth also had miraculous healing powers. Various stories identify Berenike with one or another Biblical figure, though none of these are said in the Bible to do the action ascribed to Veronica.

The name "Berenike" was Latinised to "Veronica", and in mediaeval time this was given the fictitious derivation "vera" + "icon", to mean "true image"; the name of the woman became conflated with the use of the word "Veronica" to mean a true image of Jesus's face.

Click to reveal textMy approach

I am not a Christian, but a greater obstacle was that I am an abstract artist, and I found this a very difficult subject; I do not have an appropriate artistic language.

The events in the Gospel stories of Jesus are carefully crafted from a theological viewpoint (leaving aside the question of literal truth). But, since Veronica isn't mentioned in the Bible there is no help to be had from any Biblical context. There are abstract Stations of the Cross, notably the set by Barnett Newman (whom I understand was a non-observant Jew). However, Barnett treated the Stations as a whole, and gave the work the subtitle Lema sabachthani ("Why have you forsaken me?"), Jesus's cry on the cross. This did not provide a useful model for me, and the story of Veronica is positive rather than a lamentation.

I decided not to go into miraculous images and the like. On the face of it, the Veronica story is one of a simple and selfless act of compassion: Veronica, who has no connection with Jesus, comes out of the crowd, relieves Jesus's suffering a little without regard to expected standards of propriety, and disappears back into obscurity.

In the end I took a view sub specie aeternitatis, a God's-eye view: God is understood as being outside space and time. In relativity theory, a diagram of worldlines is situated in four-dimensional spacetime; the diagram encompasses all space and all time. In relativity theory spacetime is a unified whole with no distinguished time axis, but since the actors of the crucifixion are moving very slowly compared to the speed of light the difference from a single time axis is negligible. Since my construction is in three dimensions, I drop one dimension of spacetime and have two spatial dimensions and one time dimension.

The accompanying video shows people at rush hour going about their business, each isolated in a crowd, passing one another without acknowledgement. Even ants touch antennae as they pass by.

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