From 2 February to 7 July there will be a giant exhibition about Auriea’s artistic career in the New York Museum of the Moving Image, starting with sketchbooks from the early 1990s all the way to new digital sculptures created for the show. Since during a large chunk of that period (from 1999 to 2019) we were working together, a lot of the pieces in the show are collaborations: web projects by Entropy8Zuper! and videogames by Tale of Tales.
The exhibition will focus on her contributions to our work, which have always involved digital sculpture. While mine (interactivity, atmosphere, soundscapes, etcetera) have become somewhat of a lost art. After the web was ruined by social media we stopped creating art for the web and switched to videogames. And when those were ruined we quit videogames too. Initially in favor of Virtual Reality but that seems to be over now as well.
Auriea was able to make the step towards the world of contemporary fine art and continue her artistic activity in that context. But I have not. Digital art has, from the beginning, been a way for me to stay away from the world of modern art in favor of direct contact with an audience made possible by the internet. I was also seduced by and am still very fond of the unique possibilities of the realtime medium that cannot properly be experienced in the traditional fine art context and for which no other platform was ever developed.
But the most important reason why I stay away from the art world is me. I don’t respond well to the challenges posed by the contemporary art world. I don’t like who I become in confrontation with an environment that I experience as cynical, shallow and driven by money and power and dogmatic politics. But above all, I’m afraid I don’t like most modern and contemporary art. And I don’t enjoy being in an environment where I dislike the work of most of my colleagues. It was fun for a while when I was making games but I guess I feel too old for that kind of easy rebellion now.
For me, Auriea’s exhibition crowns my new faith. Three years ago I converted to Catholicism. Christianity has taught me a way of living and loving that has made me a much happier person. As an atheist I would never have been able to tolerate the injustice of an exhibition of our collaborative work presented as hers alone. I would have been so angry. It would have probably lead to a divorce. But as a Christian I’m happy to disappear. It’s the eagerly desired response to my many Litanies of Humility. And it makes me profoundly happy to find myself capable of enthusiastically supporting my wife. We recently got married in church. And this exhibition, or at least my modest role in it, extends our holy matrimony: she is the Bride, the Holy Jerusalem, adorned and pure. I am her servant. I lay down my life for her. This is all I want. This is who I am. Finally.
That two thousand and twenty-two might have been the happiest year of my life may not be saying much since for most of my life I had been a cynical latently depressed atheist like almost everybody I know.
But 2022 was my first complete year as a Christian. After accepting the Catholic faith last year, this year I regained access to the sacrament of holy communion through a general confession. In 2022 I have been consistently happy uninterrupted by anger or sadness. And I owe it all to faith.
Since we cannot prove nor disprove the existence of God, faith has been a matter of choice. And it’s a choice I continue to make as doubts attack me from all sides. One thing however is objectively true: my religious practice has made me a better person. And faith has been a necessary aspect of this practice.
A day with faith
Every day I get up, relatively early, often before sunrise, to read a hour or so during breakfast. This way I have read Augustine’s confessions, the catechism, the life of Saint Theresa of Avila and now John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. Then I go to my studio and pray the rosary on my knees in front of the window. Preferably during sunrise, or with the moon shining on my face. Praying the rosary is like taking a mental shower. It’s the basis of my day. After that I listen to something on the Hallow app. Then I’m ready for work.
I only work on the morning. The afternoon is reserved for music, language learning, bible study, exercise, naps, walks, chores and occasionally adoration, vespers, mass, and so on. Before going to bed I listen to the gospel of the day and say some evening prayers. Every Sunday and feast day I attend mass. And every Tuesday the weekly catechesis hour at my church. Every month or so I talk to the priest, lately combined with confession. And in Rome, where I live, there’s many opportunities for special masses, for example on the feast day of the saint to which one of the hundreds of churches here is dedicated. I enjoy immersing myself in the crowd that attends such festivities. I have also participated in several processions.
This faith routine forms the foundation of my joyful mood. I feel weird and somehow not really alive without it. I have had to unlearn working intensely for long hours because the concentration away from God makes me cranky and annoyed. But I have also experienced the strange paradox that if I devote sufficient time to faith, everything else I want to do gets done as well. Without having to watch the clock or schedule.
Out of the closet
This year I stopped hiding my faith. I hung a rosary visibly in my studio, and a crucifix on the wall. I got jewels and t-shirts with Christian iconography. And most importantly, I confessed my faith to my family. I was raised an atheist and I raised my children atheist. So I was a bit anxious about this but they responded much better than I feared. Especially after the interview with Sim D’Hertefelt that was published, in Dutch, our mother tongue, on Kerknet to very positive reactions from parents: they were pleasantly surprised to learn things about me that I had not managed to tell them in person.
For several years I had written down everything I would otherwise have posted on Twitter in a separate file and published all those “tweets” in a little book at the end of the year. This activity has now morphed into writing about the faith, except that I write five times as much. I have no idea if I will ever do anything with all that material.
I took lent, the 40 day period in which Christians fast and pray to prepare for the feast of the resurrection on Easter, very seriously this year. I canceled everything but work and devoted a lot more time to prayer, including walking a Via Crucis every week and climbing the Scala Santa, the stairs on which Christ walked to be condemned by Pontius Pilate, on my knees, as is the tradition. Later, assisted by the Hallow app, I consacrated myself to the Holy Virgin Mary in the Capella del Santissimo Sacramento in Saint-Peter’s Basilica.
A huge part of this year’s wonder has been growing even closer to the person I have already shared 23 years of my life with, thanks to the faith, both hers and mine, and embracing the concept of chastity which has put us on an adventure trail towards a Christian marriage.
The key to unlocking the joy and peace that I experienced this year has been humility. Perhaps an unintuitive concept in today’s culture, I believe humility is the source of happiness, with or without faith. I myself have been so arrogant and prideful that God was the only one for whom I would kneel. And I’m so glad I did! It hasn’t been easy. Ridding oneself of pride is a process. Especially because pride is often hard to recognize in oneself. I still have a lot of work to do. So chances are 2023 will be even more spectacular!
I’m always thinking that I don’t read enough but I was pleasantly surprised after lining up all the books that I have read this year. Granted some of them I had started in the previous year and others I haven’t finished yet, but still I’m pleased with myself.
Since 2022 was my first full year as a Christian, it comes as no surprise that the large majority of these books are related to religion. I even read some bibles in comic strip form to see if they might be suitable to share the story with less enthusiastic readers. But of course I read in the regular Bible too. Preceded by The Bare Bones Bible Handbook which gave me an overview. Then I combined a recent Dutch translation (my mother tongue) with extended commentaries, with the Italian translation, reading backwards starting at Apocalypse in order to read the Old Testament with the New in mind. But that will be for next year. I also read quite a bit of the Catholic Catechism, and commentaries, also in Italian.
After reading Jackie Hill Perry’s autobiographic conversion story in Gay Girl Good God, I read her Holier Than Thou, which really helped me understand our relationship with God and sort of forced me on my knees in front of His majesty. But it was Abigail Favale’s conversion story and especially her theologic reflections in Into the Deep that made me appreciate the profound beauty of the Catholic concept of Christianity, especially in the way in which it provides answers to many issues in contemporary secular culture.
After attending Tridentine Mass I started investigating what the mass was all about. And I even began learning Latin because it frustrated me that I couldn’t understand the gospel readings. And I read up on Vatican II to learn what some American schismatic fantasies were all about.
I “read” C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity by listening to the excellent CSLewisDoodle on YouTube and Chesterton’s Orthodoxy in a similar way. And I listened to the Daughters of Saint Paul podcast which lead met to their bundle Millennial Nuns about how a very diverse bunch of women decided to devote their lives to Christ. I also used the Hallow app a lot, for instance to listen to the autobiography of Thérèse de Lisieux read by the beautifully moving voice of sister Orianne Petra Rene.
I realize now that I my old preference for female authors doesn’t seem to have changed. Next to the writers mentioned above, I also read Therese of Avila’s Vita and many different things by Hildegard von Bingen. I also read the first book by a very young author from my new home country, Rosa Evangelista, whose youthful enthusiasm for the catholic faith is infectious and at time hilarious. Even the text book for my new instrument, the cello, was written by a woman. And I read the first chapters of Giorgia Meloni’s autobiography to understand a little better where our new prime minister is coming from.
But I’ve been charmed by male authors too. The new bishop of my former home town of Ghent had a lot of interesting things to say about lent. Ages ago I had read a book by Willem Jan Otten about pornography and it turns out that he has converted to Catholicism, not an obvious choice for a Dutchman. I enjoyed his book about not attending mass during the Covid lockdowns. And then of course there’s the great Tom Holland. After watching hours of him talking about how even atheist Westerners are essentially Christian, I started reading his history of Christianity called Dominion.
The most important discovery for me this year has been the writings of Pope John Paul II. Since before my conversion I had lead a life filled with porn and fornication and now I wanted to marry for the church, I felt a great need to educate myself on love and sex. John Paul’s Theology of the Body is giving me wonderful insights in the centrality of the body in Catholicism and the sacredness of love.
I tried to read The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins to see if he could offer any good arguments why I should not live this beautiful Christian life that brings me so much joy. But I didn’t get far into the book because it started with attacks on people and their ideas rather than sharing his own convictions.