The Viriditas Chapel of Perpetual Adoration is my first work of art as a Christian. Twenty three days after the release of Compassie, on Silent Saturday 2021, I heard God’s voice for the very first time and my life changed radically as a result.
Compassie was a piece about sadness. It’s the classic pietà scene in which the Holy Virgin holds the dead body of her executed son. In virtual reality, you take her place. In front of you there is an ocean of darkness. Behind you a luscious landscape that forms the backdrop of a cross floating in mid air held somewhat ridiculously by four cherubs. He has risen! We are saved! But you turn back around and stare into the dark. Your son is dead. You are inconsolable.
I enjoyed how Compassie gave me a place where I could be sad. I remember enjoying how the VR goggles would hide my tears. I felt safe to let go in there, to silently endlessly cry about the sadness of life. I was certainly having personal problems at the time. But there was also the quite obviously desperate state of the world. Between the political polarization of society and the ecological crisis, I couldn’t see much hope.
Compassie was my tribute to this state of desperation. Christ became the symbol for the solution that everyone knows exists. But we killed Him, or we ignored Him and the promise made through His sacrifice. We know what a beautiful world looks like (just turn around!), we even know what it would take to get there (just turn around!). But somehow we find ourselves incapable of choosing that road and following it. We are stuck. Indulging in our misery. Too prideful to believe.
In hindsight, through the lens of my Christian faith, it is quite clear to see how Compassie was a subconscious “cry for help”. I was balancing on the edge of an abyss with nowhere to go that didn’t lead to destruction. I was ready for God. But I did not know that then. Until 23 days later.
For me, The Viriditas Chapel of Perpetual Adoration expresses quite well how my new found faith makes me feel. Astounded by a beauty that borders on the surreal but remains framed within a long tradition. I feel loved, I am grateful, I bow down in awe for the glory of God. It feel lightheaded with joy. I am becoming myself, the one He created for Himself. Like millions of others that have now become my kin. And then with all that splendor in my heart, the lights go out. And I find myself alone with Him. His body and blood, soul and divinity, embedded in a simple disk of bread, exposed on the altar. In the dark of my closed eyes I smell the incense, I feel His warm hands around my heart, the stubble on his cheeks catching the tears on mine as he embraces me and whispers His breath of life into all of me.
I chose to release The Viriditas Chapel on the feast day of Saint John Paul II because my attitude towards his person illustrates an important transition. Like many of my secular leftist peers in the 1980s and 1990s, I hated this pope more than any other. Why? Well, that’s where the problem lies. Because I had vaguely heard something about him being very very conservative and forbidding the use of condoms while people where dying of AIDS. That, apart from his frequent appearances on tv, was the extent of my knowledge of this man.
This was not atypical. Most of my opinions as a progressive liberal where based on flimsy quotes overheard in cheerful conversations. Mind you, I did not see myself as shallow. It simply never occurred to me that I should investigate a little before judging along with my friends or agreeing with people who seemed sympathetic or smart.
The same applied to Christianity. Oddly so, because I have been interested in this topic for many years. And I read all sorts of things about Christian art and architecture, and in the Bible. I visited hundreds of churches all through Europe, even attending services as research. I had a lot of respect for believers to the point of being slightly invidious. But somehow it never occurred to me to investigate the core of Christianity: faith itself. The thought that I should maybe read one of the Church Fathers or watch a movie by Christians on YouTube never even briefly crossed my mind.
When I converted I started devouring information about the faith. It was all so fascinating! It felt like I was using my brain for the first time. And often I came across references to Pope John Paul II. Apparently the man I had hated with such indifference was a very important presence to my fellow Christians. People loved the guy! They even made him a saint. So I started reading his Theology of the Body and came across his Letter to Artists.
In preparation for the release I am praying a novena as atonement. Not just for Saint Pope John Paul II but for the injustice with which I have regarded the Catholic Church all my life. And as an expression of gratitude to the almighty Lord for receiving me into his flock in spite of my obvious unworthiness.
The Viriditas Chapel of Perpetual Adoration is the first work of art that I have created as a Christian. But this is far from the first time Christianity inspired me. In fact, the theme seems to have followed me throughout my creative life. God has been tirelessly knocking on that door and I kept wondering “What on earth is that noise?”
I grew up in an atheist household but I attended catholic schools. Hence my familiarity with Christian narratives. I have also long preferred old art. As a result Christian themes and iconography were no stranger to me. And as a designer of immersive spaces, I was drawn to churches for inspiration. I even regularly attended mass simply for the experience, to “see the machine performing the function it had been designed for.” But I did not believe.
1988 As a teenager I made clothes for myself. On one of my jackets I had sewn a bronze crucifix found at a flea market. But I did not believe.
1992 Right after school I created lots of art objects. I often used imagery from mass media and advertising. For one piece I mounted the logo of a brand of toilet paper in gold on a piece of black cardboard shaped like a baroque frame. The logo was a lamb. But I did not believe.
1995 In the early days of the web there had been a bug in the Netscape browser that allowed defining the body tag more than once. Thanks to the slow speed of modems this could be used to created animations that were otherwise not yet possible. When that feature was removed I created a web site called The Church of the Multiple Body Tag in protest. It referenced the choice between Jesus and Barabbas and the number of the beast. But I did not believe.
1995 In my first net.art piece called Home I made a sort of crucifix of a framed portrait of Kate Moss, two guns for hands and an electrical socket for feet on a wallpaper background. And only now, almost 30 years later, I discover that in that image, the model is wearing a necklace with a cross. But back then, I did not believe.
1996 My last net.art piece with Group Z, Belgium was called I confess. It was an online confessional with a game interface that forced you to admit all the sins you had committed as an artist. But I did not believe.
1997 In the early web days I was involved in several collaborative projects. One of them was on the hell.com domain for which I created the web interface. But I did not believe.
1997 The website collaboration with Olia Lialina started when she said her plane had crashed and she was writing from paradise. So we named the site Heaven & Hell, after the internet connection we discovered between the two. But I did not believe.
1999 When I met the love of my life we were separated by an ocean. We started creating together the day after. We were so overwhelmed by our experience that we reached for the grandest thing we could think of to express our love in the wires: the Pentateuch. Our web site unfolded a love story inspired by the first five books of the Bible. We called the whole thing The Godlove Museum. But I did not believe.
1999 Genesis was about two souls meeting online. Our relationship was both amorous and creative. We represented ourselves as saints, used baroque ornaments and sacred music. But I did not believe.
1999 When farao let Auriea go after several dramatic plagues, we made a website called Exodus. But I did not believe.
2000 When dealing with immigration laws and learning the customs of a new land, we made a chapter of The Godlove Museum inspired by the Bible book of Leviticus. But I did not believe.
2001 In our first interactive 3D piece, Eden.Garden, we used scans of our own bodies to represent Adam and Eve in a Garden of Eden generated from the code from any web page. Genesis was quoted directly. But I did not believe.
2001 In preparation for our first experiments with 3D, Auriea and I had scanned ourselves kissing. With The Kiss we created an immersive environment inside of the mesh of our entwined bodies that shared one heart that was shaped like a cross. But I did not believe.
2001 We called a small web project Per omnia saecula saeculorum, referencing a well known trinitarian doxology, with music from Handel’s Messiah. But I did not believe.
2002 The attack by US president Bush on Afghanistan was accompanied by rhetoric that seemed to come straight from the Old Testament. Simultaneously Auriea and I realized how different our cultures really were. We mixed quotes from Bible and president and even Jesus made an appearance in Numbers. But I did not believe.
2003 Our first videogame creation attempt, simply called 8, was inspired by a fairy tale, not a biblical text. I did include a chapel in my design for the palace of Sleeping Beauty. And the music we had chosen before working with Gerry De Mol was Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater. But I did not believe.
2005 When we figured out how to create and release a game, we made one in which deer would have glowing signs between their antlers, as in the legend of the conversion of Saint Hubert. At the launch of the project in the former abbey of Ename online players would convert visitors of the exhibition. And the central feature of this first phase of The Endless Forest was the ruin of a church. But I did not believe.
2006 Long after the previous chapter, when we had already given up on the web as an artistic medium, we created the last part of The Godlove Museum, Deuteronomy, in which we remixed the previous parts with Bible quotes about rules and regulations to express the sadness of not being able to enter the promised land. But I did not believe.
2008 In The Graveyard you play an old lady who visits a cemetery and listens to a song. It was inspired by my memories of the peaceful combination of solemn graves and lively nature in the cemetery of the small town where I spent my adolescent years. And by my grandmother who was still alive at the time and deeply catholic. I was profoundly struck by the cheerfulness with which she expressed her desire to join her husband who had died shortly before. But I did not believe.
2009 Fatale tells the story of the execution of John the Baptist. You play his ghost in his final night on earth, free to contemplate the love of Salome imagined by Oscar Wilde. Another biblical story. But I did not believe.
2010 When the first iPhone came out we created a Memento Mori for it the name of which, Vanitas, referred directly to the biblical basis of the concept from Ecclesiastes: “Vanitas vanitatum et omnia vanitas.” But I did not believe.
2011 During a research project called Cncntric I explored my interest in sacred architecture and medieval cosmology. I was mesmerized by how the architecture of a church would lead the visitor from the square that represents earth to the circle that represents heaven. And the geocentric conception of the universe, while disproven by Copernicus, still made a lot of spiritual sense. I love the idea of our planet floating in the embrace of ever expanding spheres and finally by God Himself. But I did not believe.
2013 We named Luxuria Superbia, a game the simulates sexual pleasure in an abstract and playful way, after the Latin words for two mortal sins: lust and pride. But I did not believe.
2015 Sunset takes place in San Bavón, the capital of an imaginary South-American country. For couleur locale, the dates in the game were accompanied by the mention of the Christian saint or feast of that day. But I did not believe.
2016 LOCK was a simple game structured along a gigantic geocentric universe. The name was an abbreviation of Loci Omnes Caelesistis Kyries which means something like “All Places of the Heavenly Lord”. But I did not believe.
2016 Liberated from the pressure of making commercial videogames, I found myself free to explore my life-long passion for Christian iconography en symbolism in old art and architecture. This culminated in a giant umbrella project called Cathedral-in-the-Clouds. I wanted to create opportunities for contemplation inspired by Christian narratives that I felt should be considered equally valuable to modern culture as Greco-Roman mythology. Backed by a successful crowdsourcing campaign and inspired by visits to numerous cathedrals in Belgium, France, Italy, Spain and Poland we created a prototype for a virtual reality cathedral. And the project even lead me to leave my country and move to Rome, around the corner of the Vatican of all places. But I did not believe.
2018 Cricoterie is a Virtual Reality program inspired by the Theater of Death of Polish theater make Tadeusz Kantor. As such it addressed the theme of religion and featured crosses and a priest. I relished the opportunity to deal with completely serious subject matter. But did not believe.
2021 After several rejected proposals for Christian themed dioramas -which turned out to be the most controversial subject of my already somewhat defiant career- including a tribute to Saint Ambrose, a chapel for Saint Anthony and a virtual sculpture of Adam and Eve, I managed to create a pietà in Virtual Reality. In Compassie I have the user take the place of the Holy Virgin sitting at the bottom of the cross with the dead body of her son on her lap. But I did not believe.