Tag Archives: Viriditas

23 Days

The Viriditas Chapel of Perpetual Adoration is not the first of my projects to deal with Christianity. In fact, a long thread throughout my creative career connects various references to Christianity, culminating in the ongoing production of Cathedral-in-the-Clouds. When the fundraising for that project started, I made sure that people realized that I was not a believer but instead interested in Christianity from an aesthetic and cultural point of view. Seven years later I can no longer claim the same.

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.

Compassie playthrough

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.

Viriditas pseudo-playthrough

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.

Novena to St. John Paul II

The Viriditas Chapel of Perpetual Adoration is the first work of art that I have created as a Christian. I converted to Catholicism a year and a half ago. Until then, the many references to Christianity in my art were made solely out of cultural and artistic interest, given that I was an atheist.

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.

Michael Samyn, Rome, 14 October.