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Dentist's office proclaims Word of God in art

“There are more things in heaven and earth,” marveled Shakespeare’s Hamlet, “than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

Putting aside phantoms and bloody fingers for a moment, the Bard’s thoughts could easily apply to the entire realm of the arts. Creative people reveal, investigate, build or experiment with material objects and spiritual realities in highly unusual ways. Many are deemed quite demented until a new medium or genre takes off and becomes socially acceptable. Sharing their discoveries with the world in new or meaningful forms often assumes the form of some type of “art” in all its diversity.

Artists and art lovers have this in common; they actively search out the potential of objects, materials, situations or places rather than accepting them at the flat face value the world assigns them. Think about Warhol with his soup cans, Rachel Whiteread and her cast of a life-size Victorian home or musical footpads and laser instruments.

But artists are only part of this picture, let’s say the foreground. Without a scattering of supporters, most art isn’t budging more than a few feet from a studio. Collectors and promoters willing to consider “things in heaven and earth” imbibe the artist’s vision if it moves them personally. Some are renowned for the great names they nurtured – Gertrude Stein and Alfred Stieglit,z as well as contemporary mega collectors Eli Broad or the Ahmansons.

Others dwell in relative obscurity, promoting art for the sheer joy of it and sharing with their private audiences. Dr Cecilia Cárdenas’ dental office in Guadalajara is one of those secret corners of the earth holding a surprise for her guests – in this case a “heart transplant.” Contemporary art with Christian themes cover the walls and floor space in her waiting room. Quality of the work is very high and relatively large-scale, almost overwhelming the small, tiled area.

This is a deliberate move by Cardenas, a serious Christian who loves art and God, thinking one may as well lead to consideration of the other. The current pieces she commissioned were based on Bible passages on the heart. In this occasion, art unites with words to reinforce that the main purpose is not just about knowing the Bible, but about experiencing it.

Working with three artists from the collective Sector Reforma – Alejandro Fournier, Santino Escatel and Javier Cárdenas Tavizon – they chose a verse to interpret and were otherwise allowed free reign in design, expression and choice of mediums. The results are particularly impressive considering that the collective is not in the least bit religious.

Cardenas struggled at first with “legalism,” thinking that God could “only use Christian artists” to interpret His Word. But the very fact that they accepted her proposal confirmed her hopes – that the exhibit will bring many to “have a personal encounter with Him.”

Her introduction in Spanish and English echoes the chosen verses, and she quotes Hebrews 4:12 as motivation: “For the word of God is living and powerful … and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”

“Heart Transplant” opened in a public space in Guadalajara, and after a short tour in churches, landed in her offices. A flyer by graphic artist April Hageman 2,000 miles away in Iowa describes the project as “materializing spiritual revelations from the Bible, concerning the human heart.”

Hageman also remarks on how the exhibition affects not only viewers, but also those involved in the production, even from a distance: “This experience opened my eyes to the power and reach that God has in our lives.”

Visitors first notice the sound of running water and its unusual source – from an aorta. A larger than life heart pulses jets of water from vinyl ventricles with a basin of mirrored water beneath.

Alejandro Fournier’s interpretation of Proverbs 27:19 in the form of a fountain is medically, anatomically correct and almost a concrete materialization of the words of the verse: “As water reflects a face, so a man’s heart reflects the man.”

Left: "Reflection on Proverbs 27:19" Right: "Western Union," by Alejandro Fournier

Fournier enjoyed watching people interact with his piece as they stopped and contemplated his construction – a metaphor for the human heart. Viewers stopped to meditate on the origin of idea, becoming for the moment part of a “Heart Transplant.”

His work includes observing obsolete technologies in his almost anthropological “Western Union” video, where he interviewed and filmed German Mennonites in Mexico and their ongoing ideological battle between modern technology, faith and nature. Fournier has a great installation from that, with a skeletal, reduced and purposeless “John Deere” tractor among other interesting things.

Santino Escatel presents a very large photographic C-print representing Proverbs 3:3: “Let not mercy and truth forsake thee; bind them about thy neck, write them upon the tablet of thine heart.”

A dark, heavily shaded corner of a room with little contrast, the image is minimal and requires study. In the darkest corner a small square of golden light appears, the only warmth and focal point.

Left: "From Proverbs 3:3-4" Right: "Patio de los Arrayanes," by Santino Escatel

Escatel works in varied media such as video and installation. His work “Patio de los Arrayanes” features a whimsical grouping of metallic, hinged and winged structures that shade and fan visitors while gasping like prehistoric, mechanical birds migrated from Silicon Valley.

Artist and collective member Javier Cárdenas Tavizon offered another medically accurate rendering of a human heart, which can be tempered and changed by viewers with a movable and lined Plexiglas screen. He created the image, then scanned and reproduced his “scanimation.” His print assumes at least three different positions and color casts, paralleling dark (stony hearts), light (hearts of flesh) and purification.

Left: "Amphibian" – Right: "Heart Scanimation," by Javier Tavison

Tavizon enjoyed the challenge issued Cardenas’ commission, which included having to read and meditate deeply on a Biblical passage, possibly for the first time. His piece represents Ezekiel 11:19-20 and an affirmation of 1 John 1:7.

Other works include installations and sculptural intervention on all scales, as well as paintings. His oil on canvas “Amphibian” is noted as an “escape vehicle” and appears to be a memorial to a horrific tsunami. Tavizon’s style is something like simplified silk-screen and Japanese ukiyo-e (block print) – particularly in this piece.

Cardenas is thrilled about the process and work done with Sector Reforma. Although she hasn’t seen the milling crowds she hoped for at some events, this echoes her private journey “to appreciate more my relationship with Him, than having my expectations fulfilled.”

Not every dentist, doctor or accounting office embarks on lofty expeditions of promoting art and evangelizing with the limited space and funds they have on hand; but it makes me realize we can all do more than we probably think.

“I dwell in possibility,” said Emily Dickenson, and those who would make and promote the arts must live there too.