Performance artist. Witch Doctor. Cultural engineer.
Michael Dudeck is all of those. And this week, he has come to Regina’s Queer City Cinema Performatorium to talk about, and share, his work–creating a queer religion.
Most queer people have, at best, an ambivalent relationship with traditional religion. Far too many of us were raised in faith systems that made us ashamed of who we were, counselled us to hide what makes us different from the norm. Those who had the good fortune to attend a relatively tolerant church were, at best, the object of our pastor, or our congregation’s, compassion. We were tolerated out of a sense of decency and common humanity.
But when we read sacred texts, or participated in rituals like mass, or celebrated holy festivals like Passover, we never saw ourselves reflected in our religion. There weren’t a lot of stories that talked about the crucial role that our queer forebears had played in the mythology of our church. We were invisible to our God. And as a result, he/she was invisible to us.
For many of us, a by-product of the coming out process was losing our religion. Not like the REM song. Literally breaking from God.
But many queer people are not prepared to allow faith, or a sense of spiritual community, disappear from our lives completely. Some of us form uneasy compromises with the tenets of our childhood faith, rejecting what seems inconsistent with the underlying theme of love and redemption that runs through most major faiths. (Catholics, I’m looking at you here!) Others cobble together a vague notion of spirituality that borrows as much from pop culture as it does from the tenets of major faiths. (“ Feel the Force, Luke.”)
After losing our religion through the coming out process, many of us later embark on a quest to find it again.
Michael Dudeck is going one better. He’s not just finding his religion; he’s founding it…sort of.
Dudeck’s work is nothing less than the wholesale creation of a queer religion- a set of myths, rituals and images that together constitute a queer faith. He’s even created his own language and parts of the religious texts he has drafted can be found in both English and in his newly invented language. His performances take powerful images from other faiths, such as the story of Adam and Eve, and reinvent them as icons for his fictive religion.
” The Bible is a set of myths that were forced upon me, ” he says. ” I want to take those same characters and same stories and remix them. If I take Adam and Eve, it’s a powerful image I can call upon. ”
It’s a bold undertaking and one that, naturally, has its fair share of detractors, particularly among religious purists who insist in the literal truth of the Bible or other sacred text.
In an interview last year, Dudeck sparked controversy when he said that: ” Religions are just stories. They’re all fake anyway. Why not just make up my own? ” When asked about those comments, he doesn’t apologize for them. But he acknowledges the power that religion can have in people’s lives and agrees that the continued prevalence of certain figures or ideas suggests something that can’t be ignored. ” We tell these stories because they embody an ideal we want to hold on to, ” he says. ” There’s no historical evidence that King David or Jesus actually existed. But they embody something that we’re drawn to. ”
Dudeck subscribes to a view of art as a temporary organization of meaning. ” This is what it means right now to the people who are looking at it right now. ” That sounds like a fair definition, and it’s one I include before I insert my interpretation of what the Religion Project and the other expressions of his concept -Punc Arkaeology, the Genesis Complex and the Museum of Artificial Histories–have to offer. I make no pretense that what I am saying is a fair interpretation of his work, or of what he is saying. I merely offer my interpretation of what it says to me.
When Dudeck suggests that many of the stories from our traditional faiths aren’t literally true,I don’t believe he is denying their worth or their meaning. Quite the opposite. He wouldn’t be “remixing” iconography or rituals borrowed from other faiths if he didn’t acknowledge their value. He is reinventing them as myths that speak to us, include us, reflect us.
I know that many of the people reading this blog entry will roll their eyes, or spit, when I say this but things don’t have to be literally true to convey truth. Let’s face it–everything is filtered both through the perspective of the audience and that of the individual communicating. But the best stories are those which help illuminate some corner of our world, or of ourselves, whether they are literally true or not. In the end, stories are never directly about us; they are about someone or something else, real or imagined. And our understanding of that someone or something outside us is key to our understanding of ourselves.
By founding his religion, Dudeck is helping to create a space in which other queer people can find ours. He is deconstructing the heteronormative approach to religion and creating a space in which it is possible to reconstruct an idea of faith and spirituality that reflects who we are as queer people. And his work is merely part of a process. As he says, ” I wasn’t trying to create the quintessential queer mythology, just my mythology.” In other words, his work is a challenge to all of us–queer people, trans-identified people, anyone who feels outside the norm, to create mythologies that express our truth.
If you want to know more about this exciting and provocative artist, visit www.michaeldudeck.com. And if you want to see his performance at the Queer City Performatorium, visit the Neutral Ground Gallery, 1856 Scarth Street, tomorrow night- Thursday, January 16th at 9:45 PM. Tickets are just $15 for Thursday night’s performance and $30 for passes to all three days of the festival. For more information about the festival, visit www.queercitycinema.ca