Experiential Spirituality: Art Spaces, Bodies, and the Sublime

Mentor: Joe Lucchesi

Abstract: My St. Mary’s Project investigates the relationships between bodily experience, the sublime, and art spaces. This project is an interdisciplinary one, located between Art History and Religious Studies. The purpose of this project is to provide a framework for understanding our own spirituality or contact with the sublime in immersive contemporary art spaces. I examine several recent installation works formally linked through the deliberate use of light and sensory overstimulation, including Bill Viola’s The Crossing from 1996 and James Turrell’s Live Oak Friends Meeting House from 2000. I advocate for an understanding of the sublime in contemporary art spaces as participatory above all, and based in the body and sensory experience of the audience. The sublime or the divine agent must first be considered as an activity that requires participation in order to realize this understanding. The participants involved are the art space and the particular and willing viewers as autonomous agents. The sublime or divine is then created in the meeting between an active and willing viewer and the sensorial-aesthetic phenomena of a given installation work. I argue that the physical and formal characteristics of art spaces provide the potential for contact with the sublime. It is the active and willing viewer that catalyzes this potential, based on their individual context and the phenomena at hand.