The Royal Road

the-royal-road

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2016
video and sound
duration: 6 min

exhibited:
Stations of the Cross, St Stephen Walbrook, London, 2017
Stations 2020, Arts Chaplaincy Projects, 2020

bibliography:
Laura Moffatt, ‘Stations of the Cross and Resurrection’, Art & Christianity, No 90, Summer 2017
Muriel Zagha, ‘From Psycho to Transcendence’, Elephant, 2017
Stations of the Cross | Stations of the Resurrection, Stations 2017, catalogue, ISBN 978-1-5272-0874-2s 

from the series Stations of the Cross

© acknowledgements:
The Sound of Music (1965) 
Psycho (1960) 
Re:re:re: ([Ingenting])


Commentary by Lucy Newman Cleeve for Stations 2020

The First Station: Jesus is condemned to death

A clip of Julie Andrews as the novice Maria from the opening scenes of The Sound of Music (1965) is layered over an extract from Psycho (1960). The looped clip of Andrews taking a single breath is so short that she appears as a still, solitary figure set against a background of clear blue sky, her chin lifted and head raised as she stares straight ahead. Her hand brushes against her skirt as it flaps gently in the wind; her chest rises and lips press shut as she breathes in; she blinks. The blue of the sky and the innocence suggested by Maria’s religious vocation is in contrast with the footage from Psycho, which cuts in and out to reveal the view through a car windscreen driving along a highway at nightfall. To begin with, it is daytime and the road is clear, but with each subsequent fade in, the on-coming traffic gets heavier and vehicle headlamps are switched on as the light disappears. Rain starts to fall, obscuring the view through the windscreen so that only the glare of the lights can be seen, before the windscreen wipers are switched on. They swing backwards and forwards, dividing time like the arm of a metronome in sync with the soundtrack which has been slowly building in intensity from the upbeat and harmonic opening bars to the urgent strumming and distorted guitar in the middle section of Ingenting’s ‘Re:re:re’. The action of the wipers is directly aligned with Andrews’ figure, slicing through her body in a way suggestive of the Grim Reaper’s scythe, and in this context indicative of the violent death to which Jesus is condemned. Towards the end of the work, the car arrives at Bates Motel. This is where Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) is murdered by Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) after he has assumed the identity of his own mother Norma. The film is based on Robert Bloch’s novel of the same name and both the novel and the film explain that Norman suffered years of emotional abuse by his mother, which accounts for him becoming ‘psycho’.

Andrews has long been considered an icon of the LGBT community and film theorists have drawn attention to her subversive portrayal of female roles (the nun, the nanny) normally seen as passive. Hitchcock’s treatment of women, both on screen and off-screen is contested. Throughout the Stations of the Cross, Dean’s portrayal of women is significant: the majority of the figures represented are female and he returns frequently to the archetype of nun, suffering screen siren, abandoned lover or child, and to themes of gender and sexual identity. He acknowledges that he does not seek to make images of God (although if he did, then why not as female or transgender?), but to represent personhood; that is, the experience of being a person in a world where there is a God. Rather than explicitly identifying Maria with the person of Jesus, this work could be understood as an acknowledgment of the suffering experienced by the LGBT community at the hands of the ‘mother’ church or by women at the hands of men. In the context of the COVID-19 outbreak, the National Domestic Abuse helpline has seen a 25% increase in calls and online requests for help. Maria’s bib-fronted pinafore also alludes to the traditional uniform worn by nurses, calling to mind the sacrifice of inadequately protected NHS workers daily risking their lives in treating patients with the virus. These fragile identities are visually empowered through their re-framing and re-presentation, and their juxtaposition with Jesus’ suffering and death points to the redemptive power of the cross as well as the presence of God in the midst of human suffering. 


Documentation: