PUBLIC ART OF THE RENAISSANCE, a period of art which, historically, is at the core of today’s art, was for the most part commissioned by the church, and, thus, represented religious scenes. One might conjure an image of a fair woman holding an infant, haloes of light encircling their heads, seraphs aloft while more angels genuflect in holy observance, all over a gilded background to accent its divinity. There are of course the black backgrounds of the macabre paintings: heads hung low under a limp, bloody, half-naked man who by spikes piercing wrists and feet hangs on wood as he slowly dies for us; for you. Only through accepting Him, body and blood, shall you seek eternal salvation. In either image, Jesus, the ultimate narcissist, is who it’s all about.
This is the intriguing claim made by artist Marc Bradley Johnson, who has taken to the streets of New York City in the guise of Jesus Christ. Attracting the attention of multiple cell phones’ cameras for posts on Facebook or Instagram, upon seeing him, you may have thought him a mirage, just another “Only in New York” crackpot, or perhaps a holy, altering vision: Jesus – slender in loincloth, long hair and beard, hefty crucifix in tow – roaming the streets of Time Square, occupying Wall Street, or traversing the Brooklyn Bridge.
“After a lot of introspection, I realized that my work wasn’t taking any risks,” Johnson said. “I like artists who make me uncomfortable. I like art that really challenges me.”
To challenge himself, his religious roots, and the cyber revolution of American culture today, Johnson turned himself into the one man who he felt could embody the narcissistic, voyeuristic, and exhibitionist characteristics of how he views culture today: Jesus Christ.
“I’m very intrigued by the idea of man making God in his image, rather than our gods making us. Our gods embody human attributes because we need them to.” Possibly it is all about us, the narcissistic being that is man; and Jesus, the son of God, in the form of man. Before the advent of technology, man may have sought narcissistic satisfaction through prayer to another who represented them; the savior, a man, who died for our sins – the ultimate exhibition of us… If it existed, Jesus would be tweeting his crucifixion from the cross.
“Today we find narcissistic satisfaction with the minute-to-minute worship of the smart phone, the medium through which we curate the daily exhibition of our lives today. Resulting from the cyber revolution, of which we are really only seeing the beginning, we revert into our subjective selves more and more with personal profiles on Facebook, Twitter, and through multiple blogs in which we recount on “what we had for dinner, [or] at what time we’re going to bed,” Johnson states.
In his performance as Christ, Johnson merges the contemporary and ancient leading us to imagine that the first Facebook profile photo, in the image of us, would have been Jesus up there on his cross with the sins of man bleeding from his torso and forehead. And, we as his flock, “liking” it. As voyeuristic and exhibitionist, Jesus wants to see, and possibly expose himself, too.
Johnson’s intriguing claim is that, like Christ, all participants of the social-media realm, as if through divine insight, are narcissistic voyeurs who are constantly on their pocket-held devices to check the electronic exhibit of themselves, the eternal subject, in a sort of worship; a self-salvation. And Johnson, as performance artist, seems to do the same.