thoughts on the 2009 CIVA Conference "Cutlure?"


Though I'm still processing much of what I experienced at the CIVA conference last month, a review of the event here is becoming increasingly overdue.

While I've known about CIVA for years, I'm not a member nor have I ever attended a CIVA event. I've been wanting to make it to the biennial meeting since I learned of a few artists/educators presenting on 'relational aesthetics' at the 2006 conference. This time around my friend Dayton invited me to participate in a panel following the keynote, an opportunity I couldn't miss. Overall, I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by the experience.

As a kind of outsider to this group, I had my suspicions about more than the sort of welcome I would receive or the general experience. Since my doctoral work has involved a focused analysis of the gap between the critical discourses of contemporary art and the way Protestant theologians of recent years have written on art, I have serious reservations about the very existence of exclusively Christian art guilds and societies. I think, however, from the diversity of people I met at this year's conference that I'm not alone is this reservation.

Like any organization with similar history and charter, CIVA seems to be a group in transition. Uniting the efforts of disparate generations eventually becomes the task of any organization that hopes to last more than a few decades. These, it seems, are the growing pains of forming a legacy. To the credit of CIVA's board and conference committee, they organized their conference around the issues and concerns rather than attempting to avoid them outright. Hence, the broad and ambiguous theme - "culture?"

Despite the unwragglable topic, I think the organizers put together a timely and ambitious plan of attack. The conference began with a keynote presentation on how we perceive 'culture' from internationally-respected theologian Miroslav Volf, director for the Yale Center for Faith and Culture and Henry B. Wright Professor of Systematic Theology. Following Prof. Volf's talk, some new friends and I gave short responses and provided a panel on his presentation. The next day, a very capable panel of Adrienne Chaplin, Makoto Fujimura and Daniel Siedell addressed the question of engaging culture from their three respective positions. The following day, James Romaine hosted a panel of emerging artists that included Joe Smith, Karen Brummund, Tom Gokey and Lex Thompson. This blend of theorists, critical and creative voices made for a dizzing discourse on culture that never really reached any sort of consensus or definitive positions but happily aired many of the sentiments and concerns represented by such a diversity of perspectives. The group sessions between plenary presentations provided a more intimate arena to explore what was happening on the platform. In all these ways, the conference was a grand success.

Besides meeting and interacting with scholars that I had previously read and already respected, I really enjoyed making new friends and new connections in the current landscape of people who happen to be Christians and also happen to study/make/enjoy contemporary art. As long as CIVA can inspire these sort of connections among their younger generations, I think the organization will endure the growing pains it may feel at present.

I have more posts to follow specifically on Miroslav Volf and Daniel Siedell's contributions... including my response to Prof. Volf's talk. For the time being, check out these great artists and educators that befriended and encouraged me so much.

My good friend and colleague Luke Aleckson made an appearance to discuss curatorial practice.

Dayton Castleman gave me a great welcome and provided a provocative presence for the conference.

Kevin Hamilton, researcher and instructor at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, gave an amazing response to Prof. Volf's and represents one of the most important voices of this younger generation. Check out his stuff here: Complex Fields.

Daniel Siedell's blog is a must read. Subscribe now!

Photographer and conceptual artist - Karen Brummund

I was so happy to finally meet the New York crew:

Photographer and educator - John Silvis

Wayne Adams - painter, video artist, and blogger extraordinare

Jay Henderson
- artist and gallery assistant

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