Anthony Schrag's walk from northern Scotland to the Venice Biennale, Lure of the Lost, has been the occasion for a number of discussions over the past week. We talked it over with Janet McEwan, who called it to our attention, with those who joined us at Roaming last week, and with Anthony himself (e-mail). Even before he actually begins the walk, the design of the project refers to a pilgimage, a journey requiring a firm commitment of time and energy as well as a sturdy faith, for such a trip can hardly be without danger and discomfort, and a pilgrim must rely on the kindness and sympathy of many strangers on the way to a destination of acknowledged significance.
Only for the members of Roaming, Venice is not a destination of acknowledged significance. Some understand that the city hosts what is probably the single most prestigious art exhibition in Europe, if not the world, every other year. Still, that world is far away, and the people in it adhere to a different faith.
A recent issue of the Times Literary Supplement (10 April 2015) contained, in its "Commentary" section, piece by Matthew Bown entitled "Traces of the holy: the contemporary art work as 'crypto-relic'" (pp. 14-15). The essay sets out to gain an insight into how the art world generates monetary values that are utterly incomprehensible to many outside that world, how an object that would be considered trivial or disgusting in almost any other context can command princely sums as art. Bown proposes that there is a system, and that it is corresponds to the object's material, bodily relationship to the artist. He goes on to draw a persuasive comparison between this system and the one that generated the -- sometime astonishing -- values of relics in the medieval church: a relic did not need to be beautiful or well-crafted, and did not need to have any use value at all. It needed only to have an authentic material connection to the saint.
I'm not sure how far the metaphor goes, how much it actually explains. Perhaps it does help to describe a relationship between art and faith, and to identify a very particular kind of faith that sustains latter-day art pilgrims.
This is a page for notes about how Roaming is related to contemporary art as a whole. We hope the contributors list will expand.