"We only move into the 21st century on the foundation of things that have been established long, long ago."
“Spirituality is such a vibrant and integral part of our lives that even our changing times and all the apparent obstacles have not stifled the powerful partnership of spirituality and art in the modern era,” writes Lynn M. Herbert in her essay for the Companion Book to the Art in the Twenty-First Century series. “The realm of the spiritual is mysterious and inviting,” writes Herbert, “It is a place where we are encouraged to explore the unknown.”
“Spirituality” opens with an original work by artist, Beryl Korot. While quilting, actress and host S. Epatha Merkerson evokes the theme of spirituality as a "thread which connects us all." Using found material culled from the broadcast, Korot manipulated the footage on her computer: slowing down, colorizing, and looping isolated gestures and sounds. Meditative in its pace, Korot's work harnesses the power of modern technology to create a space for reflection and intimacy. Korot's piece blends together fleeting moments such as a sunset in the Arizona desert, a guitar ballad by John Feodorov, and the preparation of tea by Shahzia Sikander for her miniature painting.
The first artist featured in the hour is Ann Hamilton. Whether working with sculpture, textiles, film, and sound, or even her unique mouth-operated pinhole cameras, Hamilton finds all her art to be about a "very fundamental act of making." "When I'm making work," she says, "there's a point where I can't see it. And then there's that moment where you can see it—it's like it bites you—and you think it might be beautiful." Filmed on location in Lexington, Virginia, where she is in the process of a new installation "ghost: a border act," the segment travels with Hamilton to her home in Columbus, Ohio, where she is shown experimenting with bubbles that stretch from floor to ceiling.
Calling on his Native American heritage and sense of humor, John Feodorov sets tradition against modern-day kitsch to create a "hybrid mythology" in provocative multimedia installations. "I have this background," says Feodorov, "of a traditional Navajo and this sort of outsider Christian background of Jehovah Witnesses, which are completely opposed to each other. And I'm in the middle trying to make sense out of it." Filmed in Seattle, Washington, where the artist works and lives, the segment features "Office Shaman," a new performance/installation which humorously joins contemporary office culture with ritual healing and sacrifice.
Trained in the challenging discipline of Indian and Persian miniature painting, Shahzia Sikander has adapted an enduring artistic tradition to the task of questioning and exploring her Eastern heritage, its boundaries, and its liberating possibilities. "My whole purpose of taking on miniature painting was to break the tradition, to experiment with it, to find new ways of making meaning, to question the relevance of it," she says. The segment traces the artist's balancing act between studio and museum, small works and large-scale installations, Islamic faith and American attitudes towards Islam, and Sikander's life in the United States and her family in Pakistan.
The final segment in the hour features James Turrell, known for his use of light as the primary material in his work. From his Quaker Meeting House to his "Roden Crater" project, the artist has devoted his life to capturing the ethereal properties of light and its powers to evoke transcendence and the sublime. Pursuing his vision at a great sacrifice, Turrell wryly comments "People often ask me how much this crater costs. It cost me two marriages and a relationship." This segment focuses on two new works in Houston, Texas—an underground tunnel of light and a skyspace in the ceiling of a Friends meetinghouse—in addition to Turrell's life's work in Arizona's remote Painted Desert—the "Roden Crater."