Introduction: Art, Embodiment, and the Digital Symposium

This week, Transpositions turns its attention to ‘Art, Embodiment and the Digital’ and the issues that surround the intersection of these three concepts/things. It is not lost on us that Transpositions is only made possible by the latter; while this is the case, we believe it pertinent to question, critique, and understand the way in which the digital and embodied sit in tension in what is becoming an increasingly digital-saturated world. Its relationship to art is seen not only by the influx of the digital as a viable art medium but also by organisations such as CIVA devoting an entire conference and subsequent journal to the subject.

The issue also has spiritual and theological import. At the recent SXSW conference, Rainn Wilson (think Dwight Schrute from the American version of the television show, The Office) broached the issue when describing his reason for setting up Soul Pancake: “I believe the Internet is the future of spirituality…It’s a spiritual act to share a beautiful photo on Instagram. It’s a spiritual act to sell something beautiful you’ve crafted on Etsy.”

Theologians are beginning to consider these questions reflectively. Paul S. Fiddes, Professor of Systematic Theology at the University of Oxford and Director of Research, Regent’s Park College, has addressed himself to this topic in a short paper titled Sacraments in a Virtual World? You can access a copy of the paper here. Much discussion has also been prompted by the decision of Bishop Tom Powers (Wellington, New Zealand) to preach in the Anglican Cathedral in Second Life – a Cathedral that is taking its final steps to formalize ties with the “RL church” (Real Life Church, as opposed to Second Life Church).

In an April Fool’s joke, Rev Bosco Peters broke the news of the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury jointly recognising virtual sacraments. In a cleverly constructed piece, Peters perhaps inadvertently raised many questions about the relationship between digital environments, worship, the fast moving pace of technology and the challenges ministers and clergy are facing. But, grand joke aside,  the question of whether it is possible to share communion in a digital environment or to celebrate a virtual sacrament remains. In addition, one wonders whether using the terminology of online/offline rather than virtual/real may have a far greater effect on the way in which we conceive of embodiment in the digital sphere.

Together with a great line-up of contributors, this week will raise some questions and hopefully generate discussion about what it means to live as embodied people in an increasingly digital world. An exploration of particular art forms, specifically theatre, will challenge us to think more deeply about this significant topic. Here’s what we have to look forward to:

Tuesday, 3 April. Pete Phillips, of Durham University’s CODEC research initiative, presents a way by which to understand the digital in relationship to the embodied, and he suggests how this relates to the practice of the Church.

Wednesday, 4 April. ITIA’s own Sarah Elizabeth Maple explores John Paul’s II A Theology of the Body and suggests its relationship to presenting the human form in art.

Thursday, 5 April. Ned Lunn asks ‘Is there holy digital ground?’ and considers the relationship between physicality, the digital, and its impact on community.

Friday, 6 April. Regular contributor Dave Reinhardt finishes off the week with the question ‘At what point can a work of theatre no longer be a work of theatre?’ and uses this as a springboard to explore the relationship between theatre, embodiment, and the incarnation.

We look forward to what is sure to be an interesting and thought-provoking week. As always, we welcome your comments as we grapple with these issues.

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