Art is …. (v.3)

Art is something of a reflection of the soul. True, that is something of a cliché, but little else can be said with so little pretense of Johan van der Dong’s God’s Hotline. The BBC explains:

An art exhibition opening in the Netherlands will allow people to call a telephone number designated for God – but they will have to leave a message.

Dubbed God’s Hotline, it aims to focus attention on changes to the ways Dutch people perceive religion.

Dutch artist Johan van der Dong chose a mobile phone number to show that God was available anywhere and anytime, Radio Netherlands reported.

Critics say the project mocks those with religious beliefs.

Forming part of an art installation in the town of Gronigen, the voicemail message says: “This is the voice of God, I am not able to speak to you at the moment, but please leave a message.”

Even before the hotline is officially launched, a thousand messages have been left for God. Mr. Van der Dong explained that he will not listen to the messages: “I’m not a pastor,” he said. “I’m an artist.”

Susanna Groot, an exhibition spokeswoman, explained that the project sought to provoke discussion about priorities in modern life. “In earlier times you would go to a church to say a prayer and now,” she said, and called God’s Hotline an “opportunity to just make a phone call and say your prayer in a modern way”.

I do not have the hotline number. I have no specific plans to find the hotline number. Those moved to dial in will have to go in search of the magic digits. They have some time, though; the line is expected to remain open for six months.

But is it art? Of course it is. One of the fundamental appeals of art is that it can penetrate our most hardened social veneers and appeal to the real person hidden away beneath. Van der Dong has simply offered that aspect of the self a chance to be recorded in artistic mystery; just self and phone and God.

The portrait Van der Dong presents is at once simple and veiled with a tempting curiosity. What leaps of faith bring people to their solitary confessions, what counsel do they seek? The early popularity of this minor demonstration suggests the roads are many, the stories as intricate as any particular human being.

If there is still a patina of familiarity about the notion, though, perhaps it has something to do with this being the latest reminder that people do have the chance to participate through their own personal demonstration of faith, even if it is simply the faith that a prank confession to a murder of a man whose name sounds vaguely phallic was worth the effort. Nobody can say people aren’t given the chance. Perhaps the outcome will be as predictable as frosting, but at least we can say we’ve been there, done that, and are ready to move on with the next thing. Whatever that turns out to be.

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