Institute Events

The inaugural Faith in Arts Institute hosted by UNC Asheville and the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center, intended for anyone interested in the role of art in religious and spiritual experience, will be led and facilitated by artists and scholars. The number of participants for the institute itself will be limited to create the possibility for rich and meaningful dialogue and engagement among the participants and faculty.

In addition to talks on religion and art in the 21st century, sacred art in secular spaces/secular art in sacred spaces, and small group discussions on topics including devotion and discipline, revelation and inspiration, faith and hope, ritual and routine, vision and imagination, the institute will also include several workshops, film screenings and more. Find the Institute schedule below, along with information about the presenters here.

Wednesday, Oct. 13

3 p.m. – Don’t Blame It On ZEN: The Way of John Cage and Friends: Tour

Don’t Blame it on ZEN: The Way of John Cage and Friends presents works by Cage and his contemporaries including Nam June Paik, Yoko Ono, Laurie Anderson, David Byrne, Robert Rauschenberg, and M.C. Richards as well as those deeply influenced by his work and teachings such as composer Matana Roberts, artist and performer Aki Onda, interdisciplinary artist Andrew Deutsch, and abstract turntablist Maria Chavez.

7 p.m. – Music, Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center

7:30 p.m. – Talk: Religion + Art in the 21st Century, Aaron Rosen

The image of the blaspheming modern artist, trampling on all that is good and holy, never fails to grab headlines.  But while some artists simply aim to shock and offend religious sensibilities, they are surprisingly rare.  Contemporary artists who engage seriously with religious traditions, themes, and institutions are much more prevalent and indeed much more interesting.  It is time to set aside old assumptions about the antagonism between art and religion and look again with fresh eyes.

In this lecture, Aaron Rosen, a leading scholar on religion and contemporary art as well as a practicing curator and critic, explores some of the key ways in which artists today are reframing how we think about religion and spirituality, and driving new approaches to ethical issues including climate care and racial justice.  Rosen will draw on his popular book on the subject, Art & Religion in the 21st Century, with a special focus on works produced since 2020, in a period of seismic change to our moral landscape.

Thursday, Oct. 14

All events will take place at UNC Asheville’s Highsmith Student Union unless noted otherwise.

8:30 a.m. – Contemplative Practice, led by UNC Asheville faculty

9 a.m. – Workshop: Telling Interfaith Stories with Objects, Julie Levin Caro

This workshop will offer participants the opportunity to get to know one another by sharing personal objects, ordinary and ritual, to tell stories about our connections to faith, the spiritual, creativity, and/or the divine. After each participant has shared their object and story, Caro will lead the group in a series of exercises to bring the objects together in a pop-up exhibition that will tell interrelated narratives and facilitate dialogue.

2 p.m. – Contemplative Practice, led by UNC Asheville faculty

2:30 p.m. Talk: Community and Infinity in the Art of John Biggers and Daniel Minter, Rachel Elizabeth Harding

This presentation will explore thematic parallels in the work of painters John Biggers (1924-2001) and Daniel Minter (1961).  Separated by more than a generation, and each with his own unique professional trajectory, these creative artists share Southern roots, diasporic visions and sensibilities grounded in both the materiality and the mysticism of African American life. 

3:30 p.m. – Music, Alicia Jo Rabins

4 p.m. – Talk: Original Zen: Its Art Then and Now, David Hinton

The arts were considered forms of Ch’an (Zen) Buddhist practice in ancient China, and mountain landscape played an important part in that practice. Hinton will outline Ch’an insight. Then, starting from that understanding, he will discuss how Ch’an shaped the arts in ancient China, and how it migrated to America in the twentieth century, where it shaped poetry and visual-art in fundamental ways, a process in which John Cage and Black Mountain played a major role.

7:30 p.m. – Film screening and talk: Testify, Beyond Place, Marie Cochran
At Black Mountain College Museum + Art Center

Testify, Beyond Place pays homage to the Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church as well as its relationship to Western Carolina University, Cullowhee, NC. The year the film was produced in 2021, marked the 85th anniversary of the church demolition and gravesite removal to make way for the expansion of the campus. A marker at Robertson Residence Hall designates the original site of the church structure and approximately 100 graves. Testify bears witness to this event and provides a context for dialogue about a shared history and honors the resilience of the congregation.

  • Producer/Director – Marie T. Cochran
  • Cinematography, Sound Design and Original Music – Kevin Slamon
  • Editing – Kevin Slamon and Marie T. Cochran

Friday, Oct. 15

All events will take place at UNC Asheville’s Highsmith Student Union unless noted otherwise.

9 a .m. – Contemplative Practice

9:30 a.m. – Workshop: Intimate Connection With Sacred Texts: A Midrash Workshop, Alicia Jo Rabins

How can the surprisingly complex narratives of Biblical women help us understand our own complicated lives? And how might midrash, Judaism’s traditional creative form of creative commentary, enable us to connect more intimately with sacred texts?  In this session, we’ll explore these questions through the prism of art, song, text study, and creative experimentation. Alicia Jo Rabins will lead us briefly through the history of midrash, then perform a song from her musical midrash project, the Girls in Trouble song-cycle about women in Torah. Finally, participants will embark on your own creative midrash-making (any form you wish, no prior experience needed). Together we’ll explore how these mythic narratives of transformation can nourish us through the changes and challenges in our lives, and gain insight into how artistic forms can help illuminate Jewish wisdom. 

1:30 p.m. – Talk: You Can’t Tell It/ Like I Tell It: Danced Spirituals as Liturgy, Christopher-Rasheem McMillan

In this talk, Christopher-Rasheem McMillan will situate ‘Danced spirituals’ as African American liturgical devices that synthesize meaning-making, corporeal expression, and disidentification through the black body. McMillan returns to Susan Manning’s work “Dance Spirituals” with a focus, not on the authenticity of danced spirituals as they relate to race and gender, but on a polyvalent liturgical frame that can contain expressions of artistry and expressions of spirit, in productive tension. McMillan will locate “ the work of the people/liturgy’ as embodied, corporeal, and responsive to the context from which it is made. He will look at Helen Tamiris’s The Negro Spirituals, Ted Shawn’ s Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen and Ronald K Brown’s ‘Order My Step’ as case studies that speak to the public organization of a body in space as a liturgical and artistic act, grounding the choreography as a meaning-making in and through live religious experience.

3:15 p.m. – Talk: Making Nothing Out of Something: Art as a Means of Clearing Ground, Curt Cloninger

Rather than use my art to try and introduce people to God as I have come to know him, I use my art to undermine people’s confidence in their ability to reductively know. I do this by forcing media and language to undo and unsay themselves. Language is revealed as an embodied force in the world, not simply a system of meaning-making. My goal is to begin clearing an open ground where a person might more readily be found by the living God who is there. I will show examples of my artwork, talk about my art practice, and discuss my own faith as it relates to my artwork and my media theory.

7 p.m. – Performance: through the mirror of their eyes, Kimberly Bartosik
At Warren Wilson College

Created on the heels of “I hunger for you” (BAM 2018), Kimberly Bartosik’s “through the mirrors of their eyes” brims with compassion and violence. The piece begins inside of a storm. A crowd of children runs through. They know which way to go: they are the bearers of direction. Featuring the extraordinary Joanna Kotze, Dylan Crossman, Burr Johnson (Bessie Nominee, Outstanding Performer), and a trio of young performers, the piece is infused with reminders of time, its wild rush forward, its holding patterns, and our abilities to navigate pathways of destruction and renewal.​

Saturday, Oct. 16

9 a .m. – Contemplative Practice

10:30 a.m. – Workshop: I hunger for you, Kimberly Bartosik

Kimberly Bartosik’s Community Engagement Practice has been shared with a diverse variety of communities worldwide. Originally designed to experientially introduce the public/participant/audience member to the process of creating “I hunger for you,” allowing for deeper engagement when they see the work, the Practice has expanded dramatically beyond audience engagement and has allowed participants of all ages, belief systems and abilities to reflect on themes of faith, violence, life force, and compassion. The practice involves physical and imagistic exercises that open the body to sensory experience, encouraging an encounter with and connection to one’s body, history, memories, each other, the palpability of time passing, and the immediacy of being alive. These practices are responsive to who is in the room. Any age, race, gender, or ability can be accommodated.

1:30 p.m. – Performance: Music of John Cage – Thomas Moore, piano

This performance of solo piano works by John Cage will feature compositions from the 1950s through the 1990s, including the often discussed but infrequently performed 4’33” — Cage’s “silent” piece of 1952 — as well as Variations II (1961), selections from the Etudes Australes (1974–75), and One5 (1990).

2:30 p.m. – Talk: John Cage’s Lecture on Nothing and Its Inspirational Value for the Visual Arts, Kay Larson

John Cage became famous in several ways: By linking his music with Merce Cunningham’s choreography, so that each partner could boldly explore previously unimagined methods of creating. By taking risks with his music in parallel with his urgent quest to envision the qualities of spirit he discovered in Asian practices such as Hinduism and Zen. And by writings that continue, some 80 years after first publication, to provoke and explain by their example.

In a recent review of German artist Gerhard Richter’s “Cage Series” of paintings, art critic Jason Farago wrote: “John Cage’s dictum, ‘I have nothing to say and I am saying it,’ could be Mr. Richter’s motto as well.” The phrase comes from Cage’s “Lecture on Nothing,” perhaps the most radical, most important, and most provocative of Cage’s essays. Published in 1961, in Cage’s first book Silence, “Lecture on Nothing” has much to say to creative artists. The lecture is also beautiful and tough-minded, and worth performing in its own right.

In all his work, Cage sought to “get himself out of the way” so that vivid encounters with the world could “make their own art.” These methods are still useful and timely.

7 p.m. – Film: A Kaddish for Bernie Madoff

A hybrid of musical memoir and narrative fantasy, A Kaddish For Bernie Madoff tells the story of Madoff and the system that allowed him to function for decades through the eyes of musician/poet Alicia Jo Rabins, who watches the financial crash from her 9th floor studio in an abandoned office building on Wall Street. Fueled by her growing obsession, real-life interviews transform into music videos, ancient spiritual texts become fevered fantasies of synchronized swimming, and a vivid, vulnerable work of art is born from the unique perspective of an artist watching the global financial collapse up close.

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