Thursday, December 8, 2016

Hermitage I

Deep in the forest
where ice hasn’t formed--a pool
still flashing sunset.

In Memory of Oscar Wolfman

 
At the Black Eagle, Church Street, Toronto: Oscar among his tribe.

Monday, December 5, 2016

In Memory of Oscar Wolfman: Korban


 
Abraham and Isaac, as relocated to corporate downtown Toronto.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

In Memory of Oscar Wolfman

Plenty of viewers might see this photo as sacrilegious. I view it as a playful invitation to contemplate the link between our flesh and our religious identities.

 

Saturday, December 3, 2016

In Memory of Oscar Wolfman

Oscar's deep knowledge of seventeeth-century painting informed many of his still lifes.

 

Friday, December 2, 2016

In Memory of Oscar Wolfman: Devir

"Devir": as commanded in the book of Leviticus, the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies within the Temple only once a year. The rope around his ankle refers to a Talmudic midrash, which speculates that it was needed in order to drag him back out, in case God was in a bad mood and something went terribly wrong...


Tuesday, November 29, 2016

In Memory of Oscar Wolfman: Entartete Kunst

 
 
The title of Oscar's second solo show, which he raced to complete in 2011 shortly before his death, was "Entartete Kunst." He borrowed the title from shows of "Degenerate Art" mounted by the Nazis in the 1930's as examples of decadence intended to justify National Socialist policies. As he pointed out, those exhibitions paradoxically introduced many viewers to modernist art who had never seen it before. In Oscar's show, he often substituted "Entartete Kunst" for the conventional "Untitled" of many photographs, the above image among them. Lengths of ribbon wrapped around the arms of men in a camp chorus line replace the tefiillin of orthodox Jewish prayer practice.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

In Memory of Oscar Wolfman: Akida

"Akida" is Hebrew for "binding." The word is often associated specifically with the Binding of Isaac in Genesis 22. Oscar evoked the episode in multiple photographs.
 
 
 

Friday, November 25, 2016

In Memory of Oscar Wolfman: Jeremiah


“I’m on gay cruising sites every morning,” said Oscar in an interview in connection with one of his solo exhibtions. “The advantage of the sites I use is that men show photos of themselves nude, so I can determine if they will be suitable. For the same reason, the other main place I find models is at the gym, where locker rooms and showers become audition venues. There are always a lot of muscular older men with long white beards in biblical tales, so if anyone reading this looks like an Old Testament prophet, contact me.”
 

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

In Memory of Oscar Wolfman

"Jael and Sisera." The title of Oscar's first solo exhibition, "Midrash," referred to the Jewish interpretive practice of filling in the material missing from Biblical narrative but required to make full sense of the story. This photograph offers a midrash on Judges 4:4-22.

Monday, November 21, 2016

In Memory of Oscar Wolfman (d. November 21, 2011)

Among Oscar's most memorable photographs was a suite of four images of a man dancing nude in a tallit (prayer shawl).

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Yahrzeit: In Memory of Oscar Wolfman (1955-2011)

Five years ago on November 21, we lost a brilliant gay outsider artist whose work, as he was fond of saying, was “too queer for Jews and too Jewish for queers.” It’s a great line, but the reception of his two solo shows, “Midrash,” in 2010, and “Entartete Kunst,” in 2011 just weeks before his death, witnessed to the power his lush, often cryptic, sometimes outrageous photography held for audiences that included queers, Jews, Jewish queers, and fellow travellers looking for our own Promised Land.

The only son of Holocaust survivors, raised in Montreal, a dancer, choreographer, chef, graduate student, and teacher, he came to photography late. His deep knowledge of European art, and especially of seventeenth-century of Italian painting; his immersion in Torah and Talmud; his inexhaustible love for the beauty of men and his provocative, shame-deflating celebration of their erotic energy; his wry sense of camp, which was at once just Jewish and just queer enough; a luminous faith in the holiness of the body, and of embodied pleasure and desire--all these emerge in work that those of us who remember him for his brilliant, generous, quirky, courtly self are determined will not pass into oblivion.
Traditional commemoration of the Yarhzeit--the anniversay of a loved one’s death--is made by reciting the Kaddish, the prayer on behalf of the dead, and by lighting a candle that will burn for twenty-four hours. It’s reckoned among the Orthodox according to the Hebrew calendar. But as queer a Jew and as Jewish a queer as Oscar was, I can’t believe he’d object to this alternative commemoration: the posting here of one of his images each day for the next month, from tomorrow until the Winter Solstice on December 21.
GLORIFIED AND SANCTIFIED BE THE HOLY ONE'S GREAT NAME, THROUGHOUT THE WORLD CREATED ACCORDING TO  THE DIVINE WILL. ESTABLISHED BE GOD'S KINGDOM IN YOUR LIFETIME AND DURING YOUR DAYS, AND WITHIN THE LIFE OF ALL HUMANKIND, SPEEDILY AND SOON, AND LET US SAY, AMEN.
MAY GOD'S GREAT NAME BE BLESSED FOREVER AND TO ALL ETERNITY.
BLESSED AND PRAISED, GLORIFIED AND EXALTED, EXTOLLED AND HONORED, ADORED AND LAUDED BE THE NAME OF THE HOLY ONE, BLESSED BE THAT ONE BEYOND ALL BLESSINGS AND HYMNS, PRAISES AND CONSOLATIONS THAT ARE EVER SPOKEN IN THE WORLD, AND LET US SAY, AMEN.
MAY THERE BE ABUNDANT PEACE FROM HEAVEN AND LIFE FOR US AND FOR ALL MEN, AND LET US SAY AMEN.
MAY GOD WHO CREATES PEACE IN THE CELESTIAL HEIGHTS CREATE PEACE FOR US AND FOR ALL THE WORLD, AND LET US SAY, AMEN.
 
 

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Repair of the Soul and Repair of the World

I haven’t stopped reeling since the horror of last Tuesday night began to unfold, as it became clear that a vindictive, inarticulate narcissist with the moral compass of a rhesus monkey, and the qualifications of my cat, will become the next president of the United States.

It’s cold comfort that by the time the count is complete, Donald Trump will probably be behind Hilary Clinton by well over a million popular votes. The greed, social injustice, and ecological pillage that he promises to unleash will surely match and probably outstrip that of the Reagan years. And Reagan, at least, that simple-minded hack now canonized by the American right, at least had two terms as governor of California behind him before he assumed the most powerful office in the world. The flames of hatred and division that Trump fanned as he cut his campaign swath through the body politic will engulf for years the glimmers of the more just and tolerant society that we might instead have evolved into.
This is no time to retreat into a shell of private serenity and personal fulfilment. It’s not a time to collapse in despair. Neither is it a time to lash out in fury.
It’s a time to recognize that the only way to heal the soul is to repair the world, and the only way to heal the world is to repair the soul. The most authentic foundation for action is contemplation, as Franciscan Richard Rohr reminds us. And the litmus test that our spiritual practice isn’t mere self-delusion is conversely that it bears fruit in the world.
It’s a time to deepen our awareness through spiritual practice that our lives are not restricted to our small, isolated selves alone, but are nourished by the web of connections through which our life flows in and out of ourselves, in and out of each other, in and out of all creatures. And it’s a time to live out that awareness by building and sustaining networks of solidarity and action that will keep hope alive through dark years that we’re almost certainly facing.
It’s a time to donate to organizations that struggle for justice and dignity of the marginalized--to the American Civil Liberties Union, to the Southern Poverty Law Center, to Planned Parenthood, to a dozen others. Till we can’t afford to give more.
It’s a time to volunteer one’s talents and energy.
It’s a time to help settle refugees and to protect them from xenophobia.
It’s a time to participate in peaceful demonstrations.
It’s a time to pour out into the streets in solidarity with the victims of hate crimes.
It’s a time to work for positive change at more local levels, since the federal government has failed us all. It’s some comfort that progressive measures on a range of issues passed at state and local levels on Tuesday: the minimum wage was raised, transit projects were funded, possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use was decriminalized; a ballot measure for a single-payer health-care system in Colorado went down to resounding defeat, but at least it was on the ballot. More such measures will surely be on state ballots as Congress dismantles the Affordable Care Act.
It’s a time for queer men of spirit to recognize that what’s done to our Muslim brothers and sisters, our Hispanic brothers and sisters, our black brothers and sisters, our impoverished brothers and sisters, our trans brothers and sisters, our indigenous brothers and sisters,  is done to us, and to act accordingly. It’s a time to remember that we are the guardians of the Earth who is our Mother and of whom we remain a part, and to act accordingly.
It’s a time to remember that every time we make love, we win.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

So Not a 10

If you’re of my generation, you almost certainly remember Dudley Moore in “10,” playing the middle-aged guy who’s convinced he’ll find every fulfilment life has to offer if can only get into bed with Bo Derek. The funniest scene in the movie, and the one nearly everyone vividly remembers (how could you not?) is the two of them alone at last as the fantasy dissolves into contretemps while they negotiate positions around the clattering beads of her hair extensions and continuous interruptions to restart the stereo, because she can only climax to Ravel’s “Bolero.”

The craziness of our erotic fantasies lies at least partly in that we imagine they’re about connecting with other people. Then we connect, and realize that on a scale of 1 to 10, where 10 is a perfect fit between what we’d dreamed about and what’s happening, being face to face with this man/with these men is, like, so not a 10. It’s not at all what we imagined. Instead, it’s real, waking life, in the presence of someone else whose inner world and whose fantasies are as complex as our own, and as unfamiliar as another country. Therapist Hedy Schleifer talks about crossing the bridge to the world of the other, “carrying only my passport in a clear plastic bag.”
The moments of disillusionment that ensue are critical, and precious. They’re a wakeup call from self-absorbed (and self-deluding) slumber. We can slap the alarm off and go back to sleep--or in this case, back off in disappointment and go on dreaming the impossible wet dream. We can go on sleeping our way through a dozen more sexual encounters, or a hundred, or a thousand, thinking the next one will offer it all, whatever the fuck “it” is.
Or else, we can begin to recognize that all longing is only imperfectly answerable, and the real magic starts when we fall more deeply into the encounter that’s here before us, now.
In the light of another’s difference, paradoxically we come to know ourselves better. We can start to look at our fantasies themselves to ask what they mean, where they come from, why we find them so compelling. And in the eyes and arms of one who isn’t ourselves, we can come to feel the presence of One who isn’t ourselves.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Gotta Love Those Jesuits

At the field house on the campus of St. Louis University.

 
(Courtesy of Hoppergrass.)

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

No Excuse for Sex

 


A few days ago I had coffee with a friend who wanted some information on the work of the Body Electric School. I shared my own experience of how powerful BE’s work can be, and of the deep impact I’ve seen it make on others.
Later on, the talk turned to sex-positive Christianity. My friend brought up one of the best books of the 1970s on the subject: James Nelson’s Embodiment: An Approach to Sexuality and Christian Theology. (Nelson went on to write further important work on the subject: Between Two Gardens: Reflections on Sexuality and Religious Experience (1983); The Intimate Connection: Male Sexuality and Masculine Spirituality (1988); Body Theology (1992).
Though Nelson’s book was a breath of fresh air in its day, I observed that he still felt the need to make a defensive plea that sex is fine because it’s in the service of another, more legitimate, good. I shared with my friend my general sense that even now, nearly forty years on, that’s pretty much the best you can hope for from official church discourse.
Conservative Christian theology still sees the excuse for sex being procreation and  the containment of lust, while traditional Christian marriage ceremonies still cite Paul’s dictum that the relation between man and wife is an allegory of that between Christ and the Church. (Try keeping that in mind in your bedroom.)
Most liberal Christian theological approaches are looser, but still can’t get past the notion that sex has to be justified.  Liberals mostly just shift to a broader understanding of what could rescue sex from, well, just being sex. Nobody who has to watch their back in Churchland is likely to say that sex needs no more justification as part of a lovingly created world than our impulse to eat, to sleep, to breathe, to seek out companionship, to create homes, to explore the world.
Of course our sexual choices have far-reaching ethical implications. But our sexual longings, our sexual expressions, shouldn’t be subject to a tyranny of surveillance about the end that justifies them any more than a dozen other aspects of our lives. Our erotic inclinations and experiences are rich material for reflection on the nature of our relations with our deepest selves, with others, with God. It’s the quality of those relations we should be paying attention to, not whether our experiences pass muster before the fact because we have an excuse for them. There’s no excuse for sex, and there doesn’t need to be.