The Thousand Faces of God

Koen Theys, whose art of the past few years has consisted of organizing exhibitions of images created by anonymous others --school children and their teachers, bank employees-- shows in the natural light and air of Hyper Space, where his most recent efforts treat of gods and fishes. In the low-ceilinged cubicle of a showcase for which the establishment takes its name, Theys is showing a continuous loop of 2-D representations of gods and other holy personages from all the world's major religions. Each figure morphs gradually into the succeeding one: the Virgin Mary becomes a Buddha, Jesus a many-armed Hindu dancer, etc.

The roughly 25 images in the sequence were culled from hundreds of holy cards, magazines, pamphlets, etc. "They had to be frontal," Theys explained, "in order to segue smoothly into one another. I had the devil of a time finding the illustration I needed for Mohammed." Persistence yielded a veiled standing figure holding the Koran. The project's technical complexity vanishes behind the modesty of its conception and the powerful simplicity of its unifying message, which is mesmerizing, and a rare pleasure to behold.

Three colour photo-enlargements exhibited on the ground floor each show a different youngish, casually attired (lay)man squatting in a woodsy setting and cradling a giant carp. The men gaze down tenderly at their catch, not in triumph but in awe. Theys likens their expressions to those of Pietas, but their melancholy isn't caused by death. A moment after the shutter is snapped by a fellow fisherman, the prey is thrown back into the water and the lines are recast.

Theys, who is not a fisherman, is interested in the similarities between the rituals of fishing and of preparing art exhibitions. He recognizes himself in the sportsmen who take hours thinking through and assembling every detail of an expedition--equipment, accessories, timing, location--and spend even longer ostensibly doing nothing but waiting in concentrated silence for the fleeting, culminating moment towards which all their energy has been expended. When it's over, all they have to show for it is a photograph like the ones exhibited here, which were culled from sports magazines, and an irresistible desire to begin again.

Sarah McFadden – The Bulletin
Feb. 2001