Set and lighting designer S. Benjamin Farrar explored 1 Peter and the theme of “stranger” in this set of beautifully crafted images.
From the Artist:
These photographs of models, figures, and dioramas are based on The First Epistle of Peter. My focus is on the intended audience of this text – Christians, Jews, and Gentiles in Asia Minor who were in the midst of some kind of persecution and have been forced to stray into unknown or foreign lands and have been struggling with forces that might lead them spiritually astray. They are all strangers in this exotic land.
The dreamscape dioramas in which these photos are set represent this foreign land of exile and there are several passages scattered throughout 1 Peter that have inspired specific compositions. In some photographs I have superimposed the relevant text from a “self-pronouncing” copy of the Kings James Bible as an atmospheric element. In other photographs I have allowed the composition to speak for itself in regards to its relevance to the text. The graphic qualities of the keys to pronunciation add a sense of foreignness in my mind – a sense that assistance is needed to translate exotic place-names into the language of those who travel into and through these lands.
The author of the text (whose identity is in dispute) places great emphasis on maintaining the power structures and hierarchies of the exiles’ former way of life in their current strange surroudings. Whether it is the authority of God, Rome, or the husband, the author assures the audience that strict adherence to these structures will be rewarded, even if the reward is not seen in this life. My compositions attempt to show the strains and pressures that work to dismantle the frail scaffolds of culture and authority as the exile stretches farther from home and memories and priorities are lost or transformed by need, time, and distance.
My choice of media is based on both my background in scenic design (in which models are a common form of communication for stage design) and an essay by the writer Michael Chabon in The New York Review of Books that has had a great effect on my work. In Chabon’s review of Wes Anderson’s film Moonrise Kingdom, he goes well beyond the normal limitations of the film review genre and creates a philosophical framework for art that I find deeply truthful. Below is an excerpt:
“The world is so big, so complicated, so replete with marvels and surprises that it takes years for most people to begin to notice that it is, also, irretrievably broken. We call this period of research “childhood.”
There follows a program of renewed inquiry, often involuntary, into the nature and effects of mortality, entropy, heartbreak, violence, failure, cowardice, duplicity, cruelty, and grief; the researcher learns their histories, and their bitter lessons, by heart. Along the way, he or she discovers that the world has been broken for as long as anyone can remember, and struggles to reconcile this fact with the ache of cosmic nostalgia that arises, from time to time, in the researcher’s heart: an intimation of vanished glory, of lost wholeness, a memory of the world unbroken. We call the moment at which this ache first arises “adolescence.” The feeling haunts people all their lives.
Everyone, sooner or later, gets a thorough schooling in brokenness. The question becomes: What to do with the pieces? Some people hunker down atop the local pile of ruins and make do, Bedouin tending their goats in the shade of shattered giants. Others set about breaking what remains of the world into bits ever smaller and more jagged, kicking through the rubble like kids running through piles of leaves. And some people, passing among the scattered pieces of that great overturned jigsaw puzzle, start to pick up a piece here, a piece there, with a vague yet irresistible notion that perhaps something might be done about putting the thing back together again.
Two difficulties with this latter scheme at once present themselves. First of all, we have only ever glimpsed, as if through half-closed lids, the picture on the lid of the jigsaw puzzle box. Second, no matter how diligent we have been about picking up pieces along the way, we will never have anywhere near enough of them to finish the job. The most we can hope to accomplish with our handful of salvaged bits—the bittersweet harvest of observation and experience—is to build a little world of our own. A scale model of that mysterious original, unbroken, half-remembered. Of course the worlds we build out of our store of fragments can be only approximations, partial and inaccurate. As representations of the vanished whole that haunts us, they must be accounted failures. And yet in that very failure, in their gaps and inaccuracies, they may yet be faithful maps, accurate scale models, of this beautiful and broken world. We call these scale models “works of art.”
-Michael Chabon, “The Film Worlds of Wes Anderson,” New York Review of Books. March 7, 2013. http://www.nybooks.com/
The “brokenness of the world” parallels the historical and philosophical perspective of The Bible as a whole and speaks specifically to 1 Peter. But this view does not directly support the advice of 1 Peter, rather it initiates (or continues) a dialoged with the author about how to best deal with the rending and deterioration of the scaffolding of culture and authority. Perhaps creation – art – is another way to salvage what is broken or breaking. Certainly, scale models have been used previously in Jewish heritage – what was the Ark of the Covenant if not new a jewel-box scale-model of the unbroken world – so that those in exile could carry with them a piece of that world through the truth of the law? Did the exiles addressed in 1 Peter need a similar scale model to keep a hold on the fragments that bound them to their former lives?
In this way, the media I utilize to create my compositions is perhaps Chabon’s answer to the crisis of fragmentation and loss that the author of 1 Peter is attempting to ameliorate.
S. Benjamin Farrar is a designer for live performance and an explorer and photographer of smaller worlds. Benjamin is the resident designer for Soledad Barrio and Noche Flamenca (a professional dance company based in Madrid, Spain); an assistant professor and resident designer for The Department of Theatre and Dance at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania; and a freelance designer of scenery, lighting, and projection for live performance. He has worked as a designer and assistant designer in many venues in New York City, including The Public Theater, The Joyce Theatre, The Lortel Theatre, The Cherry Lane theatre, and The New Victory Theatre. He has designed throughout North America in venues such as The Majestic Theatre in Boston, White Bird in Portland, The McCarter in Princeton, The Royal Conservatory in Toronto, Wolf Trap in Virginia, and The Zellerbach Playhouse in Berkeley. He has also designed for venues in Australia, Mexico, Argentina, Peru, Brazil, England, Scotland, and Switzerland. Benjamin has worked as a guest designer at NYU Gallatin School in New York and Grinnell College in Iowa. He is a graduate of The University of Iowa and Vanderbilt University. He would like to thank his partners in crime, Jody Marie and Theodora Soledad.
This work was curated by Michael Markham.
Image is copyrighted by the artist and used here by permission.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™