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Christian Jankowski, Casting Jesus, 2011

Christian Jankowski: Casting Jesus

The German artist's latest performance and video piece examines representations of God's son throughout art history

In a moment of inspired surreality, video and installation artist Christian Jankowski's latest piece was offered up to him in what could be seen as an act of Divine intervention. While walking the streets of Rome one lunchtime eight years ago, Jankoswki caught sight of a bloodied figure of Christ having an informal chat with a small group of the Vatican's finest. Not exactly the Second Coming, this was in fact a number of actors discussing their various performances, during the filming of Mel Gibson's epically religious, Passion of Christ. “I had a spectacular view of him in sitting in his caravan, covered in incredibly realistic looking blood, discussing his acting techniques. From that moment, I have always had that image in my head,” says Jankowski.

That image, indelibly stamped on Jankowski's psyche, resulted in his latest work, 'Casting Jesus'. A performance and video piece that examines representations of God's son throughout art history and poses the question, “What would a contemporary version of Jesus be? What would we want him to look like, and how would we want to relate to him,” explains the artist. Taking the form of a television casting show, in the same vein as Next Top Model or Andrew Lloyd Webber's Over the Rainbow, Jankowski's audience watch a number of hopefuls try out in front of a panel of real Vatican staff. Creating a level of realism often seen in Jankowski's work, not only were the judges real, the actor's trying out for the role were also genuine, sourced by agents with the hope of being chosen to play Jesus in a number of further productions. Something Janowski has already started working on, with his chosen one.

Held in the 1,000 year old  Complesso Santo Spirito, originally a hospital, the casting was filmed live and streamed to an audience of 300. “Both the Jesus' and judges were microphoned up during the show. They didn’t realise how clearly they could be heard when they whispering behind their hands to each other, discussing the appearance and performances of the different Jesus'” says Jankowski. “When you sit at home watching those shows you always catch yourself saying 'oh she's so bad' or 'look at that', you always opinionate. But it was something different to hear a group of Vatican officials discussing Jesus' various good and bad traits”.

While it may have a surface level of humour, it was not the Jankowski's idea to ridicule the Vatican. Rather than poking fun at the Catholic religion, the film looks at society as a whole and our relationship with these sorts of TV shows. “The genre of the casting show is a relatively new one. It was really interesting to see how quickly the judges from the Vatican adopted the style needed for the show,” says Jankowski. “We only gave them minimal ideas previous to the event, they turned up about 15 minutes before the filming and knew exactly what to do. Then again, I suppose pretty much anyone would”.

All photos by Luise Müller-Hofstede

Christian Jankowski, Casting Jesus, Lisson Gallery, 7 September - 1 October, 2011