Today's religious movements operate predominantly with images that can be spread across the entire world in a flash by means of contemporary mass media. The electronic picture media video and television have become the chosen media for religious propaganda as they are capable of being produced and distributed especially fast. The "return of religions" that people are currently talking about does not necessarily mean that more people have become religious nowadays. Instead, religions have moved from the private sphere of personal belief out into the public sphere of visual communication. In this, religions function, for one, as machines for the repetition and mass medial distribution of mechanically produced images.
For another, the role model for this repetition is found in the repeatability of religious rituals, which is the foundation for the emergence of all subsequent medial reproduction technologies. The original media used by religions were scriptures and books, assigned the same task of distributing belief. Text served, additionally, to canonize belief. Without writing there is no church; without scrolls, no belief. Thus, right from the start, through the demand for repeatability embodied by the ritual, religion was not only bound to media, but was itself a medium: religion as medium complements media as religion.
The exhibition "Medium Religion" aims at demonstrating this medial aspect of religion using current examples of religious video propaganda and the work of contemporary artists. The horizons of religion have expanded enormously through the development of electronic media. The uncomplicated recording of the message (e.g., the video message), the rapid distribution, and huge, nearly global scope (e.g., television, Internet), offered a technological base for religions' reentry into public awareness. Since the mass media constitute public awareness and religion makes use of mass media (e.g., the broadcast of the Papal mass from Rome), it is only logical that it, too, will shift more into public awareness. The result is the reevaluation of minority faiths and their messages.
Shown will be, among other things, suicide confessions from religiously inspired terrorists, religious propaganda TV series, and documentaries on new religious sects and faith communities. The artistic works that are shown along with this documentary material come mainly from the same cultural circles as the corresponding religious movements. The relationship of most of the artists to religious rituals, images, and texts from their own culture is neither affirmative nor critical, but instead, blasphemous. They place religious symbolism in an unconventional context in order to provoke a different mode of perception. This enables a critical analysis of the respective religious iconography as well as its transfer to a cultural modernity.
Death is thematized in the exhibition as religion's most primal and basic topic—and, indeed, death as the result of political, artistic, or private martyrdom, much in the way it plays a central role in the political awareness of secular modernity. Through examples, the exhibition shows how the iconography of these civil religions is ritualized and artistically represented and how it works.
The exhibition "Medium Religion" thus provides comprehensive insight into the medial reproduction and significance of religion, in particular, its manifestations in geopolitical hotspots, such as the Middle East, Asia, Russia, the U.S., and South America. Many exhibits are being shown for the first time in Germany and have been specially researched or newly produced for the exhibition.
Published in conjunction with the project will be a volume with scholarly contributions on the topic and documentation of the exhibition.