Warning from above

Deborah Kelly’s new work takes to the skies

Deborah Kelly, Beware of the God, 2005 (installation view)

Deborah Kelly, Beware of the God, 2005 (installation view)

Deborah Kelly, Beware of the God, 2005 (installation view)

Concerned about “the rise of religiosity in the public sphere”, leading activist artist Deborah Kelly has countered with an artwork in public space—on the clouds above Circular Quay on Sydney Harbour as part of the MCA’s Interesting Voices program. A massive projector, courtesy of Sydney Bouhaniche, spells out “Beware of the God” on passing clouds. “I don’t have a problem with God”, says Kelly, “just with people who say they have God on their side.” Religious literalists in the USA, for example, legislate against homosexuality and, in the teaching of science, the Darwinian theory of evolution.

For Kelly, Beware of the God is a little different from her other work: “The words are surely ambiguous, as well as threatening and kind of wonky-funny. I am delighted they can be read so variously depending on your standpoint…Usually, my work is not that slippery. I love it, ‘Beware of the God’ won’t stand still.”

Kelly’s inspiration for a project she’s had in mind since 1993, variously came from Batman, the Angel of Mons (who appeared over World War I trenches and was possibly a lantern projection), and even a 1948 KGB plan to project an image of Stalin onto the clouds for his birthday. The cost of such a projection, however, would have “stripped me of all my assets”, says Kelly, but fortunately Bouhaniche’s generosity and the assistance of friends in running the project saved the day, and she’s grateful for the support of the MCA’s Russell Storer and Christopher Snelling. For the most part, the weather played along: “I have turned into a weather vane.” Not only that, she spent a lot of time “willing the clouds down.”

Aware of the power of multiplatforming, Kelly has a 30-second version of the work playing to thousands on billboard screens in CBD railway stations where the MCA promotes its shows. You can also see it at www.bewareofthegod.com/wp-images/movs/beware.mov. Plaque versions, attachable to your front fence or door, where doubtless they will alarm religious prosletysers, are available from the MCA shop. And for more information, documentation and essays go to www.bewareofthegod.com. Wherever you encounter it, Deborah Kelly has created a far-reaching artwork, all the more powerful for its economy and wit. RT

Deborah Kelly, Beware of the God, projection, Circular Quay, Sydney, Sept-Nov, as part of the MCA’s Interesting Times Focus on Australian Art.

RealTime issue #70 Dec-Jan 2005 pg. 55

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 December 2005