"In my work I always seek the unusual, or at least what is not traditionally considered beautiful. In my work I try to find the normal in the strange and vice-versa."
-- Andres Serrano, 1987
Andres Serrano caused a scandal in 1987 when he showed Piss Christ, a large photo of a crucifix submerged in a glass of urine.
The shock of this piece originates from the juxtaposition
of what is to some the most holy of images with what is to
many of those same people consider the most base and vile
of substances. Some assumed that the submersion of the crucifix in urine was a prima facie statement of contempt for Christ and therefore blasphemous. In fact, Serrano was brought up in a devout Catholic family and religion was very significant to him as a child. In my view, he was examining our own mental categories of beauty and profanity, divinity, and humanity.
Revulsion at the sight of one's bodily products is natural and serves an evolutionary purpose. Serrano forces us to confront the nature of such revulsions with pictures of blood, semen, and urine by finding beauty in their depiction. He refuses to let us keep the divine
from the profane in our minds.
Indeed, to have a mature appreciation of Christ's humanity -- most believers consider him to have been both fully human and fully divine -- one would have to confront the basest implications of his humanity. Jesus urinated and defecated like the rest of us.
This take on the Piss Christ was expressed beautifully thirteen years later by poet Andrew Hudgins in Slate, the online magazine, in April of 2000:
If we did not know it was cow's blood and urine,
if we did not know that Serrano had for weeks
hoarded his urine in a plastic vat,
if we did not know the cross was gimcrack plastic,
we would assume it was too beautiful.
We would assume it was the resurrection,
glory, Christ transformed to light by light
because the blood and urine burn like a halo,
and light, as always, light makes it beautiful.
We are born between the urine and the feces,
Augustine says, and so was Christ, if there was a Christ,
skidding into this world as we do
on a tide of blood and urine. Blood, feces, urine?
what the fallen world is made of, and what we make.
He peed, ejaculated, shat, wept, bled?
bled under Pontius Pilate, and I assume
the mutilated god, the criminal,
humiliated god, voided himself
on the cross and the blood and urine smeared his legs
and he ascended bodily unto heaven,
and on the third day he rose into glory, which
is what we see here, the Piss Christ in glowing blood:
the whole irreducible point of the faith,
God thrown in human waste, submerged and shining.
We have grown used to beauty without horror.
We have grown used to useless beauty.