Those close to me probably know that I was raised catholic by parents who were in religious life—a nun and priest, respectively—when they decided to shift gears and start a family. As you can imagine, the church played a significant role in my early years, though perhaps not to the extent one would imagine given the circumstances. Somewhat paradoxically, I grew up in a relatively left-leaning, open-minded household in which both my mother and my father began to distance themselves from traditional catholic theology. We had stopped going to church by the time I was about twelve and, as of now, my mother studies evolutionary cosmology, my father is a Buddhist, and my brother and I are atheists (as far as I understand it, anyways).

Some years ago, my father gave me the wooden crucifix he used to hang above his bedside table. I don’t remember how he got it or why he gave it to me, though it’s been in the box of crap that I take with me for no reason other than it’s stuff I think I probably shouldn’t throw out. For better or worse, the road has done its damage: I first noticed after my move to Guelph in 2014 that the figure had become detached from the cross (an unceremonious descent, if you will). Then, upon arriving in the UK this past September, I found that Christ’s right arm had broken in transit. Oddly enough, I preferred it that way—it had nothing to do with some sort of revenge fantasy, but rather with a newly found appreciation for it as an object. The figure was, after all, exquisitely carved, and I liked how it looked something like a historical example of a reclining nude when propped up on the screw that once affixed it to the wall in my parents’ bedroom. So, I put it on my windowsill and took this picture:

Recently, I decided to reaffix the right arm to the body in a less conventional position. I’m not yet sure if it’s art, though I think it has earned its place on my windowsill.   

"Greatness”—these days more than ever—is under my skin. As I’d assume is also the case for anyone reading about contemporary art in November 2016, I belong to the contingent of those absolutely sickened by the “Make America Great Again” vitriol that propelled the Trump campaign towards an unexpected (but frankly, not surprising) electoral victory. I’d hope that I would’ve been bothered by it in any case, though my recent re-reading of Linda Nochlin’s important 1971 essay during my final year at grad school, “Why Have There Been No Great Woman Artists?”, had already got me thinking. Though I’d considered her essay in the past, it’s all too easy to forget that, while greatness as an ideal purports to be objective, qualitative law, it is in practice a product of aggressively white, hetero, male hegemony (sure, Michelangelo might have been gay, but that was a long time ago and who can trust those Italians in the first place). Today, more than ever I think, it’s essential to recognize greatness as perhaps the most succinct embodiment of what’s dangerous about our ideological heritage here in the West—it’s been handed down for centuries and, despite the efforts of Nochlin and others, continues to separate the few from the many and to validate the beliefs of those in positions of power.

Independent of the U.S. election, greatness was on my mind a few weeks back when, sifting through Cambridge’s charity shops for art material, I stumbled upon a series of generic art history magazines whose editors clearly hadn’t read their Nochlin. Published for a UK readership back in 1985, “The Great Artists: Their Lives, Works, and Inspiration” is a series of magazines dedicated to the “world’s most famous painters.” They weren’t particularly unique, though I ended up buying the two or three copies available in the off-chance they may turn out to be useful for something or another. I didn’t look at them again until the morning (mourning?) of November 9 when, gutted by the news that the world’s most powerful country is to be led by Donald Trump, I cut out all the greats I could find from the magazines and collaged them into a exasperated “FUCK”.

 

 

I was surprised by how many greats each magazine contained, and I appreciated seeing them simply as words—deprived of context—clinging together for dear life. It occurred to me that the more of them there were, the less “great” they became: without exclusivity, the whole concept falls apart. 

 

 

Always up for a challenge (especially if it involves organizing thousands of tiny pieces of paper), I decided to take on the entire series. To my mild astonishment, I was able to buy all ninety-six magazines on eBay and have since taken up the task of collecting all the greats contained within them. I don't have a plan just yet, though I'm sure I'll come up with something.