Marsching + Wheeler . Stain, 2003
Essay by Leslie Brown
Jane Marsching and Deb Todd Wheeler have collaborated to create Stain, a new media piece in response to the recent professed vision of the Virgin Mary in a Boston area hospital window. Extremely close-up footage of the third floor pane, its patterns and colors, is combined with a soundtrack of ambient conversations and interviews with onlookers. Experienced with special glasses — a sort of update to a 19th century stereoviewer — the projection is seen by the current viewer only, an individual yet still public experience, appearing as if large screen is hovering several feet in front of one’s eyes. The ethereal figure joins a whole host of similarly reported ecclesiastical likenesses, known as apparitions, all over the world.
This multivalent work also addresses issues of belief and representation beyond any specific religion: some will see a chemical reaction, others an aesthetic miracle. Referencing the human urge to locate patterns in seemingly random data, known as Pareidolia, this phantasm shares kinship with our innate identification of objects in clouds and Rorschach inkblot tests. The artists here frustrate this tendency by using the basic camera technique of the zoom, consequently denying viewers the necessary distance to judge for themselves and forcing a reliance on memory of similar imagery (usually experienced solely through reproduction in the media). The alleged spiritual agency of such an image further echoes the earliest characterizations of photography as nature reproducing itself as well as turn-of-the-century spirit “extras” spontaneously coming into being on photographic plates.
We think of our eyes as cameras, machines that passively deliver accurate visual information. But it is our desiring selves that use complex and little understood cognitive processing to interpret retinal data. Witnesses of the ongoing Marion Apparition at the Milton Hospital in Milton, Massachusetts, see Mary in some condensation in a window, as well as myriad other images of churches, Jesus, crucifixions etc. in chimneys, trees, and bricks. Locating ourselves in the universe, and in our everyday realities, is to search for a response to our calls, be they driven by religion, illness, or desire. Images, whether an apparition, a Van Gogh painting, a Hubble photograph or a cloud formation, offer us tangible proof of an invisible, interior need.
In June of 2003 newspapers around the world reported Mary’s appearance in the chemical residue of a third floor window in a small hospital in Milton, MA, a suburb of Boston. In the first weekends of her appearance 25,000 people or more flocked to the site to pray and witness the apparition, and have created an altar below the window for prayers, donations, and flowers. The image is made from the residue of ruptured chemical seal in a double paned window. That little stain implies or provides a huge breadth of history, information beyond language, a fundamental story/myth of our Western world, and ultimately an experience that is beyond words.
Believing is seeing.