Elizabeth Castro Regla
Transubstantiation is a term adopted by the Catholic Church to designate the mystery of the conversion of bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus Christ.1 This theological phenomenon is characterized by a change to the substance of an object, while its outward appearances remain unchanged (Waterworth, 1848: 75-85). In this photographic series I re-interpret the concept of transubstantiation in relation to the figure of the fish. The Greek word ikhthys, fish, for Christians represents an anagram whose letters are initials of other words: Iesous, Khristos, Theou Uios, Soter (Jesus, Christ, Son of God, Savior). The fish is a symbol of ‘profound life, of the spiritual world that lies under the world of appearances’. It represents ‘the life-force surging up’ (Cirlot, 2001: 107).
Yet what is life? And what is the difference between living things and inert ones? What distinguishes the human from the non-human? How does the material bind with the spiritual? My images address these questions by offering a theoretical and visual reflection on the phenomenon of transubstantiation. I interpret transubstantiation as a speech act, the way it is described by John L. Austin (1962: 1-11). I argue that a vital impetus is materialized both in the speech act’s performativity, the enactment of which causes transubstantiation, and in transubstantiation itself, in the theological context of this phenomenon. My notion of the ‘vital impetus’ references élan vital put forward by Henri Bergson, which consists of a creative potency, a propulsive force of change and movement. Élan vital is linked to life and evolution, as well as time, transformation and difference (Bergson, 1922: 92-102).
I suggest that there is a coincidence between how the faith of the believer functions with regard to transubstantiation, and intuition according to Bergson, insofar as for Bergson intuition is ‘the sympathy by which one is transported into the interior of an object in order to coincide with what there is unique and consequently inexpressible in it’ (1946: 161). Therefore in my images I contrast the vitality of the symbolic content of the fish with the inert aspect of its corporeal appearance. I photographically re-articulate those different states to configure an alternative visual dynamism that transcends the immediate sensorial data.
My aim here is to develop a photographic approach to the dynamics of intra-actions the way it has been conceptualised by cultural theorist and quantum physicist Karen Barad. For Barad, ‘iterative intra-actions are the dynamics through which temporality and spatiality are produced and iteratively reconfigured in the materialization of phenomena and the (re)making of material-discursive boundaries and their constitutive exclusions’ (2007: 234). It is in this way that light gives life to matter through the medium of photography. It is also in this sense that light can be understood as the vital impetus that manifests itself in the picture.
1 An essential element of the Holy Mass is the Eucharist or Holy Communion, which constitutes the most important Catholic sacrament. Sacraments are procedures instituted by Jesus Christ to sanctify human souls. During the Catholic Holy Mass the priest performs the Offertory, a rite offering bread and wine to God. Bread and wine are then consecrated. The Consecration refers to the words and acts of Jesus Christ on The Last Supper at the Jewish Feast of the Passover. In the Consecration, the priest says: ‘Take this, all of you, and eat of it, for this is my Body, which will be given up for you’, and next, ‘Take this, all of you, and drink from it, for this is the chalice of my Blood, the blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this in memory of me’ (Trigilio, 2011: 76-77). It is in this moment that the transubstantiation is believed to happen. After the Consecration bread and wine are believed to be transformed into the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ. This transformation does not take place in a visible way but rather on a theological plane, as the bread and wine remain the same when perceived by human senses. The body and blood of Jesus Christ are then presented to God to ask forgiveness for the sins of humanity. Finally, the bread and wine are ingested by the priest and the rest of the congregation.
Austin, J. L. (1962) How to Do Things with Words. The William James Lectures Delivered at Harvard University in 1955. Oxford: The Clarendon Press.
Barad, K. (2007) Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Bergson, H. (1922) The Creative Evolution. London: Macmillan & Co.
Bergson, H. (1946) The Creative Mind. An Introduction to Metaphysics. New York: The Philosophical Library.
Cirlot, J. E. (2001) A Dictionary of Symbols. London: Routledge.
Trigilio, J., Brighenti, K. & Cafone, J. (2011) Catholic Mass for Dummies. Indianapolis, Indiana: Wiley Publishing.
Waterworth, J., (ed. & trans.) (1848) The Council of Trent. The Thirteenth Session. The Canons and Decrees of the Sacred and Oecumenical Council of Trent. London: Dolman. Hanover Historical Texts Projects (1995), accessed on April 14, 2014, http://history.hanover.edu/texts/trent/ct13.html.
Elizabeth Castro Regla is a Mexican graphic designer, photographer and art historian. Her photographic work has been shown in individual and collective exhibitions in Mexico and abroad. Her photographs have been published in art and culture books, catalogues and magazines. Important books include Artificio Cromático (2009), La Casa de Minerva (2011). She has also published in the magazine Art Nexus 27. Castro Regla is also the author of a research book about the colonial printing in Puebla, La Marca Tipográfica de Diego Fernández de León (2010). Her artistic interests focus on experimenting with traditional and contemporary photographic tools, techniques and processes. She aims to go beyond photographic indexicality and envisage some alternative visual realities.