Of These, Hope

It's not an easy thing to do, after all, to create a miserable place. As an artist, I tend to want beauty, escape, surrealism leaning towards the fantastical, but the idea for this piece was hope in the midst of squalor. That requires an ugly place for counterpoint, it requires an undesirable environment, to juxtapose a ray of hope against. Having just endured a seemingly endless winter of cold, snow and darkness, and now in the gradual warmth of spring, the last thing I felt like depicting was more bleak snow, more darkness, more cold. But universally those qualities are regarded as misery incarnate, so they are there now.

I assembled the almost post-apocalyptic wasteland from bits and pieces I shot at Salton Sea in March, and the model was shot recently, with my favorite overhead dish light. Perhaps being an ex-Catholic this pose and this lighting always reminds me of Biblical depictions of Jesus in the garden the night before his death.

I think there is something powerful and sad about being naked in this environment. It is cold, it is jagged and inhospitable, and to be here with no protection, no warmth, is about as despairing as it can get. As humans we look for light, we look for warmth and comfort. Our bodies are insufficient to survive most of the climates on the planet without some sort of shelter or clothing. As I built this, I imagined this man was a survivor of a holocaust, perhaps a homeless man, perhaps the last man on Earth. This place is a ruin, and all the power is gone, the lights do not shine, the walls, if there were any, are gone. And still, he sets himself near the light posts - an instinctual move towards something that once represented light and safety. There is a remnant of a wall, graffiti still on it. Perhaps this wall, with evidence of writing on it is a connection to another person, even if that person is unknown or gone, it means that in this place once went another human, and so he stays by it.

And then we do have a light after all, and it illuminates the man and penetrates the darkness and shadows of his sad home. His gaze is fixed on it, and perhaps he is encouraged by it, but he is not reaching for it, he is not perhaps convinced this is real. A key floats before him - a symbol of hope, of unlocking another time or place, hopefully a better one. And still he does not reach for it. I think what is important, at least to me, is that the light is there, whether he acts on it or not. That, finally, is the point of this image: even here, even in a dark place, hope exists. I think we find it instinctually, will it to be, need it to be there. I think it is connected indelibly to our survival instinct, a part of it. The need and the belief of hope, the very concept of it, has given rise to all the religions of the world, all the spiritual beliefs of individuals, and as mortal beings aware of our own mortality, the specter of death is just too much to bear without hope, without belief, without relief.

Death is a dark place. Death is a wasteland. Those of us alive now have never been there, and those who have passed on have never returned. It is a great mystery, and the great ending to our stories. Some cling to their faith, their religion, and some of us, who exist without those convictions, have other lights and hopes to ease us into that dark place. The hope that something we did mattered. The hope that we mattered to someone. The hope that someone will remember us for a time after we have passed.

My title is derived from two places. a verse from the Bible, which has been translated a million times and basically says this:

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Peter Gabriel composed the music for the film "the Last Temptation of Christ" and one of the tracks was called, "Of These, Hope." The title suggests that the composer chose hope over love from the passage, and if that is true, I am in agreement. I think hope is the greatest power we have in this world, and it is hard to see most of the time, yet we will always find a trace of it at our darkest hour, even if it's all in our mind.

Michael Bilotta
05/02/2014