"For the pious, the law of the Lord; for the profane, the law of his looks." Once upon a time, "grace" was a full-blooded word, an object of desire, a joy worth having. Later, it acquired an absent quality, pleasant but mindless. La Rochefoucauld, the moralist, spoke of "je ne sais quoi" - I can't pin it down. Grace had a secret symmetry, based on unknown rules. Then came domestication. Grace was nice, attractive, charming. But often it was insipid, like the porcelain figurines popular as table decor in the 17th and 18th centuries, which degenerated into bric-a-brac.
What of dignity? This belonged to a mindset of inner and external worth. Originally it denoted social rank. In time it came to mean the habitus of people of intellectual and moral autonomy, whose intrinsic value came across, like their right to self-esteem and to be respected. Dignity stood aloof. As Milton put it:
"Her virtue, and the conscience of her worth,
That would be wooed, and not unsought be won."
Where rituals become a laughing stock, the mockers become betrayers of the passions of the subject of their ridicule. What passion could be more arousing than this self-surrender, this yielding to bondage, this over-response to self which is tantamount to worship?
At work, the artist listens to cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach as she sets out to discover grace and dignity in the "immoral." Her portrayals are commonly dubbed pornographic, and the Greek pornea means sexual immorality. The term might be thought old-fashioned or innocent, like the smiles of some of her figurines.
These figures are not reflected in the gaze of the other person, but only in spaces which cast their own colours back at them. So they need the mercy sung of in the Bach cantata "Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen" (Gladly Shall I Bear the Cross - BWV 56). The artist sees this as an ideal, at the moment "when the raging deep is stilled at last."
Suddenly a spiritual space opens amid practices classed as secularized sexuality. Contrary to all expectation, it comes precisely where it is least welcome, because it would disturb unhindered pleasure. A skandalon, indeed.Tanja Langer