Posted on 20 January 2011, 0:33
In Koenig Books on Charing Cross Road yesterday, my eye fell on Holy Crap. It’s a paperback printed on cheap paper, with gold spray-painted edges, like an old-fashioned Bible, and a hole punched through it so you can hang it up in your toilet. And inside are hundreds of black and white pictures of US church signboards, which have long been the home of smug comments, pious puns, and sacred sayings which unexpectedly turn out to have a second life as jokes about bonking…
The best vitamin for a Christian is B1
The most powerful position is on your knees
You give God the credit, now give God the cash
Family altar or Satan will alter your family
There can’t nobody do me like Jesus
The book is a project by New York artist Rob Pruitt, whose work often uses comedy to comment on mass and trash culture – such as his 1998 show, Cocaine Buffet, which consisted of a very long line of coke on a mirror on the floor of an artist’s studio. All of which was obligingly hoovered up by the show’s visitors.
In the intro to Holy Crap, Pruitt says, ‘I love multitasking, like driving and having a religious experience at the same time.’ Which is funny, but I’m more interested in what he said in a press release for the book’s launch last year: ‘We had a discussion about the Church, the Church signs in the US along the streets, about their poetry, about seduction, repression and basement tapes. The fact that these Church signs make you laugh, but that the Church isn’t funny, not the Catholic Church, none of them, no.’
We’ve been collecting church signs and religious gadgets on Ship of Fools for years, mostly playing to the comedy aspect, but this is a good reminder of the unfunny heart which lies behind it all. The humour is provided by the ironic take of Ship of Fools and the viewer’s enjoyment of that, rather than by the people producing the church signs or the holy hardware, whose intent is serious.
Elsewhere, Rob Pruitt describes his mixed feelings towards the cultural excess he depicts, which sounds like it’s coming out of the grey area satirists work in: ‘On the one hand I want to celebrate it, because it’s who we are, and on the other hand I want to condemn it. I think it’s always like a ping-pong match for me.’