“So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” (Genesis 1:27) “[…] You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them […]” (Exodus 20:2-17)

Gert Jan Kocken’s artistic research has lately focused on the thorny relationship between the three major Abrahamic religions and images, especially in light of the prohibition of idolatry that concerns monotheistic religions. While in the Defacing series (2004-2009) the “new images” resulting from acts of iconoclasm perpetrated by early Protestants were highlighted in life size photographs of the damaged paintings and sculptures, in his recent work The Insufficiency of Images Kocken turns his attention to the long-standing quest for the image of the real face of Jesus Christ. Conceived for the participation in the 2012 Kochi Biennale in India, the installation takes as a starting point the instructions that Swiss physiognomist Johann Kaspar Lavater compiled in the late 18th century with the aim of commissioning a depiction of the true face of Christ. Although as a Protestant, Lavater was bound to a rigid interpretation of the Second Commandment, his overwhelming desire to visualize the divinity led him to disregard the prohibition of producing images of God. Nevertheless, he was never satisfied with the resulting images and he eventually abandoned the project asserting that the commissioned draftsmen were pretty much influenced by previous representations of the face of Christ. After translating Lavater’s original instructions from German into English and then into Malayali – a language spoken in Southern India – Gert Jan Kocken replayed the physiognomist’s process by asking three local artists to create a portrait sculpture on the basis of the guidelines. In this case, however, artists weren’t told that they were creating a representation of the face of Jesus. As can be seen from the images displayed in these pages, the visual translation of identical instructions produced dramatically different representations. The image Lavater had so long been dreaming of is still missing.

Bruno Barsanti

Visual display on ROSETTA STONE