Posted by: Jenevive Tatiana
Like many of the artists in this years TBA program, the rock group Mega*Church takes a popular form, empties it of its’ original content and refills it with absurdity and subversive possibility. Whereas Mike Kelley applies this technique to the conventions of high school, Tamy Ben-Tor to historical and social categories, and Ryan Trecartin to the tropes of internet communication, Mega*Church takes on the modern spectacularization of religion. According to wikipedia, a megachurch is typically an evangelical or Pentecostal church with around two thousand weekly attendants, and a worship style marked simultaneously by formal structure and unconventional style. Pop music replaces hymns, video presentations are heavily integrated into the service and text is projected for the audience. Critics of this movement point to the tendency of megachurches to elevate entertainment over spirituality and personal morality over social justice.
With their catchy anthems, dazzling costumes, elaborate stagecraft and generically uplifting message, Portland’s Mega*Church are obviously not just referencing this phenomenon in name-only. Video projected behind the band, on screen and on a small retro television fills out the vision, and occasionally becomes the focus of the show as lyrics and slogans are driven home to the audience. In a typical night club, this project would read as a deconstruction of the pseudo-religious undertones of what we (especially as teenagers) look to music for: charismatic leader, mantras, virtual community, ecstatic moments and a pre-packaged identity. But, wonderfully, in the context of TBA, the reach of the project expands. If Mega*Church, like so much contemporary multi-media art, approaches Gesamtkunstwerk through the combination of music, theatre, architecture, visual arts–and in an almost Brechtian twist–audience, what does that reveal about the operation of art institutions? For example, the abolishing of curatorial departments at the Brooklyn Museum might have to do with responding to changing artistic modes of production, but is also a result of a need to draw in larger crowds and negotiate the relationship between exhibitions and collections. Is the tendency towards total entertainment indicative of exploded artistic boundaries or shrinking cultural margins? Accessible and pleasurable in form, and certainly a musical accomplishment in its own right, Mega*Church does not shy away from provoking bigger questions of all types, and if only for a moment inspiring a community where they can be explored.